the New Moon

and Israelite Unity

by: Tim Kelley

December 7, 2010


Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
NKJ Psalm 133:1

As a child, my family was part of an organization that kept the seventh day Sabbath and the biblical festivals. Each year as the festivals rolled around, we would pack up the car and spend the day, or in the case of the fall festival – the week – enjoying the fun, food, and fellowship that can only be had by observing the festival with many others of like mind.

I can remember one of my very first Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), camping with nearly fourteen thousand other people who were observing the festival together in unity. During those days we would occasionally hear messages where the calendar was discussed. We called our calendar – "God’s Sacred Calendar", and I thought it was something that one of the scholars in our church had figured out from the scriptures. For the most part, everyone accepted the calendar without question. In fact, we had little need for the calendar because each year we were given little cards about the the size of a business cards that had listed on them the festivals for the next 10 years. It was very 'gregorian' and it worked well.

In 1995 my wife and I left that organization because it had made a fundamental change in practice and doctrine. We eventually found ourselves in a small home fellowship, and it was there that I learned that not everyone agreed on the calendar. I learned that what we had called “God’s Sacred Calendar” was simply the traditional Jewish calendar, and that “God’s” calendar was based on sightings of the moon. This was all new to me, and for the first time in my life people were asking “what do you believe about the calendar?”.

As a result of these challenges, I began to study the subject. I quickly found that the Bible has very little to say about the calendar. Instead, I found that many of the calendar papers I was asked to read rely heavily on ancient Jewish scholars and historians such as Philo of Alexandria, Josephus, and even the Mishnah – the collection of Jewish traditional law . . . the so called “Oral Torah”. I found this quite interesting since most writers of calendar papers indicate they have issues with ‘rabbinic tradition’ and they imply that "their" papers are based on scripture. Never-the-less I continued on and found that: 1) most people agree that some type of moon sighting was being done in the first century, the day and age of our Messiah, and 2) for at least 1000 years before the first century, man was able to predict the appearance of the crescent moon based on calculations. Thus, I could see value in doing sightings, even though they were based on Jewish tradition, as well as using a calculated system based on the heavenly bodies. But by going with either method, or a combination of both, would mean that I had simply traded one Jewish tradition for another. What would I gain?

I finally decided that there was not enough evidence to make a change in my practice, and even though it appeared that Yeshua probably followed the tradition of basing the months on sightings, I asked myself “is it the right thing for us to do today”. Here are a few things I considered:

  • Since the traditional Jewish calendar (based on the calculations of Hillel II) was established for the purpose of keeping the Jewish people in sync with each other during the time of their scattering, and since the Jewish people are in unison even today in regards to the observance of the festivals, has it (the traditional Jewish calendar) not served a great purpose?
  • Is it more important for the people of God to be in unison in regards to the festivals or is it more important to be right (in their own eyes), all keeping the festivals on different days?
  • God says that His ways are easy and that He is not the author of confusion. Since so many of the various calendar methods are very difficult to determine and follow, does that not diminish the simplicity of God’s way?
  • It’s apparent that God gave Moses and Aaron the responsibility to determine the New Moon during the Exodus event. If He had not, would that not have been quite dangerous for the Israelites for whom it was imperative to know the exact day the month began in order to save the lives of their firstborn?
  • Since the most popular sighting method (the Karaite version) is dependent on the Internet to disseminate the day of the new moon, would God subject His people to a method that is dependent on technology that was not in existence until just recently?
  • The Karaite method depends on someone in Israel making a determination that the moon was sighted. In effect – that person ‘proclaims’ the new moon for all his followers. In the event the moon is not visible on the expected night, the Karaites will in some cases declare the moon via a somewhat recent tradition called "potential visibility" where an actual sighted moon is not necessary. What’s the difference between that and following the Jewish rabbis who, according to Messiah Yeshua, had the responsibility of making such determinations?
  • The traditional Jewish calendar is correct most of the time.

