Calendar Complexities

Rabbi's Message - April 26, 2022

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Rabbi, what’s the Torah portion this week?  That question is usually a pretty simple answer – a quick glance at any number of reference calendars or websites will tell you.  But, we are in a very interesting period on the calendar where a few intricacies in the rules of intercalation (calendar calculating) come together to make that answer less obvious and not all the sources will agree.  If you are curious what’s at play, read on.

Part 1: Torah Portions

Our tradition of reading the Torah each year begins anew at Simchat Torah when we complete the reading of the last section in Deuteronomy and begin again with the first section of Genesis.  Our tradition has developed that the Torah is divided up into 54 Torah portions, with Jews across the globe studying the same portion each week.  The snag in this plan is that there are more Torah portions than Shabbats.  We resolve this issue by doubling-up select portions to fit them all in within the calendar year.   Suffice it to say, like much in Jewish tradition, there are plenty of rules and customs around which portions get doubled each year and which do not.

Part 2: Yom Tov Sheni

“Yom Tov Sheni,” the added/”second” holiday day, is a concept that affects our calendar for Jews in the Diaspora today.  A quick history lesson: The calendar, and all its intricate rules to ensure holidays remain in the correct seasons, and prevent other issues, was determined in Jerusalem and the announcement of the month sent out to the communities at a distance.  For those communities, if the message did not arrive in time, there was uncertainty that they may start the celebration of a holiday a day early, and to prevent the possibility of treating what was actually a holiday as a regular day, the community would add an extra holiday-day to the Festival to be sure they got it right.  If they got the message, they would not necessarily add the extra day automatically.

Part 3: Modern Calculation & Reform Judaism

Nowadays, the Jewish calendar is determined by calculation and not by witnesses.  We can reference a variety of resources to know precisely when a holiday will fall not just this year, but hundreds of years into the future.  There is no uncertainty, but for many Jews the weight of “practices of our ancestors” overrides the fact that we are certain we got the holidays on the right day.  Reform Judaism has issued a statement that weighs the principles and values at play and gave a majority opinion that we do not need to add the extra day.  Other halakhic authorities (such as Conservative and Orthodox Judaism) have not issued such statements and maintain the weight of historical practice and continue to celebrate the extra day for those outside the Land of Israel.  In most years, the discrepancy of a day makes little difference besides maybe needing another box of matzah.

Part 4: Putting it all Together

I said most years.  When Passover happens to begin on a Friday night, for 7-day celebrators, Passover ends on Friday night as Shabbat begins and we read a regular Torah portion that Shabbat, as we did at Temple this past Shabbat; but for 8-day (Extra Day) celebrators, Passover does not end before Shabbat, but with the end of Shabbat, and thus read a special portion for Passover and will resume the Torah reading cycle this week, a week behind 7-day celebrators.  After applying the rules for Torah portions, this leaves Israel and the Diaspora off by a portion until the end of July!  Which by-and-large unless you regularly commute between Israel and elsewhere, is not so big a deal. 

For us, as a Reform 7-day celebrators in the generally 8-day celebrating Diaspora, being out of sync with our fellow Jews is seen as a bigger deal.  So we find a balance our ideology (7-day celebrating) with the value of our local community being in sync so that we can talk about the weekly portion with our neighbors, shul hop, and more in sync with one another.  The way we do that is to split the first portion after Passover over two weeks.  In such a way, we are celebrating Passover on Passover, reading the regular portion on not-Passover, and staying in sync with our local community, while looking forward to being in sync with Israel once again at the end of July.

Conclusion

If you want to know what the Torah Portion this week is – make sure you check out Reform Judaism’s website, this graphic below, or at this point, a Diaspora listing of the Torah portions and in doing so, know that there has been a lot of thought into Jewish values and calendar peculiarities in determining what we are reading when!

 

Week ending ISRAEL DIASPORA US REFORM
Apr 15 & 16 Pesach I Pesach I Pesach I
Apr 22 & 23 Achrei Mot Pesach VIII Achrei Mot I
Apr 29 & 30 Kedoshim Achrei Mot Achrei Mot II
May 6 & 7 Emor Kedoshim Kedoshim
May 13 & 14 Behar Emor Emor
May 20 & 21 Bechukotai Behar Behar
May 27 & 28 Bamidbar Bechukotai Bechukotai
Jun 3 & 4 Nasso Bamidbar Bamidbar
June 10 & 11 Beha’alotcha Nasso Nasso
June 17 & 18 Sh’lach Beha’alotcha Beha’alotcha
June 24 & 25 Korach Sh’lach Sh’lach
July 1 & 2 Chukat Korach Korach
July 8 & 9 Balak Chukat Chukat
Jul 15 & 16 Pinchas Balak Balak
Jul 22 & 23 Matot Pinchas Pinchas
Jul 29 & 30 Masei Matot-Masei Matot-Masei
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