Times Do Change

by George F Spall

Regretfully, we had to disappoint an anonymous telephone caller recently. He wanted a Jewish calendar, "Just like the one that Moses hung on his wall"!

The query sent my thoughts off at a tangent, some of them amusing. I wondered if Moses, that ancient Law-giver, carried one about with him when shepherding during his forty years in Midian. I pictured him pinning or unpinning it to his tent when leading Israel through those craggy mountain passes in the Sinai. Or maybe he sent a message boy off to the local paper shop on New Year's Day. But, of course, things have changed.

Come to think of it, the calendar was changed by the Creator Himself, according to the account Moses wrote, so he obviously had one of some kind to start with. Exodus 13:4 tells us that the Passover took place in the month of Abib which was the seventh month of the secular year. It still is. But Abib was made the first month by Divine order (Exodus 12:2).

Leviticus 23:5 indicates that the new calendar arrangement was in effect then. Six months had simply been abolished as far as God's reckoning was concerned. Time had been advanced. The past had gone -- like our sins when they are forgiven.


The calendar was changed because times were changing. We may be permitted to wonder: did Moses keep two calendars after that? There is no record that he did.

For that matter, there is no record in Tenach (Old Testament) that they ever went back to the first one. The people could see the sense of the new one because it was now a part of their culture, their new life-style. Culture is related to religion as morals are. And their new life-style was so free compared with the wretched years of forced labour.

Religion is intended to lead us to God and religious observances like keeping Passover became an essential part of culture. It was a culture that the Almighty ordained.

From the first Passover and right on, on through the times of the judges and the kings, right through the days of the first Temple, and on and on into the Exile, the new calendar measured their days and governed their religious festivals.

King Hezekiah continued the Mosaic tradition. The history of his reform says so. We are told that he used postmen to notify the people to gather for Passover "in the second month" because they could not get the Temple area sanctified in time for the normal month of Abib.

We who observe Passover today still use that ancient Mosaic permit if it is not possible to get home from abroad, say, for the proper time. Hezekiah expected such crowds that he had extra priests trained so that the hundreds and hundreds of lambs could be sacrificed in the prescribed hour.

During the Exile it was difficult for some. Daniel, being in such an official position in the pagan court, refers to the sacred calendar only once (10:4). And he was so sad about it that he fasted for twenty-one days, which took in the Passover period. It was on the third day after Unleavened Bread that he had that amazing vision of his.

In Ezra's day there was no Temple, but he kept the Festivals on due days. He does not mention another calendar -- there is no suggestion that there was another in existence. Mind you, if we skip over to the prophecy of Haggai and read about his efforts to get the Second Temple established, we find that he refers to the Persian calendar. That was to be expected. Zechariah, who was prophesying at the same time, uses the Jewish system, but remarks on the national date as well -- the year of the king's reign. That was normal.

Ezra comments on the great crowds that came in the seventh month to observe the happy days of Succoth (Tabernacles). Ezra was a priest of course, so when he made that pulpit of wood out in the open so that there was room to preach to hundreds at once, he knew what he was doing and he intended that the returnees would keep the calendar that Moses gave which was so well set out in Leviticus chapter 23. Nehemiah gives us some interesting details about it all in chapter 8.

Rabbi Isaac Levy quotes the BOOK OF JUBILEES, which is said to have been written in the second century before the Common Era, and which shows that the Passover lamb was offered on the proper day right through the Second Temple times. Nor do we need the New Testament writers to confirm that the calendar then in use was the one Moses instituted in Egypt.

The Mishnah, edited by Rabbi Judah the Prince (died 210 C.E.) speaks of Passover lambs being killed on the proper dates. Lambs were being sacrificed in those Temple times. No doubt about it.

The Talmud states that King Agrippa once desired that a census of the people present in Jerusalem at Passover be taken. He ordered the High Priest to count the number of pairs of kidneys from the paschal lambs -- 600,000 pairs were counted. Josephus also writes about the Emperor Nero doing the same thing. His enquiry discovered that there were 256,500 lambs killed that year.


Yes, times do change -- from the Chaldean system in Patriarchal days to the Divine order in Bible times, and in one sense back again to the Chaldean, for that is what the so-called 'secular' calendar is at present.

Nowadays Jewish people have three calendars really. Yes, three! They keep to the local one of which ever country they live in. Then there is the Mosaic or 'sacred' one. And there is the 'secular' one as just mentioned.

This secular year 5746 began on 16th September, 1985. The next year, 5747, is to begin on 4th October, l986. Yet, the sacred year, that one which Moses set out, will commence on Thursday, April 10th, 1986. Times do change -- no doubt about that!

The customs change with them. It is amazing that the celebration dates remain exactly right. The name of the festival does not change. The title of the occasion does not alter. The historic event that is commemorated is kept in mind, but some major element can be dropped out and its significance completely lost.

This happened with the Passover lamb. The shank bone is on the Seder table to remind us to ask the same question that Isaac asked his father: "Father, here is the fire and here is the wood but WHERE IS THE LAMB?"


An essential part of the ancient culture has slipped out and we recall that we have noticed that culture is related to religion and religion is related to our God -- may we add -- OUR relationship with God?

Checking out the Passover celebrations in the Old Testament makes it clear that to kill the lamb was indeed central to the festival.

But, of course, with the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and the enforced dispersion, Jewish people had no option but to change their life-style. Not only did their songs cease but rituals could not be carried out very well. The significance of the oft-repeated phrase: "In the place where the Lord will place His name" is very import ant; part of the culture, so to speak. To be kept properly, the lamb had to be killed at Jerusalem and that is where Deuteronomy says it should be (Devarim 16:16).

A Rabbi friend of mine was very interested when I pointed out to him that in Tenach there are eleven words for 'lamb', but that Isaac chose seh , the word associated with the idea of redemption. Incidentally, it is the first time it comes into the Scriptures.

Passover celebrates Israel's redemption. Indeed, as every Jewish person knows, it is "The Season of our Redemption". So it is of interest to thoughtful people to discover that Moses wrote: "Every firstling of an ass, thou shalt redeem with a lamb ( seh ) and if thou shalt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck" (Exodus 13:13). Blood had to flow it seems for redemption to be effective.

In connection with the Passover lamb (Exodus 12) it was written also "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." It was an essential element in the culture, and culture is the day-to-day expression of what we believe in our religion.

Is it important that Isaiah chose the word 'seh' when he wrote about the Sufferer being led "as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before its shearers was dumb, so he opened not his mouth" ?

Surely, times do change, and our practices do too. It seems a pity that more is not said in all the GUIDES TO PASSOVER and HAGGADAH SEPHARIM about the essential place that the lamb should have in our culture, and will have again according to Ezekiel 45.

When the Temple of HaMashiach is finally here, then Passover will again be kept, right on time, and so will the Feast of Succoth. Hallelujah! Times will have changed again -- for the best.