Nazarene Space

When is Rosh Chodesh?


James Scott Trimm


There is some confusion in the Torah Observant community today as to just when the Rosh Chodesh is?  Is Rosh Chodesh the invisible dark “New Moon” or is it the first appearance of the crescent?


One clue is the fact that a two day banquet was held in celebration of the New Moon, as we see in Chapter 20  of 1st Samuel:


[18] Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty.

[19] And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel.

[20] And I will shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark.

[21] And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say unto the lad, Behold, the arrows are on this side of thee, take them; then come thou: for there is peace to thee, and no hurt; as the LORD liveth.

[22] But if I say thus unto the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond thee; go thy way: for the LORD hath sent thee away.

[23] And as touching the matter which thou and I have spoken of, behold, the LORD be between thee and me for ever.

[24] So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat.

[25] And the king sat upon his seat, as at other times, even upon a seat by the wall: and Jonathan arose, and Abner sat by Saul's side, and David's place was empty.

[26] Nevertheless Saul spake not any thing that day: for he thought, Something hath befallen him, he is not clean; surely he is not clean.

[27] And it came to pass on the morrow, which was the second day of the month, that David's place was empty: and Saul said unto Jonathan his son, Wherefore cometh not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor to day?

[28] And Jonathan answered Saul, David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem:

[29] And he said, Let me go, I pray thee; for our family hath a sacrifice in the city; and my brother, he hath commanded me to be there: and now, if I have found favour in thine eyes, let me get away, I pray thee, and see my brethren. Therefore he cometh not unto the king's table.

[30] Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness?

[31] For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die.

[32] And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said unto him, Wherefore shall he be slain? what hath he done?

[33] And Saul cast a javelin at him to smite him: whereby Jonathan knew that it was determined of his father to slay David.

[34] So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month: for he was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame.

(1Samuel 29:18-34 KJV)


Let us examine the phrase translated “the second day of the month” (vs. 27 & 34) which is in the Hebrew  החדש השני


There is some debate as to the meaning of this phrase.  Although the LXX translates itμηνος ημερα τη δευτερα    meaning “on the second day of the month” (vs. 27) and τη δευτερα του μηνος meaning “on the second [day] of the month]”, this is not the normal Hebrew structure for that phrase which would place the modifier “second” before the word “month”. 


The Aramaic Peshitta renders the phrase in verse 27 as “And it came to pass on the other day of the new moon” and in verse 34 as “the second day of the new moon”.


The understanding of the Peshitta agrees with that of the first century Jewish writer Josephus, who refers to this second day in his account of these events as “But on the next day, which was the new moon…” (Ant. 6:11:9).


So why was the New Moon banquet being held on two consecutive days?  The reason is that the New Moon was not a calculated invisible dark new moon, but was determined by observation.  They could not determine in advance when the new moon crescent would be visible, and thus the banquet was scheduled for two days. 



The Testimony of Philo of Alexandria


The First Century Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria gives a very specific explanation of the New Moon as it was understood in the First Century.  He writes:


(140) Following the order which we have adopted, we proceed to speak of the third festival, that of the new moon. First of all, because it is the beginning of the month, and the beginning, whether of number or of time, is honourable. Secondly, because at this time there is nothing in the whole of heaven destitute of light. (141) Thirdly, because at that period the more powerful and important body gives a portion of necessary assistance to the less important and weaker body; for, at the time of the new moon, the sun begins to illuminate the moon with a light which is visible to the outward senses, and then she displays her own beauty to the beholders. And this is, as it seems, an evident lesson of kindness and humanity to men, to teach them that they should never grudge to impart their own good things to others, but, imitating the heavenly bodies, should drive envy away and banish it from the Soul

(Special Laws 2, 140-141)


Notice Philo says of the time of the New Moon “time there is nothing in the whole of heaven destitute of light” (140) and “, at the time of the new moon, the sun begins to illuminate the moon with a light which is visible to the outward senses” (141) eliminating any doubt whatsoever.  Philo did not recognize the invisible dark moon as Rosh Chodesh, but the crescent moon as it first begins tie reflect the sun’s light again as Rosh Chodesh.



