When Should a Hebrew Leap Year Be Intercalated?
Can Passover Come Before Spring?
Can Passover occur before Spring? The Karaite Jews tell us
that the only true key to the beginning a year is whether the
barley is ripening, or at the “abib” stage – hence the first month
of the year is called “Abib.” In their belief, therefore, Passover
can occur before Spring begins, or March 21, if the barley begins
to get ripe by that time. But is this true? Is the “barley condition”
the ONLY or the MAJOR factor to begin the year?. What are
the determining factors in starting a new year? What does the
Bible tell us? What does the evidence of the Talmud, the record
ancient Jewish practice during
William F. Dankenbring
Can Passover occur before the advent of Spring? According to science, “spring” is the first quarter of the year beginning with the vernal equinox, which occurs March 21. Says the Winston Dictionary of “spring,” “the season of the year when plants begin to grow, usually in the northern hemisphere, from March 21 to June 22 . . . Astronomy, in the northern hemisphere, the period between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, or from about March 21 to June 22.”
The Karaite Jews, however, believe that Passover can occur before the advent of Spring. They claim that only the ripening barley is used to determine the beginning of a new year.
In an email letter, Nehemia
Gordon stated, “Only by examining the barley in various regions of the
to the Karaites, therefore, this year if the barley is in “abib” condition by
the 1st of March, then Passover and Unleavened bread will commence
Clearly, March 16 is 6 days before the Spring Equinox (March 21)! Can the Passover be celebrated properly 6 days BEFORE the coming of actual “Spring”? Is the state of the “barley” the ONLY “key factor” in determining the beginning of a year?
does Scripture say? And what DO the
ancient Jewish rabbis of
The first mention of a subject in the Scriptures is to be considered fundamental to understanding a subject. It sets the overall pattern and is the basis for whatever comes later. The first relevant Scripture regarding years is found in Genesis 1:14-16. God said: “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; let them be for signs and SEASONS, and for days and years” (Gen.1:14).
The Hebrew word for “seasons” is moadim – the plural of the Hebrew word moad, which means “an appointment, a fixed time or season, spec. a festival, conventionally a year; by impl. an assembly (as convened for a definite purpose), tech. the congregation, by extension the place of meeting; also a signal (as appointed beforehand).” Clearly this Hebrew word has many related meanings. Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon says of this word: “a set time, (a) of a point of time . . . spec. a festival day . . . the feasts of Jehovah . . . and thus by meton. of the festival sacrifices . . . (b) of a space of time, as appointed, defined . . . specifically in prophetic style of a year . . .(2) an assembly . . . (3) Meton. a place in which an assembly is held . . . (4) an appointed sign, a signal.”
Genesis suggests strongly that the sun and moon and stars are among the KEYS to determining the start of “seasons, and for days and YEARS.”
In the Hebrew calendar, each month begins
with a New Moon, the first sighted crescent of the new moon as seen from
The key to beginning the year involves TWO great questions, according to the Scriptures. First, as Genesis 1:14 shows, the YEAR’s beginning is determined in part by the position of the SUN in its orbit. It also is a key factor in determining the annual “moadim” – the annual Festivals and Holy Days of God.
The other key factor, mentioned later in
Scripture, is the condition of the barley harvest in
The very name of the month is “Abib” and the term “abib” refers to the condition of the growth of the barley plants. “Abib” is the month in the spring when the first-fruits of the barley harvest had to be offered up on the second day of Passover, or Abib (or Nisan) 16, to the Lord (Lev.23:10-11). To prove that this “Omer” offering was made on the 16th day of Abib or Nisan, write for our articles: “How Should We Count Pentecost?”, “Pentecost – the Final Answer,” “The Saga of Pentecost,” “Counting the Omer,” and “Sefirat Ha Omer – Key to Overcoming.”
How do these two Biblical keys to determining the beginning of a new year interface and interact with each other?
The normal Jewish year has 12 months or about 354 days, about 11 days short of a solar year (of 365 ¼ days). In about three years, the Jews add a 13th month, called Adar II, to bring the lunar calendar in line with the solar calendar, to prevent the seasons from cycling through the year, as the Muslim calendar does. In the Muslim lunar calendar, because the solar year is completely ignored, the Fast of Ramadan rotates throughout the year – it occurs about 11 days earlier every year! Muslims therefore celebrate their fast about one month earlier every three years, going from Fall to Summer to Spring to Winter! But God’s Festivals must be kept ‘IN THEIR SEASON” (Gen.1:14; Lev.23:4; Numbers 9:2-3, 13; Num.28:2).
