Why are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur so early this year?
Can you believe that Rosh Hashanah begins on Wednesday night, Sept. 4th? It’s hard to believe that we will be dipping apples and honey and hearing the sound of the shofar so early in September?
Our Jewish holidays shift over weeks because our calendar is primarily a lunar one. The first day of the Hebrew month begins with the new moon and on the 15th day there is always a full moon. This is why if you look up at the night sky the first day of Sukkot and Passover, you will always see a beautiful full moon. Since it takes the moon 29 or 30 days to rotate around the earth, our Hebrew months will vary in length. If you add up the days of the lunar calendar you will have 354. This is eleven days shorter than our solar calendar. If left unchecked, our holidays would drift earlier and earlier until Rosh Hashanah would be in the spring and Passover in the winter! As an aside, Muslims use a lunar calendar and this why Ramadan moves through the cycle of the seasons. However, for us Jews, it is undesirable to light Chanukah candles in August and celebrate Passover in December, so we make a calendar correction. For thousands of years, Jews every two to three years have added an additional month in the winter time. For example, this winter of 2014, we will have an additional month of Adar in the secular month of February. This will push Passover later in the spring, make the following Rosh Hashanah later in September, and prevent our holidays from slipping to an earlier and earlier time.
Even though by our secular perspective the Jewish holidays either appear early or late, they are actually right one time. Every year Rosh Hashanah is always the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. And, ready or not, on September 5 we will be eating honey cake, praying at synagogue, and hearing the blasts of the shofar.
And so we wish you all a shanah tovah, a happy new year!