It is time to start to prepare for the Fall Feasts: Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Traditionally the Jewish people have prepared for these Festivals with a forty day period called the “Forty Days of Repentance”. So when does this forty day period of introspection begin?
Usually you will hear that it is the month of Elul and then the first ten days of the month of Tishrei since Yom Kippur is on Tishrei 10. But… since this is a “Hebrew Calendar” thing, it is, of course, not quite that simple. While it is true that the forty days start with Rosh Chodesh Elul, it turns out that is not Elul 1! Let me explain.
First, we need understand a few pertinent facts of the Hebrew Calendar:
- Hebrew months are based on the cycle of the moon. A new month starts at a “New Moon” which is defined as the evening and day following the observation of the tiniest sliver of the new moon in Jerusalem.
- A cycle of the moon is between twenty-nine and thirty days in length, so some Hebrew months have thirty days, while others have twenty-nine days, to even things out. The month right before Elul is Av and it has thirty days—Elul has twenty-nine days.
- Since the moon cycle is less than thirty days, when we reach the end of a thirty-day month, such as Av, there is a small chance that the new moon could be sighted in Jerusalem on that last day of the month, Av 30; because of this, the last day of the month is observed as the first day of Rosh Chodesh for the next month. The following day, the first of the next month, is observed as the second day of Rosh Chodesh.
- As a result, Rosh Chodesh Elul has two days. The first day falls on Av 30; the second on Elul 1.
Taking all of this into account, while the Forty Days of Repentance starts on the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, it is actually Av 30 (and not Elul 1).
And just to check that this all adds up to forty days: Av 30 is one day, then the twenty-nine days of Elul, and the ten days of Tishrei, for a total of (1 + 29 + 10 = 40) forty days when we reach Yom Kippur on Tishrei 10.
Whew! So what’s the bottom line if you were planning on marking this preparation period with us?
This year, the year 2020 on the Gregorian calendar, we start the Forty Days of Repentance on the evening of Wednesday, August 19th, at sundown. The evening of August 19th and day of August 20th is Av 30 *and* the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul.
We hope that you will join us as we explore the riches of this season over the coming weeks.