Karaite Reckoning vs. Rabbanite Reckoning
Was October 22 the Right Date, or Was It September
by Bob Pickle
- The Problem
- Of Karaism and Calendars
- October 22, Karaism, and Snow
- Yom Kippur, 1999
- Concocted by Snow?
- Mr. E. S. Calman
- One Month Too Early
- Karaites in Palestine
A number of critics today question the conclusions of Millerites in
1844 that the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) that year would occur on October
22. Indeed, the present author perhaps 15 years ago perused an 1844
almanac in the Auburn University library, and discovered that it listed
September 23 as the date for Yom
Kippur. But that is to be expected.
Millerites in 1844 used the reckoning of Karaite Judaism to come up
with the date of October 22. Karaism typically kept their feasts a month
later than other Jews. However, the critics claim that the Karaites were
no longer using their special form of reckoning in 1844. Is this true?
And even if it were true, what would be the correct date for Yom Kippur
in 1844, biblically speaking?
We begin by discussing the reasons behind the differences of the
Karaite Jewish calendar.
Of Karaism and Calendars
Toward the end of the 8th century AD, a back-to-the-bible movement in Judaism arose in opposition to Rabbanite Judaism. It is called Karaism
(or Caraism). The Rabbanites followed the traditions of the Talmud in
addition to the Scriptures, but the Karaites abandoned all such
traditions and went just by Scripture. This necessitated differing from
other Jews in the manner in which they kept their calendar, and this
meant that they often kept their festivals in different months than
The Julian and Gregorian Calendars are solar calendars.
They are tied to the number of days that it takes for the earth to
revolve about the sun. Moslems, on the other hand, have a lunar
calendar, one that is tied to the number of days that it takes for the
moon to revolve around the earth.
While the earth revolves around the
sun once every 365.242199 days, the moon revolves around the earth once
every 29.530588 days. In a lunar calendar, about half the months are 29
and about half are 30 days long. 12 of such months would add up to about
354 days, about 11 days short of a solar year.
The Julian and
Gregorian calendars keep in time with the seasons though an intercalary
day (Feb. 29) every 4th year, commonly called a leap year. The Gregorian calendar
skips three of these every 400 years, and is thus more accurate than the
The Islamic calendar uses no intercalation. Thus it
falls behind the seasons 11 additional days every year. After 33 years
or so, their months have rotated through the seasons until they are back
to where they were before.
The Jewish calendar uses an intercalary
month. In a leap year, which occurs about 7 times every 19 years, the
12th month Adar is followed by a second Adar, and this postpones the
beginning of the first month of Nisan till the following month.
and Karaites begin their months when the new crescent moon is first
visible. This may occur, weather permitting, 18 hours or more after the
astronomical new moon. Sightings are attempted soon after sunset. If the
new crescent is large enough, and is far enough away from the setting
sun, and at the right angle, then it will be seen and the new month will
be declared to have begun.
The Bible specifies that the Passover must
be celebrated during the first month. It also specifies that on the
morrow after the sabbath after the Passover (differing interpretations
identify this as either a Sunday or the 16th
of Nisan), a sheaf of ripe barley was to be waved before the Lord (Lev.
23:10-12). Up until the 2nd century AD, Rabbanite Judaism added their
intercalary months in such a way that there was always ripe barley for
Passover. After that point, they relied solely on mathematical
calculations tied to the equinox, and totally disregarded whether the
barley was ripe or not. Thus they were not following the Scriptures in
the matter of when to begin their years.
When Karaism arose, it reverted back to the
original way of calculating the beginning of the year. You can read more
about this matter at www.karaite-korner.org.
Particularly interesting are Abib
FAQ, and Ancient
October 22, Karaism, and Snow
Beginning in the summer of 1844, Millerites in general, though not
William Miller himself, became convinced that Christ would return on
October 22 of that year, what was considered the Day of Atonement by
Karaite reckoning. This idea was first presented by Samuel S. Snow.
Critics today deny that the Karaites were still using their special
reckoning in 1844. Thus, it is claimed, this Millerite date, and the
subsequent date used by Seventh-day Adventists for the beginning of the
antitypical Day of Atonement, is flawed.
A key piece of evidence that
is used is this quote, written in 1860:
And for some time now the quest for the Abib has been abandoned even in the Land of Israel and they [the inhabitants of Israel] intercalate years using the above
mentioned system [i.e. the 19 year Rabbinic cycle] like we do outside of Israel, [this is] against the legal decision of the Rav [i.e. Baschyatchi] and the Hachamim
[mentioned in the above quoted passage of Aderet Eliyahu] perhaps in order to unite with all the communities and so that we will not have a disagreement between
them and us in fixing the year. (From "Gefen Ha'Aderet", Shlomoh ben Afedah Hacohen, Israel 1987, pp.22-23 (written in 1860) [translation from the Hebrew by Nehemia Gordon, square
brackets added by translator for clarity.])
