When Rosh Hashanah Comes Early & Other Calendar Quirks
Okay, here’s a question for all you trivia buffs out there. When was the last time Rosh Hashanah began as early as September 5th?
Give up? Try 1899! That was the year that Queens and Staten Island became part of New York City, the Great Blizzard of 1899 pounded South Florida with snow, and fighting in Afghanistan continued to rage (then it was the British but sadly some things never change). This was also the year when the paperclip and Bayer aspirin were patented, and voting machines were okay’d for federal elections.(Hmm, chads, hanging or not) Yep, the last time Rosh Hashanah fell on September 5th was the year the Bronx Zoo opened in New York, and when all is said and done, it will be another 76 years (2089) until this Rosh Hashanah comes this early again.
So as you can imagine rabbis everywhere are scrambling to finish sermons and Jews everywhere are asking, “has the Jewish calendar gone crazy!?” Well, not exactly. In reality the Jewish calendar works on a 19 year cycle adding a 13th month (Adar 2) in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 19. This is year 17 of that cycle and represents the longest possible year in the Jewish calendar of 385 days. The Jewish calendar which is based primarily on the lunar cycle, makes these adjustments in order to keep the holidays in sync with with solar seasons. This keeps Passover in the spring and Sukkot in the fall. While it is not uncommon for the calendar to add a month during these leap years or for the holidays to be “early” or “late”, what is different this year is the extreme “earliness” in relation to the secular calendar. The next time Rosh Hashanah will fall on September 5th will as mentioned above be in 2089 or in the Jewish counting 5850 which is why this year is so special.
But wait that’s not all. This year the first night of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are on the same day! According to Steve Morse, this is the first time that’s happened since President Lincoln originally established Thanksgiving in 1863 and it is also the last time it’ll happen until the year 79,811. I’ll say that again: after this year, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Day won’t overlap for another 77,798 years! The reason is because the Jewish calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the solar calendar, at a rate of 4 days per 1000 years (not bad for a many centuries old calendar!) This means that while presently Hanukkah can be as early as 11/28, over the years the calendar will drift forward, such that the earliest Hanukkah can be is 11/29. It is my belief that at some distant future time the rabbis will again need to come together and recalibrate the calendar for another 5 thousand years. Until then we can all enjoy the special nature of this extraordinary new year.
May the new year of 5774 be filled with the blessings of good health, happiness, and prosperity for you and your family!