Why is this necessary? Because the Festivals of God have to be observed in their proper SEASON! Passover therefore must fall in the Spring, and the Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall. Adding a 13th month is called “intercalation.”
Says the Encyclopedia Judaica, the Jewish calendar is “luni-solar,” meaning “the months being reckoned according to the moon and the years according to the sun.” Twelve lunar months equal about 354 days, whereas a solar year is 365 and about ¼ days, a difference of 11 days.
The authority continues: “The cycles of 12 lunar months must therefore be adjusted to the solar year, because although the Jewish festivals are fixed according to dates in months, they must also be in specific (agricultural) seasons of the year which depend on the tropical solar year. Without any adjustment the festivals would ‘wander’ through the seasons and the spring festival (Passover), for example, would be eventually celebrated in winter, and later in summer. . . . In Temple times this intercalation was decided upon in the individual years according to agricultural conditions” (“Calendar,” vol.5, page 43).
The seasons themselves are determined by the sun. Says this authority, “Tekufot (‘Seasons’). As stated, the four seasons in the Jewish year are called tekufot. More accurately, it is the beginning of each of the four seasons – according to the common view, the mean veginning – that is named tekufah (literally ‘circuit’ . . . ‘to go round’), the tekufah of Nisan denoting the mean sun at the vernal equinoctial point, that of Tammuz denoting it at the summer solstitial point, that of Tishri, at the autumnal equinoctial point, and that of Tevet, at the winer solstitial point.”
Says the Encyclopedia, “the main reason d’etre of intercalation – to prevent the lunar Nisan 16 from occurring before the day of the tekufah of Nisan . . . on the presumption that the tekufah of Nisan stands for the true, not the mean, vernal equinox.”
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “Astronomy was, however, always a powerful factor, as the state of the crops is ultimately determined by the sun’s position in its annual path” (p.50).
A very useful book on the Jewish Calendar is Understanding the Jewish Calendar, written by Rabbi Nathan Bushwick (copywrite 1989, printed in Israel). In the chapter ‘Months and Years” he points out that a year is one complete cycle of the sun through the constellations ( Zodiac). This takes about 365 ¼ days. In each year, there are four special days – the longest day, the shortest day, and two days where day and night are of equal length. These are called the four Tekufas, in Hebrew. They are:
1. The winter solstice Tekuva Teves
2. The spring equinox Tekuva Nisan
3. The summer solstice Tekuva Tammuz
4. The autumna equinox Tekuva Tishri
Since the Hebrew calendar is normally 12 months averaging 29 ½ days each, the months would slowly fall behind the seasons. 12 months would equal 354 days, about 11 days short of a solar year. To solve this problem, the Jews add a thirteenth month every 2 to 3 years. This is done to keep the months aligned with their appropriate seasons.
If there were no intercalation or adding of a thirteenth month, the summer months would begin to fall in the spring, and the spring months would begin to fall in the winter. In three years they would be 33 days behind, a little more than a month. In twenty years, they would be 220 days behind, or more than half a year.
The Torah tells us Passover must be in the month of Aviv or Abib. “Keep the month of Spring and make Pesach” (Deut.16:1)). Says Rabbi Bushwick, “We understand this to mean that Pesach must not fall BEFORE the spring equinox, Tekufas Nisan” (page 50).
Notice this passage more carefully. The New King James Version has it: “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover” (Deut.16:1). The month of Abib is the first month of Spring. The word Abib itself means “from an unused root (mean. to be tender); green, i.e. a a young ear of grain; hence, the name of the month Abib or Nisan – Abib, ear, green ears of corn” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, #24). Says Gesenius, “an ear of corn, a green ear, Lev.2:14, Exo.9:31,’the barley was in the ear,’ i..e. the ears were developed.”
“Nisan” itself is another name for this month. “Nisan” in the Hebrew, denotes “the month of flowers” (Gesenius Hebrew-Caldee Lexicon of the Old Testament, #5212).
Thus Nisan or Abib was identified by the ancient Rabbis and Jewish Sanhedrin as the first month of SPRING, when new life is bursting out all over! In the Song of Songs which was written by Solomon, son of David, we read:
“For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The
the flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig
tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender
grapes give a good smell” (Song of Solomon 2:10-13).
