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Kiddush HaChodesh - Chapter Two

Kiddush HaChodesh - Chapter Two

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1

The only testimony that is acceptable with regard to [the sighting of] the new [moon] is that of two1 adult males2 who are fit to testify regarding all matters.3 Women and slaves,4 by contrast, are like other unacceptable witnesses and may not testify.

When a father and a son both see the new moon, they should both go the court to testify. Not because testimony regarding the [the sighting of] the new [moon] is acceptable [from witnesses who are] related, but because one of them may be disqualified because he is a thief or for other reasons, and the other will be able to join with another person and give testimony.

A person who is disqualified from serving as a witness by Rabbinical decree,5 although he is acceptable according to the law of the Torah itself, may not serve as a witness with regard to [the sighting of] the new [moon].

א

אין כשר לעדות החדש אלא שני אנשים כשרים הראויין להעיד בכל דבר ודבר. אבל נשים ועבדים הרי הן כשאר פסולי עדות ואין מעידין. אב ובנו שראו את הירח ילכו לבית דין להעיד. לא מפני שעדות החדש כשרה בקרובים אלא שאם ימצא אחד מהן פסול מפני שהוא גזלן וכיצא בו משאר הפסלנות יצטרף השני עם אחר ויעידו. וכל הפסול לעדות מדברי סופרים אע"פ שהוא כשר מן התורה פסול לעדות החדש:

2

According to the law of the Torah, there is no need to be precise regarding testimony about [the sighting of] the new [moon]. For even if the new moon was sanctified on the basis of the testimony of witnesses, and later it was discovered that those witnesses had perjured themselves,6 [the new moon] remains sanctified.7

Accordingly, in the early generations, testimony regarding [the sighting of] the new [moon] was accepted from any Jew [without further enquiry], for any Jew can be presumed to be an acceptable witness unless one knows with certainty that he is unacceptable. When the followers of Baithos8 began conducting themselves in a debased manner and would hire people9 to testify that they had seen the moon when in fact they had not, the court decreed that it would accept testimony regarding [the sighting of] the new [moon] only from witnesses whom the court knew to be acceptable. Moreover, they would examine and question their testimony.

ב

דין תורה שאין מדקדקין בעדות החדש. שאפילו קדשו את החדש על פי עדים ונמצאו זוממין בעדות זו הרי זו מקודש. לפיכך היו בראשונה מקבלין עדות החדש מכל אדם מישראל שכל ישראל בחזקת כשרות עד שיודע לך שזה פסול. משקלקלו הבייתוסים והיו שוכרין אנשים להעיד שראו והם לא ראו התקינו שלא יקבלו בית דין עדות החדש אלא מעדים שמכירין בית דין אותן שהם כשרים ושיהיו דורשין וחוקרים בעדות:

3

Therefore, if the [High] Court did not know [the character of] the witnesses who sighted the moon, the inhabitants of the city where the moon was sighted would send other witnesses10 together with the witnesses who saw the moon to substantiate their character to the court, and inform [the judges] that they are acceptable [witnesses]. [Only] afterwards would the court accept their [testimony].

ג

לפיכך אם לא יהיו בית דין יודעים את העדים שראו את הירח משלחין אנשי העיר שנראה בה עם העדים שראו עדים אחרים שמזכין אותן לבית דין ומודיעין אותן שאלו כשרים הם ואחר כך מקבלין מהם:

4

The court would make calculations in a manner resembling the calculations of the astronomers, and would know whether the position of the moon - when it would be sighted - would be to the north of the sun, or to its south,11 if its [crescent] would be wide or narrow,12 and the direction in which its corners would be pointed.13

When the witnesses came to testify, they would ask them: "Where did you see [the moon]: to the north or to the south [of the sun]?", "In which direction were its corners pointed?", "How high and how wide did it appear to you?" If their replies were suitable, their testimony was accepted. If their replies were not suitable, their testimony was not accepted.

ד

בית דין מחשבין בדרכים שהאיצטגנינין מחשבין בהם ויודעין הלבנה כשתראה בחדש זה אם תהיה בצפון השמש או בדרומה ואם תהיה רחבה או קצרה ולהיכן יהיו ראשי קרניה נוטין. וכשיבאו העדים להעיד בודקין אותם כיצד ראיתם אותה בצפון או בדרום. להיכן היו קרניה נוטות. כמה היתה גבוהה בראיית עיניכם וכמה היתה רחבה. אם נמצאו דבריהם מכוונין למה שנודע בחשבון מקבלין אותם ואם לא נמצאו דבריהם מכוונין אין מקבלין אותם:

5

If the witnesses say, "We saw [the reflection of the moon] in water," or "...[its form] behind the clouds," or "...[its reflection] in a mirror," [what they] saw is of no [consequence], and this sighting cannot be used as the basis for sanctifying [the new moon].14 [The same law applies if the witnesses say,] "We saw a portion [of the moon] in the heavens, and a portion of [its form] behind the clouds," "...a portion [reflected] in water," or "...a portion [reflected] in a mirror."

