Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Great Rabbinic Cover Up

The regulation of our calendar can be intricate and most people are not very familiar with its ins and outs. What is surprising to see is that there are some respectable sources from the times of the Geonim and Rishonim that indicate that there may have actually been a cover up, or conspiracy, to keep this information from the masses. The necessity of secrecy was integral to the preservation of our precious calendar and as we shall see, it is possible that much information was even kept hidden from many of the most prominent sages of the Mishna.

Rabbeinu Bacheye cites from Rabbeinu Chananel that the highest beis din was charged with determining Rosh Chodesh, the new month. Rabbeinu Chananel states that those who maintain that it was necessary to have witnesses sight the new moon and testify before the court are mistaken. The court would determine the time of the new moon and based on their calculations sancitfy the months. The information contained in Maseches Rosh Hashana about witnesses is only because witnesses were used only for ceremonial purposes because of an event that had occurred at one point in time. However, the biblical commandment to sanctify the months has nothing to do with witnesses. (Rabbeinu Bacheye Shemos 12:2) In addition to not needing witnesses, the beis din is authorized to make Rosh Chodesh on a day other than the date of the new moon if it is necessary. Additionally, if they sanctified a day erroneously the sanctification is still valid. (Rosh Hashana 25a)

The above certainly is how Rabbeinu Bacheye cites Rabbeinu Chananel. It is of note that the Rambam emphatically rejected this opinion and felt that even Rabbeinu Chananel himself was not serious when he suggested it. (See Rambam Peirush Hamishnayos Rosh Hashana 2) Nevertheless, many Rishonim followed in the footsteps of that which Rabbeinu Chananel actually stated and there are indications that this was Rav Saadiah Gaon's opinion, as well. (See Torah Sheleimah Miluim Parshas Bo)

A fascinating point to note is that in Rabbeinu Bacheye's discussion he utilizes this approach to interpret a debate that Rabban Gamliel had with Rebbi Yehoshua. The debate essentially was based on the principle that Rabban Gamliel was sanctifying days upon which Rebbi Yehoshua felt the new moon could not be sighted. The way it is presented it comes out that Rabban Gamliel was of the above opinion and Rebbi Yehoshua rejected it. Thus, Rabban Gamliel would actually have been aware that the moon could not be sighted but felt that his calculations were the primary method of sanctifying the moon and so long as based on his calculations the calendar could operate then he was authorized to sanctify the moon. To support his claim Rabban Gamliel mentioned that this was the tradition in his family. (See Rabbeinu Bacheye's version of the discussion as his text had this aspect clearly stated by Rabban Gamliel. The version found in our text is not as clear.) This same concept can be seen by Rebbi (Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi) when he makes a similar claim about having a familial tradition. (Rosh Hashana 25a) Interestingly, both Rabban Gamliel and Rebbi were from the same family, Rabban Gamliel was Rebbi's grandfather.

In an earlier post I mentioned that it would seem that Rashi was of this opinion and I also believe that it is probable that Tosefos would agree. (See here.) It would seem that the tradition of calendar regulation was passed on through the regal family of Rabban Gamliel. This family was the one that produced the nasi of Klal Yisrael for many generations and they were descendants of David Hamelech. The nasi was the one charged with sanctifying the new moon so it makes sense that the regulatory laws would be passed as tradition in this family. (See Rashi Rosh Hashana 31b) The Aruch mentions that the reason why the laws of calendar regulation are called Sod, meaning secrets, (see Rosh Hashana 20b) is because it was only disseminated to those that needed to know. The Maor Hakatan maintains that it was kept secret as not to allow the nations that persecute us to somehow find out about it and interfere with it. (See Hamaor Hakatan Rosh Hashana 20b, although I concede that he personally is of the Rambam's opinion.)