Therefore, according to the Rabbinic Jews, PASSOVER must occur AFTER the Spring euinox! What could be plainer?
How is this to be guaranteed? Bushwick continues:
“The way that we prevent this from happening is really quite
simple. If we see that Pesach is going to fall too early we just
postpone it for a month. We add an extra month before Nisan
and we call it Adar Sheni, Second Adar. The day that would
have been the first day of Nisan becomes the first day of Adar
Sheni and we don’t start Nisan until the next new moon. This
results in a year of thirteen months instead of twelve” (p.50).
In ancient times, Bushwick declares, it was the Jewish Sanhedrin which adjudicated these matters. He writes:
“The Sanhedrin used a similar method to determine whether the year
should be a regular year or leap year. You will recall that the reason for
making a leap year is to make sure that Pesach falls in the spring. Each
year, in the month of Adar, they would determine how much longer the
winter would last. Their determination was based on weather and AGRI-
CULTURAL conditions, and upon calculations of the date of the spring
equinox. IF THEY CAME TO THE CONCLUSION that the NEXT
MONTH would be SPRING ALREADY, they would declare it a REGULAR
YEAR and the next month would be Nisan. If, however, they decided
that it would not be spring for another month, they would declare the next
month Adar Sheni [Adar Second, or Adar II] and it would be a leap year”
Bushwick states further,
“It was impossible to know in advance whether a particular year
would be a regular year or a leap year or whether a particular month
would have twenty-nine or thirty days, since the final decision of both
of these things was made by the Sanhedrin year by year and month
by month. The length of the month was never determined until the
thirtieth day actually arrived and the length of the year was generally
not determined until the month of Adar. So you can see it was impos-
sible to ever publish a calendar” (p.52).
Bushwick goes on, saying that because God KNEW in advance that there would be times when Israel would not have a Sanhedrin, He gave the Jews the principles by which they could calculate a calendar without having to make regular observations.
Arthur Spier, in The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar, also addresses the issue of intercalation of the calendar in the times of the Second Temple. He shows that regarding the beginnings of new years in ancient times, a number of factors -- not just one – had to be considered. He states:
“A special committee of the Sanhedrin, with its president as chairman,
had the mandate to regulate and balance the solar with the lunar years.
This so-called Calendar Council (Sod Haibbur) calculated the beginnings
of the seasons (Tekufoth) on the basis of astronomical figures handed
down as a tradition of old. Whenever, after two or three years, the annual
excess of 11 days had accumulated to approximately 30 days, a thirteenth
month Adar II was inserted before Nisan in order to assure that Nisan and
Passover would occur in Spring and not retrogress toward winter.”
Notice that the major criteria for determining when to intercalate a year and make a leap year by adding a thirteenth month was plainly based on ASTRONOMCIAL FIGURES handed down as an ancient tradition, and that this was done IN ORDER TO KEEP PASSOVER IN THE SPRINGTIME!
Notice! When the days had accumulated to about 30 days, then an “extra month,” or “leap month,” was declared by the Sanhedrin. This was to keep the festivals from retrogressing toward the winter and coming earlier and earlier every year, so that Passover would always be observed in the proper season – springtime!—“to assure that NISAN and PASSOVER would occur in Spring and not retrogress toward winter,” Arthur Spier plainly declared.
Spier continues, giving other reasons why a 13th month, Adar II, would be added in a given year, by the Sanhedrin:
“However, the astronomical observation was not the only basis for inter-
calation of a thirteenth month. The delay of the actual arrival of spring
was another decisive factor. The Talmudic sources report that the
Council intercalated a year when the BARLEY IN THE FIELDS HAD
NOT YET RIPENED, when the fruit of the trees had not grown properly,
when the winter rains had not stopped, when the roads for Passover
pilgrims had not dried up, and when the young pigeons had not become
fledged. The council on intercalation considered the astronomical facts
together with the religious requirements of Passover and the natural
conditions of the country” (p.1-2).
Notice that if the barley was not yet ripe, then a thirteenth month would be added, so the wave sheaf offering performed on Nisan 16 could be offered. However, he did NOT say that if the barley was ripe, that a thirteenth month could not be added – for instance, in a year when the barley became ripe BEFORE spring equinox, thus placing Passover and Nisan 16 before the equinox (March 21st).
Says Leslie Koppelman Ross in Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holidays Handbook, “The SUN, which determines the agricultural year, grounds us in nature. The moon, waxing and waning, reflects our history and destiny of renewal after diminishment” (p.xxv).
