Determining the Calendar

I would like to share a recent exchange I had with one of our enews subscribers who questioned the manner in which we determined the date of Passover this year. A little background for those of you unfamiliar with the nature of the debate: it centers on the reliability of the established Jewish Calendar versus the observation of the phases of the moon, the sun and the agricultural state of the Land of Israel as opposing systems for accurately determining the dates of Israel’s calendar. This is an important issue because the dates of the calendar practically affect when to celebrate the year’s annual appointed times, such as Passover.

Our enews letter read in bold letters: “Only 2 weeks to Passover!”

Our subscriber replied,

No, Passover is just over six weeks away.  You need to discard that faulty Hebrew Calendar, get the new moon sighting from Jerusalem for the first new moon AFTER the spring solstice, then count the fourteen days.

Here was my reply:

Thank you for writing. I am well aware that the current Jewish calendar is determined by calculation and not by observation, and is therefore rarely accurate. I’m sure you know that the Spring Solstice is only one indicator of the arrival of the New Year (and not a Scripturally prescribed one at that, nor is it inerrant), along with the observation of the ripened barley in the Land (which is also not Scripturally prescribed, but is a reasonable factor, taking Scriptural indications into account, [i.e. the context of Exodus 9:31]).

Nevertheless, it is our position at Perfect Word that until a reliable Messianic Jewish testimony from the Land can be established—for the determination of Chodesh [New Moon] as well as Aviv [the state of the barley, hence the description of the first month of the year, see Ex. 13:4, for example]—we will join with the rest of our people in Dispersion and follow the faulty Jewish Calendar for determining months. We do this knowingly yet with a heavy heart, because it is evidence of our dispersed state as a people.

The fact of the matter is, I can celebrate Passover here in Phoenix two weeks from now, and you can celebrate it where you are in six weeks, yet neither one of us will have kept the feast.  As long as Israel nationally remains in Dispersion and fails to keep the feasts in the Land, [our observances] are nothing but memorials of memorials—and so we “keep” them as individual families and communities the best we can.

I would encourage you to pray for the Messianic Jewish community in the Land, that they may see the restoration of Israel’s calendar as an important aspect of our national return to Adonai.

Some additional thoughts: The issue of determining the calendar is not simply an issue of following the explicit instruction of Scripture. Indeed, Scripture in no way, shape or form clearly teaches us how to determine when the moon is new, or when the month is Aviv. We can extrapolate these practices from both Scriptural as well as historical data, but the issue ultimately comes down to one of authority.

Who has the authority to reestablish Israel’s calendar? The competing voices at present are as follows:

and the fact of the matter is, that these three voices carry the same level of authority: none, in my opinion. The INMS, in fact, states as much, citing the reestablishment of a Sanhedrin as the necessary precursor to altering the present calendar. The Karaites, on the other hand, feel they have the God-ordained authority to change the calendar, thus inciting many misled Messianics to assume the same. My assertion is that the Messiah Yeshua Himself has given the Messianic community alone authority over all Israel in matters such as these (Matthew 18:20), but as of yet, no acceptable voice from the Land (since this is an issue specifically concerning the Land) has made itself heard on these issues. On matters of such importance, I do not believe we should trust just any voice, but one that is proven and tested, and has the respect and acknowledgment of other upright members of the community.

It is because the present, competing voices carry the same weight of authority, that I feel the best option is to defer to the established Jewish calendar, rather than follow a rogue, non-Messianic voice (Here’s a question: would we follow a new non-Messianic Sanhedrin? Or a non-Messianic priesthood?). “Being right” on this issue is not sufficient grounds for further parting ways with our people—such an attitude demonstrates a blatant disregard for the communal character of Adonai’s covenantal relationship with His people. If we are going to make divisive decisions that challenge the status quo, they need to be made with the right attitude, on firm Scriptural ground, with unshakable, Messianic authority. Adonai is no more pleased with us for following the Karaites than the current calendar, because as long as we are a dispersed people—independent-minded and self-serving—not following the King Messiah, we simply cannot “keep the feast[s]”.

I look forward to the day that a trustworthy, established Messianic voice proclaims the days, months and years boldly from the Land. Sadly, today is not that day.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

5 replies
  1. Judy Conder
    Judy Conder says:

    Thanks, Kevin. Your remarks are well taken and helped me greatly to better understand the differences of opinions on this matter. Especially encouraged me to work toward the unity of the community with good will respecting our differences and anticipating that time when Messiah Himself will teach us as He reigns from the city of the Great King. Looking forward to the ingathering.

  2. Suzie Payne
    Suzie Payne says:

    O wow! Thank you so much for this article! I never even knew there was a dispute over when to celebrate the new moons or the month of Aviv. I’m fairly new to the Messianic beliefs, and I appreciate your articles helping me to understand the intricacies surrounding the faith.

  3. Mona
    Mona says:

    I would say go with the Karaites! They don’t follow the rabbinical takanot, and they make the New Moon sightings and the Aviv Barley determinination from Jerusalem. Also a good calenar to work with is the one put out by Michael Rood his “Agriculturally and Biblically correct Hebrew Calendar”

  4. Dena
    Dena says:

    Ok Kevin; yet again you have confirmed this topic for me as I have been in prayer about it. This is the statement you made, “As long as Israel nationally remains in Dispersion and fails to keep the feasts in the Land, [our observances] are nothing but memorials of memorials—and so we “keep” them as individual families and communities the best we can.”

    I have been keeping the sighted moon calendar from Israel for the last year and just felt that this Karite guided calendar cannot be the authority, but I also had issues with it being totally Rabbinical. The standard calendar is less expensive and more convenient as well (not saying I put convenience over Yah). Besides; it just never feels like I am keeping them on the right days anyway (no one probably does).

    So, I feel comfortable not to get all bent out of shape and purchace expensive Sighted Moon calendars, but to focus on the Holy Days and Yah.


  5. Elayn
    Elayn says:

    Wow. I didn’t know much of this. I thought we (messianics) all followed the same Jewish calendar and that was based on the first sliver thought. Ok so I will keep following it, but now know that I might be off a day or two. And grace is again soo comforting!
    Shalom my brother!


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