Interestingly, we find that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai once had a dilemma when witnesses arrived late in the day on Rosh Hashana and the song for the korbon was either omitted or said in error. (Rosh Hashana 30b) One may ask, "If the nasi was charged with regulating the calendar and witnesses are irrelevant, then how could the nasi, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai have erred?" The answer is obvious. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was only a temp. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel the Elder had been murdered in a vicious fashion by the Romans. His son Rabban Gamliel, mentioned above, was taken into hiding. The Jews had Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai fill in until the position would be able to be returned to Rabban Gamliel. Not being from the family, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai may have been unaware of the tradition. Even more interesting is that one of his primary students was none other than Rebbi Yehoshua, the one who later argued this point with Rabban Gamliel.

I know this post is a bit long, but I would like to end off with something that makes the above seem even more fascinating. Rav is quoted as stating that from the times of Ezra Elul never had 30 days. (Rosh Hashana 19b) Although many have theorized why this could be true, there is no scientific reason why the lunation cycles should have caused this to be true. Shortly after Rav's time we find that both Levi and Ulah discuss Elul in their time sometimes having 30 days. (Rosh Hashana 21a and 20a) If the reason that Elul was consistently 29 days because of calendrical manipulation then one does not need a scientific explanation. The reason why this might be the case is that it was necessary to have Elul consistently either 29 or 30 days. That way, those in the Diaspora would know when to observe Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. For whatever reason they picked 29 and as such the Babylonians could assume that Rosh Hashana was always on the 30th day from Rosh Chodesh Elul. (See Rosh Hashana 31a) Although it is possible Rav stated, "Since the times of Ezra," because there was no record of times prior to Ezra, if the above is true there is a reason why this aspect of the calendar would have only been instated during Ezra's time. Prior to Ezra's ascent to Eretz Yisrael the masses of Jews lived together, first in Eretz Yisrael and then in Bavel. When Ezra ascended the beis din charged with setting the calendar was in Eretz Yisrael, but the masses lived in Bavel, thus it was necessary for the signifcant community in Bavel to know when Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were.

Why then during Levi and Ulah's time did things cease to operate in this fashion? Perhaps, for the same reason that the song of the korbon was errant in the days of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. During Levi and Ulah's time the nasi was Rabban Gamliel IV. During his tenure the Romans abolished the Sanhedrin and it is probable that his office did not operate properly.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Goodbye Moon

I thought that I would share the following beautiful thought that has relevance to this week's Haftarah. Monthly, when we sanctify the new moon we state, "To the moon He said that it should renew itself as a crown of splendor for those borne from the womb, those who are destined to renew themselves like it, etc." This sentence is a reference to the Jewish nation and is discussing the renewal that we will experience in the times of Mashiach.

Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz zt"l provides the following elucidation of this by discussing the monthly lunar motion and luminescence. The moon orbits Earth every month. During this time it appears to shine upon the Earth while it waxes and wanes. In reality, the moon has no light of its own, it merely reflects sunlight. Additionally, the moon is not really growing or shrinking, rather, the angle that it is relative to Earth only allows us to see a portion of its sunlit side. In fact, half of the moon (what we would refer to as a full moon) is always fully illuminated; it is we that are unable to see this throughout most of the month. When the moon's light appears to be completely lost what is really happening is that it is between us and the sun. Therefore, the sunlight is reflected back to the direction of the sun and none of it is able to be perceived by those of us here.

Rav Eibshtiz then applies this information to Klal Yisrael. Klal Yisrael has a beautiful shine and radiance that is always permeating within us. The reason why this is not always perceptible is because we have too many sins. If we begin to distance ourselves from our sins then our shine will begin to be noticed. Similarly, as the moon distances itself from the sun its light can be seen.

