Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Modern Searches for Aviv Barley in the Context of the Hebrew Calendar: A First Description of the Israeli Barley Observation Data

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Modern Searches for Aviv Barley in the Context of the Hebrew Calendar: A First Description of the Israeli Barley Observation Data

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

OBSERVATIONAL CALENDAR

The Hebrew calendar is often described as "lunisolar" because the length of the calendar month is approximately equal to the lunar (or synodic) month of about 29.5 days, while the average length of the calendar year is approximately equal to the solar (or tropical) year of about 365.25 days. Since the length of the solar year is not divisible by the length of the lunar month, this is achieved by intercalation--the insertion of a leap month. Thus, regular calendar years have 12 months, while leap years have 13 months.

The fixed Hebrew calendar that we use today is traditionally attributed to Hillel II, who lived in the 4th century CE. The description of the calendar as "fixed" indicates that the calendar is calculated and does not use observations. According to rabbinical sources, prior to the introduction of the fixed calendar the Hebrew calendar used a combination of observations and calculations. There were many factors involved in determining when the year should be intercalated.

Talmudic sources report that the calendar council intercalated a year when the barley in the fields had not yet ripened, when the fruit of the trees had not grown properly, when the winter rains had not stopped, when the roads for Passover pilgrims had not yet dried up, and when the young pigeons had not become fledged. The council considered the astronomical facts together with the religious requirements for Passover and the natural conditions of the country. (1)

One of the rules of intercalation was that by the beginning of the first month (Nisan), barley had to be ripe enough. If it was not ripe enough by the end of the 12th month (Adar), then a 13th month (Adar Bet) was added. Rashi on Deuteronomy 16:1, based on TB Sanhedrin 11b, explains: "Observe the month of spring [aviv]: Before it [Nisan] arrives, watch that it should be fit for the aviv ripening [capable of producing ripe ears of barley by the sixteenth of the month], to offer up in it the omer meal offering. And if not, proclaim it a leap year [thereby enabling you to wait another month, until the barley ripens]." (2)

Deuteronomy 16:1 is one of several verses that calls the first month "the month of aviv" (also sometimes transcribed as abib). According to Rashi, by Nisan 16, when the omer offering of barley is made, barley has to be ripe and ready to harvest. Therefore, before the beginning of the first month, barley has to be in a state of its ripening which is called " aviv." This is a state close to full harvest-ready ripening. If, by the end of the 12 th month, barley is not yet aviv, then a 13th month is added.

Exodus 9:31-32 explicitly refers to aviv as a stage of barley ripening. In describing the plague of hail, the verses say: Now the flax and barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear [aviv] and the flax was in bud; but the wheat and the emmer were not hurt, for they ripen late. Rashi on 9:32, explaining why wheat and emmer were not broken, writes "they were still tender and were able to withstand the hard [hail]". Regarding the aviv state of barley, Rashi on 9:31 writes "it has already ripened and is standing in its stalks, and they have been broken and have fallen". In other words, aviv is the stage of barley ripening when it is no longer tender, but hard, and so is capable of being broken by hail.

One key passage in the Talmud that explains some of the rules of intercalation is found on TB Sanhedrin 11b. According to the passage, a 13 th month was added if two of these three conditions were true: (1) barley was not yet aviv by the end of the 12th month; (2) it was seen that, with only 12 months in the year, the fruits of the trees would not ripen in time for Shavuot; and (3) it was seen that, with only 12 months in the year, Passover would occur before the March equinox. The passage also mentions that the people searched for aviv barley in three regions--Judea, Transjordan, and Galilee. …

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