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The Jewish year

The Jewish year

From September 6 to 8, 2021, the Jewish community celebrated the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah 5782. To those living according to the Gregorian calendar or the Catholic liturgical year, this number may seem surprising and intriguing, to say the least. What is the reason for the difference of 3761 years? Why does the week in the Jewish calendar begin on Sunday? 

The Jewish calendar (Hebrew: luach hashanah)

The Gregorian calendar, which hangs in most Polish homes, was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. This well-known system of time measurement is based on the solar cycle. The Jewish calendar, on the other hand, is based on the lunar year, which has 354 days instead of 365. The difference is made up every two or three years, when a leap month is added to the twelve months. It was because of this unusual fluidity and mobility of the years that it was so important to issue Jewish calendars, which, conscientiously made, were characterized by great detail of description.
But what is the reason for the difference in the indication of the years? According to the Jewish calendar, our history does not begin on the day of Christ's birth (this is an obvious fact, resulting from the foundations of Judaism, but still worth emphasizing), but at the moment of the creation of the world by God, exactly 3760 years before the events described in the New Testament, which are accepted in Christianity as the beginning of our era. Thus, in 2022, 5782/5783 years have passed since the creation of the world.

Year, month, week

According to the Jewish calendar, which has been around in its current form for over 1600 years, the liturgical year begins in the spring, while the secular year begins in the fall. The Jewish (Hebrew) year is divided into twelve months (Nisan, Iyyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishri, Marẖeshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shvat and Adar), and every two or three years, another month is added to them – the thirteenth month (Adar Sheni), so that the lunar year aligns with the solar year. For religious Jews, a leap year is a lucky one because the number of Sabbaths increases, giving them more opportunities to celebrate in honor of God. The months, according to this calendar, begin with the new moon, and their names derive from the period of the Babylonian captivity.
Rosh HaShanah, or “beginning of the year,” takes place in the month of Tishri (September-October) and lasts two days. Regina Lilientalowa wrote that it is a holiday that Jews consider to be the commemoration of the creation of the world, the day of judgment, and the beginning of the secular year. Nisan, on the other hand, usually beginning in late March or early April, is the first lunar month of the Hebrew calendar (or the seventh if you count from the New Year holiday). It is also the beginning of a new cycle of holidays. Thus, these are the beginnings of two orders – secular and liturgical.
To help you understand the cyclical nature of the Jewish year and its order, below is the list of the months and the major holidays celebrated during each of them:

Nazwa miesiąca Odpowiednik w kalendarzu gregoriańskim Święto odbywające się w miesiącu
Tiszri wrzesień-październik Rosz ha-Szana Jom Kipur Sukkot Simchat Tora
Cheszwan październik-listopad
Kislew listopad-grudzień rozpoczęcie Chanuki
Tewet grudzień-styczeń zakończenie Chanuki
Szwat styczeń-luty Tu bi-szwat
Adar luty-marzec Post Estery Purim
Nisan marzec-kwiecień Pesach Święto Przaśników Jom ha-Szoa – Dzień Pamięci Ofiar Zagłady
Ijar kwiecień-maj Jom ha-Zikkaron – Dzień Pamięci Poległych Żołnierzy Jom ha-Acma’ut – Dzień Niepodległości Izraela Dzień Jerozolimy
Siwan maj-czerwiec Szawuot
Tamuz czerwiec-lipiec Post upamiętniający zdobycie i zburzenie Jerozolimy
Aw lipiec-sierpień Tisha B’Av – upamiętnienie zburzenia świątyń
Elul sierpień-wrzesień Elul (czas obrachunku) przygotowanie do Nowego Roku
kalendarz gwiazda Dawida

The week in the Jewish calendar begins on Sunday and ends on Saturday, which, unlike the rest of the days whose names signify an ordinal number in Hebrew, is called Shabbat (“rest”). For religious Jews, Saturday is a holy day, which stems from biblical tradition, because it is when God rested after creating the world. Already on Friday evening (it should be remembered that for Jews the day begins and ends at sunset) a festive dinner is served, two candles are lit, over which a special blessing is recited, and the father of the family recites a special prayer. Saturday is also the day when rest far outweighs all work, as its prohibition covers 39 basic activities.
To better illustrate the layout of the week according to the Jewish calendar, the table below shows the days along with their Hebrew names:

Dzień tygodnia Nazwa hebrajska Znaczenie nazwy
niedziela jom riszon dzień pierwszy
poniedziałek jom szeni dzień drugi
wtorek jom szliszi dzień trzeci
środa jom rewii dzień czwarty
czwartek jom hamiszi dzień piąty
piątek jom sziszi dzień szósty
sobota szabat odpoczynek

The modern appearance of the Jewish calendar is a natural consequence of cultural and historical events and changes. Its origin, like the origin of every system of time measurement in the world, is connected to the cycle of nature and the changes in nature. Since with the help of observation it is impossible to determine at what time midnight occurs, the transition from one day to another is marked by sunrise and sunset. The division of the year was thus the result of careful observation of the world around man. However, the turbulent history of the Jewish community in the fourth century AD forced the construction of a fixed calendar. Its final version was made by Hilel II Hanasi, who was assisted by Rabbi Ada-Bar-Ahaba. It was them who established September 24, 344 A.D. as the first day of the modern Jewish calendar.

Julita Semrau

Translated by Kasia Smialkowska‎‎


Cała Alina, Węgrzynek Hanna, Zalewska Gabriela, Historia i kultura Żydów polskich. Słownik, Warszawa 2000.

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