The Jewish Talmud discusses this subject at length in Sanhedrin 11B. The Talmud shows that there were other subordinate factors which also related to deciding when to add a thirteenth month to a year. For example, the Talmud states: “The court does not intercalate the year unless it is necessary because of the roads, or because of the bridges that often are washed away as a result of heavy winter rains, thereby making it difficult, without the added month, for even the local pilgrims to reach Jerusalem in time for Pesach; or because of the Pesach ovens, used to roast the Paschal sacrifice, which are often damaged as well by rain, and in need of drying out” (The Talmud, the Steinsaltz Edition, vol.XV, tractate Sanhedrin, part 1, 11B, page 107-108).
“A number of considerations might make it necessary to declare a leap year: If the roads or bridges are in disrepair, so that pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem will be unable to reach their destination by Pesach, or will endanger themselves in the attempt; if the Pesach ovens were damaged by the winter rains, so that the people arriving in Jerusalem will not have anywhere to roast their Paschal sacrifices; or if the Diaspora Jews have already departed from home, but will not arrive in Jerusalem in time for Pesach” (Halakhah footnote, page 108).
Other subordinate factors include newly hatched pigeons which cannot fly yet, which are used in various private sacrifices brought to the Temple. The court also did not intercalate merely because of newly born lambs or goats, which can use some fattening up before being used as sacrifices, for they could be used for that person regardless.
These lesser factors may impinge on a decision of the court to add an intercalary month or not, but by themselves would not be enough. Says the Talmud, “But even though we cannot proclaim a leap year on account of these considerations, we do produce them as support for intercalations the year when a more fundamental concern is already present, such as the fear that grain will not ripen by Pesach or fruit by Shavuot, or the fear that either Pesach or Sukkot will not fall in its appointed season” (p.108).
The two major factors, however, according to the Talmud, and mentioned directly in Scripture, are the fact that the feasts must occur during their appointed seasons, and the barley grain must be ripe enough for Passover, to make the “omer” offering.
Says the Talmud, reasons for intercalating an additional month in a year include “a delay in the ripening of grain or fruit for the arrival of a Festival PRIOR TO its appointed SEASON.” It goes on to declare, “The Rishonim disagree in regard to the difference between these two Baraitot: Tosafa explains that, any single factor mentioned in our Baraita provides sufficient reason to intercalate the year, the court would require two from those listed in the later Baraita. Rabbenu Yona explains that, whereas the factors listed in our Baraita allow the Sages to intercalate the year [the subordinate factors), those listed in the later Baraita ACTUALLY OBLIGATE THEM TO DO SO” (Notes, page 108).
The point is, there are TWO mandatory reasons for declaring a leap year – 1) because the grain (barley) is not ripe enough in time, i.e. too “green”, and 2) the season of Spring, which begins at the Spring Equinox, has not yet come so that Passover can be observed in its proper season – that is, Spring, which begins March 21! Therefore, these two factors must both agree in order to intercalate a 13th month.
In other words, such things as bad roads or washed out bridges, newly born goats or lambs, or fledgling pigeons, “may be considered as AUXILLARY REASONS for proclaiming a leap year IF one of the principal reasons for intercalating the year is also applicable” (same page).
In one example, Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem wrote to their brothers exiled in Babylon, saying, “We hereby inform you that the pigeons are tender and the lambs are slender, and the time of the barley opening has not yet arrived. Hence, the matter appearing proper in my eyes and in the eyes of my colleagues, I have added onto this year an additional thirty days” (p.110).
Even after the Temple was destroyed, the Sages took into consideration all those factors which would be relevant to intercalation, as if the Temple were still standing, as a sign of their hope that the Temple would soon be rebuilt. This was continued until the advent of the “fixed” Jewish calendar ordained by Hillel II in 357-58 A.D.
The Gemara portion of the Talmud continues the discussion of intercalation. We read:
“The Gemara continues its discussion of the considerations that lead
to the proclamation of a leap year: Our rabbis taught the following
Baraita: Because of three issues the judges of the High Court
Intercalate the year: Because the issue of Pesach approaching
before the barley ripening, a Biblical condition for observing the
holiday (see Deuteronomy 16:1); and because of the issue of Shavuot
approaching before the fruit of the tree has ripened, thus forcing
the harvesters to delay bringing their ritual offering of the first-fruit,
an offering associated with the observance of Shavuot (see Exodus
23:16), until their next trip to Jerusalem; and because of the issue
of the equinox not properly coinciding with its designated Festival
observance, such as when the vernal equinox occurs after the 16th
of Nisan, or the autumnal equinox occurs after the 21st of Tishri.
