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It sets the dates of the Jewish holidays, the right Torah portions for public reading, Yahrzeits (the date to think of the death of a relative), and the specific daily Psalms which some customarily read.
Two major forms of the calendar have been used: an observational form used before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and based on witnesses observing the phase of the moon, and a rule-based form first fully described by Maimonides in 1178 CE, which was adopted over a transition period between 70 and 1178.
The "modern" form is a fixed arithmetic lunisolar calendar. Because of the roughly 11 day difference between twelve lunar months and one solar year, the calendar repeats in a 19-year cycle of 235 lunar months, with an extra lunar month added once every two or three years, for a total of 7 times per 19 years. As the Hebrew calendar was developed in the region east of the Mediterranean Sea, references to seasons reflect the times and climate of the Northern Hemisphere.
Jews have been using a lunisolar calendar since Biblical times. The first commandment the Jewish People received as a nation was the commandment to determine the New Moon. The beginning of Exodus Chapter 12 says "This month (Nissan) is for you the first of months.". The months were originally referred to in the Bible by number rather than name. Only four pre-exilic month names appear in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible): Aviv (first; literally "Spring", but originally probably meant the ripening of barley), Ziv (second; literally "Light"), Ethanim (seventh; literally "Strong" in plural, perhaps referring to strong rains), and Bul (eighth), and all are Canaanite names.
- The Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), Book Three, Treatise Eight: Sanctification of the New Moon. Translated by Solomon Gandz. Yale Judaica Series Volume XI, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 1956.
- Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. The Oxford Companion to the Year: An Exploration of Calendar Customs and Time-reckoning. Oxford University Press; USA, 2000. pp 723–730.
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