If one [potential witness says,] "I saw it and it appeared to me approximately two storeys high," and another [potential witness] says, "It was three storeys high," their testimonies may be combined15 [and the moon sanctified on this basis]. If, however, one says "It was approximately three storeys high," and the other says, "It was approximately five storeys high," their testimonies may not be joined together.16 Either one of them, however, may join together with another witness who gives identical testimony, or [who gives testimony] involving a discrepancy of merely one storey.

ה

אמרו העדים ראינוהו במים או בעבים או בעששית. או שראו מקצתו ברקיע ומקצתו בעבים או במים או בעששית אין זו ראייה ואין מקדשין על ראייה זאת. אמר אחד ראיתיו גבוה בעיני כמו שתי קומות ואמר השני כמו שלש קומות היה גבוה מצטרפין. אמר האחד כמו שלש קומות והשני אמר כמו חמש אין מצטרפין. ומצטרף אחד מהם עם שני שיעיד כמותו או יהיה ביניהן קומה אחת:

6

If witnesses say, "We saw [the moon] without concentrating our attention, and, afterwards, when we concentrated our attention with the intent of sighting it so that we could testify, we did not see it," this is not considered [valid] testimony, and it cannot serve as the basis for sanctifying [the new moon]. Perhaps clouds came together, and appeared like the moon, and afterwards became dispersed.17

If witnesses say, "We saw [the moon] on the twenty-ninth [day] in the morning in the east before sunrise, and [afterwards,] in the evening, we saw it in the west on the thirtieth night," their testimony is believed, and the moon can be sanctified on this basis. [The rationale is] that they saw [the moon] at its appropriate time. [Their testimony] about [what they thought] they saw in the morning is disregarded. We need not pay any attention to what they saw in the morning, for it is obvious that it was the conjunction of clouds that appeared to them as the moon.18

Similarly, if [witnesses claim] to have seen the moon at its appropriate time, but it was not seen on the thirty-first night, their [testimony] is believed. For what is significant for us is only the sighting [of the moon] on the thirtieth night.19

ו

אמרו ראינוהו בלא כוונה וכיון שהתבוננו בו ונתכוננו לראותו להעיד שוב לא ראינוהו אין זו עדות ואין מקדשין עליה. שמא עבים נתקשרו ונראו כלבנה וכלו והלכו להם. אמרו עדים ראינוהו ביום תשעה ועשרים שחרית במזרח קודם שתעלה השמש וראינוהו ערבית במערב בליל שלשים הרי אלו נאמנים ומקדשין על ראייה זו שהרי ראוהו בזמנו. אבל הראייה שאמרו שראוהו בשחרית אין נזקקין לה שאין אנו אחראין לראיית שחרית ובידוע שהעבים הם שנתקשרו ונראה להם כלבנה. וכן אם ראוהו בזמנו ובליל עיבורו לא נראה הרי אלו נאמנין שאין אנו אחראין אלא לראיית ליל שלשים בלבד:

7

What is the process through which the testimony regarding the sighting of the moon is accepted? Anyone who saw the moon and is fit to testify20 should come to the court. The [judges] should bring them all to a single place,21 and should make a large feast for them, so that people will come regularly. The pair [of witnesses] who arrive first are examined first according to the questions mentioned previously.22 The one of greater stature is invited [into a private chamber] first and asked these questions. If his testimony is accurate according to [the data that the court arrives at through] calculations, they invite his colleague in. If their statements are comparable,23 their testimony is substantiated.

[Afterwards,] the remaining pairs are asked questions of a broader nature. [In truth,] their testimony is not required at all, [and they are being asked] only so they will not depart disheartened, so that they will come frequently [in the future].24

ז

כיצד מקבלין עדות החדש. כל מי שראוי להעיד שראה את הירח בא לבית דין. ובית דין מכניסים אותן כולן למקום אחד ועושין להן סעודות גדולות כדי שיהיו העם רגילין לבא. וזוג שבא ראשון בודקין אותן ראשון בבדיקות שאמרנו. מכניסין את הגדול ושואלין אותו נמצאו דבריו מכוונים לחשבון מכניסים את חברו. נמצאו דבריהם מכוונין עדותן קיימת. ושאר כל הזוגות שואלין אותם ראשי דברים לא שצריכים להם אלא כדי שלא יצאו בפחי נפש כדי שיהיו רגילין לבא:

8

Afterwards - i.e., after [the witnesses'] testimony is substantiated - the head of the court declares, "It has been sanctified." And all the people respond, "It has been sanctified. It has been sanctified."