That Karaites afar from Palestine were using Rabbanite reckoning long
before 1844 is indeed true. And at some point prior to 1860, apparently
even Karaites in Palestine were as well. But how long before 1860? The
history is difficult to trace back from our day.
As late as 1641 we learn from a Karaite pilgrim from the Crimea that the Karaites of the Middle East still
followed the Biblical calendar and that in that year they celebrated all the
holidays one month after the Rabbanites. (Karaite Korner Newsletter #6: Biblical Holidays 1999)
For now, we will say that at some point between 1641 and 1860,
Karaites in Palestine started using Rabbanite reckoning. Yet regardless of what the Karaites were or were not doing in 1844,
what was the true date for the Day of Atonement, biblically speaking?
The question is difficult to answer without detailed crop reports from
that year, but we know what the barley crops are like in recent years,
thanks to Karaite leader Nehemia Gordon.
Yom Kippur, 1999
In 1999 his newsletter declared:
According to the Abib (barley) and the New Moon the Biblical Feasts and
Holidays in 1999 fall out on the following dates:
* October 11, 1999 Yom Teruah (Day of Shouting)
* October 20, 1999 Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
* October 25, 1999 Hag HaSukkot (Feast of Booths)
* November 1, 1999 Shemini Atzeret (Ibid.) (bold added)
October 20 is awfully close to October 22. But the average Jew kept
the Yom Kippur in 1999 a whole month earlier.
Concocted by Snow?
Back to the Millerites of 1844. Some critics have
claimed that Samuel Snow concocted the idea of Yom Kippur being in
October so that he would have longer for his message to take effect.
This is not true, for Millerites were well aware of Karaite reckoning
before Snow came around with his message the summer of 1844:
Now there is a dispute between the Rabinical, and the Caraite Jews,
as to the correct time of commencing the year. . . . The
Caraite Jews on the contrary, still adhere to the letter of the
Mosaic, and commence with the new moon nearest the barley harvest in
Judea; and which is one moon later than the Rabinical year. The Jewish
year of A D 1843, as the Caraites reckon it in accordance with the
Mosaic law, therefore commenced this year with the new moon on the
29th of April, and the Jewish year 1844, will commence with the new
moon in next April, when 1843 and the 2300 days, according to their
computation, will expire. (Signs of the Times; June 21, 1843;
While Miller himself never espoused such dating, principal Millerite
leaders did. Thus the idea of using Karaite reckoning wasn't something
concocted by Snow. Notice also that if the Jewish year of 1844 began
with the new moon of April, Yom Kippur, a little over six months later,
would land on October 22, not September 23.
In a discussion of the 70 weeks of Daniel 9, we
In an "Economical Calendar" of Palestine, which has been
prepared with the greatest care, is the following remark under the
month commencing with the new moon of April. "Wheat, zea
or spelt and barley ripen." (Signs of the Times;
Dec. 5, 1843; p. 134)
In this article is a good bit of material dealing with the Karaite
form of reckoning. Much of this was repeated, with some additions, in
the March 20, 1844, issue, after the Signs had changed its name
to the Advent Herald and Signs of the Time Reporter. But the Signs
a.k.a. Advent Herald wasn't the first journal to publish
comments along these lines:
In an article on the Jewish year, published in the Cry of April 27,
1843, Bro. Whiting says: "The rabbinical calculation makes the
first day of Nisan commence with the new moon nearest the day
on which the sun enters Aries, on the vernal equinox. It ought,
however, to be observed, that the Caraite Jews maintain that the
rabbins have changed the Calendar, so that, to present the first
fruits on the 16th of Nisan would be impossible if the time is
reckoned according to the rabbinical calculations, since barley is not
in the ear at Jerusalem till a month later. The accounts of many travelers
confirm the position of the Caraites. (The Midnight Cry;
Oct. 11, 1844; p. 117) (bold added)
So well over a year before Snow got going, Millerites were talking
about Karaite reckoning, and even claiming that "many
travelers" to Israel had confirmed the fact that the barley is
not ripe for Passover the way the Rabbanites calculate the beginning
of the year.
Mr. E. S. Calman
Now we need to investigate the question of what were the Karaites
doing in 1844. We have the testimony of Shlomoh ben Afedah Hacohen that
long before 1860 the Karaites of Palestine has given up their form of
reckoning the commencement of the year. This must be balanced with the
following, from an article which was quoted in part by the Dec. 5, 1843,
issue of Signs and the March 20, 1844, issue of Advent Herald:
The following is a communication from Mr. Calman, written as long
ago as 1836 . . . . (American Biblical Repository,
April 1840, p. 398)
This Mr. Calman was a converted Jewish Rabbi who at the time of
writing was about to return to Jerusalem from Beirut where he was
recovering his health. Before going to Beirut:
Having left England, under the patronage of a few private
individuals, as a missionary to the Jews in the East, he had proceeded
first to Baghdad and then to Jerusalem . . . . (p. 400)
Calman's article is critiquing a book written by a Ridley Herschell,
with which he differs on some points.
