“Two Jews, Four Calendars”
Today on Tablet
On the occasion of a new book about the Jewish keeping of time, Anthony Grafton educates and meditates on time’s centrality not only to Jewish ritual observance but to Jewish sensibility: “Pinhas of Halberstadt, in the 18th century, copied hunting scenes directly from Christian models,” Grafton recounts. “As their captions he inscribed verses from Isaiah that evoked the eventual triumph of the Jews. For Christians riffling the pages of their prayer books, a hunted hare was just a hare. For Jews reading their calendars, the hare became an emblem of their hope for survival among hostile nations.”
Grafton’s essay is timed to Passover, one of the main justifications for the importance of accurate calendars: The holiday, after all, must be celebrated in the spring. With this, at least, Christians may have sympathized: “Christian experts on the ecclesiastical calendar took care to learn about the Jewish holidays as well. Otherwise, they explained, one might find oneself celebrating Easter at the wrong time, while the Jews mocked.”
Accompanying the essay is a slideshow of gorgeous, evocative drawings from Jewish books of time dating as far back as the 16th century.