Monday, June 21, 2010

The Usage of Solar Dates in Talmudic Literature

Does the Torah give validity to the solar calendar? To answer this let us look at some interesting passages/theories.

Summer started today on the solstice and this reminded me of a fantastic Midrash about this date. The Midrash states that this was the date that Moshe Rabbeinu hit the rock and brought forth water to the people. (Midrash found in the back of Machzor Vitri) The fantastic thing about this Midrash is that it then cites the pesukim from Shemos NOT BAMIDBAR thereby making it clear that it is not referring to the incident in Parshas Chukas for which Moshe was denied entry into Eretz Yisrael. Rather, it is referring to the incident that occurred shortly after the Exodus when Moshe was commanded to hit a rock to bring forth water. The huge question that one must ask when seeing this is, "How could this event have taken place on the first day of summer when the Torah places it after Bnai Yisrael arrived in Rephidim (15 Iyar) and prior to their encampment at Har Sinai (1 Sivan)?" The event seems to have occurred in the spring, yet this Midrash places it at the beginning of summer!!!

The easiest answer is to assume that there is a scribal error in the Midrash and that it originally mentioned the incident from Parsha Chukas; over long periods of time the text was corrupted and contained errors. Although this is certainly possible, in order to assume that to be the case one has to realize that the scribe who erred switched entire verses to support his claim (I am not suggesting this is not possible, just that it justifies looking for alternative theories). While there are Rishonim (i.e. the Ramban) that do cite a Midrash with references to Parshas Chukas, it is possible that this reflects a different opinion (for the reason cited above).

An alternative theory that I would like to suggest is that the Tannaim may have used the solar calendar to refer to dates (just like many Torah scholars would have referred to today as June 21 and not have thought to use the Hebrew date). In the most likely time of the writing of this Midrash (assuming it was written in the general time period that the Mishna was written) the date of the summer solstice, the date used by the Midrash, was June 22 (Julian). When looking back to the year of the Exodus that would coincide with 26 Iyar, although it in the time of the Exodus this was far from the solstice. 26 Iyar is an extremely plausible date for this event and it certainly falls between 15 Iyar and 1 Sivan. Perhaps, the Tanna was just stating that the event happened on June 22!

Before you reject this idea just consider the following. It is clear from Rashi that some of the dates mentioned in Talmudic literature are actually referring to solar dates and not lunar ones. The Gemara mentions that the Patriarchs were born in Nisan. (Rosh Hashana 11a) It then proceeds to cite a verse regarding the date of the building of the first Beis HaMikdash being in the month of "Ziv". The Gemara explains that this month, Iyar, is called "Ziv" because it comes from the root word meaning to shine and the Patriarchs who shine light onto this world were born in this month. The contradiction is obvious, here the Gemara is stating the Patriarchs were born in Iyar and a few lines earlier it stated that they were born in Nisan. Rashi reconciles with two answers. The second answer is that sometimes the solar month of Nisan carries into the lunar Iyar (also see Tosefos R"H 2b). Meaning, April (Nisan) in the year the Patriarchs were born was partially in Iyar and, therefore, the Gemara can state that the Patriarchs were born in Iyar while at the same time state that they were born in Nisan.

Initially I thought that a similar solution could be used for the following problem. The Gemara mentions that Shlomo HaMelech was required to dedicate his Beis HaMikdash immediately upon completion. He was also unable to slow construction in order to finish at a specific time. (Moed Katan 9a) It is clear from the pesukim (and the Gemara cited) that the dedication occurred in mid to late Tishrei. (Melachim 1 8) However, the pasuk explicitly states that Shlomo HaMelech completed the Beis HaMikdash in its entirety in the month of "Bul" which Rashi (and the other Rishonim) understand to be Cheshvan. (Melachim 1 6) How could he have finished in Cheshvan and waited eleven months in order to dedicate it, the Gemara says it was forbidden to delay!!! The Bnai Yisaschar states that this was the case and the Shlomo had his reasons, although I must say that this is a difficult position in lieu of the Gemara. (see Bnai Yisaschar Cheshvan)

I have asked this question to many and haven't really found an answer that makes me stop wondering. Recently I thought that I was onto something when I received an answer in the mail from Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita. He wrote, "סוף חשון הוא תשרי." This seems to be taking the opposite approach to the Bnai Yisaschar as this approach assumes that there was no delay and that since the inauguration happened at the end of Tishrei the pesukim refer to it as happening in Cheshvan. Initially I thought that Rav Kanievsky could have been referring to the same concept expressed by the Rashi above. Perhaps, the lunar Tishrei crept into the solar Cheshvan so the dedication occurred in both and both could used. However, when I did the math I realized that Tishrei did not creep into Cheshvan that year. Also, from the exact wording I don't think that is what Rav Kanievsky meant. Rather, it was close enough so the pasuk rounded it off. I would love to hear if anyone has any other suggestions to this question.

Anyway, when all is said and done, it is clear that the Talmudic literature does give credence to solar dates (at least according to Rashi). This is a good maareh makom to use if you want to try and cash in on two birthdays since it seems that Chazal used both calendars (although the solar one in use was not identical to the one currently in use).

No comments: