The Jewish Calendar
The Jewish calendar differs from the common one. It is based on the revolutions of the moon around the earth, whereas the common calendar is based on the earths rotation around the sun. The lunar calendar comprises (in a normal year) twelve months each of 29 or 30 days. In a leap year a thirteenth month is added, known as ADAR II. A leap year occurs seven times in each cycle of nineteen years; in the third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth years. By adding the extra month, the lunar year (354 days) is made to harmonize with the solar year (365 days). The Hebrew names of the month were adopted from the Babylonian calendar during the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. The first written Jewish calendar was compiled by Hillel II in 359 C.E.
The “first month” of the Jewish calendar is the month of Nissan, in the Israeli spring. However, the Jewish New Year is in Tishri, the seventh month, and that is when the year number is increased. This concept of different starting points for a year is not as strange as it might seem at first glance. The Australian “new year” starts in January, but the Chinese one starts a month or two later. The new “financial year” starts in July, and so on. Similarly, the Jewish calendar has different starting points for different purposes. The days of the New Moon are considered important days in the Jewish calendar. They are known as Rosh Chodesh. On Saturdays preceding the New Moon and in the New Moon days, special prayers are recited, and Jews celebrate each new month.
The months of the Jewish year
|March – April
|April – May
|May – June
|June – July
|July – August
|August – September
|September – October
|29 or 30 Days
|October – November
|30 or 29 Days
|November – December
|December – January
|January – February
|29 or 30 Days
|February – March
|Adar II (leap year only)
|March – April
The Sabbath (or Shabbat, as it is called in Hebrew) is one of the best known and least understood of all Jewish observances. People who do not observe Shabbat think of it as a day filled with stifling restrictions, or as a day of prayer like the Christian Sabbath. But to those who observe Shabbat, it is a precious gift from G-d, a day of great joy eagerly awaited throughout the week, a time when we can set aside all of our weekday concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits.
In Jewish literature, poetry and music, Shabbat is described as a bride or queen, as in the popular Shabbat hymn Lecha Dodi Likrat Kallah (Come, my beloved, to meet the [Sabbath] bride).
Shabbat is the most important ritual observance in Judaism. It is the only ritual observance instituted in the Ten Commandments. Primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment, the word “Shabbat” comes from the root Shin-Bet-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest.
Shabbat is not specifically a day of prayer. Although we do pray on Shabbat, and spend a substantial amount of time in synagogue praying, prayer is not what distinguishes Shabbat from the rest of the week. Observant Jews pray every day, three times a day. To say that Shabbat is a day of prayer is no more accurate than to say that Shabbat is a day of feasting: we eat every day, but on Shabbat, we eat more elaborately and in a more leisurely fashion. The same can be said of prayer on Shabbat.
In Australia, we take the five-day work-week so much for granted that we forget what a radical concept a day of rest was in ancient times. The weekly day of rest had no parallel in any other ancient civilisation. In ancient times, leisure was for the wealthy and the ruling classes only, never for the serving or labouring classes. In addition, the very idea of rest each week was unimaginable. The Ancient Greeks thought Jews were lazy because we insisted on having a “holiday” every seventh day.
Today, the ways in which Australian Jews observe the Shabbat do not differ greatly from ancient times. Shabbat is a precious and essential occasion for the entire family.
Festivals and fasts
The Jewish calendar is jam-packed with important dates and festivals. Behind every one is a story – sometimes Biblical, sometimes more modern. Each one is significant in its own individual way, accompanied by a variety of customs and traditions. To check a date or find out more about a festivals, visit Judaism 101
The Hebrew word kosher means fit or proper as it relates to dietary (kosher) laws. It means that a given product is permitted and acceptable. Though an ancillary hygienic benefit has been attributed to the observance of kashrut, their ultimate purpose and rationale is simply to conform to the Divine Will as expressed in the Torah.
It is significant that one of the first commandments given to human beings concerned food. Adam and Eve were told not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life. Ever since, Jews have always placed great emphasis on gastronomic self-control.
The main principles of Kashrut are laid down in the Five Books of Moses and are classified as “statutes” – no reason is given for keeping them other than we are commanded to do so. Nevertheless Rabbis have always stressed their essential role in preserving Jewish life. By keeping kosher, children from an early age learn discipline, distinguishing between what is permitted and what is not.
For information about kosher foods please visit: Kosher Queensland
Other kosher links
For further information download Understanding Judaism, a publication from the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.
Comprehensive timelines of Jewish history can be found at:
General links to Jewish websites