The above points were enough to convince me that, short of a clear scriptural mandate, there is no reason to change from what has worked for over 2000 years – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

But some will say that it is imperative that the festivals be observed on the correct day, therefore the new month has to be correct. But who determines what is correct? Consider this scenario:

There is no evidence in the scriptures that the Jewish leadership had any problem with the way Yeshua observed the calendar. It appears He was in unison with the rest of His Jewish brothers as far as which days the festivals were observed. But it is commonly understood that in Yeshua’s day, if the sky were overcast on the night the authorities expected to see the New Moon, they would postpone the proclamation of the New Moon for up to two days.

But have you considered . . . Yeshua, a man who could read the hearts of men, had an open door to The Father, and had created all the heavenly bodies, surely must have been able to tell if there was a crescent moon behind those clouds. Even though the Jewish authorities were unable to see it and therefore failed to proclaim the New Month, Yeshua would have known if it were visible or not. He would have known that the month could have been proclaimed. So did He proclaim it for Himself and His followers so that at least 'they' would be right? That doesn't appear to be the case.

Surely this scenario happened sometime in His life, yet we see no evidence that He observed the festivals differently from the rest of the Jews. It appears that even though Jesus knew what was the correct day, He went along with normative Judaism in order be in unison with them.

Another thing to consider is that God appears to be in the process, especially at this time, of restoring His people - Israel. He is opening the eyes of so many - people who had formally considered themselves to be Gentiles - to the fact that they are a part of Israel – more than likely part of the “Lost Tribes”. The Bible is filled with prophecies of the restoration of Ephraim (representative of the northern “lost” tribes) and Judah (the southern tribes) in the last days.

For the most part, when God began calling those of us “Ephraimites” back from the strange ways we had been observing (Sunday Sabbath, Christmas, Easter, eating pork, etc.) to His ways (the Sabbath, festivals, Biblically clean foods, etc.), He introduced us to some of the Jewish traditions that had helped keep them together as a people. We began lighting candles to set apart the Sabbath, using traditional blessings for food and drink, and observing Passover using a Sedar based on the Jewish model. But after relying on the Jewish people for those foundational traditions, when it came to the determination of the new moon, we believed the Jews were all wrong. So - here we were on the path to restoring a relationship with Judah, and then we told them they are wrong about something that has helped maintain them as a people for all these years. Goodbye restoration!

Finally, take a look at what all these calendar issues are doing to our congregations. Groups that formed and came together after leaving the church mostly did so with a common belief about the calendar. For the most part, they followed the traditional Jewish calendar. As the groups grew and matured, some began to question the calendar. Being convinced that to follow the Jewish calendar was the same as “following a man”, they decide they can no longer do so. Even though their differences affect the timing of only 6 – 8 events each year, these people break off from the greater community, usually drawing others with them. Instead of restoration, there is further division. I don’t believe God is happy with us.

According to Paul, we've been given a mandate - to "make Judah1 jealous. Read it in Romans 11:11

(NKJ) - "I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles."

Think about it - Paul said that salvation has come to us for the purpose of making Judah jealous. If that's why we were called, are we fulfilling our purpose? Are we making Judah jealous by taking something they cling to and calling it stupid and pagan? Are we making Judah jealous by arguing and dividing over something we can't prove? I doubt it. Instead, I think Judah looks at our division over the calendar and likens us to a group of children fighting over a stone.

Is the traditional Jewish calendar 100% accurate? No. But it has been a valuable tool in helping preserve the Jewish people. I see a time when the entire Hebraic/Messianic community comes together as a body to observe the festivals together. I see Judah looking at all of us Ephraimites, worshipping at the festivals together, singing praises to YHVH and His Jewish son, Messiah Yeshua, walking in the ways of Torah, and saying “maybe Yeshua really is Messiah”. But this will not happen as long as we are a divided people.

God is revealing Himself to us. There are so many things that are clear in scripture and that we clearly agree on. But God did not call us to "restore all things". That's Elijah's job, and he will do that in God's time, not in ours. Until then, we must do the best we can, showing love to each other and agreeing to come together for the sake of unity; and in regards to the observance of the festivals, the traditional Jewish calendar has been a unifying tool for a long, long time.

Shalom Alechiem

1 Romans 9:25 defines Paul's use of the the term "Gentile" by comparing those he considers "gentiles" to the subject of Hosea 2:23, the Ephraimites, the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel. If "Ephraim" is "Gentile", then "Israel" has to be "Judah" in Paul's analogy.;