When is your birthday?

Sounds like a simple question, right?

But before I answer, I need to ask – do you mean the Hebrew date or the “English”, Gregorian date?

That’s right, we Jews have our own calendar. According to the Jewish faith, the creation of the world that is told in the Torah (the Jewish bible) began on the first day of the first month of the year (Tishrei); and we are now in the year 5780 since the creation.

This calendar is lunar. As opposed to the Gregorian calendar, the months are based on a natural phenomenon, the new moon. With every new moon, a new month begins. The lunar month could be 29 or 30 days.

But the chaguim, the Jewish religious holidays, are also related to the seasons. Thus Pesach must be in the spring and Succoth must be in the fall. But the yearly seasons are determined by the son, not by the moon…

And here we have a problem. Twelve lunar months amount to 355 days, which is 10 days less than the solar year of 365 days. If Pesach were to be celebrated by the lunar calendar, next year it would be 10 days earlier… and the year after, 10 days earlier still… and soon we would be celebrating Pesach in the winter…  (This is something that happens with the moslems, who also use a lunar calendar. Their month of fasting, the Ramadan, “travels” throughout the seasons of the year).

For this reason our rabbis developed a system some 2000 years ago in which we add an entire month, Adar Bet, every so often. Thus Pesach is “pushed” one month ahead and is kept in the spring.

In the olden days, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (the highest religious court) used to declare, every month, the day that the new month began, based on sightings of the new moon.

After the destruction of the Temple, a fixed calendar was developed eliminating the need to declare the new month every month. This calendar works in a 19–year cycle, during which time the month of Adar Bet is added 7 times to keep the lunar and solar years synchronized.

So, you ask, “when is your birthday?”

And the answer is that I have two birthday dates:

1st of Tamuz by the Hebrew calendar and July 8th by the Gregorian calendar. The two dates rarely coincide. Sometimes the Hebrew date comes first, sometimes the “English” birthday is first.

Now you will surely say: Wow! It must be great having two birthdays! You get double the good wishes, double the presents, double the birthday cakes…

Well, let me tell you of another peculiarity of my situation…

Soon after I was born, my family ran away from Czechoslovakia. Papers were lost, documents were lost. Some years later, in Brazil, my father registered my birth date, mistakenly, as July 7 and this became the official date in all my documents…

So now I have 3 birthday dates!

Great, right? Fun, right?

In fact, when birthday 1 comes around, my family yawns and says “we have time, there are two more birthdays coming up…”

When birthday 2 comes around, they yawn and say “there is still time…”

When birthday 3 finally comes around, they don’t even yawn any more…

After all, “how many times can we celebrate your birthday in one year?”

 

David Wolf

December 12, 2019

14 Kislev, 5780

י”ד כסלו, תש”פ

About the Author
David Wolf writes about his experience of being a second-time husband and father. He has a daughter from his first marriage, and, with his second wife, has accrued three daughters, two sons-in-law, one grandchild and twin 8-year-old sons. He is a social worker in a mental health department and in private practice in Raanana.
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