Time – Sabbath on Tuesday, 364 day year

Can you imagine Shabbos starting on  Tuesday night? Such a scenario is by no  means impossible! For close to a century,  a fierce battle has been raging around this  very point! Time after time, the world  has come close to shifting Shabbos from  its rightful place among the days of the  week.

Perhaps the first person to think of  standing the world on its head was a man  from Maryland calling himself Hirossa  Ap-Iccim (a pseudonym), who sent  the following gripe to the Gentleman’s  Magazine of London in July 5505/1745:  “’Tis self-evident that our divisions of  quantities are irregular, troublesome in  practice, and repugnant to the nature of  things.” Among his complaints was “how  preposterously do the days of the week  vary in different months of the same year,  and again in the same months of different  years!”

His complaint was an old problem  that has flummoxed calendar makers  for centuries. Try as we might, it is  impossible to squeeze our calendar into  smooth synchronization with the heavenly  bodies. Our years are not the same length  of time it takes the world to circle the sun,  our months are not the same time it takes  the moon to go round the earth, days do  not fit into months and weeks, and months  do not fit into years.

This creates an inconvenience. Divide  the 365 days of the secular year by seven  and you get 52 weeks and one remaining  day. This extra day, two extra days during  a leap year, pushes the calendar a day or  two forward every year. Although this  is good for calendar manufacturers, it is  extremely inconvenient for the business,  judicial, and tax worlds. Wouldn’t it be  easier if every year started on the same  day of the week and had exactly the same  months as the year before, with each date  invariably falling on the same day of the  week?

One of the first people to do  something about Hirossa Ap-Iccim’s  complaint was the Italian abbot, Marco  Mastrofini. In 5594/1834, he published  his Amplissimi Frutti da Raccogliersi  sul Calandario Gregoriano Perpetuo  (Reseach Conclusions Toward a Perpetual  Gregorian Calendar) that offers a creative  solution to getting rid of the “superfl uous”  365th day of the year. His idea was that  each year should consist of 364 days  always beginning on Sunday, January  1. As for the inconvenient 365th day, it  would be declared “nonexistent.” The last  Saturday of the year would be followed  by an “extra calendrical” day, i.e., a day  that does not exist on the calendar, and  this nonexistent day would be followed  by Sunday, the first day of the next year.  Every year, this “fixed,” unchanging  year would wipe one or two days off the  calendar.

Of course, the problem with this  wonderful solution is what would happen  to Shabbos. Regarding shemiras Shabbos,  the nonexistent day would have to be taken  into account. Therefore, if Mastrofini’s  plan was put into action, the whole world  would start keeping a new year on a  Sunday, which for shomer Shabbos Jews  would already be Monday. Throughout  that new year, instead of falling on  Saturday, Shabbos would fall on Sunday,  and the year after that, Shabbos would fall  on Monday!

Worse still, after every leap year,  Shabbos would be pushed two days  forward! This nightmare is not an  academic theory but a realistic goal that  has been actively pursued at national and  international levels for decades by a cadre  of influential people who are convinced  that the world will eventually see reason  and abandon the clumsy calendar used at  present.

Jews may first have encountered this  sort of problem during the early years of  the Roman Empire when the Romans had  a nine-day week that ended not with a day  of rest but with a market day. Centuries  later, Napoleon made the first historical  attempt to destroy Shabbos when he  introduced the French Revolutionary  Calendar in 5553/1793. This calendar had  30-day months comprised of three ten-day  weeks. At the end of every ten-day  week, the populace was expected to attend  services at an atheistic Temple of Reason.

Because of its clumsiness, Napoleon  abandoned this system in 5665/1805.  A second attempt to undermine  the traditional seven-day week was in  5689/1929, when Stalin introduced a  system of six five-day weeks per month.  A major purpose of the scheme was to  make Shabbos and Sundays totally out of  sync and contribute to the destruction of  religion, chas veshalom. 

The second purpose of his calendar  was to increase production. Weekends as  we know them no longer existed. Instead,  the workforce was divided into five  sectors that were given “work cards” of  yellow, pink, red, purple, or green. Every  day, one of the five sectors would have  a day of rest while the other four sectors  continued slaving. This was known as the  nepreryvka (perpetual) system.

As can be imagined, Stalin’s system  made Shabbos observance harder than  ever. The Russians hated this system so  much that it was abolished in 5691/1931  and replaced by a new system, under  which the entire workforce took off  every sixth day. However, there was such  popular demand for a seven-day week  that Stalin reinstated the regular calendar  in 5700/1940.

