Every autumn, according to the dictates of the Hebrew year, we acquire a new calendar at home and at work. Today, we usually look for a calendar that is both attractive and useful. That’s the significance of the calendar that we hang on the wall and place on the desk: it’s an aesthetic object that presents essential information, accompanying us along the course of twelve months.
We go through the pages, whether day by day or month by month, but our original choice, at the appointed time every autumn, is a careful choice made for the entire year. We want the calendar to be pleasing to the eye, since it fulfills the role of a hung picture, but we also want it to do its job.
לוח שנה של אל על, 1990
Click to enlarge El-Al Airlines calendar, 1990
In contemporary life, the role of the calendar is first and foremost a way of keeping track of time – according to week, month or year. It enables us to know the timing of the holidays and festivals, days whose order deviates from the usual routine, as well as a place for marking down our personal plans for particular days of the year. 
Over two hundred years ago and more, calendars were in a book or notepad format and contained a great deal of useful information. In that world, which was much slower than ours, information remained relevant for months, an entire year, and even longer, and therefore, conveying it in a calendar was logical. Currency exchange rates, statistical information regarding various international locations, lists of officials in various countries or organizations, information about astronomical objects, and the changing night sky, high and low tide data, seasonal agricultural information, and more, this is the kind of information which appeared in these publications. In effect, if we consider the history of the calendar in human history overall, we are really referring to the “almanac,” – a calendar and diary that contains a great amount of information of the type enumerated above. Almanacs in the form accepted in the modern world have been known since the Middle Ages. In their simple form, they became calendars of the type that we hang on walls and display on desktops.
Even the old almanacs, like modern calendars, were venues for advertising. Information regarding a particular place as well as financial information easily became marketable and of advertising value. The economic advantage of advertisements on the pages of almanacs and calendars is clear, since the owner is exposed to these ads for an entire year.
לוח אגד לשנת תשט"ז
Click to enlargex Egged Calendar, 1957


​In the Jewish world, as well, commercial advertising has taken place to a great extent through calendars. Beginning in the 19th century and to this day, Jewish calendars offered the possibility of publishing products and services throughout the year, since the calendar hung on display at home all year long, ensuring long-term exposure. Prior to the age of commercial advertising, calendars were produced by tzedakah [charity] organizations and institutions of Torah study. In addition to commercial enterprises and tzedakah institutions, public organizations recognized the opportunity to assume a fixed place in a central location within the home. In light of the growing competition, every organization aspired to surpass its predecessors through publication of special photographs, blessings and amulets, works of art, and other features.

Traditional calendars enable weekly or yearly planning of the family schedule, and therefore, they include holidays, fasts, and additional religious information such as the weekly Torah portion, Sabbath candle-lighting time and the precise hour when the Sabbath is over. More detailed calendars usually appear as notebooks, and they include additional information relating to the synagogue, such as the precise time of the lunar conjunction (birth of the new moon at the beginning of the new month), the order in which certain prayers are recited for special occasions, such as holidays, and more.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Lunar conjunction (new moon) calendar of the Hebrew months, 1942
One of the main functions of the traditional calendar was to coordinate between the Gregorian and Jewish calendars. This was imperative, since already in the 19th century, Jews had left the ghetto and were forced to take into consideration the calendar of the surrounding society. The calendars of social or political movements and organizations boast of the achievements made in prior years, and note special days relating to their unique agenda, sometimes even presenting useful information to the target community that used the calendars.
Calendars and almanacs are historical resources that enable us to learn about periods, places, organizations and nuances of culture. What is and is not included in them, who their target audience is, what their design says about them, and what worldview they reflect – all of these can be garnered from the calendars collected by the National Library, as windows onto near and distant worlds.