Understanding & Appreciating the Jewish Calendar

What are the blackout dates for Jewish rites of passage?

For those scheduling Jewish life cycle ceremonies there are hundreds of available dates as well as a number of black-out dates when rites cannot be held. With advance planning, conflict need not occur Why care about this? To destroy a culture, deny a people the life of its calendar. The first rules the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Nazis, Communists and all oppressors assert to  destroy peoples is to make it illegal for those they conquer to follow their own ethnic or religious calendar. To best save, support, or savor a culture, enter into the culture’s calendar with depth of curiosity and treat it with the utmost respect. 

When Can I Hold a Jewish Wedding? Bar or Bat Mitzvah? Baby Naming? Funeral? and more...

a. Jewish weddings can be held six days a week, but not held on Shabbat, meaning between sundown on a Friday night and the appearance of three stars on a Saturday night. Why’s that? Shabbat is reserved for the celebration of a Cosmic wedding between one’s weary soul and the bride of rest, Shabbat; thus weddings for individuals are not held on this day. You might say there’s a Cosmic conflict of interest. One is allowed to break Shabbat with labor and travel only for reasons of health. Contracting or solemnizing a marriage is an act of labor, and weddings are certainly not medical emergencies. 

b. As a major simchah, “celebration”, a wedding is supposed to add to the happy days in the calendar, and one that overlaps with a major holiday causes each to dilute the other. Therefore, weddings and other happy celebrations are not held on any major holiday, such as Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, or Shavuot.

c. Rosh Chodesh (new moons), Chanukah, Tu B'Shevat, and Purim are days on which Jewish weddings, bar/bat mitzvah rites, and other happy events can be held.

d. In addition to the new moons, the other exception is Lag B'Omer, the thirty-third day in the Counting of the Omer, which is a popular wedding date. Some also include Yom Ha-Atzmaut, “Israel Independence Day,” as a permitted wedding day. Tuesday is considered a good day to have a wedding because in the account of Creation [Genesis, Chapter 1], it is written ki tov ("it is good") twice on the third day, which correlates with Tuesday since the Jewish week begins with Sunday.

e. Weddings, bar/bat mitzvah rites, birthday parties, and baby namings are not held on days of public mourning because the mood of such days would diminish the joy. These include Tisha B'Av, the fast of Gedaliah, the tenth of Tevet, the fast of Esther, the seventeenth of Tammuz, any of the first thirty-two days between Pesach and Shavuot, and the three weeks from the seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av.

f. Baby namings for girls are typically held within a month of birth on Shabbat morning at services, typically during the Torah reading, or on Mondays and Thursdays, when the Torah is read. A home ritual is also appropriate.

g. Circumcisions are held on the eighth day after birth whether or not it is Shabbat or a holiday, barring medical contraindication. Why’s that? Our ancestors discovered that the eighth day of life is the healthiest for the covenantal rite of circumcision and required it even on Shabbat. Interestingly, science now shows that the blood clotting factor optimal for an easy and healthy circumcision occurs on the eighth day after birth.

h. Don’t like your Hebrew name? Change it. Jewish name changes are typically done on Shabbat morning or afternoon during services as a blessing during the Torah reading.

i. Jewish funerals are traditionally held within twenty-four hours of death for the peace of the soul and to honor the body as the image of God, which must be returned to nourish the earth. Exceptions are made for the Sabbath, major holy days, and to save a life in cases where information from an autopsy could lead to detection of a killer; some rabbis allow a day delay to occur while awaiting a spouse or child coming to attend from a great distance. Killer in this sense means either an actual murderer or a previously unidentified genetic disorder the detection of which could save the lives of other family members over time.

Bottom Line: Consult a qualified rabbinic authority before setting any rite of passage date or time.

Note of caution: It’s difficult to find an ethical, talented Jewish clergy person on short-notice for a major Jewish life cycle event. Also, be sure to organize your clergy person before working out a time with a funeral home; we’ll have lots of helpful information that may also save you time and money. Book your rabbi and/or cantor in advance, a lot of the good and beautiful gets lost when rites of passage are rushed or entered into without sufficient planning and spiritual preparation.

Hold the line against the pharaohs of time, reclaim the days of life with friends, family, and community
as what matter most. Expand those times by following the tradition of not booking rites of passage to overlap in any way with Shabbat or holy days. That’s what a free people can do.