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Thought for the Week: Leaping About!

Thursday 29 February was Leap Day. But at the moment the Jewish Community is having a Leap Month. I was asked by BBC Radio Surrey to undertake an interview on the topic. Here are the points I made. Jews have always had a lunar system. In the olden days a new month was declared by the religious authorities (the Sanhedrin) after two reliable witnesses had reported seeing the new moon. Eventually, around AD 400, a collective of mathematicians and astronomers devised the current system of seven Leap Years in every 19 years, which means some limited variations each year (rather like the Christian calculation of Easter). This is obviously sensible given that three key Jewish festivals are harvest-based: Passover/Pesach for barley, Shavuot/Pentecost for wheat and Sukkot for fruit. Christians have always used a solar system. In 1582 revised calculations as to the number of hours in addition to 365 whole days in each year led the Pope to change the previous Julian calendar to the modern Gregorian one, with Leap Days every four years, but not at precise centennials unless the number of the relevant century is also divisible by four (so that 2,000 was a Leap Year, but 2,100 will not be). There were riots when the change was made, with people shouting “Give us back our 11 days” as if their lives would be shortened as a result of the change. Orthodox Christians still maintain the Julian calendar, so that they observe Christmas Day on 6 January. Muslims still maintain an uncorrected lunar system, so that Ramadan (a month-long sunrise to sunset fast which is just starting) is much more onerous in June than in December! Philip Goldenberg Member of the Jewish Faith

Date: Tuesday 2nd April 2024


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