Defective and full Months
The Pharisees established rules that limited not only the number of months which could be defective (i.e., only 29 days long) or full (i.e., consisting of a full 30 days) but even limited which months were eligible.
The Mishnah states:
There are never less than four “full” months in the year, nor do more than eight (full) months require to be taken into account.31
In turn, they point out that there were never more than eight or less than four defective months. Meanwhile, a 12 lunar-month year has no less than 352 days and no more than 355 days, while a 13 lunar-month year has no less than 383 days and no more than 385 days.32
These reckonings were further encumbered by other restrictions which ignored the reality of the new moon phases. For example, the last month of the year, Adar—the month which precedes Nisan, the first month of the next year—is always defective,33 as was, except in special cases, the sixth month, Elul.34 The first and seventh months, on the other hand, i.e., Nisan and Tishri, were “never intercalated,” that is, they were always full.35
The sequence of full and defective months, according to this procedure, is as follows: Tishri is always full and Tebeth is always defective; from Tebeth on there is a regular alternation of one full and one defective month, to wit: Tebeth is defective, Shebat full; Adar is defective, Nisan full; Iyyar is defective, Siwan full; Tammuz is defective, Ab full; Elul is defective. And in an embolismic year the first Adar is full and the second Adar is defective.36
Impossible to Maintain
In reality, it is impossible to maintain this regular schedule of full and defective months regardless of whether one is using calculation or true visibility of the new moon’s first crescent for the first day of the month. It was a fiction maintained only by the Pharisaic Calendar Court. It was invented for purely convenient and deceptive reasons.
As we have previously mentioned, the new moons of Nisan and Tishri, for reasons that the khag days fell within those months, were given special consideration.37 Obviously, each of these months (Nisan, Elul, Tishri, and Adar) were by nature at different times either defective or full. Why then make rules to counter that reality?
• First, they realized that they could not have two successive defective months, because “if two (successive) months are declared short, the thing becomes known”38 to the people “of the Diaspora before the advent of the festivals.”39 Manipulation, therefore, cannot be too obvious.
• Second, the Pharisees did so for expediency. For example, quite in keeping with their liberal philosophical approach, they claimed that the Day of Atonement, which was a fast day, would bring too much burden on the people if it preceded or followed a Sabbath day.40 Therefore, the calendar had to be adjusted so as to avoid the Day of Atonement falling either on day 1 or day 6 (Sunday or Friday).41 For this arrangement to happen, the first day of Tishri, which the Jews call “Rosh ha-Shanah” (the Beginning of the Year),42 could not fall on day 4 or day 6 (Wednesday or Friday). Therefore, the calendar had to be adjusted so that the seventh day of Succoth (Tabernacles) did not fall on the weekly Sabbath day.43 To bring this arrangement about, various forms of calendric manipulations were used.
According to this method of calculation, the New Moon Day of Tishri is never allowed to be on a Sunday, a Wednesday, or a Friday—in numerals: 1–4–6; but if the conjunction of Tishri falls upon one of these three days, the following day is declared to be New Moon Day. Thus if the conjunction falls on a Sunday, New Moon Day is postponed to Monday; if the conjunction falls on a Wednesday, it is postponed to Thursday; and if the conjunction falls on a Friday, it is postponed to Saturday. Another postponement is this: if the conjunction (of Tishri) occurs at noon or later, New Moon Day is declared to be the following day. Thus, if the conjunction occurs on Monday at noon or later, Tuesday is made to be New Moon Day. But if the conjunction occurs before noon, even if by only one “part,” this very day of the conjunction is declared as New Moon Day—provided, however, that that day is not 1, 4, or 6. If the conjunction occurs at noon or later, so that New Moon Day is postponed to the following day, and this following day happens to be one of the days 1, 4, 6, it is further postponed to the next following day, so that the third day, counting from the day of the conjunction, is made to be New Moon Day . . . (and so forth).44
The month of Elul, the month before Tishri, is never prolonged. Yet in order to accomplish the right dates for the month of Tishri, as required under their rules, they would alter the first day of the new year.