A minimum of three judges is required to sanctify the new moon.25 Similarly, the calculations [regarding the moon's position] must be made by three judges. The new moon is sanctified only when it is sighted at its appropriate time.26 Moreover, the moon is sanctified only during the day.27 If it was sanctified at night, the sanctification is of no consequence.

Furthermore, even if the court and the entire Jewish people saw the moon, but the court did not declare that "It has been sanctified"28 before the nightfall beginning the thirty-first day, or if the witnesses were cross-examined, but afterwards the court was not able to declare that "It has been sanctified" before the nightfall beginning the thirty-first day,29 it should not be sanctified,30 and the month should be full. Despite the fact that the moon was sighted on the thirtieth night, it is the thirty- first day that will be Rosh Chodesh. For [the sanctification of the new month] is not established by the sighting of the moon, but by the court that declares, "It has been sanctified."31

ח

ואחר כך אחר שתתקיים העדות ראש בית דין אומר מקודש וכל העם עונים אחריו מקודש מקודש ואין מקדשין את החדש אלא בשלשה. ואין מחשבין אלא בשלשה. ואין מקדשין אלא חדש שנראה בזמנו. ואין מקדשין אלא ביום ואם קדשוהו בלילה אינו מקודש. ואפילו ראוהו בית דין וכל ישראל ולא אמרו בית דין מקודש עד שחשכה ליל אחד ושלשים. או שנחקרו העדים ולא הספיקו בית דין לומר מקודש עד שחשכה ליל אחד ושלשים. אין מקדשין אותו ויהיה החדש מעובר ולא יהיה ראש חדש אלא יום אחד ושלשים אע"פ שנראית בליל שלשים. שאין הראייה קובעת אלא בית דין שאמרו מקודש הם שקובעין:

9

If the court themselves see [the new moon] at the conclusion of the twenty-ninth day, before a star has emerged on the thirtieth night, the court may declare, "It has been sanctified; it has been sanctified,"32 for it is still day.33

If [the judges] sight the moon on the night of the thirtieth day after two stars have appeared,34 [they should adhere to the following procedure]. On the morrow, two other judges join one of the three [to form a court]. The other two [judges] then testify before [this court] of three, who then [sanctify the new month].

ט

ראוהו בית דין עצמן בסוף יום תשעה ועשרים. אם עדיין לא יצא כוכב ליל שלשים. בית דין אומרים מקודש שעדיין יום הוא. ואם ראוהו בליל שלשים אחר שיצאו שני כוכבים. למחר מושיבין שני דיינין אצל אחד מהם ויעידו השנים בפני השלשה ויקדשוהו השלשה:

10

Once the court sanctifies the new month, it remains sanctified regardless of whether they erred unwittingly, they were led astray [by false witnesses], or they were forced [to sanctify it].35 We are required to calculate [the dates of] the festivals based on the day that they sanctified [as the beginning of the new month].

Even if [a person] knows that [the court] erred, he is obligated to rely on them,36 for the matter is entrusted to them alone. The One who commanded us to observe the festivals is the One who commanded [us] to rely on them, as [implied by Leviticus 23:2]: "Which you will pronounce as days of holy convocation."37

י

בית דין שקדשו את החדש בין שוגגין בין מוטעין בין אנוסים הרי זה מקודש וחייבין הכל לתקן המועדות על היום שקדשו בו. אע"פ שזה יודע שטעו חייב לסמוך עליהם שאין הדבר מסור אלא להם ומי שצוה לשמור המועדות הוא צוה לסמוך עליהם שנאמר אשר תקראו אתם וגו'

Footnotes
1.

For all evidence must be substantiated by the testimony of two witnesses, as implied by Deuteronomy 19:15 which states, "The testimony of a single witness will not stand." See Hilchot Edut, ch. 5.

2.

Both these concepts are implied by the Hebrew word anashim.

3.

See Hilchot Edut, Chapters 9-10, 12-14.

4.

Who are not acceptable for testimony in court (Hilchot Edut 9:2,4). The slaves referred to here are "Canaanite slaves," gentiles purchased as slaves. A Jewish servant, eved ivri, may give testimony in court on this and other matters.