When two of these conditions exist, they can intercalate the year,
but when only one of them exists, they cannot intercalate the year”
Let’s notice this CAREFULLY! Here it says when “two” of these conditions exist, intercalation is possible – unready barley, the fruit of trees not ready, and the equinox.
Going on, notice what we read under “Notes,” at the same passage. The Talmud states,
“Because of three issues. Riva suggests that all three of these issues
essentially point at the same concern: THAT THE FESTIVALS OCCUR
IN THEIR PROPER SEASON. Furthermore, he suggests that each of
the three issues relates to a different Festival: The concern with the
first ripening grain relates to the importance of Pesach being celebrated
in its appropriate season; the concern with regard to the ripening of
fruit relates to the practice of bringing the first-fruits during the Festival
of Shavuot; finally, the concern with regard to the timing of the seasonal
equinox relates to the importance of Sukkot commencing AFTER
AUTUMN HAS OFFICIALLY BEGUN” (page 111).
Says the Talmud commentary under “Halakhah,”
“Because of three issues. ‘An extra month is added to the year:
(1) If it appears that the vernal equinox will occur ON OR AFTER
THE 16TH OF NISAN; (2) it if appears that the barley will not ripen
sufficiently by Pesach; or (3) if it appears that the fruit that ordinarily
ripens around Pesach time will not ripen by then. THE LATENESS
OF THE VERNAL EQUINOX IS BY ITSELF SUFFICIENT
REASON TO ADD AN EXTRA MONTH TO THE YEAR, following
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel. But if it does not appear that the
equinox will be late, the year is ONLY intercalated if both of the
other two factors are present.’ (Ramban, Sefer Zemanim, Hilkhot
Kiddush, HaHodesh 4:2,3).”
This clarification is very important. Here we see that the “lateness of the vernal equinox IS BY ITSELF SUFFICIENT” to add an extra month to a year, making it a leap year! Here the passage clarifies that if it does not appear that the equinox will be late, THEN intercalation is done ONLY IF both of the other two factors are present, regarding the barley and fruit of trees!
Let’s hold it right there, for a moment! Notice with crystal clarity!
Vernal Equinox –16th Nisan Equinox or After
“An extra month is added to the year: . . . If it appears that
the vernal equinox will occur ON OR AFTER THE 16TH
OF NISAN . . .”
That is a plain and straightforward statement! An extra month is added whenever the spring equinox comes on Nisan 16 or afterward! This passage clears up the whole issue, according to the Talmud itself.
What does the date of Nisan 16 have to do with it? Nisan 16 is the SECOND DAY OF PASSOVER! It is the day of the “wave sheaf” or “omer” offering, which consisted of the FIRST-FRUITS OF BARLEY from the barley harvest in the Spring!
Notice! The Talmud clearly says, if the second day of Passover is the Spring Equinox, or if the Spring Equinox occurs AFTER that date, then AN EXTRA MONTH IS TO BE ADDED, MAKING A LEAP YEAR!
Those are the clear instructions of the Talmud itself.
This brings up a dilemma for the Karaites. According to them, the sole determining factor in beginning a new year is the ABIB factor of the barley harvest. They disregard any astronomical factors, and seemingly ignore God’s Word in Genesis 1:14.
Obviously, both cannot be right!
This year of 2006, the Karaites, according to version 1 of their projected calendars for the coming year, declare that the New Moon of Nisan or Abib will be seen March 1st, around sunset, making day 1 of Nisan March 2. The Passover would be March 15, and the 2nd day of Passover would be March 16.
March 16 is FIVE DAYS BEFORE the SPRING EQUINOX which occurs March 21! The Karaite position would place Passover six days BEFORE the Spring equinox!
But according to the Talmud,
“An extra month is added to the year: . . . If it appears that
the vernal equinox will occur ON OR AFTER THE 16TH
OF NISAN . . .”
If it appears that the vernal equinox will occur ON OR AFTER THE 16TH OF NISAN,” THEN AN EXTRA MONTH IS ADDED! Period! That is very plain, according to the Talmud itself, the ancient Jewish authority and record on the subject.
