Photo_022410_001 When you buy a new calendar in the stationery store, do you ever pause to think of the people who made the calendar?

It's a product, sure, but — behind every product — are a bunch of people thinking it through.

Years ago, when Alisa went back to graduate school, a smart friend offered his own experience (from when his wife went back to school): "We bought a giant calendar. It really helped us to have a giant calendar on the wall where everyone could see it."

He was right. In a full, lucky life, most arguments are about timing. A giant wall calendar in the kitchen pre-solved a lot of arguments.

But That's Not What This Is About
Now, years pass and — due to a chance meeting at a conference — I've met the people who made my calendar!

And, today, one of these calendar-makers writes to ask an Uh, Artie? question.

It's the kind of question that comes up if you're really thinking about calendars.

Uh, Artie?

May I ask you a question related to the celebration of Jewish holidays? I figured that I may since, well, the whole holiday play and
all.  🙂

Is it customary in the Jewish faith to begin the
holiday at sundown on the day before? Is this because there is a
preference to have finished traveling (by the time the sun goes down)
for the day before the holiday?

Feel free to point me in the direction of a reference or website. I just thought I would ask you as I had heard this before.



Dear Patty:

For Jews, not only the holidays start at sunset. Every new day begins at sunset.

I like your explanation: so we might finish our traveling during the day. I do prefer to drive during daylight. Sunlight is nature's best highway safety program.

However, I've heard that the Jewish timing is for the opposite reason: because the brutal desert sun required the Jews to travel at night. So we would wake up and start each day's work at sunset. That's
poetic and reminds us of our wandering in the desert.

My Own Idea
I like to think that maybe it's because creation starts in darkness — and then there was light. Creation does start in darkness. That's when children are conceived, in my humbling experience.

Personally, I like that each new day starts
with the best parts of any day: dinner, a glass of wine,
contemplation about the previous day, and bed — maybe even a little creation. Work can wait until
later in the "day"!

But Here's The Practical Reason
This is just my guess, but here we go:

Sunset is easily measured. You know it when you see it. If you have a good vantage point, it is a precise moment.

For most of our history, there were no clocks. "Midnight" was an abstraction.

So really, the easiest times for any Pre-clock People to end and start days would be sunset or sunrise.

The Jews chose sunset. (Because of the desert heat.)

I'll bet there's a better answer.
Where I usually look for better answers is R. Joseph Telushkin's Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History. His short essays on more than 500 topics make great reading.

Oh, and your question asks about the "Jewish
faith." I see Judaism as "Jewish tradition" rather than "Jewish faith." In Judaism, faith is elusive.
Tradition won't quit.

Uh, Artie?