While the Jewish calendar is lunar based, meaning that each month is independently calculated by the cycle of the moon, the rabbis of the Talmudic era also used the solar cycle and the earth itself to define time.

There is an excellent example of how the sages even used the solar cycle to clarify the Jewish cycle of leap years, that is found in Genesis Rabbah:

“Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel said: If you wish to prove for yourself that the solar year exceeds the lunar year by eleven days, make a mark on a wall on the day of the summer solstice; the following year at that season, the sun will not reach it until eleven days later, and from this you may know that the solar year exceeds the lunar year by eleven days” (33:7).

Most people don’t spend a lot of time calculating time. In our era, we look at a printed calendar, or at the bottom corner of our computer screens. In the times of the Talmud, people looked at nature to keep track of time and seasons. The rabbis described the seasons not by the moon, but by the cycle of the equinoxes and solstices of the sun compared to the state of the earth itself:

Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel said: It [the earth] has four names: erez, tebel, adamah, and arka. The name erez corresponds to the vernal (spring) equinox which forces up the crops; tebel, to the summer solstice, which lends savor to the crops; adamah, to the autumn, when the ground consists of clods of earth; and arka corresponds to the winter, which causes the crops to wither” (Genesis Rabbah 13:12).

Today, we have pre-printed calendars for both the lunar and solar cycles. Nevertheless, as the sun reaches its zenith, the words of the sages remind us to enjoy the warmth of the sun, whose light is helping the crops to grow. 

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