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Why Rosh Hashanah Is Two Days

Why Rosh Hashanah Is Two Days

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Rosh Hashanah is observed as a two-day holiday, on the first and second of Tishrei, even though the Torah ordains only one day, as the verse (Vayikra 23:24) states: And in the seventh month, on the first of the month, you shall observe a cessation of work - a day of remembrance, of the sounding of the shofar. The first day of Rosh Hashanah can fall only on the following days: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Shabbat. This regulation is an ordinance of the Sages.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Eruvin 3:9) notes that our two-day cel­ebration of Rosh Hashanah is an enactment of the early Prophets, who established it for the following reason. During the period of the Prophets, the sanctification of the months was dependent upon hearing the testimony of witnesses who had seen the new moon. On the evening following the twenty-ninth day of Elul, the court would sanctify the day as the first of Tishrei based on the possibility that witnesses might come that day and testify that they had seen the new moon, retroactively establishing Rosh Hashanah on that day. If the witnesses did indeed appear, then that day would be sanctified and the following day would be a regular day - the second of Tishrei. However, if witnesses did not appear, then the following day would be Rosh Hashanah and retroactively, the previous evening - which the court had sanctified - would turn out to be a regular weekday. So that people would not treat the first day lightly, since its sanctified or weekday status was dependent upon the appearance of witnesses during the course of the day, the early Prophets ordained that Rosh Hashanah be celebrated as a two­day holiday - with the prohibition of work, the sounding of the shofar, and the order of prayer being observed on both days.

The two-day celebration of Rosh Hashanah is referred to as yoma arichta - a long day; i.e., the forty-eight hour observance of Rosh Hashanah is considered one extended day. Both days are sanctified definitively [in contrast to the second day of the Festivals celebrated in the Diaspora, whose sanctity is based on doubt]. Regarding prepa­ration, however, they are considered to be two separate days and thus one may not prepare food on the first day for the second.

The Rambam (Hilchot Kiddush ha-Chodesh 5:7-8) writes:

The Festival of Rosh Hashanah - in the period when they would establish (the calendar) based upon testimony - was celebrated by the majority of the residents of the Land of Israel for two days because they were in doubt [as to when the Festival began], for they did not know when the court had established the new month since the agents of the court did not go out on a Festival. (That is, since Rosh Hashanah is the only Festival celebrated on the first of a month, there was no means of informing those who lived outside of Jerusalem that the court had accepted testimony that the new moon of Tishrei had been sighted. Once the month was established, Rosh Hashanah would begin and the agents of the court would be unable to inform the populace since they could not travel on a Festival.)

Moreover, even in Jerusalem, the site of the court, two days of Rosh Hashanah were often celebrated. (Even) if witnesses did not appear at any rime on the thirtieth day [i.e., thirty days after the new moon of Elul, when the new moon of Tishrei should have been seen), they would sanctify that day on which they waited for the witnesses. (If witnesses appeared during the day, the court would have to retroactively establish the day as Rosh Hashanah. Since it was not unlikely that witnesses would indeed appear during the day, given that it was the thirtieth day after the new moon of Elul, the court would sanctify the day as Rosh Hashanah even before they appeared. Had the court not done so and waited for the appearance of witnesses, if the witnesses appeared in the late morning of the thirtieth, Rosh Hashanah would be established as falling on that day and the people would be retroactively culpable of having violated the sanctity of the day.) The following day would also be sanctified [if the witnesses did not appear until then]. Thus, since they celebrated two days of Rosh Hashanah even during the period when the months were sanctified based on the testimony of witnesses, it was ordained that all Jews - even those living in the Land of Israel - should celebrate two days of Rosh Hashanah now that the calendar is based upon calculation. We thus see that the celebration of the second day of Rosh Hashanah nowadays is also a regulation of the Sages [similar to the second day of the Festivals that is celebrated in the Diaspora].

What then is the difference between the second day of Rosh Hashanah celebrated when the months were calculated based on testimony, and the second day celebrated nowadays? In the former period, if witnesses did not appear, the first day celebrated would retroactively turn out to be a Rabbinical obligation and the second day would be a Torah obligation. Nowadays, when the calendar is based on fixed calculations, the first day of Rosh Hashanah is a Torah obligation and the second day is a Rabbinical enactment.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, OBM, was one of Israel's most acclaimed religious authors, whose books on the Jewish way of life and the Chassidic movement have become renowned. Text translated from the Hebrew by Nachman Bulman and Dovid Landseman.
Excerpted from: The Book of Our Heritage. Published and copyright by Feldheim Publications.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Menachem Posner Chicago September 21, 2015

Why We Continue to Celebrate If Rosh Hashanah were a piece of technology, you'd be right. We can determine that it's outlived its usefulness and junk it.

