Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Dating Passover

Deb asked a very interesting question about how the fall of the Temple influenced the Diaspora and the dating of Passover.

The Jewish calendar was and still is - based on the lunar months as well as the sun. The announcements about the first day of the month and the full moon were always made by the High Priests at the Temple.

""Molad HaLevana" represents the moment of the Lunar Crescent, the birth of the moon. It takes precisely 29 days, 12 hours and 793 seconds for the moon to rotate around the earth, hence our calendar has necessary adjustments to the Solar calendar to reflect the Torah commandment of holidays in a permanent fixed season.
According to our Torah in Exodus 12.2, the power to pronounce the new moon (Rosh Hodesh) was given to the maximum religious authorities, the "Sanhedrin". Two witnesses would come forward to announce in front of the "Sanhedrin" that they saw the crescent of the moon or the "Molad" i.e. the "birth of the Moon".
After the examination of the witnesses, if the "Sanhedrin" had satisfied themselves by mathematical calculations as to the accuracy of the report, then the head of the three members of the "Sanhedrin" who conducted this inquiry solemnly, declared that the new moon was sanctified, "Mekudash". Everybody would then answer twice "Mekudash", and then they would dispatch authoritative messengers to all the outlying districts of Israel.
Beacons were kindled on the Judean Hills so that all should know that a new moon had been fixed. This way all would know when the festival occurred during all the months of the year. This primitive procedure of communicating news was eventually abolished for political reasons and was also made impossible by the interference of Samaritans and other enemies of Israel. " according to this site
Ask The Rabbi

Passover always begins on the 15th of the Jewish month of Nisan, which usually - but not always- occurs in April. The fifteenth of each Jewish month is on a full moon.

When Jerusalem fell to the Romans in AD70 and the Temple was destroyed, the majority of the Jewish aristocrats and Priests were taken to Rome as slaves, and Jews remaining in Palestine were obliged to pay special taxes.

Many many Jews chose to leave the area, hence the Diaspora of the Jewish people around Africa and the Mediterranean, and later worldwide.

There was now no longer a single central source of authority for determining the new moon and gradually discrepancies arose in different areas and different timings . Twelve lunar months is also 11 days short of a solar year, so in the 4th century Rabbi Hillel II devised a complex systemwhere years were divided into 19 year cycles, seven of which are leap years that have 13 months instead of twelve.

Hence we now have a situation where Passover can be completely at variance with Pascha.

Hope this helps. If anyone has any more information, I would be glad to know and update this entry accordingly !!
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Huw Richardson said...

I have not yet figured out the connexion, but it seems that years where in Pascha is much later than Easter (ie a month) are also Jewish Leap Years (when there is an extra month...)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

My pastor once gave me a leaflet on how the Orthodox date easter (because I had asked). It was so complex I never read it! Understanding that little tidbit just was not worth the struggle to try to understand all the factors and calculations.

DebD said...

This was fascinating. Thanks for finding an answer for me.

Mimi said...

Oooh, very interesting. And, I'm curious Huw about the leap year concept, that makes sense.

(I also love your usage of the older connexion)

Arimathean said...

I just did a long post about the dating of Easter on my own blog. All mysteries revealed!

Regarding Passover: The reformed Jewish calendar has drifted over the centuries - that's why Passover can occur after Western Easter. The Julian calendar has drifted even more than the Jewish calendar - that's why Pascha always comes after Passover.