5.

E.g., gamblers, usurers, and other individuals described in Hilchot Edut, Chapter 11.

6.

More particularly, the term used by the Rambam, zomemim refers to witnesses who claimed that they saw the moon while they were located in a specific place at a specific time, and later it was proven that they had been in another place at that time. (See Hilchot Edut, Chapter 18.)

7.

See Halachah 10.

8.

Avot D'Rabbi Natan 5:2 relates that Antigonus of Socho had two talented students, Tzadok and Baithos. When Antigonus taught: "Do not be like students serving a master in order to receive a reward," they turned away in disgust, commenting, "Is it proper for a worker to toil the entire day without receiving any recompense?"

They began splinter groups that rejected the core of Jewish practice and coveted material wealth. They found that they could not convince the majority of the people to reject the Torah entirely, so they adopted a different tactic. They claimed that they were true to Torah, but the only Torah that was Godly was the written law. The oral law, they maintained, was merely a human invention.

This thesis was only a ruse to sway the people from the performance of the mitzvot. Accordingly, the Sages would refer to all those who deny the Torah and its tradition as Sadducees (from Tzadok) or Baithosees (from Baithos) [the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah, Avot 1:3]. Not only did these individuals scorn Torah observance themselves, but they tried, as indicated by this halachah, to undermine the observance of the Jewish nation as a whole.

Our translation follows the standard printed text of the Mishneh Torah. Many original printings and manuscripts state minnim, "non-believers," rather than "the followers of Baithos." Similarly, the Rambam's source, Rosh HaShanah 2:1, uses this term. Some consider this as a reference to the early Christians.

9.

Rosh HaShanah 22b relates that the Sadducees paid witnesses 400 zuzim to testify falsely with regard to the sighting of the moon.

10.

The Rambam uses a plural term, implying that two character witnesses are required. This prerequisite is apparent from Rosh HaShanah 22b. The Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 2:1), by contrast, requires only one character witness.

11.

As the Rambam states in his Commentary on the Mishnah, Rosh HaShanah 2:7, this refers to the latitude of the moon. This subject is explained in Chapter 16.

12.

As the Rambam explains in his Commentary on the Mishnah (loc. cit.), the size of the moon's crescent grows as it moves further away from the sun.

13.

See Chapter 19 for an explanation of how the court can determine these matters.

14.

To sanctify the moon, it is necessary to see the moon itself - and not its reflection - and to see it clearly, not as it is hidden by clouds.

15.

Although there is a discrepancy between them, the two testimonies are not considered to contradict each other, since it is possible for a person to err slightly in making such an estimation.

16.

For this discrepancy is too great for the two to be considered a single statement.

17.

Rosh HaShanah 24a and 25a mentions instances where the conjunction of the clouds appeared to resemble the moon.

18.

The Rambam's statements are based on his interpretation of the difference of opinion between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri mentioned in Rosh HaShanah 2:9. (See the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah for a detailed analysis of this matter.)

Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri maintains that the witnesses' testimony should be disregarded, because it cannot possibly be true. Everyone knows that, at the beginning of the month, the moon always appears on the western horizon for a brief period after the setting of the sun. At this time of the month, seeing it in the morning, before sunrise, is impossible. (See Chapters 15 and 17 for an explanation of this phenomenon.) Since the testimony of these witnesses contains an obvious error, the testimony should be disregarded entirely.

Rabban Gamliel, as his opinion is explained by the Rambam, was aware of this astronomical concept as well. Nevertheless, in the instance mentioned in the Mishnah, he knew that according to the calculations, it would have been possible for the moon to have been sighted on the night mentioned by the witnesses. Why then, he argued, should their testimony be discounted entirely because of the error they made regarding the morning. The fact that then, they mistook the condensation of clouds for the moon should not cause their testimony to be disregarded entirely.

19.

This represents a parallel difference of opinion mentioned in Rosh HaShanah (op. cit.). Rabbi Dosa ben Hyrkanos maintains that it is impossible for the moon to be sighted on one night, and then for it not to be sighted on the following night.

Rabban Gamliel (as his position is explained by the Rambam in his Commentary on the Mishnah) accepted the witnesses' testimony in this instance, because he knew that, according to the calculations, it was possible for the moon to be sighted on the thirtieth night. The fact that it was not sighted again on the thirty-first night was merely a matter of circumstance: no one was trying to see it, their view was obstructed by clouds, or the like.

20.