That means that the coming year MUST be a leap year, with an extra month added to the current year – an “Adar II”!
So the Karaite calendar which would begin the new year on March 2nd obviously flies in the face of the Talmud and the Rabbinical calendar rules of old – the rules in existence long before Hillel II made his changes in 357-58 A.D.!!
In a paper on the subject, a Karaite actually referred to the Talmud tractate Sanhedrin 11B. I don’t really know why. It seems rather “quaint” that a Karaite Jew would actually give a passage in the Talmud as a reference for his teachings on the leap year, when the Talmud clearly contradicts the Karaite position and conclusions, if we take every word of the Talmud passage seriously. There is no room left to doubt as to the official Jewish position of the rabbis.
Clearly, the important of the EQUINOX in these considerations cannot be minimized! It is of critical importance! So says the Jewish Talmud itself. The passages in Sanhedrin 11B do NOT give license to celebrate Passover PRIOR to the Spring equinox, which would occur this year IF the Karaites FAIL to add an intercalary month this year!
The Jewish historian Josephus himself states that Passover must come in the Spring. He wrote:
“In the month of Xanthicus, which is by us called Nisan, and is the
beginning of our year, on the fourteenth day of the lunar month, WHEN
THE SUN IS IN ARIES (for in this month it was that we were delivered
from bondage under the Egyptians,) the law ordained that we should
every year slay that sacrifice which I before told you we slew when we
came out of Egypt, and which was called the Passover: and so do we
celebrate this Passover in companies, leaving nothing of what we sacrifice
till the day following. The feast of unleavened bread succeeds that of the
Passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, and continues seven
Days, wherein they feed on unleavened bread . . . . But on the SECOND
DAY of unleavened bread, which is the SIXTEENTH DAY OF THE
MONTH, they first partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that day
They do not touch them” (Antiquities, Book III, chapter X, part 5).
“Aries” is the heavenly constellation which begins at the Spring Equinox, and continues 30 days. Thus Passover, according to Josephus, could not come before the Spring Equinox! “Aries” is the sign of the Lamb, or Ram – which is the sign of the “Lamb of God” who took away the sins of the world, bearing them upon Himself when He was slain for us, as our “Passover Lamb” (I Cor.5:7; John 1:29).
The Lamb of God was not slain in the winter. The Jews knew Aries must follow the Spring Equinox. So they made a rule that Passover cannot occur before Aries comes, which begins March 21. So the Karaites, who could celebrate Passover BEFORE Aries, or the Spring Equinox, are in GRAVE ERROR! This year version 1 of their projected calendar would place Passover on March 15 – six days before Spring begins, according to the astronomical cycle.
Philo was a highly education Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, who lived in the first century. He also wrote about the timing of the annual holy days of God, and the seasons in which they were to be observed.
In The Works of Philo, Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Version, translated by C.D. Yonge, we read of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. He connects it with the spring equinox (“The Special Laws, II, the Fifth Festival,” page 582). Says Philo, “The vernal equinox is an imitation and representation of that beginning in accordance with which this world was created. Accordingly, every year God reminds men of the creation of the world, and with this view puts forward the spring, in which season all plants flourish and bloom” (p.582). Thus he connects the first month, Nisan, with the spring (vernal) equinox, as this is the time of the flourishing of new life, blossoming and blooming and replacing the barrenness of winter. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, he says, “is begun on the fifteenth day of the month, in the middle of the month, on the day on which the moon is full of light. . .” Thus Philo shows the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread must fall in the springtime, the time of the “vernal equinox.”
Philo also says, of the Feast of Tabernacles, “The last of the annual festivals is that which is called the feast of tabernacles, which is fixed for the season of the autumnal equinox” (page 587).
The Orthodox Jews and their ancestors, the Rabbis and Pharisees and Scribes, have given much thought to these issues. They have wrestled with them, debated them, and considered all the consequences, and have determined that in order for Passover and Sukkot to be celebrated at the proper time, in the proper season, the ISSUE OF THE EQUINOX IS OF PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE!!!
Because in some years, the weather might cause crops to begin to ripen earlier than Spring, this meant that occasionally there would be some hardship among farmers, for if a month was intercalated, even though the barley had begun to ripen, then the “first-fruits” of the barley would be delayed, and no harvesting could begin until the offering was made on Nisan 16. This would not make for happy farmers, but they would have to resist the urge to begin harvesting before the appointed time.
