THE SECRET OF THE INTERCALATION
OF THE HEBREW CALENDAR
by James Trimm
Part of the Oral Law that is the secret of the intercalation of YHWH's calendar.
"They shall not be in the council (sod/secret) of my people,"
(Ezek. 13:9) which refers to the council (secret) for intercalation.
The Midrash tells us that Moses receive the rules for the Hebrew calendar at Mount Sinai:
YHWH said to Moshe and Aaron... "This month shall
mark for you the beginning of the months..." (Ex. 12:1-2)
At the moment when Moshe received this commandment,
the Holy One blessed be He, transmitted to him the precise
rules of calculating the new moon. He made known to him
the way to intercalate the year and establish the months,
in order to fulfill the verse "Observe the spring month and
offer a Passover sacrifice..." (Deut. 16:1)
(Midrash Sod Ha'Ibbur)
For example, although the new moon must be sited, YHWH gave Moses on Mount
Siani the length of time between one new moon and the next as part of the Oral Torah. Maimonides records this information as follows:
The day and the night consist of 24 hours, 12 for the day
and 12 for the night, in any season. The hour is divided
into 1,080 parts. The reason for dividing the hour into this
number of parts is that this number may be divided without
a remainder by two, four, eight, three, six, nine, five and ten,
and with these denominations the fractions may again be
divided into many other parts.
By these figures, the interval between two conjunctions
of moon and sun according to their mean motion is 29
days and 12 hours of the 30th day, beginning with the
night of this day, and 793 parts of the 13th hour. That
is the time which elapses between one (mean) conjunction
and the other, and that is the duration of the lunar month.
(Maimonides Laws of Sanctifying the Moon 6:2-3)
793/1080 = .734529 hours = .03059 days
Therefore Maimonides says that a lunar month as preserved in the Oral Torah from Saini and preserved by the Jews is:
29 days + 12 hours (.5 days) + .03059 days = 29.53059 days
This is EXACTLY the figure understood by modern astronomers in the FACTS ON FILE DICTIONARY OF ASTRONOMY by Ellingsworth; New York; 1985 p. 241
Now how did YHWH tell Moses in the Oral Torah to intercalate the year?
The Oral Torah tells us the following rule:
Passover must occur on or after the Spring Equinox.
If calculations show that Passover would otherwise
occur before the spring equinox then the additional
month of Adar II is to be added to that year.
This Oral Law is preserved in various Oral Law sources:
A year may be made embolismic on three grounds:
on account of the state of the green ears of corn
or that of fruit growing on the trees
or the lateness of the t'kufah (equinox).
Any two of these reasons may justify an embolismic year.
Everyone is glad when the state of green ears of corn is one of them.
Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel says,
On account of the lateness of the t'kufah.
In reading Talmud it is important to realize that the minority opinion is
usually given on a given issue as well as the actual halachah. The key to
this passage is that Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel was the Nasi (president) of
the Sanhedrin and thus the final statement reflects the correct halachah.
This is even clearer in another Talmud passage which makes it clear that
calculations and not agricultural data were used to intercalate the year.
Agricultural data only confirmed the accuracy of the calculations:
Three cowherds were standing and overheard by some Rabbis.
One said, "If the early and late sowing sprout together, then the
month is Adar; if not, then it is not Adar." The second said,
"If in the morning the frost is severe enough then it is not Adar.
The second said, "If in the morning the frost is severe enough
to kill an ox, and at midday the ox slumbers in the shade of a tree
and scratches its hide, then it is Adar; if not, then it is not Adar".
The third said, "When a strong east wind is blowing and your breath
cannot prevail against it, then the month is Adar; if not it is not
Thereupon the Rabbis made the year embolismic. Is it, then,
logical to assume that the Rabbis (intercalated a month simply)
by relying on cowherds? On the contrary, they relied on their
own computations, and the cowherds (merely) confirmed their
action." (b.San. 18b)
(This story was known to R. Simeon ben Lakish in the 3rd cent.;
Again Our rule is stated in the Talmud:
When you see that the t'kufah will extend to the 16th day of Nisan,
declared that year embolismic without hesitation.
(Rabbi Huna ben Avin early 4th Cent. in b.Rosh Hash. 21a)
And again in the Talmud by Judah ha Nasi who was Nasi of the Sanhedrin as
well as editer of the Mishnah:
Rabbi Judah said in the name of Samuel,
A year is not to be made embolismic unless the t'kufah
is short of completion by the greater part of the month.
(around 250 CE; b.San. 12b)
(this text goes on to discuss whether the greater part
is 16 days or 21 days)
ANd again by R. Jose around 150 C.E.:
if there are 16 days short in the case of the t'kufah before
Passover, then a month is intercalated; this is not so in the
case of the t'kufah before Sukkot.
(R. Jose c. 150 C.E. b.San. 12b)
Finally Aristobulus one of the 70 Jewish translators of the LXX records
this Oral Law as early as 250 B.C.E.:
... the famous Aristobulus, who was chosen among the
seventy interpreters of the sacred and divine Hebrew
Scriptures by Ptolemy Philadelphus and his father, and
who also dedicated his exegetical books on the law of
Moses to the same kings. These writers, explaining
questions in regard to the Exodus, say that all alike should
sacrifice the passover offerings after the vernal equinox, in
the middle of the first month. But this occurs while the sun
is passing through the first segment of the solar, or as some
of them have styled it, the zodiacal circle. Aristobulus adds
that it is necessary for the feast of the Passover, that not
only the sun should pass through the equinoctial
segment, but the moon also. For as there are two
equinoctial segments, the vernal and the autumnal, directly
opposite each other, and as the day of the passover was
appointed on the fourteenth of the month, beginning with the
evening, the moon will hold a position diametrically opposite
the sun, as may be seen in full moons; and the sun will
be in the segment of the vernal equinox, and of necessity
the moon in that of the autumnal. I know that many
other things have been said by them, some of them probable,
and some approaching absolute demonstration, by which they
endeavor to prove that it is altogether necessary to keep the
passover and the feast of unleavened bread after the equinox.
(Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 7:32 quoting Aristobulus who lived in the 3rd Cent. BCE)
Thus the rule for intercalation of the year is that Passover must fall on or after the T’kufa [Spring] Equinox. If Passover is going to otherwise occur before the Equinox, we add the additional month of Adar II to push Passover out past the Equinox.
This rule is in keeping with a number of Scriptures. For example Genesis 1:14 tells us that the Moedim (set times) are determined by the sun, moon and stars. If one adopts the Karite calendar, intercalating the year based upon the ripeness of grain, then the stars are no where involved in determining the Moedim. (Also note that Gen. 1:14 says nothing about grain).
Secondly Ex. 34:22-23 substantiates this rule:
And you shall observe the feast of weeks,
of the firstfruits of wheat harvest,
and the feast of ingathering at the year's end (T’KUFA, “equinox”).
Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear
before Adonai YHWH, the Elohim of Israel.
The term T’KUFA here refers to the Autumn equinox,, which occurs around Sukkot. This term makes it clear that “year” in Ex. 34:22-23 refers to the solar year. This means Ex. 34:23 requires each of the three pilgrimage festivals to be observed only once in a solar year. Thus Passover must not occur before the Spring Equinox.
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