Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Happy Ravenniversary

From time immemorial, the Hebrew calendar has been the subject of great debate. The following discussion underscores the extent of this debate.

Two weeks prior to the Children of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Moses commanded the Jews (Exodus 12:2) on the first day of Nissan, to establish a Jewish calendar whose first month would be Nissan. However, even prior to the establishment of the Jewish calendar, the Bible refers to events taking place on certain dates. Those dates are identified ordinarily by the number of the month rather than by their names. There is a dispute in the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 10b) regarding how to calculate dates prior to the exodus: Rabbi Eliezer states that the first human was created on the first of Tishrei and Rabbi Joshua argued that the first human was created on the first day of the month of Nissan. 

However, when it came to identifying the calendrical dates during the time of the flood and Noah’s ark, there seems to be yet another way to calculate the dates. The Torah states (Genesis 8:4-7) that the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventh month. The Torah then claims that the waters subsided and the tips of the highest mountains could be seen on the first day of the tenth month, about two-and-a-half months later. Forty days later, which would be the tenth day of the eleventh month, Noah opened the ark’s window and sent out the raven.

So, according to the aforementioned Talmudic dispute, the tenth day of the eleventh month would correspond, according to Rabbi Eliezer, to the tenth of the Hebrew month of Av, and according to Rabbi Joshua, it would have been the tenth of the Hebrew month of Tevet.

Yet Rashi (Genesis 8:5) introduces a third way of calculating the date. He does not claim the tenth month in the text above refers to the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the tenth month beginning from the month of Tishrei, or the Hebrew month of Tevet, the tenth month when counting from Nissan. He claims the tenth month refers to the Hebrew month of Av, as the count began from the onset of the flood waters, which was the month of Cheshvan. So according to this calculation, forty days after the first of the tenth month, would be the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Elul.

Based on Rashi’s calculation, on the tenth of Elul in the year 1656 from creation (corresponding to 2105 BCE), Noah sent out the raven.

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