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Rosh Hashanah 25


OPINIONS: The Mishnah records a case wherein witnesses say that they saw the moon in the morning in the east and in the evening in the west. Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri rejected their testimony as impossible. Raban Gamliel, though, accepted their testimony. Raban Gamliel reasoned, as mentioned in the Beraisa in the Gemara, that even though sighting the moon in such a manner is a most unusual occurrence, he had a tradition from his grandfather that "sometimes the moon travels a short distance and sometimes a long distance."

Why exactly did Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri reject their testimony, and how did Raban Gamliel rebuff Rebbi Yochanan's arguments and accept their testimony?

(a) RASHI's first explanation (DH Edei Sheker) is that, as the Mishnah implies, they saw the *old* moon in the morning, in the east, before sunrise. They saw the *new* moon in the evening, in the west, after sunset. Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri rejected their testimony because the moon is not visible for 24 hours around the time of the Molad. If the old moon was seen in the morning, then that means that the Molad must have occurred after midday (at least six hours later), in which case the new moon could not be seen in the evening, but only 18 hours later (the next morning). On the other hand, if the new moon was visible in the evening, then the Molad must have been before midday, and the old moon therefore could not have been visible in the morning because it was too close to the sun (as we explained in Insights to 21b).

Rashi rejects this explanation because it fails to take into account Raban Gamliel's response. If the reason why it was not possible to see the new moon so close to seeing the old moon is because the moon is too close to the sun to be seen, then it does not matter how fast the moon travels.

1. The BA'AL HA'ME'OR justifies Raban Gamliel's response. The reason he accepted the witnesses is because he assumed that when they said that they saw the old moon in the morning, they probably saw a small cloud and thought that it was the moon. Since what happened in the morning is not relevant to Beis Din's declaration of the new month, we can assume that they were mistaken about it and ignore it. The Ba'al ha'Me'or adds that since what they say the witnesses saw in the morning does not affect their testimony, we apply the principle that when something is not important to a person he does not pay close attention to it. Therefore, their inaccurate testimony about what they saw in the morning does not invalidate their proper testimony about what they saw in the evening (which was important to them because of its Halachic implications, and to which they did pay close attention).

What, then, does Raban Gamliel mean when he says sometimes the moon travels faster, if that has nothing to do with his reason for accepting the witnesses? The Ba'al ha'Me'or answers that the Gemara is teaching an unrelated tradition that Raban Gamliel had received from his forebears, and it indeed has nothing to do with the case in the Mishnah.

2. The RAMBAM (Perush ha'Rambam to Rosh Hashanah) justifies Raban Gamliel's response differently. He explains that it is indeed possible for the moon to be seen at both sunrise and sunset of the same day. He explains that Raban Gamliel's answer to Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri was that the only time the moon cannot be seen within 6 hours of the Molad is when the moon's orbit is not to the north or south of the ecliptic, but exactly on the ecliptic (see Insights to 24:1:b "the second answer..."). However, the moon can be off the ecliptic by up to 5 degrees to the north or south, and when it is the earth has a better viewing angle of the new moon (since it is not directly between the sun and the earth but is off by a few degrees). Therefore, during those times, the new moon can be seen in the evening even when the old moon was seen in the morning. (Interestingly, in the PERUSH HA'MISHNAH the Rambam ridicules this assertion, claiming that any astronomer knows that the scenario described in the Mishnah is absolutely impossible -- see below (c).)

3. The BEN ARYEH (20b) gives another explanation of how the moon can be seen in the east at sunrise and in the west at sunset of the same day. When the Gemara says that if the Molad is before midday then the old moon cannot be seen at sunrise because it is less than six hours before the Molad, it was talking about an equinoctial day, when there are six hours from sunrise to midday, and from midday to sunset. At the summer solstice, though, when the day is much longer than the night, sunrise and sunset are more than six hours away from midday, and thus there is no reason why the old moon cannot be seen at sunrise and the new moon at sunset. That is what Raban Gamliel meant when he said sometimes the moon travels a short distance, and sometimes a long distance.

(This will only work according to what Rashi wrote earlier that the new moon can be seen six hours after the Molad. According to the Rambam and others, that the new moon cannot be seen until some 18 hours after the Molad, even on a very long day the Mishnah's scenario will remain an impossibility -- see what we wrote in Insights to 20:1:c about whether Rashi really argues with the Rambam or not.)

(b) The RAMBAM (in Perush ha'Mishnah; see also RAMBAM Hilchos Kidush ha'Chodesh 2:6) and the BARTENURA explain the dialogue between Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri and Raban Gamliel in an entirely different manner. As the Ba'al ha'Me'or said, the witnesses statement that they saw the moon in the morning is obviously a mistake and can be ignored. That statement has nothing to do with the argument between Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri and Raban Gamliel. They *both* agreed that what the witnesses saw in the morning was not the moon. Their argument was simply an argument in mathematics, whether it was possible for the witnesses to see the new moon in the *evening*. Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri maintained that it was too soon for the new moon to be seen, and Raban Gamliel maintained that Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri's calculations were incorrect, since sometimes the moon travels faster, and thus it can sometimes be seen earlier, depending on its height from the horizon at the time of sunset. (See Hilchos Kidush ha'Chodesh 17:23 for a discussion of the factors involved in this calculation.)

