Newsletter #01, 2016 – בא Bo 5776

The first mitzvah that the Israelites received in the Torah is concerning the month and about marking our time. When the people were still in Egypt, God ordered that the month upon leaving Egypt be set as the first month of the year and also to start marking our time according the cycle of the moon.

The Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year..” (Ex. 12:1-2)

The new moon used to be celebrated as a holiday, with a feast included, but in the post-biblical times it lost importance as a holiday. However, the proclamation of the new moon by the rabbis was of great importance in order to determine the beginning of the holidays in each month. In antiquity, Rosh Hodesh was established using eye witnesses. Up until the times of the Tannaitas, the words “This month” of the mitzvah was understood to be something visible, that is, the appearance of the crescent moon. And so, each new month was declared by the beit din in Jerusalem only after receiving testimony of two people who had seen the “new moon”. Nowadays we use the calendar established by Hillell II in the 4th century of the common era which bases the new moon on the precise momento of the “molad”, or New Moon, when the moon is perfectly lined up with the earth and the sun, and the illumination of the moon is at 0%.
So the months and the holidays in the Hebrew calendar are based on the lunar cycle which is made up of 29½ days. It is also rooted in the sun´s cycle because many of the holidays are agricultural in origin, and by maintaining a connection with the sun´s cycle, the holidays remain in the appropriate season of the year. In the Torah, the months do not have names, but rather are named by order, such as the first month, the second month, and so on succesively. Later, the Jewish people adopted Babilonian names for the months. The months in the current calendar are Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Ab, Elul, Tishrei, Cheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, Adar I and Adar II.
We received the mitzvah to observe the beginning of the month because upon escaping their slavery in Egypt, the Israelites could then control their own time and calendar. God established the Jewish people as masters over their own time, and so we also have the gift and obligation of observing our time.
Shabat Shalom ~~~~~~~~ Ahuvah

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Read the December 2015 newsletter from the European Union for Progressive Judaism. Click here to download.

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Read Torah from Around the World #307: Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1 – 13:16)
By: Rabbi Meir Azari, Senior Rabbi of the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism, Tel Aviv, and Israel
The Exodus from Egypt through Moses’s Eyes.

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