Divre Harav – November, 2022

The month of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot is called Tishrei. The month we celebrate Hanukkah is called Kislev. The month in between is the only month in the Hebrew calendar in which there are no holidays. It is commonly referred to as Heshvan, although that is not the proper name. The real name of the month is Marheshvan, and midrash suggests that the Mar is a prefix added to the proper name because Mar, like the maror on Pesah, means “bitter.” It might be a nice midrash to think that a month without holidays is sad and bitter, but it is a completely wrong understanding of what the name Marheshvan means. The Akkadian name of the month is warah-sh’van. The Akkadian ’v’ or ‘w’ and the Hebrew ‘m’ interchange. Warah is related to the Hebrew word yerah, month; and sh’van is related to the Hebrew word shemini, eighth. So Marheshvan is the eighth month, following Tishrei, the seventh month.

Why does the New Year fall in the seventh month? First, because the Bible says it does. Second, because the Bible considers Passover to be the celebration of the national beginning of Israel, so it considers Nisan, the month of Passover, to be the first month. That makes Rosh Hashanah fall in the seventh month.

Marheshvan can fall any time from late October to early December. And while it is true that there are no Jewish holidays during that time, there is one American civil holiday which is fully consistent with Jewish values, and that is Thanksgiving. Leaving aside the problematic aspects of the history of the holiday, the concept of Thankgiving aligns perfectly with our celebration of Sukkot, also a festival celebrating the blessings of the harvest.

There is of course one other American holiday in this time period. Halloween. My ambivalence about the celebration of Halloween comes because Judaism has an overabundance of holidays. In traditional Jewish life, there are more than 35 major and minor festivals, not including the weekly Sabbath. Purim even includes the opportunity to dress up in costumes and receive gifts of food from our friends (and of course give gifts as well). For adults, Purim is a time when we are encouraged to get a bit tipsy – how great is that for a religious holiday!

I love celebrating holidays, but I have all I can handle with our own holidays, plus a few civic holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. I don’t have the energy to add onto the rich tapestry of Jewish holidays.

I do not encourage the celebration of Halloween because I would rather see the time, energy, and money spent on Halloween instead devoted to living Jewish life and celebrating Jewish holidays with more enthusiasm. On the other hand, I do not actively discourage Halloween because there is nothing inherently evil about dressing up and getting treats from our neighbors, and besides, being the grinch trying to fight halloween is a losing battle.

My personal ambivalence about Halloween has had absolutely no effect on my family. My children used to love Halloween. At a certain point, Marisa and I gave up and started counting the years until they would be too old for trick or treating. And in the meantime, we consoled ourselves by stealing their candy.

Hebrew Words of the Month – Memorize the Hebrew months:

  • Tishrei
  • Marheshvan
  • Kislev
  • Tevet
  • Sh’vat
  • Adar
  • Nisan
  • Iyar
  • Sivan
  • Tammuz
  • Av
  • Elul

Divre Harav – February/16

Trivia Question: How many days of Hanukkah are there in 2017? You’ll find the answer by reading to the third paragraph of this article. No fair looking ahead!

I am writing this article for the February Voice early in January, shortly after winter arrived, measured by the onset of cold weather, ice, and snow. Around me, except for the evergreens, the trees are completely bare. No green (or even brown) is visible on the ground, only white. At the end of January we celebrated Tu Bishvat, the new year for trees. It is hard to imagine that elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, the sap is beginning to enliven the trees again and soon buds will begin to sprout.

The month of Adar begins this month, normally followed by the month of Nisan, in which we celebrate Passover. If we followed the normal pattern, we’d celebrate Purim on February 23 and Passover March 25. However, the Jewish calendar requires Passover to fall no sooner than a certain time before April 7, the pre-Gregorian calendar’s calculation of the spring equinox. In simpler terms, the calendar tries not to let Passover occur before the world begins to look spring-like! Therefore, every 2-3 years (according to a fixed pattern), a second month of Adar is added before Purim. So this year Purim will fall on March 24 and Passover will begin April 23 and end on April 30! Next Rosh Hashanah does not start until October 3, and Hanukkah begins December 24 and ends on New Year’s Day, 2017.

Now you know the correct answer to the trivia question, How many days of Hanukkah are there in 2017? You can amaze your friends, confound your enemies, and win countless bets because everyone who can count the branches of a Hanukkah menorah and subtract one for the shamash knows that there are eight, but you know the answer is nine: January 1, 2017 and December 12-20, 2017!

One more fun and confusing fact (because everything having to do with the Jewish calendar is confusing): I’ve already mentioned that there are two months of Adar. For the purpose of calculating Yahrtzeits and celebrating Purim, the added month of Adar is Adar I. If a person died in a non-leap-year Adar, his or her Yahrtzeit is observed in Adar II in a leap year, as is Purim.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • shana m’uberet: A leap year of 13 months. Literally, a pregnant year.
  • tekufah: equinox or solstice (Hebrew does not distinguish).
  • molad: the precise moment of the new moon. Literally, birth.
  • rishon: first, as in Adar Rishon, the first month of Adar.
  • sheni: second, as in Adar Sheni, the second month of Adar.

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:


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.


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 – January/2012 – Sacred Time

The month of Tevet, falling in late December – early January, contains the fast day of the 10th of Tevet (this year, Thursday, January 5) commemorating the start of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia and culminated in the destruction of the Temple.  In 1951, the Israeli chief rabbinate decided to turn this day into a memorial day for Shoah victims whose date of death is unknown.  Despite this, in 1954 the Israeli Keneset passed a law creating a Holocaust Memorial day on the 27th of Nisan, a day approximately midway between the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the celebration of Israel Independence Day. Nevertheless, the 10th of Tevet remains the official Yahrtzeit day for victims of the Shoah whose actual Yahrtzeit is unknown.

Sometimes, Jews complain that Judaism has too many holidays.  I sympathize.  However, I think the human being has an psychological need to mark and celebrate time. Freethinkers have a calendar of events that often include seasonal celebrations, such as winter solstice parties, as well as regular gatherings. I sometimes wonder whether the over-commercialization of Christmas is related to the relative paucity of sacred days of the Christian calendar.  If our calendar doesn’t give us enough of a variety of days to celebrate, then we will take the celebrations that we have and expand them.

Sacred days are event magnets.  Rarely does a holiday commemorate only one event.  Most Jewish holidays, like the 10th of Tevet, have multiple associations.  The Biblical festivals, which began as Harvest festivals, accumulated additional layers of meaning.  the 9th of Av, the day on which both Temples were destroyed, is also the day on which Jews were exiled from Spain in 1492 as well as other national calamities and exiles.

As Americans, we live our lives by the rhythm of the secular calendar.  The day of the week often determines when we will wake up, where we will go, and what we will do.  We know what the next holiday is because that gives us a break from our routine to look forward to.

To live a dedicated Jewish life, we live our lives by the rhythms of the Jewish calendar. We are aware of the number of days until Shabbat, and that determines when we wake up, where we go, and who we see.  If we know the day of the month, then we also know the phase of the moon and approximately how many days until the next holiday, which not only breaks our routine but also most likely will require some preparation to celebrate properly.

The Jewish calendar ought not be something to resent (or worse, to ignore).  Rather than seeing it as an intrusion on our lives, we might see it as an opportunity to examine a different dimension of our lives.  In the short, cold days of winter, isn’t it nice to have Tu Bishvat (February 8), Purim (March 8), and even Pesah (April 7) to look forward to?