Shabbat and Yom Kippur

September 13, 2013

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Shabbat message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, September 13, 2013.

Shabbat and Yom Kippur 

There has long been a debate about what is the holiest day of the year: is it Shabbat?? Or is it Yom Kippur? Of course this year, 5774, it’s not an issue: Yom Kippur this year falls on Shabbat! In any case, the whole issue about calculating the calendar is so complicated, it can make you dizzy!

The Hebrew calendar, is a lunar calendar . . . the days of the month conform to the cycles of the moon – a moon cycle (new moon to new moon) is 29.5 days, so each Hebrew month is either 29 or 30 days. In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, the month was declared when witnesses observed the new moon. But that wasn’t enough! A lunar year (12 lunar months) is only 354 days (instead of the 365.25 of our solar year). Since the lunar year, then, is 11 days shorter than the solar year, that means that the holidays would be 11 days earlier each year, and could wrap around the calendar until each holiday would be celebrated throughout all the seasons... Passover would be in the spring, then earlier the next year, then during the winter the following year, eventually in the fall and in the summer. That is, in fact, the case for the Muslim calendar: Ramadan, for example, is observed in all the seasons. That can’t happen in Judaism, however! Our holidays are connected to the seasons. Passover is ALWAYS in the spring. Rosh Hashanah is ALWAYS in the fall, etc. Therefore we are in need of a leap year. In a Hebrew leap year, however, rather than adding an extra day every four years the way we do in our Gregorian Calendar, we must add an extra MONTH! And . . . the months have to be calculated in a complicated way. In every 19 year cycle, there are 7 leap years!

But wait... there’s more! And here we come to how Yom Kippur fits into the calendar. Perhaps you’ve never really noticed, but Yom Kippur can NEVER be on a Friday or a Sunday! If it’s on a Friday, it would interfere with the Sabbath, because we couldn’t light Sabbath Candles since we can’t light fires on Yom Kippur. If Yom Kippur were on a Sunday, we wouldn’t be able to prepare properly for the complicated eating (a meal before the sun sets on the evening of Yom Kippur, and just after the sun sets at the end of Yom Kippur).

After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Rabbis had to figure out how to mathematically calculate the calendar, rather than waiting for witnesses, and it took centuries to perfect. BECAUSE OF YOM KIPPUR, however, the calculations were further complicated. If Yom Kippur can never be on a Friday or a Sunday, Rosh Hashanah can only be a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday! If each month has a fixed number of days, how do we do that? We do that by having two months (Chesvan and Kislev) having interchangeable numbers of days – EITHER 29 or 30. Days are added or subtracted in order to manipulate the calendar so there’s no conflict between Yom Kippur and Shabbat! So – in my opinion, in any case, Shabbat is actually holier than Yom Kippur because the whole Hebrew calendar is manipulated so Shabbat observance isn’t complicated by Yom Kippur. This year, however, there’s no contest. Tonight is Yom Kippur AND Shabbat.

Complicated? You bet.

So... Chag Sameach, Gmar Chatimah Tovah (May you be written for Good in the Book of Life), and Shabbat Shalom.

Are there particular Shabbat foods that are traditional in your family? Let us know!