The Jewish Calendar
The Jewish calendar may be an important factor in scheduling your wedding. The Jewish year contains days when traditionally no weddings are held, but there are many other days to choose from. It can be a bit confusing if you are not familiar with this system, so here are some guidelines.
How the Jewish Calendar Works
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, which means that each cycle of the moon equals one Jewish month. Every Jewish month begins on the new moon and ends just before the next new moon. Originally, the Jewish people did not decide when each month would begin based on a set calendar system. Instead, in ancient Jerusalem, two witnesses would come to the court and say they saw the new moon and the court would then declare that day the first day of the new month. Each new month was communicated to areas outside of Israel though a series of bonfires on hilltops signaling the beginning of the new month.
Today outside of Israel, most holidays except Rosh Hashanah are one day longer than inside Israel. The reason for this dates back about 2,000 years to the Roman occupation of Israel. The Romans often messed up the new moon bonfire communication process by lighting hilltop fires on the wrong days. As a result, everyone outside of Israel had to remember both possible days on which a new month and any subsequent holiday could begin.
From day one of each month, all the Jewish people would count the required number of days until each holiday to begin their celebrations. For instance, Passover begins on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, so everyone would count fifteen days from the start of the new month (when they saw the bonfire), and all the Jews would celebrate the first day of Passover together on the fifteenth day.
Since a lunar month has only twenty-nine days and the Jewish holidays have to be in certain seasons — for instance, the Bible specifies that Passover is a spring season holiday — we add a leap year every three or four years. This ensures that the Jewish and regular (solar) calendars remain in close proximity to each other and the holidays will fall in their proper seasons. As a result of the difference in calendars, the Jewish holidays and days on which weddings are not held will be on a slightly different secular calendar date each year. There are many Jewish calendars available online (see Appendix D for some helpful websites). The months are counted from Nisan, the month in which Passover falls, although the New Year does not start until the month of Tishrey.
The following are the months in the Jewish calendar:
Tishrey (New Year)
Adar II (in a leap year only)
Holidays, Holy Days, and Commemorations
The Jewish year contains three main festivals of biblical origin on which no weddings are held. Passover, which is the festival celebrating the Jewish people's redemption from Egyptian bondage, is an eight-day celebration that begins on the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Shavuot, the festival commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, falls exactly fifty days after the second day of Passover and lasts for two days. Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, begins on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrey and continues for eight days.
In addition to the festivals, there are the biblical High Holidays, or Days of Awe: Rosh Hashanah, which is two days; and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which lasts one day. Because each of these holidays is so important in its own right, Jewish weddings are not held during any of them. Jewish weddings should not take place on the Jewish Sabbath, which begins each week on Friday night at sundown and ends on Saturday night. Jewish weddings can be held on a Saturday if they do not begin until after dark.
The holidays of Passover and Sukkot, each of which is seven days long in Israel and eight days long in the diaspora, are composed of one or two days at the beginning and one or two at the end that are true holidays. The four or five interim days are called Chol Hamoed, or the weekday of the holiday. These days are like half-holidays, and weddings should not be held on them.
Several rabbinic holidays also fall throughout each calendar year. These rabbinic holidays were instituted after the Jewish people came to the land of Israel in the year 1273
The most famous of the rabbinic holidays are Hanukah and Purim. Hanukah falls on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. It is a celebration of the Jewish victory over Greek oppression. Purim, which falls on the fourteenth of the Hebrew month of Adar, celebrates the defeat of the wicked Haman, who tried to destroy the Jewish people in the period of the Persian Empire. Weddings are permitted during Hanukah, but they are discouraged during Purim except in situations of great need. Weddings are also discouraged on the eve of any major holiday.