The Talmudic authorities even address this problem. When a leap year was declared and an extra month inserted to delay the beginning of a new year, because the BARLEY is not ready for Passover harvesting, when the first month of the new year would normally be due, then people are HAPPY, because this gives them one more month before the grain is ready for harvest. But what if the grain is ready, but the proper time has not yet come, because of intercalation?
Says the Talmud: “If, however, the grain did ripen by Pesach, and nevertheless the year was intercalated on account of the other two issues, then people would indeed be unhappy since the harvestable grain would have to remain in the field for an additional month without any benefit to its grower” (p.112).
This was a concern. However, it was deemed better to push Passover later, rather than cause it to occur earlier, before the Spring-time, or Spring Equinox!
Why was this the case? I suspect it was for RELIGIOUS REASONS – to keep the months in alignment with the SEASONS which God commanded (Gen.1:14). Unknown to the Jews, the true Lamb of God was going to come, and be sacrificed on Nisan 14, in the Spring, in the sign of Aries!
The Equinox is, therefore, the major key to determining the official beginning of Spring – not the barley harvest, which might begin a little earlier some years due to a warm winter and ample rainfall.
A similar problem occurred in the fall of the year.
Says the Talmud:
“It was asked of those Sages discussing this Baraita: Does this last statement
of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel’s imply that when the year is intercalated
because of the issue of the autumn equinox commencing after the Festival
of Sukkot has begun, we are happy as well; since otherwise, were autumn
to begin before Sukkot and the year nevertheless be intercalated for other
reasons, it would mean having the Festival pilgrims return to their homes
in the midst of the rainy season? Or perhaps Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel
meant to argue with the first Tanna of the Baraita in maintaining that
over the issue of the equinox alone, the High Court can intercalate the
year without recourse to any of the other two reasons mentioned? The
Sages of the Gemara offer no solution to this query, and so it is con-
cluded that we let the problem stand unresolved” (p.112).
In other words, the question of the motives of Rabbi Gamliel were not clear to the sages that came later, so they decided to just let the matter or question lay unresolved. They did not know the answer, and knew they did not know, so further discussion was considered useless.
The Feast of Sukkot or Tabernacles was also called “the Feast of Ingathering” (Exo.23:16). By definition, this festival was to occur at the END of the harvest, during or at the conclusion of “ingathering” of the harvest. Its dating clearly was the seventh month, Tishri 15-21 (Lev.23:34-41).
But if the year began so early that Passover fell before the Spring Equinox, this would bring the Fall Festival very early, cutting into the time of harvest. This concerned the rabbis. “So Rabbis were given the option of intercalating the year whenever it appeared to them that, if they did not do so, there would be insufficient time to ‘ingather’ the fruits before the advent of Sukkot”, says the Talmud (p.112).
It would be very difficult in Israel for farmers to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Ingathering when there was not yet any “INGATHERING” or “HARVEST”, or in the MIDDLE of the harvest! How can you observe the festival of Harvest BEFORE the actual harvest? The Feasts of Israel all revolve around the harvest seasons!
This year, if the Karaites go with their “early” calendar, they would have the Feast of Tabernacles occurring from September 9-15 – before the autumn even comes!
This problem of an early Feast was thoroughly debated among the rabbis. The issue revolved around the equinox. They debated the phrase, “Because of the equinox.”
Just what did this mean? Says the Talmud:
“Rashi explains that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel might have meant that an extra month can be added to the year if it appears that the equinox will be late, even if no other conditions are met, because this is a stipulation of Torah law. Remah rejects this explanation, arguing that the other factors are also matters of Torah law. Rather, the late occurrence of the equinox might be sufficient reason for adding an extra month to the year because the equinox occurs at a fixed time, and the times at which the grain or fruit ripen are usually related to the time of the equinox, although they also depend on the year’s rainfall and other climatic conditions. Rabbenu Yonah explains that the year might be intercalated because of the equinox, EVEN IF THERE IS NO OTHER REASON for adding another month to the year, because the time at which the equinox will occur can be calculated precisely, but the time at which the grain or the fruit will ripen can only be estimated. Hence an extra month can be added to the year only if it appears that neither the grain nor the fruit will ripen in time” (ibid., emphasis mine).
