Today’s word, ‘yom hu•le•det’, birthday, is considered a happy day in the lives of individuals − at least up to a certain accumulation of these days for some of us. Until the recent seven or eight decades, many Sephardic Jews did not keep track of the exact calendar date of their birth, but, rather, they marked the day in connection to Jewish holidays. It was not uncommon to hear statements such as ‘I was born on the second night of Hanukkah,’ or ‘three days before Passover of such and such year.’
During the biblical era there wasn’t any known calendar to go by, so special dates were commemorated in conjunction to dramatic events, such as the departure from Egypt or memorable disasters such as,
“The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake”
As to birthday, it is surprising that two of them were mentioned in the Bible, one of a Jew – in the New Testament, and one of a non-Jew – in the Old Testament.
Birthday in the Old Testament:
“And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants”
Birthday celebration in the New Testament:
“And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee”
“But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod”
In light of the fact that the Jewish calendar was first used in the year 359 AD, and the Gregorian calendar was established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, the nature of the calendar that was used in each of these interesting occasions remains a mystery.
And if you were to bless someone soon, ‘Happy Birthday’ in Hebrew is: Yom Hu•le•det Sa•me•ach.