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.