While the current version of the Hebrew calendar has been in effect for nearly 1700 years, there is still some dispute over it in the greater Messianic community.
As an overview, Jewish/Biblical holidays are kept on the lunar cycle, whereas our modern calendar is set to the solar cycle. And the modern Jewish calendar was set in such a way that it sometimes didn’t follow the moon perfectly (more about that later). Because of this, there are small sects that choose to keep their holidays according to moon sightings, either sighting the moon in Israel or in their current location.
The vast majority of both Jewish and Messianic communities, however, all keep the same calendar, codified by Rabbi Hillel II in the 4th century. This is what we do at The Bridge.
So let’s talk history for a minute to try to better understand this issue.
As mentioned above, the Hebrew calendar is set to the lunar cycle. The lunar cycle is 12 days shorter than the solar cycle, so without any modifications, the lunar year would eventually shift until the spring holidays were in the fall, and visa versa. This must have been adjusted, even in Biblical times, as the quote below explains:
The Bible doesn’t tell us how the lunar calendar was periodically adjusted to keep in line with the seasons. But it must have been, at least from the days of King Josiah and the centralization of the cult in Jerusalem (in the second half of the seventh century BCE). On Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot – which have specific Hebrew dates – the people of Israel were required to bring agricultural produce to Jerusalem; and if there had been “seasonal creep,” in at least some years, there would have been no produce to bring as tithes.
It is almost certain this is how they adjusted for seasonal creep: At the end of the 12th lunar month, priests in Jerusalem determined spring had arrived. If spring was indeed deemed to have arrived, great: the new moon was a sign that not only the first month had begun but also a new year, and messengers were sent out to announce that Passover was two weeks away.
But if the priests decided that it was still winter, an additional “leap month” or “embolismic month” as its called was added, and messengers would only be sent out a month later.1
By the Apostolic era (Second Temple period), the Sanhedrin was tasked with ruling on spiritual issues for the Jewish people. Every month the Sanhedrin sent men to sight the moon, thus determining the beginning of each new month. The Sanhedrin would also decide if an embolismic month was to be added to that year (an extra month, namely Adar II). During this time, there were a few splinter groups who determined their own calendar, such as the Essenes who lived by the Dead Sea, but by their choices, these groups severed themselves from greater Israel and eventually disappeared into history completely.
Our example is the Messiah, Yeshua. We seek most of all to know what His practice looked like, and emulate Him. If we look into the Gospels, we will see that Yeshua and His disciples followed the calendar kept by greater Judaism in his day. He didn’t feel the need to correct their methods or counting. He also taught his disciples to respect the Sanhedrin and Jewish courts (Moses’ seat):
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you. (Matthew 23:2-3a)
Even when Yeshua disagreed with the Sanhedrin, He still followed their direction and respected their authority. (See Matthew 17:24-27)
The Apostle Paul also encourages us to honor the ruling authorities:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:2)
The last time the Jewish authorities ruled on the calendar, it was to accept Rabbi Hillel II’s calendar. That calendar is still the one in effect today.
By following Yeshua’s example, we have chosen to remain in submission to Jewish authorities and to HaShem by keeping the calendar that they have set. In doing this, we also have the sweet blessing of unity with the Jewish community and the majority of Messianic communities around the world.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell together in unity! (Psalms 133:1)