I.e., there is no benefit to be derived from a witness whose testimony will not be accepted by the court because of his conduct - e.g., a transgressor, a gambler, or a usurer.

21.

Rosh HaShanah 23b states that there was a large courtyard in Jerusalem called "the house of Ya'azak" where the witnesses would gather.

22.

In Halachah 4.

23.

See Halachah 5.

24.

The Rambam (based on Rosh HaShanah 2:7) is communicating an important lesson in human dynamics. Since the court might need these witnesses in the future, it is important that they feel that consideration is shown to them, and that their coming was not futile.

25.

Rosh HaShanah 25b derives this concept as follows: The commandment "This month shall be for you..." was addressed to both Moses and Aaron, implying that at least two judges are necessary. A court must be composed of an odd number of judges, and hence a third judge is required.

26.

I.e., as the Rambam continues to explain, for the new month to be sanctified, the moon must be sighted on the thirtieth night, the witnesses must testify on the thirtieth day, and the court must declare the month to be sanctified - all before sunset of that day.

27.

Based on Psalms 81:4-5, Rosh HaShanah 25b draws an equation between the sighting of the new moon and the delivery of a judgment. Just as a judgment may be delivered only during the day, so too, the mitzvah of the sanctifying the new moon applies only by day.

28.

In his Commentary on the Mishnah, Rosh HaShanah 3:1, the Rambam explains that one might think that since the court and the entire Jewish people saw the moon, there was no need to sanctify the new month. Therefore, as he concludes in this halachah, it is necessary to emphasize that it is the sanctification of the court that establishes the new month, and not the sighting of the moon alone.

29.

Rosh HaShanah (loc. cit.) explains that although a decision regarding a monetary case may be rendered at night if the testimony was received by the court during the day, this concept does not apply regarding the sanctification of the new month. The court must actually sanctify the new month during the day.

30.

Based on Chapter 3, Halachot 15-18, it would appear that the Rambam's intent is that, since the new month was not sanctified at its appropriate time, the court endeavors to have the witnesses' testimony disqualified. If, however, the witnesses' testimony is substantiated despite the court's efforts, the month can be sanctified retroactively.

31.

As mentioned in Chapter 1, Halachah 5, the mitzvah of sanctifying the new month has been entrusted to the court.

32.

Rosh HaShanah 25b explains that this teaches us that hearing the testimony of the witnesses is not more effective than the actual sighting of the moon itself.

33.

In his Commentary on the Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 3:1), the Rambam writes that although the sun has set, the night does not begin until the appearance of the stars, and it is still possible to sanctify the new moon.

(The Rambam's wording in this halachah and in the related portions of his Commentary on the Mishnah have raised questions concerning his conception of the limits of the day, the night, and the intermediate period referred to as beyn hash'mashot. See the Radbaz (Vol. V, Responsum 1379), the Ralbach, the Or Sameach and others, who address themselves to this issue.)

It is also significant to mention that Rashi (Rosh HaShanah, loc. cit.) and others differ with the Rambam's interpretation of the Mishnah, and consider it as referring to the citing of the moon at the conclusion of the thirtieth day, on the eve of the thirty- first.

34.

From this time onward, they can no longer sanctify the new month on the basis of their sighting alone. Instead, the procedure outlined by the Rambam must be followed.

35.

Significantly, instead of mentioning the court as being forced to sanctify the month on the wrong day, Rosh HaShanah 25a states "even if they purposefully sanctified the moon on the wrong day" - i.e., they accepted the testimony of witnesses even when they knew that it was flimsy. The Rambam chooses not to mention such an instance, and instead quotes the Mechilta D'Rashbi and the Sifra.

36.

Rosh HaShanah 2:10 relates that once Rabbi Yehoshua differed with Rabban Gamliel concerning the acceptance of the testimony of witnesses with regard to Rosh HaShanah. Since Rabban Gamliel was the head of the High Court, his opinion was accepted. To emphasize the importance of following the necessity for uniform adherence to the decisions of the court, Rabban Gamliel ordered Rabbi Yehoshua to appear before him carrying his staff and his wallet on the day that Rabbi Yehoshua thought should be considered as Yom Kippur.

After consulting with his colleagues, Rabbi Yehoshua obeyed Rabban Gamliel's instructions. Afterwards, Rabban Gamliel honored Rabbi Yehoshua for his humility and deference to the court's authority.

37.

אתם, meaning "which" in the above verse, can also mean "you," when vocalized differently. Thus, the authority of "you," the Jewish court to whom this matter is entrusted, is emphasized more powerfully (Rosh HaShanah, loc. cit.).

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