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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.


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).

The Watchmen

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.


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.

Editor's Note:

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.