From the Desk - Change in Prayers on 4th December
Shalom Friends! The Winter has arrived! Please don't be sad. This is my second winter here and I think it's glorious! Make sure you manage to get outside and enjoy the beautiful fresh air. Apart from those unlucky people in Florida who have to miss out on all the fun. Mazel tov to Diana and Hayden Smith and their families on the birth of Micha Yitzchak who had his bris last Shabbat! And Mazel tov to Erica and Gili Tzabari on the birth of their baby son who will, please G-d, be brissed this Sunday! May they all enjoy much nachas and may we have many more opportunities to celebrate such happy occasions! I also want to wish a big yasher koach to Howie Brown, Howard Sholzberg and all those who worked so hard on the bazaar. The dedication of these volunteers is inspiring and we are all in their debt for this incredible service. If you're looking for some warmth to balance out the cold weather, we invite you to join us in synagogue this Shabbat morning (see the invitation below). At the Kiddush, we will be celebrating Avrami's third birthday! We would be delighted if you can join us. The following day, he will get his first haircut and we will be donating his hair to Locks of Love.
Also be sure to celebrate Chanukah with Congregation Beth Ora. We are excited for our annual Chanukah dinner as well as our Chanukah movie night for kids! For more information, see our events page. For those who are going away, please travel safely. For those still here, we look forward to seeing you soon! Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami
What's the Deal with... the Change in Prayers on 4th December? As we all know, the Jewish year follows a special lunar calendar, distinct from the Gregorian calendar that we use in other areas of our lives. But there is a striking exception to the rule. From this Monday, there is a subtle change in our liturgy which we retain until Passover. In our weekday Amidah prayer, we change from saying 'and give a blessing on the face of the earth' to 'and give dew and rain for a blessing on the face of the earth'. From this Gregorian date of December 4th, we start asking for rain. So, given the fact we don't normally use the Gregorian calendar, Barry Simon asked me 'What's the deal?' In preparing this, I benefited greatly from an article by Yehudah Shurpin on Chabad.org. Warning, you're going to have to concentrate for this one! The origins of this practice date back to when the major Jewish community in the world resided in Babylonia (Iraq). Based on the timing of the rainy season in Babylonia, the sages instituted that Jews in the Diaspora should start praying for rain 60 days after the start of Autumn, as determined by Jewish law. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Rebbe of Chabad, explained that even Jews living in the Southern Hemisphere recite the prayer for rain from December until Passover because we pray for the needs of the Jewish People as a whole and most Jews reside in the Northern Hemisphere. But when does Autumn begin, according to Jewish law? This was calculated by the third century Talmudic sage, Shmuel. Shmuel calculated the length of the solar year as 356 days and six hours. He calculated the division of the year into four seasons, each lasting 91 days and seven and a half hours. Before the Gregorian calendar was used, the standard calendar for the solar year was the Julian calendar. On this calendar, 60 days into the season of Autumn was November 22nd. It eventually became clear that the solar year is actually 11 minutes and 14 seconds shorter than previously calculated. To remedy this, Pope Gregory XIII made two changes. Firstly, he removed 10 days in October. Secondly, he implemented that every 128 years, one day would be removed from the calendar. As a result, the Jewish and Julian calendars started to drift away from the Gregorian calendar at a rate of three days every 400 years. So if the 60th day of Autumn is November 22nd on the Julian calendar, to work out the Gregorian date, we need to go back 10 days. So, in the year 1582 when Gregory made the changes, the 60th day was on December 2nd. But remember, the Gregorian calendar also loses some days over time. To cut a long story short (well, shorter than it would be otherwise), from the year 1700 onward, the 60th day of Autumn moved one day in every century. By the year 1900, the 60th day was December 5th. This date of December 5th is counted as the 60th day and will remain that way until 2100, when it will move to December 6th. Of course, since the halachic day starts on the preceding night, we start reciting this prayer for rain during Maariv on the night before December 5th. If anyone says that back to me, they get five candies!