The Testimony of the Mishnah


The Mishnah discusses the sighting of the New Moon by witnesses in detail (m.Rosh HaShanna 1:3-3:1).  This portion of the Mishnah discusses when messengers would be sent to the diaspera to notify them of the siting of the New Moon (1:3) when the Sabbath is loosed for the witnesses to testify (1:4) questions at to how clearly the new moon appeared (1:5) whether a father and son could both serve as witnesses (1:7) who could serve as a valid witness (1:8) what to do when a witness was unable to walk (1:9) a system of flare signals once used to send a signal of the siting to the diaspera (2:1-4) where the witnesses would be gathered (2:5) how the witnesses were questioned (2:6) and how they were shown a chart of moon phases for comparison (2:8).  All of this makes it clear that witnesses were seeing the new moon and giving testimony of what they saw to the Sanhedrin which would then officially designate the day of the New Moon.


Of particular interest are two particular passages from this portion of Mishnah.  The first discusses the orientation of the new moon:


How do they test the witnesses? The pair who arrive first are tested first. The senior of them is brought in and they say to him, tell us how you saw the moon in front of the sun or behind the sun? To the North of it or the South? How big was it, and in which direction was it inclined? And how broad was it? If he says [He saw it] in front of the sun, his evidence is rejected. After that they would bring in the second and test him. If their accounts tallied, their evidence was accepted, and the other pairs were only questioned briefly, not because they were required at all, but so that they should not be disappointed, [and] so that they should not be dissuaded from coming.

(m.Rosh HaShanna 2:6)


The second speaks of a chart showing moon phases that the witnesses were shown for comparison:


Rabban Gamliel had diagrams of the shapes of the moon on a tablet and on the wall of the upper chamber. These he sued to show the ordinary people asking, "Did you see the moon like this or like that?" It once happened that two came and said, "We saw it in the east in the morning and in the west in the evening". Rabbi Yochannen ben Nuri said, "they are false witnesses." But, when they arrived in Yavneh, Rabban Gamliel accepted them. And on another occasion, two came and said, "We saw it at its proper time, but on the following night, we did not see it"; and Rabban Gamliel accepted them. Rabbi Dose ben Hyrcanus said, "They are false witnesses", and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya replied, "I agree with you."

(m.Rosh HaShanna 2:8)


These passages make it clear that the Rosh Chodesh was not an invisible dark new moon.



The Re-Established Sanhedrin


As many of you know, within Rabbinic Judaism in Israel today, a modern Sanhedrin has been re-established.  So you might ask, “what is the Re-Established Rabbinic Sanhedrin doing about the new moon?”  They have been taking testimony from witnesses but have not yet taken the step of restoring the original sighted crescent system.  Their official statement on the issue is as follows:


A special court has been established to accept evidence concerning the sighting of the New Moon, as required by Jewish Law. This court is made up of various justices who are assembled to hear evidence as the opportunity permits. The purpose of the court is to increase awareness, develop skills, and resolve halachic issues that arise when determining the Jewish Calendar according to testimony by witnesses. At this point there is no intention to supercede the mathematical calendar currently in use and fix the calendar on the basis of the testimony, such a step should be unacceptable to the public and spiritual leadership. Nevertheless, witnesses appear before the court and are investigated with precision according to what they saw. Sometimes the witnesses may also bring photographic evidence to support their testimony. Evidence is already being collected by the yiresh shomaim volunteers throughout the Land of Israel, with the intention that testimony can be presented before the court in a full legal fashion when the peoples' hearts are ready for it.






The original system for determining the new moon in ancient Israel was that of the first siting of the New Moon crescent in the Land of Israel.  When the Sanhedrin was disbanded by the Roman Empire in 358 CE, their last act under Gamliel II was to establish a calculated calendar that could function without the need for witnesses to testify to the Sanhedrin.  The modern Sanhedrin does not feel that restoring the original system would be widely accepted at this time, and so they have made no attempt to do so.



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Comment by Wayne Ingalls on September 16, 2015 at 3:32pm

The Israeli New Moon Society has been in practice mode for several years in preparation for the sanctification of the New Moon by the Sanhedrin.  In 2011, the some members of the Sanhedrin  did meet to sanctify the new moon:  Sanhedrin Interviews Witnesses, Sanctifies New Moon


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