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Jewish Time!

Jewish Time!

It’s amazing! Every time I think that I finally understand something in the Torah, (and sometimes in life), upon scrutiny it turns out that without a deep understanding of the Torah it makes no sense! Case in point. I was asked to give a lecture to a group of irreligious students from Ben Gurion University (in Hebrew). The general topic of the semester was “The Jewish Day”. So I thought that I would speak, generally, about how the Jewish people don’t work like the rest of the world when it comes to the topic of time. “Jewish Time”, I told them, “doesn’t work like any other time in the world. We have a different concept of a day, a week, a month, a year and more! Yekkim aside if an average Jew gets invited to a wedding and it is called for, say, 7 PM the Jewish brain translates that as … 7:30 PM at the earliest!” It’s such a known phenomenon that part of the planning of any Jewish gathering starts with a calculation what time that they should put on the invitation if they actually want to start on time. However as I was preparing the lecture, trying to figure out what questions might be asked and possible outside sources that would be worthwhile to quote I made an amazing discovery!!! I discovered that without an understanding of both the Oral and the Written Torah – the way that the world counts time makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! Let me explain what I mean. We all know that there is a concept of A “day” and there is also a concept called “day and night”. In this regard the Jewish people are different than all other peoples of the world in that according to the Torah the day begins at nightfall. Come sunset on Friday – it’s Shabbos! We, of course, learn this (see berachos 2a) from the beginning when the Torah says “and it was evening and it was morning day one”. Everyone else either uses the contrived “day-line” of midnight or perhaps morning. In truth only nightfall or sunrise are logical times to set the beginning of A day as they are both at a point in time where there is a clear phenomenon that occurs signifying the changing of a significant point of time. Midnight is a practical contrivance which was decided upon at some point in time. I just love pointing out logical inconsistencies! Why did we choose midnight? Well, it’s because a day is 24 hours, made up of 60 minutes per hour and we really had to choose a point in time to begin counting the 24 hours that make up a day. Because both sunrise and sunset change all the time they couldn’t be used in order to scientifically begin a day therefore it was decided that the middle of the night should be used. After all high-noon couldn’t have logically been used to divide up the day. Just imagine if you would leave to work on Monday and came home the same day on Tuesday! But here’s the rub: WHY is a day made up of 24 hours? The answer according to the wise-men of the world? IDK (that’s texting short-hand for I Don’t Know). Really it would seem that a 24 hour day is a human invention, but there is no clear reason why everyone would count 24 hours in a day. Even stranger than that is that the entire world not only does it, but has been keeping a 24 hour day (or a 12 hour day and a 12 hour night) for… forever! The only logical reason for this is if there was, at one point in time, a consensus or a decision by all of humanity from a central point in time and space that this is what we do and that this is the way it must be done.Since it has been done this way forever no-one ever really thought to change it. But why the number 24? It could have been any multiple of 6, or 5, or 4, or 3, or whatever! The answer lies in the words of our sages, ob”m, on the verse in Genesis (Berishis) (1:14) “And E-lohim said  There shall be sources of light in the Rakiya of the shomayim to separate between the day and the night and they should be for signs (otot) and moadim (festivals) and days (yamim) and years (shanim)“. This verse teaches us that it is the celestial bodies that “rule” time in the Torah and it is based on them that we decide when the days, years, and various “pit-stops” of the year are. But what, exactly, are the otot, (signs)? They are the signs of the zodiac. Amazingly there are 12 signs of the zodiac and our sages in many places (see Shabbos 75a, for example) tell us that they “rule” the sky for exactly one hour each per day. constellation_belt.png What this means is that at different times of the day one of the signs of the zodiac has “power”. It is for this reason that the day (and the night) were divided into 12 parts and 12+12 = ???? You guessed it! 24 hours! Afterwards I found this explicitly in the words of the Tanna d’bei Eliahu Rabbah chapter 5:12 which says “And when Ya’akov left his fathers house to go to the house of Lavan the Shechina came and stood above him/ It answered him and said ‘Ya’akov, my son! Raise your eyes to the heavens and see the twelve mazalot (signs of the zodiac) and the stars in the heavens and the twelve hours of the day and the twelve hours of the night, all of them are against (=corresponding to) the twelve tribes that I will give to you”. If you research the topic of “astrology” we find that it is an ancient topic. It was practiced by the Babylonians, the Accadians and all of the ancient peoples. This, of course, leads the learned of the world to the amazing conclusion that “it was the Jews that took it from the peoples of ancient civilizations”. Now we REALLY get into the spicy stuff! Why did the ancient peoples keep it? What was it to them? Let’s keep this in mind for just now. We’ll come back to it later, with HaShem’s help. Let’s skip, for a moment, to the issue of a month. Where does a month come from? The answer, of course, is from the moon-phase cycle. It is for this reason that the average length of a month is roughly 30 days. No argument there. In Hebrew a month is called a chodesh, from the root of chadash, new, because it goes through a cycle of renewal every month. Where does a year come from? Well, that’s also pretty clear! It’s the amount of time that it takes to run through the four seasons of the earth, winter, spring summer and fall! This cycle take 365.25 days to complete. In Hebrew a year is called a shanna, which also means “to repeat”, as the seasons that make up a year go through a repetitive cycle. Now let’s get a little deeper. Why are there 12 months in a year? Why that’s so obvious! It’s because we can complete a total of 12 lunar cycles during the course of one 365 day year! After all 12 x 30 = 360! But there’s just one problem: who cares? Let’s stop and think for a second. If I have a purely solar calendar – who cares how many lunar cycles there are during my year? They are irrelevant! In reality it would make more sense to have 4 months a year. One for each of the seasons! Whereas if I have a purely lunar calendar – then what is the purpose of a