Mishnah Rosh ha-Shanah 1:1-9: The Fixing of the Calendar


Beit Alpha Synagogue Mosaic

Beit Alpha Synagogue Mosaic

The Mishnah deals with the fixing of the calendar, specifying four New Year periods and prescribing the manner of observing the moon to determine the lunar months. This passage illustrates disputes between the Houses of Hillel and Shammai and between later tannaim.

1- 1 There are four “New Year” days- on the first of Nisan is the New Year for kings and feasts; on the first of Elul is the New Year for the Tithe of Cattle (Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Simeon say- The first of Tishre); on the first of Tishre is the New Year for [the reckoning of] the year [of foreign kings], of the Years of Release 173 and Jubilee years, for the planting [of trees] and for vegetables; 174 and the first of Shevat is the New Year for [fruit-]trees (so the School of Shammai, and the School of Hillel say- On the fifteenth thereof).

2 At four times in the year is the world judged- at Passover, regarding grain; at Pentecost, regarding the fruits of the tree; on New Year’s Day all that come into the world pass before Him like legions of soldiers, for it is written, “He that fashions the hearts of them all, that considers all their works” (Ps. 33-15); and at the Feast [of Tabernacles] they are judged regarding water.

3 Because of six New Moons do messengers go forth [to proclaim the time of their appearing]- because of Nisan, to determine the time of Passover, because of Av, to determine the time of the Fast; because of Elul, to determine the New Year; because of Tishre, to determine aright the set feasts; because of Kislev, to determine the time of[the feast of] the Dedication (Hanukkah); and because of Adar, to determine the time of Purim. And while the Temple still stood they went forth also because of Iyyar, to determine the time of the Second Passover. 175

4 Because of two New Moons may the Sabbath be profaned- 176 [the New Moon] of Nisan and [the New Moon] of Tishre, for on them messengers used to go forth to Syria, and by them the set feasts were determined. And while the Temple still stood the Sabbath might also be profaned because of any of the New Moons, to determine aright the time of the offerings.

5 Whether [the New Moon] was manifestly visible or not, they may profane the Sabbath because of it. Rabbi Yose says- If it was manifestly visible they may not profane the Sabbath because of it.

6 Once more than forty pairs [of witnesses] came forward, but Rabbi Akiva in Lydda restrained them. Rabban Gamliel sent to him [saying]- “If you restrain the multitude, you will put a stumbling-block in their way for the future.”177

7 If a father and his son saw the New Moon they may [both] go [to bear witness]; not that they can be included together [as a valid pair of witnesses], but that if one of them is found ineligible, the other may be included to make a pair with some other [witness]. Rabbi Simeon says- A father and his son, and any that are near of kin, are eligible to bear witness about the New Moon. Rabbi Yose said- Once Toviah the Physician saw the New Moon in Jerusalem together with his son and his freed slave; and the priests accepted him and his son but pronounced his freed slave ineligible. And when they came before the court, they accepted him and his slave but declared his son ineligible.

8 These are they who are ineligible (as witnesses)- a dice-player, a usurer, pigeon-flyers, traffickers in Seventh Year produce, and slaves. This is the general rule; any evidence that a woman is not eligible to bring, these are not eligible to bring.

9 If a man saw the New Moon but could not walk, he may be taken on an ass [on the Sabbath] or even on a bed; and if any lie in wait for them, they may take staves in their hands. If it was a far journey, they may take food in their hands, since for a journey enduring a night and a day they may profane the Sabbath and go forth to bear witness about the New Moon, for it is written, “These are the set feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations which you shall proclaim in their appointed season” (Lev. 23-4).

172. Danby, The Mishnah, pp. 188-9.

173. The Sabbatical year.

174. For reckoning the years for the purpose of tithing fruits and vegetables.

175. Num. 9-9-14.

176. In order to testify about the appearance of the New Moon.

177. They will hesitate to travel on the Sabbath in order to testify to seeing the New Moon, assuming that others have already done so.

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