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It’s often said that when Hillel instituted the current calendar, he set an “expiration date” of 6000 AM; at that point the calendar would be invalid. Since Mashiach presumably will come by then (as per Sanhedrin 97a et. al.) the calendar doesn’t need to run farther than that.

As often as I’ve heard this repeated, I’ve yet to find a concrete source for it. @Shalom asks a question here regarding the calendar post-6000, and @DanielBilar asks here whether the existence of a month hangs on its sanctification and thus if we even can have a calendar post-6000, barring Mashiach’s imminent arrival. In discussing this point with others in the comments to the latter question, we arrived at the Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh 5:2ff who says nothing about sanctification, merely that we can use a calendar if there’s no Sanhedrin around to sanctify the month, and a reference to the Netziv and other poskim, but it doesn’t have any sources.

Does anyone know where I can find someone who says this explicitly, that the calendar’s existence hangs on the fact that Hillel and his Beis Din sanctified the calendar for the following 1600 years, only up to the year 6000 in anticipation of Mashiach’s arrival?

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You write that:

It’s often said that when Hillel instituted the current calendar, he set an “expiration date” of 6000 AM; at that point the calendar would be invalid. Since Mashiach presumably will come by then (as per Sanhedrin 97a et. al.) the calendar doesn’t need to run farther than that.

I think that this is a misunderstanding. What is actually said (as we shall see) is that Hillel sanctified all of the months until Mashiach's arrival, without specifying when that would be.

When this is coupled with the assumption that Mashiach will come by the year 6000, people may say that Hillel fixed the calendar until that time, but by no means is he said to have explicitly given an expiration date.

The earliest source I find for the assertion that Hillel pre-sanctified the months is Ramban in his glosses to Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 153:

רבי הלל הנשיא בנו של רבי יהודה הנשיא תקן חשבון העבור הוא קדוש חדשים ועיבור שנים הראויים להתעבר לפי מנינו עד שיבוא אליהו ז"ל ונחזור על פי הראיה בב"ד הגדול והקדוש אמן במהרה בימינו יהיה

R. Hillel the Prince, son of R. Yehudah the Prince, fixed the calculation of the ibbur, that is the sanctification of the months and the intercalation of the years which ought to be intercalated according to his count, until Eliyahu comes and we return to [the system] of observation in front of the great and holy court. Amen, may it be speedily in our days!

So, if for whatever reason, Mashiach has not arrived by the end of the sixth millenium, Hillel's pre-sanctification of each and every month will just keep going for as long as necessary.

(Of course, there may be other reasons why a reform of the calendar may be needed in the event of Mashiach's late arrival, not least the issues with the slowly shifting date of Pesach with respect to the solar calendar, but there would seem to be no need for a renewed sanctification of the months after the year 6000, even if one accepts Ramban's position over that of Rambam.)

  • The seasonal drift will eventually be a problem. See my comment below mbloch's answer. – DanF May 1 '18 at 14:03
  • @DanF Agreed. This is what I was alluding to in my final, parenthetical paragraph. – Joel K May 1 '18 at 14:04
  • Wow @JoelK thanks this is awesome, you answered my question - thanks a bundle – Daniel Bilar May 1 '18 at 14:26
  • It's been a while since I viewed Rambam's discussion on Kiddush Hachodesh. It's extensive! But, perhaps the founding premise is that term "lachem" which gives B'nei Yisra'el the power to determine how the calendar works (up to a point, of course.) My point being that even if we needed to alter the calendar, it may not need "official" sanctification just b/c the rules changed. Perhaps, that's being implied? (Incidentally, the power of "controlling time" is, I think, a "novel chiddush and amazing concept and gift given to Jews. It should not be taken for granted.) – DanF May 1 '18 at 18:52
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I see that something similar is said by the Biur Halacha to OC 427, described here. He says there that the calendar will fall out of sync by the year 5847 AM, but not to worry, since Mashiach will come by then. I wonder if people rounded 5847 to 6000, then, based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin 97a, swapped the cause and effect - not that it’ll fall out of sync, but Mashiach will come by then so it doesn’t matter, but rather Mashiach will come by 6000, so the calendar will expire by then.

  • Hit-and-run downvoter, would you please explain? – DonielF Jul 31 '18 at 2:42
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Note the Netziv is not quoted as saying Hillel sanctified the calendar only until year 6000. As we discussed in the comments here, this might not have any source at all, and might be a confusion with the often-repeated idea that Mashiach will become before the end of the sixth millenium (based on Zohar and others, see e.g., here).

The Netziv is quoted here as saying that, mechanically, the current calendar will have Pesach coming out two new moons after the first day of Spring which conflicts with the requirement that Pesach should come out after the new moon of Spring (Devarim 16:1).

The answer given on that site is that

Some poskim replied that Mashiach would come by the year 6000, so there was nothing to worry about. Others said this would become an halachic question that will eventually require the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin to universally authorize a change in the calendar.

  • I have to view this source in depth, later. But, I was quite certain that it had much to do with the "Seasonal Drift" problem. I'll see if I can locate an article on that. The web site is by "Remi Landau", and he discusses some of the "math" involved. While we currently still have Pesach in the Spring season, one can easily see that having a leap year in year 8 of the cycle is currently unnecessary. But at the time of Hillel II's calendar establishment, it was necessary. – DanF May 1 '18 at 14:00
  • I'm still searching for Landau's site. I don't have access to it, now. But this stevemorse.org/hebrewcalendar/hebrewcalendar.htm has an interesting few paragraphs about Judaic and Gregorian calendar "creep", that may interest you. – DanF May 1 '18 at 14:11

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