THE SACRED CALENDAR AND THE NEW MOONBack to Alphabetical Index | Back to Chapter Index
According to the law of God, each annual observance and festival must be celebrated on a specific day of a lunar month. Therefore, it is necessary for the first month of the sacred calendar to be calculated in order to ensure that each observance and festival will fall in its proper season. With the beginning of the sacred year fixed, all observances and festivals can have their dates calculated.
THE CALENDAR COURT
Then Jesus said to the multitude, and to his disciples, The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not" (Matt.23:2-3 Para.).
Why did Jesus admonish the people to listen to the Scribes and Pharisees and submit to their authority? Jesus was just confirming what everyone already knew. No one in Judah contested the fact that the priesthood and the authorized elders and the Scribes and Pharisees of the Sanhedrin were the absolute authority in such matters as covenant law and worship. They had the authority to set a court, calculate, and sanctify the New Moon and annual observances.
Jesus spoke of the authority of the Scribes and Pharisees in regard to "Moses' seat," which is an authority separate from the authority of Aaron's descendants' authority (i.e., the Levitical Priesthood).
What was Moses' job? Moses was the nation's civil leader, lawgiver, prophet, and teacher. History shows that many of the Scribes and Pharisees were not part of the priesthood, they were part of the nation's civil leaders and teachers of the law.
It is extremely important to understand that the Levitical Priesthood did not have the authority to set the dates of the Sacred Calendar; only the Calendar Court had the authority and the responsibility for calculating the Sacred Calendar. The Calendar was the responsibility of those who sat in "Moses' seat" (the constituted legal authority). The Calendar Court alone determined the proper days on which to observe the New Moons and the annual festivals in accordance with the instructions God gave to Moses. See Ex.12:2.
The examples of Jesus and the apostles in their observance of the festival days clearly show that they acknowledged and respected the authority of the Calendar Court in regard to these annual observances.
The Calendar Court was comprised of men who were well versed in scripture and astronomy, and these men made the calculations and determinations concerning the Sacred Calendar. The Court had the final and absolute authority to determine the days of the annual observances within the Sacred Calendar. Even the high priest was not allowed to influence the Court's decisions.
If the Court made a mistake in setting the day of the New Moon, this day of the New Moon observance was still valid and all were to observe it along with any annual festival that fell within that particular month. Even if it were known that the Court had erred, their decision was final and binding because the responsibility and authority over this matter was given to it through Moses (See Treaties VIII, Laws Concerning The Sanctification of the New Moon, Maimonides).
A point worth noting is that the Sacred Calendar is not the Jewish calendar; it is God's. Although a descendant of Judah (a Jew) could be a member of the Calendar Court, the tribe of Judah as a whole was never given the responsibility for the care of the calendar. This responsibility resided only with those who were selected to participate as members of the Calendar Court regardless of which tribe they belonged to. Therefore, it is incorrect to call the Sacred Calendar the Jewish calendar.
The following are some of reasons the Court could adjust the beginning of the first month that would affect the day on which the annual festivals were observed:
The Judges of the Calendar Court were very sensitive to the severity of their responsibility to calculate and determine with utmost accuracy the New Moons and the dates of the annual observances. Therefore, it was necessary for the court to do the following:
Only in Palestine was it permissible to calculate and proclaim New Moons and festival days. However, if a great scholar ordained for this purpose in Palestine moved to another territory without leaving another scholar of equal learning in Palestine, he was permitted to continue to calculate the Sacred Calendar and proclaim the New Moons. If there was another scholar of equal rank and superior learning, the former was no longer permitted to calculate the calendar. Any such calculation was determined to be void (ibid., Maimonides).
Although the Calendar Court used astronomical calculations to determine the first day of the new year and the New Moon, the first day of each month was always confirmed by a physical observation of the new moon to make sure there were no mistakes in the calculations.
At the end of each month, several watchman were placed at high points around Jerusalem to watch the sky for the new crescent. As soon as the new crescent was sighted, each watchman went to the house called "Beth Yazek" to be examined by the president of the Calendar Court. When the evidence for the appearance of the New Moon was deemed satisfactory, the president rose up and formally announced it by uttering, "Mekuddash": (i.e., "it is consecrated or sanctified").
The New Moon Messengers
The confirmation of the new month was immediately sent throughout the land from the Mount of Olives by beacon fires on the tops of hills. However, when the Samaritans interfered with this method, messengers were sent to confirm the new month.
If witnesses came from afar (up to the 15th of the month) and testified that they had seen the new moon earlier, the Court was bound to alter the beginning of the month and authorize it to have started a day earlier. In the months of Tishri and Nisan, the Court would accept witnesses up to the middle of the month after which any change would be irrelevant because the first day of Tishri is the first day of the civil year and Nisan is the first month of the sacred year, which also contains the Passover observance.