year? It has no relevance whatsoever! The Islamic calendar has no real need for a year, as it makes no difference whatsoever in what season Ramadan falls out in. Only within the context of a Lunar-Solar calendar does it make sense to have a 12 month year. Which we Jews happen to have. The reality that we live in is even kind of funny when you think about it. Realistically in a solar year there should be 7 months of 30 days and 5 of 31 days in order to “cover” the 5 extra days in a solar year (and 6 and 6 every 4 years). So why does “30 days hath September, April, June and November”? Why does “February alone hath 28 days”? Well it’s because in the times of the Romans two emperors decided to name a month after themselves (Augustus and Julius (August and July)) and since the months that had 31 days were named after the Roman gods – so, too, their month should also have 31 days! So instead of being logically divided as above we have 7 months with 31 days, so someone had to lose out! Why not February? Whereas in the Islamic calendar, at it’s inception, there was no year. Until they discovered that the counting of years also had a very practical side. I mean, did the sale go through this Ramadan, or was it last Ramadan… So they, also, started counting the years, as well. Getting back to the lunar-solar year. In this regard we are not the only people on the face of the planet to have a Lunar-Solar calendar. In reality it turns out that all of the ancient peoples of the world used it! It was used by the Babylonians, the Accadians, the ancient Chinese and many (all?) of the ancient peoples of the world. The question is: why? What purpose does the Lunar-Solar calendar serve? Amazingly it only makes sense if there are festivals (moadim, as mentioned in the verse in Bereshis, (Genesis)) which are tied to specific seasons of the solar year! But then why have a lunar calendar at all? Keep a solar one! Unless there is some specific reason for the existence of the months and that they should be counted based on the lunar cycle! What we find is that we have two conflicting time schedules which must be used simultaneously and balanced out between each other in order to make a Lunar-Solar year. That is the only reason why we would require the double standard year. Yet if all of the people of the ancient world kept the lunar-solar year that would mean that they also had a common reason for doing so. Now we get to the real heart of the issue! Where do we get a week from? Can you guess? What do you think that the world’s most learned have to say about this? I’ll give you a little hint: I………………………D………………………………K! Realistically there is neither rhyme nor reason for the existence of a week. A day – yes. A month – yes. A year? Also yes. But what’s a week for? “Well”, say the experts, “it’s about 1/4 of a month, so that’s good. Right?” But all of the world’s people since time immemorial have been keeping a seven day week. In fact in the amazing book “The Kuzari” by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, from the 9th century, he tells us an amazing thing: the fact that there are no people in existence who keep a week of any other standard other than 7 days is a clear proof as to the commonality of the world’s people. We are all children of Noah. Why does the world keep a seven day week? Unless you have a Torah and that Torah tells you that the seventh day of the week has special significance – there is no answer. Here is the real issue. All scientific “facts”, “data” and “findings” are just bits and pieces of information. They can be indicative of many things but what they really lack, in most cases, is CONTEXT. When historians, archaeologists, paleontologists and any other learned individuals who deal with historical data look at their findings they, (like their brethren in the “exact” sciences), make up the context so that the data fits their (many, many (x 1,000,000) pre-conceived) notions. Let’s take a look at the facts:
  1. All of our time-related counting is universal and has, basically, (with the exception of some places in time which decided to do their own thing against what everyone else was clearly doing), always been done that way.
  2. The month-year thing only makes sense within the context of a lunar-solar year
  3. For much of our types of counting there is no logical reason why we should do it that way.
  4. For a significant amount we would have NO reason whatsoever without the explanation of the Jewish tradition.
Which brings us to the Jewish view of ancient (pre-Avraham) history. (i.e. the context) We all have read many things in the words of our sages about the world before the Torah at Sinai, but in truth much of it (all?) really doesn’t make sense because we – too – have no context. I will try, with HaShem’s help, to present the authentic Jewish context here. We have all heard that Ya’akov, our father, on his way to Haran, to his uncle Lavan, made a pit-stop on the way which lasted for 14 years. What was he doing, ask our sages, ob”m? Why he was learning Torah at the houses of Shem and Ever! “Torah?”, we ask “There was no Torah yet! How could he have been learning Torah?” The answer, my friends, can be found in Rashi throughout sefer Bereshis (Genesis). Yes. There WAS Torah before THE Torah at Sinai. In fact there was quite a bit of it, says Rashi. Before Sinai there was a Pascal lamb (one of the two goats served to Yitzchak) there was matzah (Lot gave them to the angels) there was Yibum (leverate marriage, by Judah’s sons) and more! All of this was Oral Torah. Rashi makes all sorts of time-related calculations during the time of the flood based on the words of our sages, ob”m, in how to calculate the months before Sinai. There was Torah, there were mitzvos (seven up until Avraham and then we had 8, including bris mila) and there were things that in the future would become mitzvos. But it would seem that all of them, that were eventually commanded to the children of Israel, were known and taught in the house of Shem and Ever. 800px-Fertile_Crescent_map.png All of humanity emanates from what is referred to as the “Fertile Crescent”, this includes Mesopotamia, Babylon, Accadia and many other places, all the way to Egypt. All of these places are listed explicitly by the Torah in Genesis as the original source of humanity and all of the ancient peoples of the world were influenced by the central doctrines of the houses of Shem and Ever. Why do we have a 24 hour day, a seven day week, a 30 day month and a 365 day year? Because they are mandated by the Torah and were taught and lived by all of humanity during the days when we were all one big mostly happy family. None of the above makes sense without the Torah. But life WITH the Torah? That makes life make SO MUCH sense. Have a great Shabbos. For more on this issue please check out the following articles from’s wonderful website.

0 responses to “Jewish Time!”

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