. . . where, however, there is a special reason (to prolong Elul), we do prolong it. But in that case New Year is spoilt. Yet it is better that New Year should be spoilt than that all the festivals should be spoilt. There is also an indication (of this view in the Mishnah), which states, “of Tishri for the adjustment of the festivals.” This is clear proof.45
Therefore, in order to establish a calendar that conforms with Hillelic rules, it was permitted to alter the beginning of the Jewish year that began with the first of Tishri rather than follow the actual appearance of the crescent of the new moon. Only the Mishnah could be invoked for these interpretations, for nothing of the kind is mentioned in Scriptures.
Reason of Convenience
The real reason for these strange rules, as we have said, was for convenience, so that the Day of Atonement would not fall on a Friday or Sunday, and other such reasons. To justify their calculations they invented the bizarre concept that the true conjunction of the moon only fell on certain days of the week.
Maimonides, for example, writes:
Why does this method of calendaric calculation eliminate (days) 1, 4, and 6 from being declared as New Moon Days (of Tishri)? Because this method reckons with the conjunction of the moon and the sun based not upon their true position but only upon their mean motion, as we have pointed out above.46 Therefore (as regards the molad of Tishri) days of (normal) declaration are made to alternate with days of postponements, in order to hit upon the day of true conjunction. Thus: if the conjunction falls on a Tuesday, Tuesday is “declared” (as New Moon Day), and if on a Wednesday, “postponement” is made; if on a Thursday, Thursday is declared, and if on a Friday, postponement is made; if on a Saturday, Saturday is declared, and if on a Sunday, postponement is made; if on a Monday, Monday is declared. At the root of all those four postponements lies the reason just stated, namely, that our computations are based upon the mean motion. And the following is proof of this statement: When the conjunction occurs during the night of Tuesday—it frequently happens that the new crescent will not be visible either on the night of Thursday or even on the night of Friday. Hence we must realize that the sun and the moon did not enter true conjunction except on Thursday.47
The ramifications of these contradictory rules caused problems in other ways. For example, it could effect the testimony from witnesses in a court case.
The Mishnah reports:
If one said, “On the second of the month,” and the other (witness) said, “On the third,” their evidence remains valid, since one could have known that the month was intercalated and the other did not know that the month was intercalated; but if one said, “On the third,” and the other said, “On the fifth,” their evidence becomes invalid.48
One thing was manifest. Although the leadership may have understood what would be occurring in the forthcoming days and months, the average Jewish citizen was clearly left in a state of confusion. He often did not even know when the month had begun until several days after the fact. At the same time, it kept the power over such matters in the hands of the Nasi, for he who controls the calendar controls the religion.
Two New Year’s Days
The confusion brought about by not knowing exactly which day was going to be sanctified as the New Moon day eventually created a system wherein two days in a row were observed as New Year’s day (New Year’s day for the Pharisees being Tishri 1 and not Nisan 1). By the time of the Mishnah (c.200 C.E.), these two New Year’s days (the last day of Elul and the first day of Tishri) were clearly accepted.49
There is also an indication in a Baraita that the general practice of observing two New Year’s days occurred as early as during the third generation of the Tannaim (130-170 C.E.).50 The Tosefta goes so far as to claim that Yahweh respected the authority of the Court of Judaea with regard to the declaration of two new moon days and the celebration of two New Year’s days:
Furthermore, it is written:
“For it is a statute for Israel, a judgment for the eloahi of Jacob” (Ps., 81:5); this is to be interpreted, If the Beth Din decrees the sanctification of the (30th day of Elul as the) new moon day (of Tishri and consequently as the New Year’s day), the case is to be brought in before him (eloahi); otherwise it is not to be brought in before him (on the 30th day, but postponed for the next day). A similar instance is to be found with regard to the omer of the manna. If the new moon (of Tishri) appeared in its proper time, the manna disappeared at once (at the end of the New Year’s day); else it lasted for three days.51
Moreover, even in Jerusalem itself, which was the seat of the court, it often happened that the people had to observe the New Year’s holiday for two days. For if witnesses did not arrive on the 30th day (of Elul), they were wont to celebrate this day as the (New Year’s) holiday, while waiting for witnesses to arrive, as well as the following day. Now inasmuch as they used to celebrate this holiday for two days, even in the time when the method of observation had been in use, custom required that the Palestinian Jews, too, should continue to celebrate it for two days—even down to our time when the calendar is determined by calculation.52
Who then was responsible for this system of two New Year’s days?
