“In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, etc., and when the waters had swelled on the earth one hundred and fifty days…on the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” (7:11)
From this it is explained that at the time of the writing of the Torah they counted by the sun (and not by the moon, as Chazal would have it), as 30 days for five months are 150 days; if they had counted by the moon, only 148 days would have passed. In the Hebrew Encyclopedia (entry: “Calendar”) it is explained that the Egyptians used a solar calendar and divided the year into 12 months of 30 days each. Five days were added to the end of the year (the solar year was, in their opinion, 365 days); they counted this way throughout their history, for more than 2500 ears, from the fourth millennium B.C.E. until the third century B.C.E.
The Torah does not point out that they added five days to the end of the year, but it is clear from the verse that the month is always thirty days long.
This settles the Ibn Ezra’s claim (verse 3) “And those who say that they have found that 150 days being five months is a sign they were solar months did not say their words correctly, for two days will be missing.” The Ibn Ezra followed the method of calculating solar years in his time, the Julian method determined by the Romans at the time of the Mishna. Had the Ibn Ezra known that the Egyptians counted regular months of 30 days he would have no claim against them.
We are greatly puzzled why Rashi (on verse 3) calculated the time according to the lunar calendar, one full month and one partial month and therefore defined the seventh month as the seventh from Kislev, in which the rains stopped, while the tenth month is Av, which is the tenth month from the beginning of the rains. He distorts the Scripture by counting once from the beginning of creation (Tishrei, in which the world was created), once from the beginning of the rains, and once from the end of the rains; he noticed this himself in his commentary on verse 5, see there.
The Ramban wondered about this (in verse 4), “And I say that this calculation, which they have said is fitting, is not in the language of the Scriptures, for if we allow them to explain the seventh month as the day on which the rains stopped, etc., and not counted according to the second month in the beginning of the parsha (there the reference is, it appears according to the explanation, the second from the creation of the world) etc., and how is it possible that it would, immediately, in the second verse, say ‘until the tenth month’ with a different count, from the beginning of the rains?” Therefore he explained according to the plain meaning, that the seventh month is Nisan, and his words are as our words, that the five months and the 150 days are solar months.
If your soul desires to see the confusion issue by issue, see the commentaryChizkuni on verse 4, which wondered about Rashi, that the year of the flood was a leap year (and therefore had two months of Adar) and brought three reasons:
- That the flood was not in 1556, which was a leap year, but in 1557, which was a plain year. (Why he added one year to the count he did not explain.)
- That they began to count from the year of chaos (that is, before the creation of the earth!), and then the year 1556 is plain.
- That the year of the flood does not match the count of the other years. (See pamphlet 6 for details.)
And all this is not required, for the plain meaning of the Scripture fits our explanation perfectly; at the time of the writing of the Torah the people of Israel counted solely by solar years, and at a later period they counted by the solar year and lunar months, which they sanctified by witnessing. After the closing of the Talmud they determined the time according to a set formula (without witnessing) in a cycle of 19 years (see pamphlet 6).
It appears that this is the opinion of the Ibn Ezra in his commentary on verse 3, “And even if it were written that Noah’s calculation were according to the sun or the beginning of the year, from Tishrei, the festivals were not given according to Noah,” and he wrote in Exodus 12:2, “Yehuda the Persian said that Israel counted according to solar years, as did the Gentiles, etc.,” and he answered, “I will give you proof from the Scriptures that the festivals are dependent on the beit din, etc.,” To the Ibn Ezra’s mind, there was no practical implication to the method of sanctification, as long as it was via the beit din.
The determination of years should not be a difficulty to you. First we counted according to solar months, then according to lunar months through witnessing, and finally we count according to a set calculation as is customary in these days from the halacha given to the sages to determine it completely in accordance with their opinion alone. This is why they say in the tractate Rosh HaShana 25b, “You, you, you–you three times–you, even if you err; you, even if you do something wrong on purpose; you, even if you lead others astray.”
Words of True Knowledge