Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat

1 Day or 2 Days?

Chodesh tov.

This post started out as an email, but I decided to turn it into a post on the blog.

I’m writing this on Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat.

One of the lessons of rosh chodesh (new month) is that there are cycles to Jewish history. Just as the moon changes from totally dark to fully light, so too do the fortunes of the Jewish people fall and rise.

However, today during morning prayers, I was thinking of a different lesson.

It just so happens that in my cycle of learning mishna I’m in Rosh HaShanah.

Most of the first 2 chapters of the mishna are devoted to the process of recognizing and proclaiming the new moon.

Then chapter 3 begins, “If the Court and all Israel saw it, the witnesses were examined, and they did not manage to proclaim ‘It is sanctified!’ until nightfall – then it is intercalated.”

In other words, unless the witnesses give their testimony and the Court proclaims the new month, then the old month has an extra, 30th day.

Rosh Chodesh and Witnesses

So I was wondering, was last night clear enough for potential witnesses to have seen the new moon? Remember, at the beginning of the month it’s just a small sliver of light and low down in the western sky.

In fact, the western sky was pretty cloudy last night.

If we were not using our fixed calendar, we would be waiting for witnesses to come to Jerusalem to testify to the Court about what they saw.

At stake would be whether this rosh chodesh is 1 day long or 2 days long. Is today really the 1st of Sh’vat or is Tevet hanging on for one more day?

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When is Yom Tov?

Then I thought of all the ads about celebrating Passover in fancy hotels and on cruise ships.

With our fixed calendar we can plan months in advance where we will be for seder night because we know when it will be.

However, soon we will once again rely on the biblically ordained method of waiting for witnesses. Then we won’t know for sure which day is the seder until 15 days before it happens!

That’s not even to mention the idea of the Sanhedrin deciding when to add a second Adar into the year.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that having a functioning Sanhedrin will be bad for the Jewish people. All I’m saying is that it will be different and not always a smooth ride.

But, hey, we’re used to ups and downs, aren’t we? I’m sure we will be able to cope and even thrive.

Chodesh tov,


P.S. I’ve written a few articles about rosh chodesh. You can see them here.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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