When the Moon is in the Seventh Month….

September 7, 2010

I’m liking the lunar calendar this week.

Rosh Hashanah starts on Wednesday night, which combines with Labor Day to make this a two-day workweek for me. Oddly, that’s not the reason I’m a big fan of the lunar calendar this year.

The calendar that sets the course of Jewish life varies not with the sun but the inconstant moon. Jewish timetables include just one solar calendar date (December 4/5 is when we start praying for rain.) and, for the life of me, I can’t recall why or how a Gregorian/Julian date slipped in there. Otherwise, it must be moonglow.

The Jewish calendar—Chinese, Muslims and others use a lunar calendar, but in different ways—is a model of messiness. The sun rules the seasons, so the ancients had to figure out ways to keep fall holidays like Sukkoth from sliding into spring, and vice versa for Passover. And so, while the solar calendar has a one-day adjustment every four years, the Jewish calendar adds a leap MONTH seven times in every nineteen years. By comparison, the Muslim calendar has no leap month, so Ramadan can be in any season as the years progress.

And did I mention that the Jewish New Year begins, not on the first day of the year, but on the first day of the seventh month? Oy.

It’s the variation of the calendar that has me pumped. Rosh Hashanah is very early this year, about as early as it ever comes when measured by the solar clock that guides most of our lives. Over the coming years, the holiday will slide back and forth, sometimes beginning in early October and other times during the week before Labor Day.

Of course, the more pious Jews will tell me Rosh Hashanah isn’t early at all. I’m just reading the wrong calendar. But, hey, let them get their own blog. This is mine.

And on my blog, the timing of Jewish Holidays is an occasional reminder that our lives are ruled by more than one calendar, more than one clock. There’s just one clock we look at each day, the increasingly analog and bloodless LED screens that flash their precision as a mocking display of exactitude.

It’s 3:47, not a quarter to four, so don’t betray your human fallibility by rounding off the numbers. Learn to speak my binary language. 3..4…7. Now 3…4…8. Now 3…4…9. Puny mortal.

We don’t exactly worship the clock, but we do pay so much attention to the standard clock and the standard (solar) calendar that we can forget the arbitrary nature of our temporal taskmaster. Chronological noon is almost never the same as solar noon, the new year occurs neither on a solstice nor an equinox and the importance of our agendas is only as large as we make it.

The fault lies not in the sun, but in ourselves, that we are slaves to Lord Chronos.

So it’s nice when another Timekeeper comes up, taps us on the shoulder and reminds us to think about the other clocks and calendars and measurements of time.

Hey, buddy, it’s that time of day when the kids are up and the homework’s done and they’re ready to wrestle in the family room. Look, the rain just ended and you only have a few minutes to catch a whiff of the cool air. Wow, the kids are actually getting along and having a conversation that’s not about boogers. You better stop and watch this; you might never see it again.

Tempus fugit. Another year begins.

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