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Note: This is based on material at http://www.rrz.uni-hamburg.de/rz3a035/jew_fest.html.
The Jewish calendar has its months determined on a lunar basis, and its years on a solar basis. As the lunar year consists of about 354 days and the solar year has 365.25 days, the lunar cycle must be adjusted to the solar calendar in order that Passover should always fall in the "month of Abib" (Deut. 16:1). This adjustment is made by having a leap year seven times in each nineteen-year cycle; specifically, in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years of the cycle. In a leap year, an extra month of Adar (Adar Sheni) is added into the calendar.
The months in the Jewish calendar are as follows:
Nisan. The first month of the Jewish calendar (Ex. 12:2); the seventh from the beginning of the civil year. The name appears in the Bible only in Esther 3:7 and Nehemiah 2:1. In Ex. 13:4, 23:15, 34:18; Deut. 16:1, it is called "the month of Abib (Spring). According to one tradition, the Creation occured in the month of Nisan. It is also the month in which the biblical patriarchs were born, Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, and the final redemption is to take place (TB. RH 11a). In biblical times, kings reckoned the years of their reign from the first of Nisan. It is customary during the entire month of Nisan to refrain from reciting tahanun (supplication) prayers, eulogies and memorial prayers. Notable holidays are Pasover (15-21/22), Holocaust Memorial Day (27). Historically, the Tabernacle was completed in the wilderness on the 1st; the Paschal sacrafice was offered in biblical times and the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt in 1943 began on the 14th.
Iyyar. The Bible calls this month Ziv (radience) (I Kg. 6:1, 6:37), and it is referred to as Iyyar in the Talmud (RH 1:3). Notable Holidays are Israeli Independence Day (5), Lag b'Omer (18), and Yom Yerushalayim (28).
Sivan. The name appears in the Bible only in Esther 8:9. Notable holidays are Shavuot (6/7).
Tammuz. Tammuz is mentioned once in the Bible in reference
to the Babylonian god (Ezek. 8:14); in the Talmud it appears frequently as the
name of the month. Notable holidays are the Fast of Tammuz (17).
Av. Av first appears in Jewish sources in Megillat Ta'anit of the talmudic period, but appears earlier in Assyrian inscriptions, apparently referring to spring and meaning "fresh growth". As many national calamities occured in Av, it is also called Menahem (consoler), expressing the hope it will be a month of consolation. "When Av arrives, gladness is diminished," say the talmudic sages (Ta'an. 4:6). Hence, celebration is severely curtailed until after the ninth of Av. During these nine days, amusements, bathing for pleasure, business dealings, new construction, planting and nonvital repairs are avoided; meat is not eaten and wine not drunk except on Sabbath and at a se'udat mitzah repast. Notable holidays are Tish b'Av (9). Notable historic events: Aaron died on the 1st; on the 9th: the First Temple was destroyed (586 BCE); the Second Temple was destroyed (70 CE); Jerusalem was razed by Hadrian (132 CE); Bethar fell as the Bar Kokhba revolt was crushed (135 CE); England expelled the Jews (1290 CE); Spain expelled the Jews (1492 CE); and the Jews of Rome were enclosed in a ghetto (1555 CE); on the 10th, France expelled the Jews (1306 CE).
Elul. As Elul immediately precedes the Days of Awe, it is a month of repentence in which special prayers are said and the shofar is sounded at the weekday morning service. In the Sephardi rites, selihot are recited daily throughout the month, whereas Ashkenazim recite them only during the week before Rosh ha-Shanah.
Tishri. In the Torah, Tishri is referred to as "the month of Ethanim", the month of natural forces (I Kg. 8:2). The expression is possibly a reference to the winds that are expected to bring the season's first rains, or to the torrents that are supposed to fill the wadis in Eretz Israel at this time of year. The name "Tishri", from the Akkadian root meaning "to begin", first appears in Jewish sourses in the Talmud. Notable holidays are Rosh Ha-Shana (1/2), Fast of Gedaliah (3); Yom Kippur (10); Sukkot (15-22); Hoshana Rabbah (21); Shemini Atzertet (22); Simchat Torah (23). Notable historic events: on the 10th, the Jews were expelled from Paris (1394 CE) and the Yom Kippur War began (1973 CE).
Heshivan. The Torah calls it "the month of the Bul" (I Kg. 6:38) in reference to the bountiful harvests associated with the season. The name Heshivan first appears in Jewish sourses in talmudic literature and Josephus (Ant. 1,3,3). It is often referred to as Marheshivan, i.e. with the prefix "mar". The term "mar" is thought to mean "a drop" and relates to the month as the beginning of the rainy season. There are no festivals or fast days in Heshivan. In that respect it is unique. Notable historical days: On the 16th, Kristallnach, the the destruction of synagogues in Nazi Germany and Austria, occured.(9/10 November 1938).
Kislev. Kislev is mentioned in the Torah (Zech. 7:1; Neh. 1:1). According to the Talmud, "If rains have not fallen by the 1st of Kislev, three public fasts are decreed" (TB. Ta'an. 10a). Notable holidays: Chanukkah (starts on the 25th). Notable historical events: on the 17th, the U.N. General Assembly decided on partition of Palestine (29 November 1947); on the 22nd, the State of Israel declared Jerusalem its capital (1949); and on the 24th, the building of the Second Temple occurred (Haggai 2:18) and the British captured of Jerusalem (8 December 1917).
Tevet. Although it is mentioned in the Torah its meaning is obscure (Esth. 2:16). The last two or three days of Hanukkah fall at the beginning of Tevet. Notable Holidays: Asarah be-Tevet (10), a day of fasting and mourning, marking the start of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (588 BCE); this day is also the Memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust whose day of death is unknown, set by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate (1949). Notable historical events: on the 19th, Keren Kayemet le-Israel (Jewish National Fund) was established, (1901 CE); on the 20th, Maimonides died (1204 CE); and on the 23rd Portugal expelled its Jewish population (1496).
Shevat. The name appeared once in the Torah (Zech. 1:7). Notable holidays: Tu b'Shevat (15), the New Year for Trees. Notable historical events: on the 15th, the First Knesset convened (1949); and on the 18th, the Knesset elected Chaim Weizmann as first president of the State of Israel.
Adar/Adar II. The name appears in the Torah in Ezra 6:15 and seven times in Esther. In a leap year, the intercalcated month is called Adar Sheni (Second Adar or Adar II) and the regular month Adar Rishom (First Adar or Adar I). Events normally occuring in Adar are celebrated in Adar II; however, the yahrzeit of someone who died in an ordinary Adar is marked in Adar I (although, because there is a difference of opinion, some will say Kaddish also in Adar II). "When Adar arrives people should increase gladness" (TB. Ta'an. 29a) because of the Purim deliverance that occured in that month. In Adar the half shekel was collected from the public for Temple and related purposes; the forbidden kilayim grafted crops were uprooted; repairs were begun on roads and on water sources damaged by rain, to make them fit for the Passover pilgrims to Jerusalem. Notable holidays are the Fast of Esther (13); Purim (14); and Shushan Purim (15). Notable historic events include on the1st, the Shekel campaign begun in Temple period; and on the 7th, the supposed date of the birth and death of Moses, which is marked as a yahzeit of all persons whose burial place is unknown, and, in Israel, of the "Unknown Soldiers."
The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.
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Daniel P. Faigin <firstname.lastname@example.org>