web analytics
December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Knesset and Menorah Lawyers Called Upon to Use Their Legal Skills in Israel’s Defense

Learn about the up to the minute human rights and legal challenges facing Israel, while networking with other likeminded professionals and earning CLE credits in your jurisdictions – all at the same time



Home » Sections » Arts »

The Politics Of Jewish Calendars

Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe

By Elisheva Carlebach

304 pages, $35, Harvard University Press, April 2011

 

 

Although jokes abound about how punctual German Jews (Yekes) are, the concept of “Jewish Standard Time,” presumably mocking the non-Germanic segments of the Jewish population, has earned an entry in Urban Dictionary for “15 minutes late to everything” or “being late to an important event.”

 

Whether or not the jokes have a foundation, Elisheva Carlebach’s new book, Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe, shows that Jews developed some of the most important theories and discovered some of the most fundamental mathematical underpinnings of early calendar setting. They did this often to the chagrin of Christian leaders, who sought to liberate their calendar from its ties to Judaism, primarily the Passover meal that was their Last Supper.

 

 

Angel giving calendar secrets to Issachar. Sefer Evronot, 1716.

National Library of Israel. Ms Heb 8 2380, fol. 104.

 

 

The story that Carlebach, Salo Wittmayer Baron Professor of Jewish History, Culture and Society at Columbia University, tells focuses on the calendar as a “living” document rather than a static one. Instead of simply documenting the march of time at a set rate, calendars were often created in the image of their makers, who often embedded propaganda inside them, Carlebach explains.

 

Surely, most calendar users today take the medium for granted because it is so pervasive. In the age of Google, calendars can be embedded into websites, layered on top of one another and shared among users. If you position your mouse appropriately, your computer’s calendar will pop up, and many readers probably have calendars attached to their work email clients, or Outlook programs. If you’ve got a smart phone or a tablet computer, chances are you program your appointments right into that device.

 

The most low-tech calendars we might encounter are giveaways from supermarkets or from charities we donate to. When I interviewed Marc Winkelman, president of the Austin, Texes-based company Calendar Holdings, in August 2010, he differentiated between calendars that feature images specifically created for the calendars, and others which have artworks that “perhaps better satisfy the sensibilities of art historians.” Both fulfill needs, he said, though “There will always be art snobs.”

 

 

 

Rabbi (Simon ben) Gamliel receives Jewish calendar formulae. Sefer Evronot, 1552.

Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Ms 9487, fol. 3r.

 

 

The calendars Winkelman’s company sells are a far cry from the manuscripts and early printed calendars Carlebach explores, so it’s not surprising that medieval and early renaissance calendar users and makers were more passionate about all things calendar-related. The religious and political elite ensured that calendars were as much tools for controlling the masses, as they were an effort to organize an individual’s life.

 

One particularly fierce debate played out in the 17th century, when the calendar was “at the center of the struggle for the soul of England,” Carlebach writes. After the Reformation, England grew isolated from Denmark, Protestant German states and the Netherlands when it clung to the Julian calendar, while the latter states used the Gregorian calendar. An 11-day gap existed between the two calendars.

 

As early as the 12th century, calendars had a way of teasing out insolence. Abraham bar Hiyya Savasorda (1065-1136), who lived in Christian Spain, argued that only Muslims and Jews had a lunar calendar that wasn’t impacted by solar measurements. “We say that in the kingdom of the Ishmaelites they began this computing from the beginning of the sin of the mad evildoer who misled them,” he wrote.

 

Bar Hiyya had no more compassion for the calendar of the “pagan nations,” by which he meant Christians. “The entire evil kingdom of Edom, who count according to the hanged one, compute most of their civil matters according to the solar calendar like the Greeks,” he wrote, “however they are forced to compute according to the moon along with the sun to set their fasts and some of their feast days, because they liken themselves to Israel in this counting.”

 

 

Sefer Evronot. 1779. Cincinnati, Klau Library,

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. ms 902. Fol. 1r.

 

 

The Jewish calendar, meanwhile, was a divinely inspired enterprise. A 1779 Sefer Evronot (a book of high-level calendar formulation) shows the divine hand in the top left corner pointing at a moon in the opposite corner of the page. On the ground level stand Moshe and Aharon – identified by their light-filled horns and tablets of the law on the one hand, and priestly garb and incense on the other – and Moshe himself points up at the moon. A banner – which somewhat bizarrely takes particular pains not to mask letters except in the final word – displays the text from Exodus 12 that first outlines the biblical commandment to set Nissan as the “head of the months.”

 

The central text in the 1779 book identifies the calendar tradition as one tied to mystical secrets – a theme which also surfaces in a 1716 Sefer Evronot, which shows an angel instructing Yissachar who is about to ascend a ladder to the heavens, where he will learn of the secrets of the calendar. The ladder derives from Yaakov’s vision, but the figure is his son Yissachar, due to the description in Divrei Hayamim112:33 that the sons of Yissachar “have knowledge of time.”

 

 

Elephant. (Hebrew pil is a pun for the Hebrew root “to fall,” like a holiday falling on a certain date). Sefer Evronot, 1627. Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Ms 2662, fol. 21v.

 

 

When considered in light of the 1716 illustration, Carlebach’s title, Palaces of Time, makes a lot of sense. Jewish artists – or at least the Jewish patrons who commissioned the works – envisioned the calendar, which embodied time, as a palatial structure. Devarim 30:12-13 declares that the Torah isn’t in the heaven, such that one needs to ascend skyward to retrieve it, nor is it across the sea, such that one must traverse the sea to acquire it. When one considers Sifrei Evronot, though, one gets the impression that a celestial journey or odyssey of some sort is necessary to grasp the inner workings of the calendar. One might even say early Jewish calendars were more ambitious than even their most technologically savvy descendants are today.

 

 

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blog.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Politics Of Jewish Calendars”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
The Harvard seal, "veritas," on the side of a Harvard building.
Harvard Boycotts SodaStream (Despite Company’s Surrender)
Latest Sections Stories
South-Florida-logo

Rav Dynovisz will be speaking in Hebrew on Wednesday, January 7, at 7:30 p.m.

South-Florida-logo

Rabbi Simeon Schreiber, senior chaplain at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, saw a small room in the hospital that was dark and dismal but could be used for Sabbath guests.

Eller-121914-Main

“The secret to a good donut is using quality ingredients and the ability to be patient and give them time to proof.”

I so desperately want to have a loving relationship with my stepsons.

The Liberty Bell is a symbol of American Independence.

Because you can’t have kids pouring huge jugs of oil into tiny glasses, unless you want to turn your house into an environmental disaster.

Try these with your kids; there’s something for every age group and once all the recipes are made, dinner will be ready!

You children will build the country and you will help restore Israel to her former glory.

Bais Toras Menachem is proud to welcome its new staff member, Yaakov Mark, who will be the Administrator as well as Ort College and GED class coordinator.

Because she is keenly aware that anti-Semitism may start with the Jews but never ends with the Jews, she makes the logical connection between the opprobrium for both America and Israel so commonplace on the political left.

In this narrative of history, it is the third world Palestinians who are victims of the marauding Jews, of course.

During 1939, anti-Semitic groups such as Fritz Kuhn’s German American Bund held rallies in New York and other major cities across the country.

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

Weck-051812

It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/the-politics-of-jewish-calendars/2011/08/10/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: