The Traditional Four Seasons in Israel

The notion that there are just two seasons in Israel, wet (winter) and dry (summer) [ref 1, is, I believe, an over-simplification.

For those living in the temperate zones as defined by latitude, the seasons depend upon the Gregorian calendar and its related astronomical events, the summer and winter solstices, and the autumnal and vernal equinoxes. For those closer to the equator, this is less useful and other designations, often based upon rainfall, have been used.[ref 3]

Since recorded history for the Shomron area of Israel dates back to biblical times, I am going to define the seasons there in terms of the Hebrew biblical calendar, which is a lunar calendar, and I will use biblical references as well as my own observations to support my argument. I will argue that careful observation indeed shows evidence of the four traditional seasons in the Shomron area, and I will relate their temporal boundaries to the biblical Hebrew calendar.

One cannot proceed without first understanding the differences between the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars.

The Gregorian calendar, based upon the sun, has 12 months (except for February) of 30 or 31 days. The total number of days in an "ordinary" year is 365. Since one complete revolution of the Earth around the sun takes very close to 365.25 days, the addition of an extra day in February once every four years keeps the Gregorian calendar aligned with the seasons, the seasons depending upon where the Earth is within its revolution.

The Hebrew calendar, based upon the revolution of the moon around the Earth, also has 12 months, but each has a duration of 29 or 30 days so that an "ordinary" year has 354 +/- 1 days [ref 4]. The Jewish festivals are defined in the Torah as starting on a given date of the Hebrew calendar. Since the Jewish year, based upon the Hebrew calendar, is shorter than the solar (Gregorian) year, without any adjustment, each year the festival of Passover, which starts on the 15th day of the month of Nisan (called Aviv in the Torah), would fall earlier and earlier within the solar year. The word Aviv in the Torah is generally translated as Spring, and Jewish sources interpret the Torah as demanding that the festival of Passover fall always in the Spring. To this end, the Hebrew calendar was adjusted by Hillel II, circa 358 C.E., to insert an extra month on average seven times every 19 years, making the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars more or less in synchrony, thus ensuring that Passover always comes in the Spring.

These are my impressions of the seasons living in Shilo, the first capitol and approximate geographic center of Eretz Israel. The delineators are based upon the Hebrew calendar.


Season
Delineators
Hebrew dates
Duration (days)
Spring
Tu b'Shevat - R.H. Tammuz
15 Shevat - 1 Tammuz
134*
Summer
R.H. Tammuz - Rosh Hashana
1 Tammuz - 1 Tishrei
88
Fall
Rosh Hashana - Chanukah
1 Tishrei - 25 Kislev
83
Winter
Chanukah - Tu b'Shevat
25 Kislev - 15 Shvat
49

*adding up the days of the seasons, you will note that the Hebrew (lunar-based) year, has, in general, fewer days than the Gregorian (solar-based) year. As noted above, seven times in nineteen years, during Hebrew leap years, the number of days between 15 Shevat and 1 Tammuz is 164 rather than 134 days, which makes up for the difference and keeps the Hebrew calendar in sync with the solar calendar.

I have chosen Tu b'Shevat, as the first day of Spring for two reasons, one based upon Jewish tradition, and another based upon my personal observations. 1), according to Jewish tradition, Tu b'Shevat is known as the start of the New Year for Trees; and 2), Spring is thought of as a time of renewal, and as seen in my essay on gardening in the Shomron), Tu b'Shevat is a time when many species first show signs of new plant growth, deep color returns to Lavender, and the almond trees bloom.

Admittedly, Tu b'Shevat is pretty much the earliest beginning of these signs, and some of my friends like to consider Purim as the start of Spring in Israel. This has the advantage of evening out the seasons somewhat, removing 29 days from Spring and adding it to Winter. However, I like that scheme less because it doesn't take cognizance of the fact that Tu b'Shevat is referred to as the birthday for trees.

It is clear, though, that someone from Beersheva or Eilat (southern Israel), or Haifa or Katzrin (northern Israel) would likely give you different specific dates.

Arguments concerning the other seasons

I have somewhat arbitrarily chosen Rosh Hodesh (R. H.) Tammuz as the start of Summer. I did this because it puts Passover, the Spring holiday, pretty much in the middle of Spring, and by the first of Tammuz, the chance of even light rain has pretty much passed. Additionally, it is around this time that temperatures in Shilo begin to feel awfully hot during the daytime.

I have chosen Rosh Hashana, the start of the New Year for people (as opposed to trees) as the start of Fall. Some people (those who think there are only two seasons) consider this the start of Winter, because traditionally, as well as in fact, Rosh Hashana is often the start of the rainy season. I have trouble thinking of this as the start of Winter, however, because just two weeks after Rosh Hashana there is the harvest festival of Sukkot, or Tabernacles as it is referred to in Christian literature. I associate harvests with the Fall season. Finally, at least in the last decade or so, the heavy rains have come, not immediately after Rosh Hashana, but later in the year, closer to the holiday of Chanukah.

There is nothing in biblical literature, so far as I know, that makes Chanukah the start of Winter. I have chosen it because that is often when the temperature drops and the rains become heavy. You will see from my chart that Winter, as I define it, is by far the shortest season. Unfortunatedly, there recently have been several years in which Winter seems to have been virtually non-existent, with disastrous consequences for our water supply.



Updated 21 Feb, 2015
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