Aviv It or Not! (Part One)

This barley is mostly at the stage of Aviv;some of the barley is fully ripe.

This barley (from a previous year’s search) is mostly at the stage of Aviv; some of the barley is fully ripe.

Last week, I mentioned that some Karaites (and other Torah observant individuals) might be celebrating Passover a month after most Jews.

If you’re not familiar with this issue, I admit it can be confusing. So before you go all “Whatcha talkin’ ’bout Willis?” on me; let’s see if I can clear it up – at least a little.

The biblical year does not have a set number of months. Rather, the new Jewish year starts with the first new moon after the barley in the Land of Israel reaches a certain stage of ripeness. (See Exodus 12:2, 13:4 and 23:15.) This stage of ripeness is called “Aviv” (or “Abib”). The barley has reached the stage of Aviv when, inter alia, the barley turns from dark green (when it is rather flexible) to a lighter color (when it is brittle). Barley at the stage of Aviv is not yet fully ripe. The Karaite Korner has an informative article on the Aviv.

The “catch” is that in some years the barley is Aviv by the end of the 12th lunar month. And in other years the barley is Aviv by the end of the 13th lunar month. If the barley is not ripe at the end of the 12th month, an extra month (the thirteenth month) is added to the Jewish calendar. This extra month is referred to as a leap month.

The only way to make sure that one year is ending and the next one is beginning is to check to see whether the barley has reached the stage of Aviv. This is not controversial and the practice is even described (with some additions) in the Talmud.  (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b.)

In the 4th Century, however, Rabbinic Judaism replaced direct observation of the Aviv with a precalculated calendar that disperses 7 leap months over each 19 year period. Karaites have historically objected to this practice and have insisted on observing the Aviv and adding leap months only when necessary. In truth, though, most Karaites of recent generations have failed to maintain this biblical precept strictly.

In recent years, there have been efforts to reinvigorate the Aviv search and you can see an update from this year’s search below.


Filed under Aviv, Calendar

9 responses to “Aviv It or Not! (Part One)

  1. Sha'ul Bentsion

    Excellent post Shawn! May I also add that there’s no real word for “year” in Biblical Hebrew, since the word “shanah” actually means a “repetition”, and through the context of the Torah we can see it’s a repetition of the agricultural cycle – since the whole concept of the chagim u’moadim revolves around such a cycle. A “shanah” therefore can happen even after 11 months, should there be some weather phenomenon that majorly impacts the growth of the crops. Only when Israel came in contact with nations that went solely by astronomical calculations do we see “shanah” being applied to the concept of year as we know it. Therefore, you cannot have a new “shanah” without the repetition of the agricultural cycle. It would make no sense in Biblical Hebrew – which only proves, even further, that the Karaites are right on this one. 🙂

  2. Art Phillips

    Shaun My question is HOW much of the barley has to be Aviv ,the reason I ask is because just say the aviv is on the 12 th of this month before the sighting of the new moon ,isnt 9 weeks enough to harvest the barley crop before the wheat harvest ?

  3. Dale

    Wow…All i can say is everytime I read this post..It really shows me more and more..of how we are to follow the written Torah. thank you.

  4. Sha’ul, your etymology for Shanah is extremely faulty and not based on linguistic fact but on superficial appearance. The verb to repeat comes from the proto-Semitic root Th-N-H, the same as the number two. Proto-Semitic Th became assimilated into the Shin in the Canaanic dialects and Assyrian, while it remained Th in Arabic and became assimilated into Taw in Aramaic. שנה in Hebrew, תנא in Aramaic, Shanu in Assyrian, ThaN in Ugaritic, ثنى [Thana] in Arabic.

    The word Shanah, however, derived from the proto-Semitic root Sh-N-H, meaning to change. Proto-Semitic Sh remained Sh in Canaanic dialects, Aramaic, and Assyrian, while it became S in Arabic, Thus the word for year is שנה in Hebrew, Moabite, Ammonite, Phoenician, Shanat in Ugaraitic, שנא and שתא (i.e. with an assimilated vowelless נ before a ת ) in Aramaic, Shattu (i.e., with an assimilated vowelless N before a T) in Assyrian, سنة [Sana(t)] in Arabic. The word for year is very old and exists in all Semitic languages.

    • Sha'ul Bentsion

      Hakham Qanai,
      I appreciate your comments. I am aware that there is a controversy in the academic world as to whether “shanah” stems from “to repeat” or “to change.” But this is hardly “my” etymology. It is an idea shared by several concordances, dictionaries and pretty much every rabbi I have come across.

      I respect your opinion, but I have always found the arguments in favor of “to change” to be unconvincing. The relationship between semitic words and their proto-semitic counterparts are often highly speculative, in terms of whether such dialects directly influenced Hebrew, were influenced by Hebrew, or even if both Hebrew and other semitic counterparts stem from a common, yet lost, ancestor.

      • Sha’ul. your reply that you you have heard what you wrote form “every rabbi” that you have come across bears little weight.

        Rabbanite [mis]interpretation of words, even when they call it Peshat, is extremely faulty and relies more on Midrash than on linguistics.

        For example, the Rabbanite misinterpreatation of the word Zonah in Shofetim [Judges] 11:1 where it says of Yiftah that he was Ben-Ishshah Zonah, i.e. the son of a prostitute (which is why his half-brothers from Gil‘ad’s legitimate wife chased him away). The rabbis misinterpret the word by saying that she was called Ishshah Zonah because she sold food (Mezonot מזונות). Yet the word Zonah זונה is the feminine active participle of the Qal of the verbal root זנה [Z-N-H] (the masculine being Zoneh זונה, to whore, while the word Mazon מזון comes from the verbal root זון [Z-W-N], to feed, whose feminine active participle of the Qal is not Zonah זונה , but Zanah זנה (the masculine being Zan זן).

  5. Sha'ul Bentsion

    Hakham Qanai,
    I am aware that ancient rabbinic literature has made rather wild claims about the origins of words. IMHO, there’s nothing worse than the Talmudic understanding of the origin of the word totafot.

    However, I am referring to modern rabbis. Including Reform and Conservative, whose scholar skills are much better than the rabbis of old. They are way past that fanciful, almost magical, etymology.

    However, I didn’t cite them in as authority. I merely cited them to make clear that I wasn’t merely stating my own opinion.

    The controversy between “to change” and “to repeat” as far as the roots of “shanah” are concerned are well known in the academic world. I have simply picked my side based on how convincing I think the arguments are.

  6. Pingback: Shana Tovah: And a (Completely Made-Up) Karaite Tradition | A Blue Thread

  7. Pingback: Will the Calendar Kill the Karaites (Again)? | A Blue Thread

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