Not Your Father's Talmud

Rabbi Adam Chalom of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago explores the Talmud from a Humanistic perspective, one page a day.

Location: Highland Park, Illinois, United States

Rabbi Adam Chalom is the Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago. He is also the Assistant Dean for the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Shabbat 87 - The Holy Chronology

Keeping track of calendars through Jewish history is a complicated task. One of the most difficult problems is that the calendar fundamentally changed in the middle of Jewish history. In Leviticus 23, where the major Torah holidays are listed, we read that Passover takes place in the first month, while the “day of atonements” takes place in the seventh month. Today, of course, the “day of atonements” is part of the Jewish New Year, which begins in the fall, while Passover is a spring holiday that takes place in the seventh month. The Torah itself doesn’t name most of the months, and the names it does use are not those of our current Jewish calendar (which was likely adopted from the Babylonians after the 6th century BCE).

Thus much of today’s page continues a debate begun yesterday as to what day various events took place in relation to Shabbat, the revelation of the Torah, and the current Jewish calendar. One of the tools the Talmud’s rabbis used to ensure events fell on the correct day used to be the variable quality of months. Months were based on observation of the moon’s cycle, and the lunar month being 29.5 days, some months had 29 days and others had 30 depending on when the New Moon was sighted. For over 1500 years, the Jewish calendar has been calculated mathematically, but in discussing the Torah’s chronology, the Rabbis can claim as they do here that what today is fixed as a 29 day month was that one year given 30 days!

Indeed, even divine commandments admit of some flexibility under Moses’ hands. The Rabbis point out three times that they believe Moses took actions mida’ato [from his own understanding] and God agreed post facto – he added a day to prepare for the revelation in Exodus 20, he entirely separated himself (sexually) from his wife, and he broke the Lukhot [Tablets] of the law. Why the first? He reasoned that the 2 days started tomorrow. The second? If the (male) Israelites had to be pure by sexually abstaining to hear God once, Moses did so all the time, so kal va’homer [how much more so] must he abstain all the time! The third? If one of the taryag mitzvot [613 Torah Commandments] says a stranger may not eat the Passover sacrifice, then how can rebellious Israel that has made a Golden Calf to worship receive them all? And one Rabbi adds that God congratulated him on that last decision, exclaiming, “Yasher kokhekha sheh-shibarta – good job that you broke them.”

Note what is implicit in this passage – for the Rabbis, the lukhot contain NOT JUST the 10 Commandments, but also an entire Torah! A later version is given, but what might have been written on that first version? That is our opportunity for new mythmaking – thou shalt not treat women with less respect than men, thou shalt not condone slavery in any way, . . .

Rabbi Adam Chalom
To research the Hebrew date or calendar for any Gregorian calendar year or month, you can visit