You must not, for a moment, suppose that I mean to charge Mr. H. with
falsehood. Far from it; for I must acknowledge that before I became
acquainted with the Judaism of the East, or rather, before I had
thoroughly looked into the state of religion and morals among them, in
consequence of my labors here for the benefit of their souls, my own
views were nearly like those of Mr. H. (p. 410)
Judging from his learning, and his personal acquaintance with Jewish
affairs in the Middle East, one would think that Mr. Calman should know
what he is talking about.
One Month Too Early
Notice carefully what the very first point he covers is, in the
lengthy remainder of his article:
I will begin by stating one fact of great importance, of which I
was totally ignorant before I came to this country, which will prove
that the seasons of the festivals, appointed by God for the
Jewish nation, have been annulled and subverted by the oral law of the
Scribes and Pharisees, which is now the ritual of the Jews. (p. 411)
Mr. Calman considers the issue of "great importance," and
learned of it only since arriving in the Palestine. What immediately
follows is a short description of the biblical requirement that the
year begin when the barley is in a certain stage of ripeness. Then he
But, at present, the Jews in the Holy Land have not the least
regard to this season appointed and identified by Jehovah, but follow
the rules prescribed in the oral law, namely, by adding a month to
every second or third year, and thus making the lunar year correspond
with the solar. And when the 15th day of Nisan (nisan),
according to this computation, arrives, they begin to celebrate the
above-mentioned feast, although the chedesh haabib may have
passed, or not yet come. In general the proper season occurs after
they have celebrated it a whole month, which is just reversing the
command in the law, which directs that the chedesh haabib
precede the festival, and not the festival the chedesh haabib.
Nothing like ears of green corn have I seen around Jerusalem at the
celebration of this feast. (pp. 411, 412) (Hebrew transliterated)
Mr. Calman has thus informed us that "in general," Jews
around 1836 were keeping their feasts one month too early. Therefore,
just this point makes a good case for October 22 being the correct
date for Yom Kippur in 1844, regardless of what the Karaites were
Especially is this so when one considers the range of dates in
which Rabbanite Jews were celebrating Yom Kippur at that time. Between
1800 and 1844, the earliest date for Yom Kippur was September 14 in
1842, and the latest date was October 14 in 1815. If "in
general" the Rabbanite dates were a month too early, then
certainly September 23, 1844, falling in the first third of this range
of dates, should have been a month too early.
Karaites in Palestine
. . . regardless of what the Karaites were doing. But what were
The Caraite Jews observe it later than the Rabbinical, for they are
guided by Abib, abib, and they charge the latter with eating
leavened bread during that feast. I think, myself, that the charge is
well founded. If this feast of unleavened bread is not celebrated in
its season, every successive festival is dislocated from its
appropriate period, since the month Abib, abib, is laid down in
the law of God as the epoch from which every other is to follow. (p.
412) (Hebrew transliterated)
Though the Karaites of Palestine may have abandoned their form of
reckoning by 1860, they were still at it in 1836. So says a
knowledgeable former Rabbi who was there at the time. Thus it is
entirely possible that they were still at it in 1844.
The case the critics have made today against the idea that October 22
was the correct date for Yom Kippur in 1844 has vaporized.
- The idea that Snow concocted the idea of using Karaite reckoning
is utterly false, as can be seen from contemporary documents.
- Generally speaking, Jews in Palestine at that time were keeping
the feasts a month too early, for they were starting their years so
early that there was not enough time for the barley to ripen before
- While the Karaite Jews in Palestine were likewise keeping the
feasts too early in 1860, they were not in 1836, leaving open the
possibility that they were also not in 1844.
- Karaite records of what they were doing in other localities are
not necessarily helpful, since those afar were using Rabbanite
reckoning long before those in Palestine ceased to observe the
- Even if the Karaites were using Rabbanite reckoning in 1844, it is
still apparent that Rabbanite reckoning was almost without question a month
too early that year.
Any continued criticism against the validity of the date of
October 22 for Yom Kippur in 1844 is sheer speculation, unless of course
someone turns up an 1844 crop report for Palestine. If
such a crop report did turn up, and if it showed that the barley had
entered the Abib stage by March 20 in those cold, pre-global warming
days, then and only then would the matter be settled that September 23
was the true Day of Atonement for that year.