But Torah is Divine. This is a practice that was instituted by the prophets with Divine input and was then accepted as binding by all Jewish people for thousands of years. For a thoughtful treatment of this subject, I suggest you read Why Aren't Customs Reversible?
Reply

john london September 14, 2015

It has never been made clear why the new year is in the seventh month. Any logical answers? Reply

Josh London September 11, 2015

No longer any point in second day So there is no longer any genuine Halachic reason to celebrate two days than one, as we no longer base our calculation of the days on witnesses? Nobody seems to care too much about the second day anyway, might as well get rid of it, no? Reply

Menachem Posner Skokie October 2, 2014

To Rafael We are not celebrating the moon. We are celebrating the start of the new year, the time when G-d renews the vitality of the universe for the year to come. It just so happens that the new year begins on the first of the month, and the start of the month is pegged to the appearance of the new moon. Rosh Hashanah, however, is not a celebration or worship of the moon. Reply

Rafael Portage, Indiana October 1, 2014

Whay do we celebrate a New Moon? After all the hoopla about who saw the moon first or not, do we worship the moon or what is the purpose of Rosh Hashana. Just what are we celebrating. Is it a celebration of the citing of the new moon in the New Year? Some call it the day of Judgment, are we celebrating judgment; how do we do that? Excuse my ignorance but Please someone explain. Reply

John Hylton USA September 5, 2013

New Moon What if the New Moon could not be seen until the 3rd or 4th day? Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org August 20, 2013

Re: Problem about Yoma Arrichta As explained in the article, the difference is that Rosh Hashanah is the only Festival celebrated on the first of a month, there was no means of informing those who lived outside of Jerusalem that the court had accepted testimony that the new moon of Tishrei had been sighted. Once the month was established, Rosh Hashanah would begin and the agents of the court would be unable to inform the populace since they could not travel on a Festival. The festivals of Succot and Passover are on the 15th of the month and there is therefore ample time for the news to reach those outside of Jerusalem. As for Shevuot, the date of the holiday is based on counting 49 days from Passover, not the day of the month. Reply

Anonymous August 18, 2013

Problem about Yoma Arrichta I have a question on the 2 days as 'one long day' also kept now in Israel. All this originates before the permanent calendar cycle fixed about 450 CE. The reason given is that Rosh Hashana had to be declared on the 30th day of Elul irrespective that the witnesses do not come on that day when the day 31 would be the day of RH,but even so they had to declare day 30 before witnesses came in case they did come and it not being declared RH there would be profanation of the day. So why does this ruling not apply in Israel also for all the other festivals ie of Pesach,Shavuoth and Succoth ? Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org September 19, 2012

Re: Rosh Hashanah Concerning why Rosh hashanah is called judgement day see Day of Judgment

As for which city nowadays would be the first to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, that would be the western-most city -using Israel as the reference point-, that is before the Halachchik dateline. Reply

Anonymous Southampton, N.y September 14, 2012

Rosh Hashanah Why is Yom Teruah, or Rosh Hashanah, Known as the "Judgement day" or the Time of Jacob's Trouble? Reply

Anonymous Bakersfield, CA. September 13, 2012

Rosh Hashanah So, By today's world standards, what city would celebrate Rosh Hashanah first? Reply

Anonymous Southampton, N.Y. December 16, 2010

the witnesses of Rosh Hashanah How many witnesses would there be,because it sounds like there were alot! Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org September 11, 2009

RE: Rosh Hashanah The witnesses were ordinary Jewish people living in the Land of Israel who had spotted nascent new moon signifying the advent of a new month (and in this case, a new year).

They would then travel to the High Court in Jerusalem to inform them of what they saw. If the testimony was found credible, a new month would be declared. Reply

Anonymous Oklahoma City, OK September 10, 2009

Rosh Hashanah The article references "the witnesses" that may or may not appear. Who are "the witnesses"? Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org October 6, 2008

RE: When was this ordained? The fact that we continue to keep two days is found in Maimonides, Laws of Kiddush Hachodesh 5:8 and in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 601:1.

For the reason behind the two day Rosh Hashanah (even in Israel), see Why are holidays celebrated an extra day in the Diaspora? Reply

Yoel Keren Ma''aleh Adumim, E. Yisrael September 27, 2008

When was this ordained? "it was ordained that all Jews - even those living in the Land of Israel - should celebrate two days of Rosh Hashanah now that the calendar is based upon calculation. "

I haven't seen this takana. Could you show it to me? Reply

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