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Beit Hamidrash

Bo - The Hebrew Date: Is it Relevant?

By: Rav Yuval Cherlow

Importance of the Hebrew calendar and the world usage of the secular calendar.

Parshat Bo - Rav Yuval Cherlow

The Hebrew Date: Is it Relevant?

"This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the

first month of the year to you." (Shemot 12:2)

In our Parsha, Bo, the Hebrew calendar is established. As in every

calendar, there is a first month from which all other months are

counted (Nissan), and an event from which years are counted (the

Exodus from Egypt). In the course of Jewish history, the Hebrew

calendar has undergone several changes. For example, years are

no longer counted from the Exodus, rather from the creation of the

world. Similarly, Tishrei, originally the seventh month, has replaced

Nissan as the first month.

Over the years, and especially in recent centuries, the significance of

the Hebrew calendar has declined substantially. This is most clearly

expressed in the fact that even amongst Jews, and even in Israel, the

Hebrew calendar serves mainly liturgical and symbolic functions. Very

few people are trying to address this concern, which is the result of

a worldview in which the date is no more than a technical means

to quantify and characterize time. Those who prefer the Gregorian

calendar, which can be represented numerically and has gained nearuniversal

currency, maintain that efficiency should be the primary

criterion for choosing a calendar.

It is possible, however, to construct an entirely different view of the

Hebrew calendar, which views the date as something with intrinsic

significance, even though it ignores issues of functionality. Every

calendar begins its count from an epochal event with profound

significance for the culture which adopts it. It teaches a particular scale

of values and view of life and history. One who arranges his life around

the Hebrew calendar reminds himself daily that he is a member of

a venerable nation with a glorious tradition, a nation whose past,

present, and future are inseparable. By choosing to use the Hebrew

date, one connects himself to the Jewish people and marks time with

reference to its seminal events. In a broader sense, it can be argued

that by celebrating the Jewish holidays, one sets the rhythm of his

personal life to something much greater than a technical tool for

marking time. He becomes part of a journey which began long ago

with a distinct event, and is moving toward a specific destiny. By

relating to the Hebrew date, one replaces an apathetic relation to

time with one that is substantive. This is the significance of using and

relating to the Hebrew calendar.

However, one may still justifiably ask: What of practical considerations?

Without a doubt, it would be silly to ignore or erase the business

world's need for a conventional, universal calendar. Though we remain

principled, we cannot expect the business world to quixotically

ignore a complex reality. Nevertheless, while acknowledging reality,

businesspeople can relate to the Hebrew calendar in a serious and

dignified manner. Below are three suggestions, by no means a

comprehensive list, for raising consciousness of Hebrew dates:

a) By writing the Hebrew date alongside the Gregorian date on letters

and contracts, and even next to signatures. Even though this measure

is symbolic and cosmetic, ceremonial elements can be influential and


b) By marking company events that do not relate directly to business

according to their Hebrew date. For example, an employer can decide

to celebrate the Hebrew birthday of his employees, and not the

secular date. This will give the event a more festive character, and will

also connect the business and its employees to the rhythm of Jewish

life. Unlike the first suggestion, this one is more than ceremonial, and

actually affects the timing of events.

c)By acknowledging Jewish and Israeli holidays which are fixed

according to the Hebrew calendar. In Israel, it is commonplace for a

toast to be raised before Rosh Hashana or for employers to grant pre-

Pesach bonuses, but what of all other Jewish holidays? Next week,

with the holiday of Tu B'Shvat, there will already be an opportunity to

employ this suggestion!

Recovering the Hebrew date is the first step toward making our

time more meaningful, transforming it from something which marks

temporal quantity into something with a profound, symbolic quality,

and thereby connecting us to the rich collective history of Israel.