The third attempt to create a new  week, which has never been relinquished  by its supporters, began in 5683/1923,  shortly after the formation of the League  of Nations, when the United States  initiated a special committee to eliminate  the peculiarities and inconveniences of  the Gregorian calendar. The only people  barring this goal, both then and now, are  religious and traditional Jews anxious to  guard Shabbos, and people who place  religious significance on Fridays or  Sundays.

In 5685/1925, a Jewish delegation  approached the special committee to  protest the creation of a new calendar,  saying it would disrupt the lives of  shomer Shabbos Jews. The driving force  behind this delegation was Rav Yosef Tzvi  Hertz, chief rabbi of the British Empire.  Delegation member Rav Yeshaya Feurst  of Vienna who came as representative of  Agudas Yisroel suggested an alternative  method of achieving “fixed” years:  to have years 364 days long, as the  committee recommended, but to achieve  this not by knocking days off the calendar  but by having a “leap week” every five or  six years to fill in the missing days.

During a summit meeting in 5689/1929,  the League of Nations selected two out  of 157 contenders for the new calendar.  The core concept of both choices was  that every year should be identical. If a  person was born on Sunday, August 5th,  his birthday would be on Sunday every  day of his life.

The first suggestion hoped to achieve  this by having thirteen months a year, while  the second system adopted Mastrofini’s  concept of ignoring one or two days a  year. This is exactly what the Jews had  dreaded. When the League of Nations  dropped the whole idea in 5691/1931,  Jews the world over heaved a collective  sigh of relief.

However, the battle had only just  begun. Elisabeth Achelis of Brooklyn,  New York, was a wealthy, unmarried  heiress searching for a cause to which to  devote her life. In 5689/1929 she heard  of the controversy and, deciding to make  this her life’s work, helped create the  International World Calendar Association,  which regularly published a Journal of  Calendar Reform, distributing it gratis to  over 20,000 public institutions.

As a result of her activities, Chile  proposed a draft to the League of  Nations to adopt her “World Calendar” in  5697/1937. This was endorsed by fourteen  nations and opposed by six, while ten  other nations sat on the fence to see what  would happen. Baruch Hashem, nothing  came of this, perhaps because the League  was more worried about the imminent  outbreak of a European war.

After the war, Achelis worked through  the newly created United Nations and  made two more attempts to push through  her calendar in 5706/1946 and 5716/1953.  By March 21, 5715/1955, when calendar  reforms had appeared before the League  and United Nations a total of eight  times, the Department of State made the  following statement that the matter should  be dropped for good:

“The representative of the United  States of America to the United Nations  presents his compliments to the secretary-general  of the United Nations and has the  honor to refer to the secretary-general’s  note SOA 146/2/01, dated October 7, 1954,  concerning World Calendar Reform.

“The United States government  does not favor any action by the United  Nations to revise the present calendar.  This government cannot in any way  promote a change of this nature, which  would intimately affect every inhabitant  of this country, unless such a reform were  favored by a substantial majority of the  citizens of the United States acting through  their representatives in the Congress of  the United States. There is no evidence  of such support in the United States for  calendar reform.

“Large numbers of United States  citizens oppose the plan for calendar  reform that is now before the Economic  and Social Council. Their opposition is  based on religious grounds, since the  introduction of a ‘blank day’ at the end  of each year would disrupt the seven-day  sabbatical cycle.

“Moreover, this government holds that  it would be inappropriate for the United  Nations, which represents many different  religious and social beliefs throughout  the world, to sponsor any revision of  the existing calendar that would conflict  with the principles of important religious  faiths.

“This government, furthermore,  recommends that no further study of the  subject should be undertaken …”

Because the United States is the single  most important member state of the United  Nations, the calendar battle has remained  almost stalemated ever since, despite the  potential support of the notion among the  majority of the world’s nations. Aside  from one other attempt in 5723/1963, the  fight is over. Perhaps the United Nations  is concerned that raising the issue in times  of rising Islamic fanaticism might spark  off an international jihad.

However, the World Calendar  Association is determined to never give  up the eighty-four-year battle to change  the calendar, and we should thank Hashem  for the miracle of its persistent failure.

(Sources: World Calendar Association, Hanisyonos  Leshinui Haluach Hashavui Veshemiras Shabbos by  Professor Eli Martzbach, Bar-Ilan University)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.