Jewish Holidays to Consider When Scheduling Events



So, you're responsible for scheduling a conference, meeting, or some other event? Of course, you want as many people in your target audience to be able to attend, right? Well, if your target audience includes Jews, then this page is for you!

The Jewish calendar is extremely complex. There are many holidays of varying importance throughout the year. These holidays are based on the Jewish lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar, which means that they fall on different Gregorian dates and days of the week each year. Some of the holidays are not widely observed by some Jewish denominations. Most Gregorian calendars do not show all Jewish holidays, and those that do fail to show how important or widely observed each one is.

Because of all this complexity, it's going to be hard for you to know which Jewish holidays you should avoid if you wish for Jews to be able to attend your event. This page should make it easier.

When you enter a Gregorian year and click “Submit”, several lists of holidays will be displayed with their Gregorian dates. Ideally, you should avoid scheduling events on any of these dates, so the first list includes all of them. However, the reality is that there are a lot of Jewish holidays, and you may be unable to avoid them all. Therefore, each subsequent list is a subset of the previous one, with some holidays removed based on their importance and how widely they are observed, until finally, the last list shows the holidays which you absolutely need to avoid.

Weekends are included in the lists of holidays, but since conflicts are more likely during the work week, weekdays are shown in bold.

Note that even the biggest list doesn't contain all the Jewish holidays. Trust me, you don't want to see that list.

When Jewish holidays start and end

Jewish holidays begin 18 minutes before sunset the previous night, and Jews who observe the holidays must get home before they begin. Please take this into account when scheduling a “traveling event” like a conference the day before a listed holiday. Unless you're in the habit of paying attention to when sunset occurs (and most people aren't), it's probably earlier than you think, especially in the winter. For example, in Boston, winter holidays can start as early as 3:54pm.

Jewish holidays end about an hour after sunset, unless the next day is also a holiday, in which case there is no "non-holiday" gap between the two. Jews who strictly observe the holidays can't usually travel to events until after the end of the holiday. This might be feasible the during standard time, when sunset could be as early as 4:15pm, but it's challenging in the summer, when, for example, the Sabbath can end as late as 10:00pm in some parts of the United States.

Accommodating dietary restrictions

You've probably heard the phrase “keeping kosher”, but if you aren't Jewish, you may have almost no idea what it means. If you're curious, you can learn some of the details at Judaism 101. For the purposes of this holiday page, it's sufficient to know that if you plan an event involving food, some Jewish attendees will not be able to eat it.

To accommodate Jews who keep kosher at your events, you should at the very least ensure that they will be able to bring their own food to the event. Better, however, would be to find a way to provide food that they will be able to eat. This is often easier than it sounds. For example, if your event is being hosted by a hotel in any medium to large American city, the hotel's caterer probably already has an arrangement with a local kosher caterer or restaurant to deliver pre-prepared kosher food when needed; all you need to do is ask.

Food on Passover

Strict observance of the holiday of Passover (in Hebrew Pesach) requires drastic changes in a a Jew's diet and a great deal of work before and after the holiday. Jews are commanded not to consume any “leavened” food, in Hebrew chametz, or indeed even to own it or allow it to be seen in their households, during Passover.

This prompts strictly observant Jews to clean their houses from top to bottom; to search every nook and cranny for chametz; to empty their kitchen drawers, cabinets and pantries and temporarily replace their dishes, flatware, pots and pans with Passover-only equipment; and to eliminate from their diets all foods other than matzah that might contain even a trace of grain.

Even many Jews who are not strictly observant and/or do not keep kosher during most of the year observe the dietary restrictions of Passover in some way. Therefore, if you must schedule an event which takes place during Passover and where food is served, please make an effort to be extra sensitive to the needs of Jewish attendees. See Accommodating dietary restrictions above for more about this.

Fast days

Certain days in the Jewish calendar are designated as fast days. The so-called “minor fasts” are currently hidden in the lists of holidays provided by this page; click here to show them. The two most important fasts, Tish'a B'Av and Yom Kippur, are always included.

Do not confuse Jewish fasts with those of some other religions which permit some food and drink, e.g., bread and water, to be consumed during the fast. During a Jewish fast, no food or drink may be consumed. Furthermore, the two major fasts last for over 25 hours, from before sundown the previous night until well after sundown the day of the fast.

So, what can you do to accommodate Jews' observances if you need to schedule an event with food on a fast day? Not much, really, but please, do be sensitive to the awkwardness, discomfort and even physical illness that could be caused by making someone who hasn't eaten or drunk in twenty hours watch other people doing it, and do what you can to minimize it.

If you have any questions about this page, please contact me. You can make comments or suggestions about this page, or read what others have to say, at my blog. Please click here to visit my home page.

Date calculations for this page are performed by the very fine program hebcal. Many thanks to Danny Sadinoff for writing it and to him and Michael Radwin for maintaining it!!