Shabbat, Thanksgivukkah and Beyond

November 29, 2013

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, November 29, 2013. 

Shabbat, Thanksgivukkah and Beyond

There has been so much information about Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Thanksgivukkah, Menurkies and Pilgrims on the web, Facebook, in Newsletters and Newspapers -- it’s been dizzying. The only time in our lifetime(s) that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving collide. Depending on what you read and where you read it, the estimates are wild about when, if ever, the next time will be… in 79,000 years? In the year 2065? In the year 2070? Never?

The Hebrew Calendar is ENOURMOUSLY complicated, no wonder everyone is confused. Since it’s a lunar calendar, the months are based on the cycles of the moon: The new month is always the new moon. So… unlike our Gregorian solar calendar of 365.25 days per year, the Hebrew lunar calendar has a mere 354 days – which means that each year the lunar calendar starts 11 days earlier. That won’t do, of course, because Jewish holidays need to be at particular seasons: Hanukkah in the dark of winter, Passover in the spring, Rosh Hashanah in the autumn. So we need leap years to keep everything balanced. The Gregorian leap year, of course, is an extra day every 4 years (unless the year is divisible by 100, but not 400… very confusing… so don’t ask! You can google Gregorian calendar if you really want to figure it out.) But the Hebrew leap year happens 7 times in a 19 year cycle.

But wait – there’s more! The system of leap years isn’t perfect because there are actually a few minutes different every year. This was a disaster for the pre-Gregorian solar calendar, because it didn’t correct the calendar for those few pesky minutes. So in 1582, when the Pope Gregory declared the calendar, they skipped 10 days in March so the Vernal Equinox would return to being on March 21! (I warned you this would be dizzying.) When the Rabbis in the 4th Century figured out how to calculate the calendar for the next few thousand years, they also ignored a few stray minutes. Therefore, the whole Hebrew calendar breaks down in the Hebrew year 6000! Right now is the Hebrew year 5774. In a mere 226 years, it will be the Hebrew year 6000… on Rosh HaShanah in the “American” year 2239 all bets are off as to how they will correct the calendar.  Although some people calculate that there might be a confluence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving before that in 2165. What will happen in the year 6000? The Medieval Philosopher/Scientist/Physician Maimonides in the 12th Century considered the problem. However, the 23rdCentury was so far off, he figured it didn’t matter because he felt that the Messiah would surely appear before then, and there would be no need for a regular calendar.

However we calculate it, this will be the only confluence of the two holidays in our lifetime. And… the night after Thanksgiving will be Shabbat. The Maccabees, when they created the Holiday of Hanukkah, felt it was a time for Thanksgiving…  they just won a war with the Greeks, and they restored the ritual in the Temple for the first time in 2 years, and gave thanks for the previous harvest which would normally have been celebrated at the Fall holiday of Sukkot, but wasn’t since the Temple was in the hands of the Greeks. It was the same Biblical holiday of Sukkot that inspired the Pilgrims to give thanks. So too can we, at this confluence of holidays with its adjacent Shabbat, think about the blessings in our lives as Americans and as Jews, and give thanks that we have been brought to this season.


Shabbat Shalom