Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – Summer, 2013

You’ll notice that Rosh Hashanah begins just two days after Labor day. You will recall that Pesah began very early. You’re probably wondering … what about Hanukkah?

The article is adapted from an article by Jonathan Mizrahi, which can be found here:

sites.google.com/site/mizrahijonathan/home/ThanksgivingAndHanukkah

This year features an anomaly for American Jews – The first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving, on 11/28/2013. Hanukkah and Thanksgiving have only coincided once before, in 1888 … and it will never happen again. [Note: Prior to 1942, Thanksgiving was the LAST Thursday in November, and thus could occur on November 29 or 30. In 1888, Hanukkah began on November 29, which was also Thanksgiving.]

Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November, meaning the latest it can be is November 28. November 28 is also the earliest date on which Hanukkah can fall. The Jewish calendar repeats on a 19 year cycle, and Thanksgiving repeats on a 7 year cycle. You would therefore expect them to coincide roughly every 19 x 7 = 133 years. Why won’t it ever happen again?

The reason is because the Jewish calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the solar calendar, at a rate of 3 days per 1000 years (not bad for a many centuries old calendar!). The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar modified by the addition of leap months to adjust for the length of the solar year. However, the assumption it makes about the length of the solar year corresponds to the Julian calendar. In 1582, Pope Gregory introduced a calendar reform (known as the Gregorian calendar) when it was recognized that the spring equinox was slowly drifting later at the rate of about 3 days per 1000 years. The solution was to reduce the number of leap years – century years divisible by 100 (but not divisible by 400) are not leap years. Thus, 2000 was a leap year, but 2100, 2200, and 2300 will not be.

This means that while presently Hanukkah can be as early as November 28, in the year 2200 the Jewish calendar will drift forward so that the earliest Hanukkah will be November 29. The last time Hanukkah falls on 11/28 is 2146 (which happens to be a Monday).

Of course, if the Jewish calendar is never modified in any way, then it will slowly move forward through the Gregorian calendar, until it loops all the way back to where it is now. So, Hanukkah will again fall on Thursday, November 28 … in the year 79,811! Of course, Jewish law  and the guidelines for determining the Jewish calendar require Passover to be in the spring.  Therefore, the Jewish calendar will have to be adjusted long before it loops all the way around. Of course, the messiah will have come long before then to sort out these kinds of sticky problems!

Remember that “day” in the Jewish calendar starts at night. This means that although this year the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving, candles will be lit for the first NIGHT of Hanukkah the night BEFORE Thanksgiving. When the first day of Hanukkah falls the day after Thanksgiving, the first night’s candles are lit the night OF Thanksgiving.  This will happen two more times, in 2070 and 2165.

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I do a variety of things in addition to writing sermons and bulletin articles, answering questions by phone or email, going to Board and Committee meetings, teaching religious school classes, leading study groups, and visiting members of the congregation. Here are some of my additional activities of the past month:

  • • I am one of the co-founders of the Coalition for Small Conservative Congregations (CSCC) and one of the planners of the Rabbinic conference sponsored by the CSCC. I have been working on our 3rd annual conference, taking place in Chicago June 2-4.
  • • The weekly Torah study group that has been meeting for about 15 years (for the last 10, at Schuler Books and Music on 28th St.) will shift focus this fall to begin reading a chapter a week from the classical prophets. I have been researching books and commentaries on Isaiah.

Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – November, 2011

I have been serving on a committee overseeing a city-wide project beginning this fall and continuing into next year called “2012: The Year of Interfaith Understanding.” I spoke about the personal and communal benefits of interfaith dialogue on Yom Kippur, referencing this project and suggesting that you take on the obligation during 2012 to read at least one serious book about a religion other than Judaism; and then read or research the questions that come up to find out how Judaism answers the same questions.  Over the course of the next year, I will have other suggestions and opportunities for participating in interfaith dialogue, learning, and worship.  One such suggestion is to participate in the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service, this year to be held at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, November 21.  As of the deadline for the bulletin, the location had not yet been confirmed (watch your eVoice or Shabbat announcement page or call the office for location information).

Of all the American holidays, Thanksgiving is the most Jewish, and also the most explicitly religious. It has obvious roots in the Biblical festival of Sukkot; in addition, there is an offering mentioned three times in Leviticus called the todah, or Thanksgiving, offering. The religious attitude of thanksgiving is deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. How fitting that in our country, Thanksgiving has become a time for members of different faith traditions to come together and give thanks.  The city-wide Interfaith Thanksgiving service has become a meeting point for Jews, Catholics, Quakers, Protestants of various denominations, Bahai, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu, Native American, and non-theists to meet, share texts and teaching on gratitude, and appreciate each other’s musical offerings.

If you are a regular participant in this service, I am grateful for your presence.  If you have never come to the service, I ask you to give it a try.  I think you’ll enjoy it, and by your very presence you will be making an important statement about the importance of the inclusion of all faith groups in the religious landscape of West Michigan.