Making the Most of Our Time
Taste of Talmud
Have you ever seen the silver crescent of the new moon? In the time of the Talmud, if you saw it on the 30th day of the month, together with another Jew, you would have a Mitzva to go and tell the high court that you saw it. The court would then verify the accuracy of your statements and then announce that the day which would have been the 30th day of the current month, is actually the first day of the next month. This is the Mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, sanctifying the month. The Talmud on 25a, in tractate Rosh Hashana, tells a story about Rabban Gamliel. One time, on the evening of the 29th day of a month, a large group of Jews saw what looked to them to be the crescent of the new moon behind thick cloud coverage. When the Bais Din wanted to pronounce the new month, Rabban Gamliel told them that they could not. Based on his calculations, Rabban Gamliel knew that it was impossible for the new moon to have been seen then and it must have been a mistake. He told them, “I have a tradition from my grandfather’s house that the renewal of the moon is not less than twenty nine and one half days plus two thirds of an hour and seventy-three parts [where a part is 1/1080 of an hour].” Professor Yehuda Levi in his work “The Science in Torah” notes: “Comparison of this figure to the one accepted by astronomers today shows a difference of only one half of a second between the two! This is a precision to within an amazing one part in five million, in an era well before the invention of clocks!”
Taste of Halacha
The Minchas Chinuch poses the following question. What is the Halacha if two boys, who will be turning thirteen on the first day of Nissan, are the only ones to see the new moon on the 30th day of Adar, the eve of their Bar Mitzva? Is it incumbent upon us to accept their testimony and pronounce this day to be the first of Nissan, because according to their testimony they are already adults worthy of being witnesses; or do we say that since at the time of the sighting, the day was not yet deemed to be the first of Nissan, they are still minors and their testimony is invalid? The answer to this dilemma depends on whether or not the testimony pertaining to Kiddush Hachodesh has to comply with the rules of eidim zomimim, false witnesses. According to one opinion in Tosafos you cannot accept minors as witnesses because until the pronouncement is made they are still minors and therefore not liable for punishment as false witnesses should that case arise. The testimony is therefore invalid. However according to another opinion of Tosafos; testimony as to the sighting of the new moon is exempt from the rules of eidim zomimim. Therefore, the Halacha would be: while you do not have to accept their testimony, because as of now they are not yet adults, you may accept their testimony. By accepting their testimony we would be able to pronounce the new month and retroactively qualify them as acceptable witnesses.
Taste of Parasha
“Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim,” this month is for you the first of the months. Our sages tell us that the word “hazeh” (this), teaches us, that G-d, so to speak, pointed to the crescent of the moon in the sky and told Moshe and Aharon that every new month should be sanctified through the pronouncement of the high court, when it looks like “this”. This, the first Mitzvah which G-d gave us as a Jewish nation, in essence, catapulted us out of the shackles of Egypt by presenting us, with the “keys to time”. In doing so, G-d both sanctified us and presented us with our raison d’être: to sanctify time. Now, as free men, not only would we have autonomy over what to do with our time, we would be the ones to determine the schedule of the Jewish calendar. There are two opinions amongst the Rishonim as to how much of the decision, establishing the first day of the month, is in the hands of Bais Din’s calculations and how much is up to the witnesses’ sighting. The Rambam is of the opinion that if Bais Din receives testimony; they are not allowed to declare Rosh Chodesh based on their calculations. Rabbeinu Bachaye, however, is of the opinion that even when there are witnesses, the sages have full jurisdiction to declare Rosh Chodesh, on any day which they determine according to their calculations. According to him, the sighting of the new moon by witnesses is a separate Mitzvah- secondary to the calculations of Bais Din.