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    Beginning the calendar – Bo

    Jewish liturgical calendarChapter 12 of Sh’mot inaugurates the Jewish calendar: “This month (Nisan) shall be for you the beginning of the months” (Ex. 12:2).

    As far as the years are concerned, tradition dates them back to Creation, with a view proposed by some scholars that the start point is when human civilisation commenced. There have been many attempts to link up events in Jewish history with dates in the civil calendar.

    There will always be problems with the civil calendar because of its inbuilt faults.

    For 1600 years the nations used the so-called Julian Calendar, but this was just over 11 minutes too long each year, which added up to an extra 7 days every thousand years, driving the solar and lunar calendars apart.

    In the 16th century Pope Gregory XII ordained that 5 October was to become 15 October that year, years were to begin on 1 January, and leap years would be every 4th year and in centenary years. The Gregorian calendar took centuries to spread through the known world: in England it was not adopted until 1750.

    When rabbis get asked, as I have often been, for the exact date when certain events happened in early Christian history, there is no way the question can be precisely answered.

    The questioners don’t always understand that the Gregorian calendar simply did not function in those days, and to think of birth and death certificates in ancient history is an impossible dream.

    In some cases the early section of Mishnah Avodah Zarah tried to identify events in the reigns of gentile kings, but events in the lives of ordinary people cannot be determined.

    We in Judaism are fortunate that tradition ascribes Hebrew dates to great moments, such as to say that 7 Adar was Moses’ Yarhzeit.

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