Translating the Hebrew Calendar.

The Hebrew calendar is very different from the Gregorian one. This of course implies specific translations problems.

The first question is : "Do you translate the date literally, or in order to match the date in the other language calendar?"

Even the question is difficult to phrase. This comes from the following particularities of the Hebrew calendar. Translating the date literally mean translating the name of the months, or, more exactly, transliterating them.

The Hebrew calendar has 12 months plus a thirteen's one that is added to the year every two or three years (see table below). This is to compensate for the fact the Hebrew calendar is a strictly lunar calendar. This means that, as there are approximately 12.4 lunar months in every solar year, a 12-month lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than a solar year and a 13-month lunar is about 19 days longer than a solar year. The months drift around the seasons on such a calendar: on a 12-month lunar calendar, the month of Nissan, which is due to occur in the Spring, would move 11 days earlier in the season each year, eventually taking place in the Winter, the Fall, the Summer, and then the Spring again. On a 13-month lunar calendar, the same thing would happen in the opposite direction, only faster.

In order to correct that drift, the month of Adar Bet (the second Adar) is added to the calendar every two or three years.

Hebrew

English

Number

Length

Civil Equivalent

   ניסן

Nissan

1

30 days

March-April

 אייר

Iyar

2

29 days

April-May

 סיוון

Sivan

3

30 days

May-June

תמוז 

Tammuz

4

29 days

June-July

אב 

Av

5

30 days

July-August

אלול 

Elul

6

29 days

August-September

תישרי 

Tishri

7

30 days

September-October

חשוון

Cheshvan

8

29 or 30 days

October-November

 כסלב

Kislev

9

30 or 29 days

November-December

טבת 

Tevet

10

29 days

December-January

שבט 

Shevat

11

30 days

January-February

אדר א 

Adar I (leap years only)

12

30 days

February-March

 אדר ב

Adar (called Adar Beit in leap years)

12 (13 in leap years)

29 days

February-March

In order to transliterate a date, things are quite simple, at least with the name of the month. Though it becomes more complicate with the numbers, as we will see below.

However, to translate the date into Gregorian date, it requires the use of either a conversion program or a conversion table.

On-line conversion programs like the one referred to above enable you to translate the date from a previous transliteration, but not directly from the Hebrew alphabet.

There, the problem is compounded by the fact that numerals in Hebrew dates are given with the numerical system associated with the Hebrew alphabet, i.e., they figure in Hebrew letters rather than in numerals.

In Hebrew, letters have been associated with a numerical value. א is worth 1, ב is worth 2 and so on till 10, expressed as י, and then יא is 11 and so on. This use of letters as numerals is called Gematria. Experts in Gematria use it in order to extract philosophical meaning from texts. For example, with the Mussafi method that adds the number of letters in the word to the numerical value of the letters that compose it, the numerical value of the word "silver (money)" and of the word "blood" is the same. Some infer that it implies that money is to social life what blood is to physical life as it enables the circulation of essentials needed to maintain life.

The arcane art of Gematria is a fascinating subject, but, since the topic of the day is translating date, it will not be explored further here.

Luckily for us, date translators, there is only one method to translate the letters forming the date, not four different ones as is the case for Gematria. That means that translating the day of the month is a relatively straightforward operation.

Now, unfortunately for us, dates usually come with a year attached to it. And of course, the Jewish year has nothing to do with the Gregorian one. The Jewish Calendar counts the years according to the time as specified in the Bible, starting about 5770 years ago, or around 3760 BCE.

"Not so complex!" you will tell me, "Just substract 3760 to the year of the Hebrew calendar, and you'll get the Gregorian one." Well, not quite... With the floating thirteen month of the Hebrew calendar, you might end up one year up or down your target, so it is back to the conversion table.

Unless, of course, you trust on-line automated translation tools. One of our translator circulated the result of an automated translation of the date 16 Shevat 5770 (ו' בשבט, תש''ע) , or 31st of January 2010, and this was the translation provided by star21 translator  : "And tribe, felt''by"

This translation results from a combination of the right to left problem, the fact that in Hebrew, the vowels are not written, which means that tribe (shevet), and the month of Shevat are written the same way for example and the general sense of humor of automated translation machine that have decided to reintroduce smiles in our lives.