(c) In RASHI's second explanation, he says that on the thirtieth day of the preceding month, the witnesses saw the *new* moon in the morning after sunrise (rising behind the sun), because enough time had passed since the Molad to see it at that time. Later that day, before sunset, they again saw the new moon following behind the sun. They came before sunset to Beis Din to be Mekadesh the Chodesh.

According to this explanation, what was wrong with their testimony? Of course the new moon becomes more visible later in the new month! Why did Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri reject their testimony? Rashi answers that he held it is not possible for the moon to travel across the entire heavens, from the east to the west, in only 12 hours. Raban Gamliel retorted that sometimes it is possible.

The BA'AL HA'ME'OR asks that this explanation of Rashi is much more difficult than the first explanation which Rashi rejects. All celestial bodies travel from the eastern horizon to the western horizon in 12 hours!

Perhaps Rashi means that the witnesses testified that they saw the moon the *same distance from the sun* in both the morning and in the evening. Rebbi Yochanan ben Nuri rejected them because the moon travels slower than the sun and cannot be the same distance from the sun 12 hours later (it should have lagged behind 6 degrees in 12 hours). Raban Gamliel accepted them because sometimes the moon indeed moves faster than usual (such as during perigee, when the moon is closer to the earth in its orbit and the gravitational pull of the earth on the moon is stronger.

OPINIONS: The Mishnah records a second case wherein witnesses say that they saw the new moon on the thirtieth day of the month, and the next day, the thirty-first of the month, the moon was not visible (despite clear skies). Raban Gamliel accepted the witnesses, while Rebbi Dosa ben Hurkenos said that the testimony of the witnesses cannot be valid if there was no moon the next day. Why did Raban Gamliel accept them?

(a) The RAMBAM (Perush ha'Mishnayos, and in Hilchos Kidush ha'Chodesh 2:6) writes that obviously the moon does not regress, and thus if the moon was not visible the next day it must have been covered by a cloud. Even though there did not seem to be clouds in the sky, Raban Gamliel determined based on his calculations (independent of the testimony of the witnesses) that the moon should have been visible, and thus it must have been hidden by a cloud if it was not visible. The testimony about the missing moon on the second day is ignored, since the witnesses were obviously mistaken.

(b) The BA'AL HA'ME'OR says that by the time they noticed that the moon was not visible on the thirty-first day, the new moon had already been declared "Mekudash" based on the witnesses' testimony. Even though the moon was not visible on the following day and it became clear that the witnesses had erred, nevertheless Raban Gamliel accepted the declaration of the new month because of the principle that the declaration of Beis Din is binding even when in error ("'Atem,' Afilu Muta'im"). This is why Rebbi Akiva comforted Rebbi Yehoshua with the Derashah of "'Atem,' Afilu Muta'im."

AGADAH: Rebbi told Rebbi Chiya that when he is Mekadesh the new month, he should send Rebbi a message saying "David Melech Yisrael Chai v'Kayam." Rashi explains that the Davidic dynasty is compared to the moon, as in Tehilim 89:37. Why is Malchus Beis David compared to the moon?
(a) The Midrash (Shemos 15; see also Rabeinu Bachye Bereishis 38:30) says that just like the moon waxes and wanes over a 30 days period, so, too, the house of David "waxed and waned" over a period of 30 generations -- it grew for 15 generations until it was "full" (from Avraham Avinu until Shlomo ha'Melech), and then for 15 more generations it waned, culminating in Tzidkiyahu ha'Melech, whose eyes were blinded by the enemy at the time of the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdash (Yirmiyahu 52:11), a sign of the complete loss of the light of the moon. The return of the moon's light after the Molad is a signal that the dynasty of Beis David, too, will return to its former glory. That is why they made a sign for the declaration of the new month by mentioning Malchus Beis David. Maharatz Chiyus adduces proof from the Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin it was common practice to announce the new month with the phrase "David Melech Yisrael..." This is the source for the present day custom of mentioning this phrase during Kidush Levanah.

(b) MENACHEM MESHIV NEFESH cites the SHA'AR EFRA'IM (10:36) who says in the name the BRIS KEHUNAS OLAM that the Gematria of "David Melech Yisrael Chai v'Kayam" equals 819, exactly the same value as the Gematria of "Rosh Chodesh" (Malei Vav).

(c) RAV ELIE MUNK in "Olam ha'Tefilos" ("The World of Prayer," p. 94-99) discusses the connection between David ha'Melech and the new month. Aside from the above-mentioned sources, he remarks that some explain that the method for calculating the new month (Sod ha'Ibur) had been handed down by the House of David (from which Rebbi was descended).


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