Clearly, the whole discussion showed the vital importance of the Equinox. The rabbis concluded the extra month could be added simply because it appeared the Equinox would be late (compared to weather and its effects), 1) because of the Torah Law, 2) because the Equinox occurred at a fixed time, and 3) even if there is no other reason for adding another month to the year! In other words, the sacred calendar considerations “trump” the agricultural considerations, whenever there is a conflict, which seldom occurs, but can happen occasionally.
Normally, the date of the equinox comes right about the time of the “abib” of the barley harvest, which places Passover in the official time of Spring. Once in a while, the growing season might be a little out of adjustment, or there could even be a crop failure, but in such cases the factor of the Spring Equinox would be the governing factor, all by itself, as the final arbiter on the matter.
The final evidence that the Karaites are wrong to begin the month of Abib when it would require Passover to fall BEFORE the spring equinox is Jewish rabbinic practice during Second Temple times. That is, the Talmud shows that the Pharisees and normative Jewish practice was to always begin the new year so that Passover would fall after the spring equinox. Karaites may argue otherwise, but there is no evidence that the Pharisees ever allowed Passover to fall before spring/the vernal equinox. This was the opinion of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
Jesus Christ declared, as to this matter, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it” (Matt.23:2, NRSV). In other words, as I show in my article “What Do You Mean, Moses’ Seat?” Christ was endorsing the teachings of the PHARISEES so long as they agreed with the laws of Moses – i.e. the TEACHINGS of Moses!
The scribes and Pharisees taught that the Passover must be in the spring, and the Talmud shows that to be the decisions of the Jewish rabbis. NOWHERE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT DOES JESUS CHRIST OR THE APOSTLES EVER QUESTION OR ARGUE OVER THIS POINT! Therefore, they seem to have accepted the conventional Jewish wisdom on this important issue. Why should we not follow their example?
In particular, the apostle Paul declared, in A.D. 60, about twenty five years after his conversion in A.D. 35, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel [the leading Rabbi of the time], educated strictly according to the ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today” (Acts 22:3) Notice! Paul did not follow the Karaites, or, that is, their predecessors, the Sadducees! He followed the teachings of Orthodox Judaism of the time, so long as they followed the ancestral LAW – the law of Moses! His main teacher was Rabban Gamaliel, the leading Orthodox Jew of that time, a follower of Hillel (Hillel I, not Hillel II who lived some 300 years later and who changed the calendar!).
Later, before the Sanhedrin, Paul asserted, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6). He wrote to the Philippians, saying, “[I was] circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; AS TO THE LAW, A PHARISEE . . . as to righteousness under the LAW, BLAMELESS” (Phil.3:5-6).
Paul followed the Pharisees on calendar matters in that day. The Pharisees kept the Passover in the SPRING, as Josephus plainly says – after the spring equinox! Rabbinical commentary in the Talmud shows that Passover could not occur in winter, but had to be in the spring!
Who will you choose to follow? Modern day Karaites, the spiritual descendants of the Sadducees? Or the apostle Paul, and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who said the PHARISEES sat in Moses’ seat, not the Sadducees? Write for my free article, “Sadducees or Pharisees – Who Controlled Temple Worship During the Time of Christ?”
God is not a God of Confusion
God’s Law is not intended to cause hardship among God’s people. However, sometimes we must “gird up our loins,” tighten up our belt, and suffer a little, in order to obey God, knowing that in the end it is the best thing to do. Future reward and ultimate salvation are far more important that present day considerations!
God’s Laws always work together for our ultimate good, if we obey them, and trust in Him! For example, it may seem hard to let the land lie at rest every seventh year, to celebrate the land Sabbath, but it is God’s Law, and is important to allow the land to rebuild itself and rest (Lev.25:1-7).
Likewise, it may seem unduly hard to have the last land Sabbath, a year of rest, with no planting and real harvest to be followed by the Jubilee Year, another year of no planting or harvest, every 50 years Lev.25:8-17). But God declares, “You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely. The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live on it securely. Should you ask, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ I will order in my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will yield a crop for THREE YEARS. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating from the old crop; until the ninth year, when its produce comes in, you shall eat the old” (Lev.25:18-22, NRSV).
Our God is not the God of confusion. Nor is He a God who imposes undue hardship. But He does, at times, test our faith! But, as the apostle Paul declared, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (I Cor.14:33, NRSV). The word “peace” in the Greek of this verse is eirene and like the Hebrew shalom literally means “peace, prosperity, quietness, rest.”
“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom.11:33-36, NRSV).
How clear God’s Word is! How wonderful are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!