By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb
Much has been made of the fact that Pesach, last March 26, and Rosh Hashanah, on September 5 (2013), were the earliest on the Gregorian calendar since 1899 and the earliest these holidays will fall until 2089. We can add to this the rare coincidence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving (November 28) and even the recent Tu B’Shvat, on January 16, actually a day later than in 1900. But while many articles, blogs and emails celebrate these facts, few, if any, really explain them.
The calendar in Judaism, as indeed in many cultures, is not simply an administrative tool; it can also be an expression of national identity. In the past certain nations, e.g. France in 1793 and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, asserted their sovereignty by instituting new, original calendars. The children of Israel were instructed to adopt a new calendar, sovereignty in time, even before they began their departure from Egypt (Ex. 12:1-3). Rashi’s first comment on the Torah is to explain why the Torah did not begin with the command of the calendar (Source 1).