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Use of Secular Dates

By Rabbi Joshua Flug

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Introduction-We live in a society where there is a standard way of recording dates. There are a number of halachic considerations in using secular dates and they will be enumerated in this shiur outline. Talmudic Discussions about how to date the years in documents a. The Gemara discusses whether the years in a document should be based on Yetzias Mitzrayim or the Greek Empire. The Gemara concludes that before the galus, the years were counted based on Yetzias Mitzrayim and the year began in Nisan. During the galus, we count based on the Greek Empire and the year begins in Tishrei. {} b. The Gemara states that Gittin should be written based on the current ruler because of Sh'lom Malchus. {} i. Tosafos ask: Why does the Gemara state that we base dates on the Greek Empire but for Gittin we follow the current ruler? Tosafos answer that since a get is an important document, the government is more concerned about the type of date that is used and therefore, there is a special consideration regarding gittin. Otherwise, one follows the Greek Kindgdom. {} ii. Ritva (1250-1330) doesn't seem to distinguish between different documents. He notes that it is considered an honor for a kingdom to base dates on the kingdom and whenever there is a concern that the government will be upset about using a non-standard date, one should use the date that they insist on. Ritva does note that we use dating based on the creation of the world, which the government does not care about. {} 1. Ritva doesn't distinguish between the Greek Empire and other kingdoms. The Gemara that mentions the Greek Empire is based on a Beraisa and it makes sense that the Beraisa was written when the Greek Empire was the dominant kingdom. The Gemara in Gittin was written after the Greek Empire's dominance. 2. Tosafos also agree that it is common practice to date documents based on the creation of the world. However, since there are a number of options, certain details are not critical. {} iii. Rambam (1138-1204) writes that common practice is to write documents according to the creation of the world or the Greek Empire. However, if one writes based on the current ruler, it is valid. {} c. One sees from this discussion that there is nothing inherently wrong with using the years of a non-Torah event as a way of referencing dates.



Is there a mitzvah to use Jewish Dates? a. Ramban (1194-1270) writes that part of the mitzvah of ‫ החדש הזה לכם‬is to count Nissan as the first month and the rest of the months based on their number. This is

why the months originally did not have names. Counting based on number is a way of commemorating Yetzias Mitzrayim. {} b. Ritva also subscribes to this idea and adds that even though names were given to months after they returned from Galus Bavel, there is a still a requirement to count the months. We find this idea in Tanach (e.g. ‫}{ .)בחדש השביעי הוא חדש תשרי‬ c. R. Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) quotes Ramban and states that for this reason, we should not use secular dates. {} d. It is not clear that we follow Ramban's opinion: i. R. Yosef Babad (1801-1874, Minchas Chinuch) questions why none of the other Rishonim list the idea of counting months as a mitzvah. {} ii. R. Yerucham Fishel Perlow (1846-1934) suggests that most Rishonim disagree with Ramban's premise. {} iii. R. Shlomo HaKohen of Vilna (c. 1827-1905) notes that if we did follow Ramban's opinion, we would at least write in our documents and recite at kiddush hachodesh ‫ .חדש ראשון הוא חדש ניסן‬The fact that we don't this indicates that we don't follow Ramban's opinion. {} iv. R. Yosef Teomim (P'ri Megadim 1727-1793) in his introduction to Sefer Notrikun seems to subscribe to the fact that Ramban's opinion is normative. {} v. R. Shlomo Ganzfried (1804-1886) quotes an opinion that because of Ramban's opinion, it is preferable to write the secular dates as actual names (Jan., Feb., etc.) and not as a number (1/1/2011) because by using a number, one is counting using a different number system and violating the mitzvah to count the months based on Yetzias Mitzrayim. {} vi. R. Yoel Teitelbaum (1887-1979) suggests that Chasam Sofer never meant to base a prohibition against using secular dates on Ramban's opinion. Rather, Chasam Sofer felt it was inappropriate because of concerns of avodah zarah and based his concern on something related to a mitzvah. {} IV. Using Dates that are Associated with Avodah Zarah a. The Gemara states that one may not use avodah zarah as a point of reference. For example, one may not give directions and use an idol as a landmark. {} b. Maraham Schick (1807-1879) writes that using secular dates, which are based on Christianity, is a violation of the prohibition against using avodah zarah as a point of reference. {} i. R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 1915-2006) suggests that Maharam Schick only prohibits using secular dates when specifically stating that the year relates to the Christian count (i.e. writing A.D). However, to write a number without any point of reference is permissible. {}