In the event that witnesses had not arrived at the Court within a predetermined time to confirm the visual sighting of the new moon, the Court had the authority to sanctify the observance of two consecutive days of the New Moon observance and two consecutive days of certain annual festivals if they fell within this particular month. This was done in order to avoid missing the proper date of an observance that was commanded for all who worshiped the God of Israel.
Messengers were sent out to verify the sanctification of the New Moon for Nisan and for Iyar, because the first Passover is in Nisan and the second is in Iyar. In the places where the messengers could quickly reach, each New Moon was only to be observed one day, but in places where it took messengers longer to reach, two days were to be observed because the people would be unsure which day had been declared the New Moon (i.e., 29th or 30th).
If no witness came on the 30th day, the month was declared full (30 days long). But, if the witnesses came later and their witness was determined to be true, the month would be adjusted to 29 days. In the months of Nisan and Tishri, the witnesses had to come before the middle of the month in order for either month to be adjusted. This was because the festivals that fall within these months would have already been calculated and observed, which would make the change irrelevant.
According to Maimonides, it was not normal for the Calendar Court to change the New Moon day forward when the festival day was already past.
Two Consecutive Observances
Palestine normally did not observe two consecutive New Moon or Festival days, because the messengers were able to reach most places in time for their observance. However, there were ten places more than ten full days travel away from Jerusalem, which did observe two consecutive days.
Because people could not travel on the civil new year, which was the Feast of Trumpets, messengers could not be sent to declare the day of the New Moon; therefore, the only New Moon observed with regularity for two consecutive days in Palestine was the civil new year (The New Moon of Tishri: The Feast of Trumpets).
An Allowance For Human Error
Some believe that God required the Israelites to keep the annual observances on their prescribed dates with exact precision without the slightest deviation. However, this certainly was not the case at all, because there were many discrepancies and deviations in their calculations and sightings of the new moons. It is important to remember that God, in his mercy, made an allowance for human error in calculating the day of the New Moon and the annual festivals.
CHRISTIANS AND THE SACRED CALENDAR
The question of who has the authority to calculate and set the dates for God's annual festivals and observances is extremely important to those seeking to obey God in every detail. The following are the facts as we understand them:
The Calendar Court (Scribes and Pharisees in the time of Christ) had the responsibility to care for the Sacred Calendar but, this Court ceased to function after 425 A.D.; therefore, how can a Christian know with any certainty what time of year to observe the annual festivals and observances?
Many well-meaning Christians have spent many hours trying to understand and calculate the Sacred Calendar in order to assure themselves that they are observing the annual festivals and observances on the correct days. However, all such efforts are only an intellectual exercise because these calculations have no value in establishing the dates of the annual festivals and observances. The authority to set the Sacred Calendar still lies with the Calendar Court just as the authority to sacrifice lies with the Levitical Priesthood.
The only calendar authorized by this Court is the existing Sacred Calendar called the "Hillel II" which was established in 375 A.D.. Hillel of the tribe of Judah and his descendants presided as presidents of the Pharisaic Sanhedrin for 15 generations in an unbroken succession from 30 A.D. to 425 A.D. when the Calendar Court ceased to function. Therefore, the Hillel calendar is still the sacred calendar until another calendar court is formed to sanctify a new calendar.
Any Christian who wants to observe the annual festivals and observances should obtain a copy of the Hillel II calendar and cross reference it to any current calendar to know when these days occur. The simple fact is that the care of the sacred calendar does not lie within the authority or responsibility of the Christian; it is still the responsibility of the Calendar Court when and if such a Court is ever assembled again.
The only exception to the accuracy of the Hillel II calendar is the calculation of the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). Although the Sadducees were priests during Christ's lifetime, they were out-numbered by the Pharisees who also had the support of the general population. The opinion of the Pharisees was generally accepted as "truth" by the people, and the temple authorities were obliged to perform many rituals at the time the Pharisees indicated.
Biblical evidence clearly shows that the Sadducees were correct in their interpretation of how to calculate the Feast of Weeks, which was dependent on the calculation of the Lift Offering. However, the error of the Pharisees has been incorporated into the Hillel II calendar, making it the only exception to an otherwise perfectly accurate calendar of sacred events. See our study paper concerning the Lift Offering and the Feast of Pentecost.
Below are listed three reference works that detail how to calculate the Sacred Calendar:
"The Hebrew Calendar - A Mathematical Introduction," By John Kossey, available from The Paper Egret, 169 St. John Street, Pasadena, 91105.
"Understanding The Jewish Calendar", By Rabbi Nathan Bushwick, available from Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 4304 12th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11219. tel. (718) 4238-7680.
"The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar", by Arthur Spier, available from Feldheim Publishers, 200 Airport Executive Park, Nanuet, New York 10954, or P.O. Box 35002 Jerusalem Israel.