Avoda Zara 25 cites a difference of opinion as to how long the sun stood still for Y'hoshua: twelve hours, twenty-four, or thirty-six. According to those who say twelve or thirty-six, the sun finally set at a time (on watches, if you will, or hourglasses) that was twelve hours after the hourglasses indicated "sunset". And the next time the hourglasses indicated "sunset", it was astronomical morning, around sunrise or so. Likewise for every subsequent day, until now: any hourglass or watch that has been set in place since the time of Y'hoshua and not adjusted since would indicate "sunset" every morning. Yet we indicate the start of a new calendar date at sunset, not in the morning. Thus, dates start not when the sun "should" set but when it does: a new date does not start until the sun actually sets, even if (as in Y'hoshua's case) it "should" set earlier than that.

Now, Sifse Chachamim to Noach 8:22 says that, for the duration of the mabul (deluge), the sun and other orbs stood still, not moving in the sky: they remained, for the whole mabul, wherever they were at the start of the mabul, and there was no sunset. According to the paragraph above, then, the date should not have changed throughout the mabul. Yet the p'sukim (e.g., 8:4–5) clearly refer to the passage of dates. What's going on?

(This is a question on the Sifse Chachamim. The R'em, for example, has a wholly different explanation of what occurred during the mabul.)

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    @downvoter (and anyone else), if you have a suggestion for how the question can be improved, please let me know. I tried to be as clear as I could, but it is a complicated question.
    – msh210
    Oct 30, 2011 at 5:45
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    Maybe Noach and family looked up the Halachic literature regarding zemanim in outer space. Seriously, the Mabul was clearly exceptional; if natural laws could be suspended, so could calendrical conventions.
    – Isaac Moses
    Oct 30, 2011 at 16:01
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    @IsaacMoses: Come to think of it, wouldn't the Stack Exchange server have been down due to the flooding? How would he have read up on z'manim in outer space anyway?
    – msh210
    Oct 30, 2011 at 18:05
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    I noticed something else in that comment of Sifsei Chachamim, that Noach was able to tell the time using a "sonnenzeiger" ("sun clock," presumably a sundial). So presumably even according to him the sun must have moved around in the sky somewhat, otherwise a sundial wouldn't do its job. But yeah, when I saw that I couldn't figure it out either.
    – Alex
    Oct 30, 2011 at 18:07
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    @all, Re the sun-clock: If we're going with this whole extraordinary interpretation of everything that was going on, maybe Sifsei Chachamim believed that the teiva actually traveled around the globe each day, which, if they were going in the right direction, would simulate the Sun's movement on a normal day, and the sundial would actually work normally.
    – jake
    Nov 22, 2011 at 22:50

1 Answer 1


The Maskil LeDavid on Bereshit 8:22 says that even though the sun did not rise or set Noach had signs to recognize and distinguish between day and night, since he needed to know this for many reasons. Also, not all the animals ate at the same time, and Noach needed to know when to feed the animals.

According to this we can say that the dates were marked by the passage of time (i.e. 24 hours was one day) rather than by the sun's rising and setting.

This is reminiscent of a story that is told about the Ba'al HaTanya when he was imprisoned for the first time:

Once, for instance, the Rebbe was put into a room which was as dark during the day as it was at night. A small lamp was the only source of light. One day, about two hours after noon, the Rebbe was told that the time is already past midnight and he should go to sleep.

"Right now," retorted the Rebbe, "the time is two hours and five minutes past noon."

When asked how he could possibly know such a thing, the Rebbe explained.

"Every day is illuminated by the twelve forms of the letters of in Ineffable Name (Tetragrammaton), while the night is illuminated by the twelve forms of the Name denoting G-d's Lordship. By experiencing these various forms I know to distinguish between day and night, and between one hour and the other."

Also, the Mabul lasted a complete solar year (Rashi Bereshit 8:14), so everything would have picked up right where it left off. (Although this doesn't explain the 11 day discrepancy in the lunar calendar)

  • Nice source, thanks, but this doesn't help. Re your first answer, "dates were marked by the passage of time... rather than by the sun", I (in the question) cited Y'hoshua as evidence against that possibility: your answer doesn't address that evidence. And re your second, "everything would have picked up right where it left off", note that (as I mentioned in the question) dates during the flood are also mentioned in the chumash, which this answer doesn't address.
    – msh210
    Nov 22, 2011 at 19:47
  • I was trying to say that we are marking the passage of time, and using the dates as a reference. Or in other words, the Torah is saying this happened on what would have been INSERT DATE HERE, if the sun was rising and setting. Also, if Noach was marking the hours, why wouldn't he just continue counting the dates, as a way to keep track of how long he was in the Ark (even if the dates didn't actually change).
    – Menachem
    Nov 22, 2011 at 20:09
  • @msh210, Aren't the dates of the Mabul measured by years/months of Noach's life? Why can't you just say that although the date as far as the rest of the world was concerned remained constant, but Noach, being that he still continued to age, continued measuring his age by the passage of time?
    – jake
    Nov 22, 2011 at 20:28
  • Menachem, so you're proposing that the dates Noach counted were wrong. Did he then continue counting them wrong after the flood? (Remember, it was 11 days later.) Is that the earliest example of "l'minyan sheanu monin kan": all of humanity has been counting wrong since then?
    – msh210
    Nov 22, 2011 at 20:34
  • @jake, I'm not sure what you're proposing, but it seems to be the same as what Menachem is in his comment, in which case please see my preceding comment. Otherwise, could you clarify, please?
    – msh210
    Nov 22, 2011 at 20:35

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