c. There are a number of reasons given by poskim why using the secular year does not violate this prohibition i. Hagahos Maimonios writes that there is no prohibition in using a name of someone or something that originally had a regular name and later became avodah zarah. {} 1. While it is clear what Hagahos Maimonios is referring to, The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) proves this idea from the fact that the Gemara always refer to Yeshu (Jesus) by his name. {} [The prohibition does apply to the second name.] 2. As such, referencing the year of birth, which was a regular event that later became part of an avodah zarah, would be permissible. ii. The Encyclopedia Otzar Yisrael notes that Yeshu was probably not born in the year that Christians believe he was born. He was either born two or four years earlier. {} 1. As such, the secular years don't have anything to do with avodah zarah. V. Is there a prohibition of Chukas Akum in Using Secular Dates? a. R. Rachamim Palagi (19th Century) writes that using a secular date is a violation of chukas akum. {} i. There is a dispute between Rama (1520-1572) and The Vilna Gaon regarding non-Jewish practices that are functional in nature. 1. Maharik (c. 1420-1480) writes that chukas akum only applies if either: {} a. There is no reason for the practice. b. The practice is a something that involves ‫.פריצות‬ 2. Rama codifies Maharik's ruling and writes that if there is a non-Jewish practice that serves a function, it is not chukas akum as long as it does not involve ‫}{ .פריצות‬ 3. The Vilna Gaon believes that other Rishonim disagree with Maharik and that anything that we would not have thought of on our own constitutes chukas akum. {} ii. R. Ovadia Yosef writes that based on Maharik and Rama, there should be no prohibition in using secular dates because they are functional in nature. {} 1. According to The Vilna Gaon, it is arguable that the secular year (and months) is not something that we would have thought of on our own

because we have our own system and therefore constitutes chukas akum. VI. Additional Points a. R. Ovadiah Yosef, using his computer-like mind, lists numerous places where great poskim, including Chasam Sofer used secular dates. He concludes that it cannot be prohibited to use them, although it is praiseworthy if one can avoid them. {} b. R. Eliezer Waldenberg writes that if one can also write the Jewish date, it is preferable because it shows that the secular date is only functional. {}

‫4. ריטב"א ר"ה ב.‬

‫1. עבודה זרה י.‬

‫5. תוס' עבודה זרה י.‬

‫2. גיטין פ.‬

‫6. רמב"ם הל' גירושין א:כז‬

‫תוס' גיטין פ.‬


‫01. מנחת חינוך מצוה שיא‬

‫7. רמב"ן שמות יב:ב‬

‫11. הערות הריפ"פ לספר המצות של רס"ג מ"ע נו‬

‫8. ריטב"א ראש השנה ג.‬

‫21. בנין שלמה א:כב‬ ‫9. תורת משה פרשת בא‬

‫71. שו"ת מהר"ם שיק יו"ד ס' קעא‬

‫31. ספר נוטריקון, הקדמה‬

‫41. קיצור שלחן ערוך לחם הפנים ס' סב‬

‫81. ציץ אליעזר ח:ח‬

‫51. שו"ת דברי יואל או"ח א:טו‬

‫91. הגהות מיימוניות הל' ע"ז ה:ג‬

‫02. ביאור הגר"א יו"ד קמז:ג‬ ‫61. סנהדרין סג:‬ ‫12. אוצר ישראל ערך ישו‬

‫62. שו"ת יביע אומר יו"ד ג:ט‬

‫22. יפה ללב חלק ה' יו"ד קעח:ג‬

‫32. מהרי"ק שורש פח‬

‫72. שו"ת יביע אומר יו"ד ג:ט‬

‫42. רמ"א יו"ד קעח:א‬

‫52. ביאור הגר"א יו"ד קעח:ז‬

‫82. ציץ אליעזר ח:ח‬