August 15 - 19

Erev Tov chevra,

On to the second perek of Rosh HaShana!

The second perek continues the discussion of the process of obtaining and vetting potential witnesses to the New Moon, as well as the processes of declaring, and thereafter notifying the Jewish community of, Rosh Chodesh (this was, of course, before our current fixed calendar and well before iPhones).


A few key notes:


  • 1-2 deals with the criteria for determining whether or not a particular witness(es) was reliable.  Ideally, the Beis Din would personally know and trust the particular witnesses. But, that was not always the case and the Mishnah specifically notes instances in which heretics tried to knowingly provide false testimony.
  • 3-4 deals with the procedure for announcing the New Moon.   Essentially, torches were lit on successive mountaintops to “spread the word,” starting on Mount Olives and continuing until a torch was visible to people of Pumbedisa.
  • 5 discusses the arrangements to accommodate the large number of potential witnesses who might make the trek to Jerusalem to provide testimony about the New Moon (and arrangements for them to travel beyond the Techum, the traditional distance limit for travel on Shabbos, if necessary).
  • 6-8 details the interrogation process.  Notice the care and detail to which the judges would go to ensure the accuracy of the testimony, and the vast pre-Google/AI astronomic knowledge possessed by the judges.
  • The final Mishnah is a famous story about the resolution of a related dispute between R’ Gamliel and R’ Yehoshua.  


A final note . . . Sprinkled throughout the Perek is an inherent tension between ensuring the validity of the witnesses/testimony yet at the same time preserving their dignity and ensuring – even if their testimony was not used – that they didn’t feel like their trip was a waste of time and effort.   first perek opens with some general thoughts about how years are marked. From there it moves on to the procedures through which testimony concerning the appearance of the new moon - which determines the declaration of Rosh Chodesh - was given.

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