You thus realize that at present even the observance of the second New Year’s Day is BASED ON THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIBES ONLY.53
Solomon Gandz summarizes as follows:
Hence, originally, the observance of two New Year’s days was only a contingency incidental upon the event of the invisibility of the new moon in the evening of the 29th day of Elul. If the new moon was seen on that evening, the 30th day was observed as the only new moon day of Tishri and as the only New Year’s day. If, however, the new moon was not seen on that evening in Jerusalem and the Court was in session throughout the 30th day, waiting for the appearance of witnesses who might possibly have seen the new moon, the custom was to observe this day as the new moon day of Tishri and as the New Year’s day in holiness, with regard to abstention from work, the blowing of the shofar, and the other ceremonies complied with by the people in their private lives and in the synagogue. If the day passed, or—during the existence of the Temple—the time of the afternoon-offering arrived, and no witnesses appeared, the next day was observed as the official new moon—and New Year’s day on which both the new moon and holiday sacrifices were offered in the Temple. In this case there were two New Year’s days, but the first day was still counted to Elul, for that month became a full month, consisting of 30 days, and the second holiday was considered the time of the real new moon—and New Year’s day, the first day of Tishri from which the days were counted for the observance of the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.54
The picture that begins to unfold is a collage of traditions and interpretations, one built atop another. It led to a complicated and involved series of formulas meant to explain every possible instance wherein one might or might not see with the naked eye the first crescent of the new moon.55
Coupled with these formulas was a list explaining all of the exceptions to the rule—wherein the moon was seen but could not be counted or the moon could not possibly have been seen but was sanctified as a new moon anyway.
The question also arises, Can any man on his own authority sanctify calendar dates? Or does he require some kind of direct authority from Yahweh? This much is known. The Nasi and his Calendar Court had no scriptural authority to proclaim the new moon “sanctified.” This notion was even difficult for the right wing of the Pharisaic party to accept.
Further, the various points of authority and rules created by the Pharisees regarding the sanctification of the new moon leave a great deal to be desired. They are for the most part unscriptural and lack credibility.
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31 Arakin 2:2; cf. B. Arakin 8b-10a.
32 B. Arakin 9b.
33 B. R.Sh. 19b.
34 B. R.Sh. 19b.
35 J. Sanh. 1:2:29; Nedaraim 6:8:9.
36 Maimonides Code 3:8:8:5.
37 For the emphasis on Nisan and Tishri also see Maimonides Code 3:8:3:9-18, 6:15; B. R.Sh. 7a-20a, 21b.
38 B. R.Sh. 21a.
39 HEEBT, R.Sh. 21a, n. 9.
40 B. R.Sh. 20a; B. Succah 54b.
41 B. R.Sh. 20a; B. Succah 54b.
42 Although the Jews made Tishri 1 the beginning of their civil year, they still recognized that Nisan 1 was the beginning of the scriptural year (e.g., B. R.Sh. 7a–b). There is no command in Scriptures to observe a Tishri 1 year. The Tishri year was invented by Jewish leaders for two reasons: (1) to match their year with the Greek Civil year, and (2) to avoid problems that arose with the planting cycle during the Sabbath years.
43 J. Succah 5:6.
44 Maimonides Code 3:8:7:1-8.
45 B. R.Sh. 19b.
46 Maimonides, Code 3:8:6:1.
47 Maimonides, Code 3:8:7:7-8.
48 Sanh. 5:3.
49 Erubin 3:7-9; cf., B. Erub. 34a; Tosef. Erub. 5:2.
50 B. Erub. 40a.
51 Tosef. R. Sh. 1:11-12.
52 Maimonides Code 3:8:5:8.
53 Maimonides Code 3:8:5:8.
54 SHAM pp. 54-55.
55 For example, see the lengthy explanations presented in Maimonides Code 3:8:9:1-3:8:19:13.