Ancient calendar locates High Holy Days

Courtesy of Rick Coencas Mel Weisblatt, left, and Rebecca

Sept. 8 will mark the beginning of a 10-day period so sacred in
Judaism that it is known in English as

Days of Awe


High Holy Days.

Sept. 8 will mark the beginning of a 10-day period so sacred in Judaism that it is known in English as “Days of Awe” or “High Holy Days.”

Joining with Jews around the world, members of South Valley’s Congregation Emeth will participate in ancient prayers, fasting, and other traditional rituals that reflect the essence of their faith.

Rosh Hashanah (literally, “Head of the Year,”) begins at sundown on Sept. 8 and begins the year 5771, the years being dated from the moment of creation.

This 10-day special period will end at sundown on Saturday, Sept. 18, Yom Kippur (in English, “Day of Atonement”).

Often I mark this occasion with a column about the significance of the High Holy Days in Judaism and discuss the wealth of ancient traditions that are practiced in connection with them.

Today, however, I would like to take a different approach by discussing why the High Holy Days seem to vary so much on our regular calendar.

The traditional Jewish calendar is based on cycles of the moon. When the moon first becomes visible in the night sky, that is the beginning of a new month. This calendar has 12 months, alternating between 29 and 30 days, so it doesn’t synchronize with our contemporary calendar.

Ancient Jewish society was agricultural, and the important events fell according to the growing seasons.

In order to keep this correspondence, a 19-year cycle was developed. Our regular calendar adds a day to February every four years (leap year). In a similar way, the Jewish calendar adds an extra month on years 3, 6, 8, 12, 14, 17 and 19. Without this addition, a harvest festival like Sukkot could be celebrated in the dead of winter some years.

Nevertheless, there is some variation year to year.

“Because the Jewish calendar is determined by the lunar cycle, the holidays take place at different times in the secular year, but they are always the same on the Jewish calendar,” said Congregation Emeth Rabbi Debbie Israel. “Sometimes the winter holiday Chanukah falls at the same time as Christmas, but sometimes – like this year – it is several weeks earlier than Christmas.

“So, when people say, ‘Wow! The Holy Days are early this year!’ I answer, ‘No, they are right on time.'”

The closest parallel most people may be familiar with is the Christian holiday of Easter. The events that Easter commemorates happened during the Jewish holiday of Passover, so instead of Easter being celebrated on the same date each year (like Christmas), its date can vary widely, sometime between March 22 and April 25.

Because other Christian holidays like Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, the Ascension and Pentecost are based on the date of Easter, they move around the calendar just as it does.

Congregation Emeth, 17835 Monterey St., Morgan Hill, will hold a full schedule of services over the course of four days to mark the High Holy Days.

Since tickets are required for nonmembers, call (408)778-8200 or email [email protected] for more information.

Leave your comments