In the future we will be renewed and no longer have our ups and downs of waxing and waning. Thus, the renewal itself will be comparable to the moon, but once it is complete the lunar motion will no longer represent us. We will no longer wane, rather, there will be no cessation to our shining. This is why this week's Haftarah states, "The sun will no longer be for you the light of day and the moon will not illuminate for you; Hashem will be an eternal light for you, etc." (Yeshaya 60:19) We will no longer be compared to the moon whose light is reflected from the sun thereby causing it not only to grow but to shrink. We will have the light of Hashem bestowed upon and its glory will not cease. May we merit these days in the near future!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Time Before Creation

As Rosh Hashana gets closer I figured that perhaps I might post a little bit about some things that can be found in Maseches Rosh Hashana. As we have discussed in the past, there is a debate in the first chapter of Rosh Hashana whether the world was created in Tishrei or Nissan. Rebbi Eliezer maintains that the world was created in Tishrei and Rebbi Yehoshua posits that it was in Nissan. The Gemara seems to finish its discussion of this matter with an approach that does not resolve this issue, rather, it is a compromised method for practical applications (I have just mentioned the apparent reading of this passage, there is much debate amongst the Rishonim and some do maintain that an actual decision between the two opinions was rendered). This method has certain things recorded based on Rebbi Eliezer's chronology and others based on Rebbi Yehoshua's. (See R"H 12a)

The Gemara had maintained that for calculations of the beginnings of the seasons, tekufos, we utilize the approach that the world was created in Nissan and therefore the system of calculation of these times has its beginning in Nissan in the year of Creation. Rashi references the calculations utilized for this and displays how it reflects a Nissan beginning, but then Rashi adds an extra point. He states that according to Rebbi Yehoshua the first Molad (calculated lunar conjunction used for the purposes of establishing Rosh Chodesh) of the year of Creation was 4:9:642 (this format will be used throughout the rest of this post and is the classic way of displaying Molad calculations. The first number is the day of the week with 1 being Sunday, 2 Monday, etc. The second number is the number of hours into the day that the Molad occurred with the beginning of the day recorded as sunset. The third number is the amount of Chalakim into the hour. One Chelek is 3 1/3 seconds and 1080 Chalakim equal one hour. Thus, the system is Day:Hour:Chalakim.) The first question one must ask is where did Rashi get this figure from? As we will see, the apparent answer seems to create even more questions.

Earlier Tosefos had provided a lengthy discussion of Molad calculations. (See Tosefos R"H 8a-8b) In it they stated that since Adam was created on Friday, 1 Tishrei, we can deduce when the original Molad was. They cite from other talmudic sources and therefore assert that Adam sanctified the new moon on the first day he was created and that he did so in the first moment of the 21st hour of the day (initially Tosefos was discussing hours as having started at sunrise so they referred to this as the beginning of the 9th hour, shortly after Tosefos converted this number into the Molad system which has the hours starting from sunset the night before). Since the calculated conjunction is six hours prior to the moment of sanctification that would mean that the Molad was the beginning of the 15th hour. (In a much earlier post I discussed why this six hour difference between lunar conjunction and first sighting is not problematic with actual observations and science which maintain that a more accurate amount of time would be closer to 15 hours. For more about this click here.) Tosefos then state that for Molad times when the Molad occurs at the exact beginning of an hour we refer to it as the end of the hour just completed. Therefore, Tosefos maintain that the Molad was at 6:14:0.

Tosefos then continue that our system incorporates into it the "year" prior to Creation. Because this "year" precedes Creation most of it did not exist (although Tosefos state that since Adam was created on 1 Tishrei that means that the first day of Creation was 25 Elul, so there were several days of this "nonexistent year" that existed) and is primarily a mathematical concept for the purposes of our systems of calculation. This "year" is referred to as Shnas Tohu, the Year of Desolation.

Tosefos point out that when we calculate the Molad of Nissan of Shnas Tohu we find that it was 4:9:642. This can be done by taking 29:12:793 (the amount of time between two Molads) and multiplying by 6 for the six months between Nissan and Tishrei. Then one need only see how many days:hours:Chalakim are left over to see what day:hour:Chelek the Molad of Nissan happened on. (If we multiply the 29 days of every Molad by the six months between Nissan and Tishrei we get 174. 174 does not divide evenly by 7 for the days of the week, 174/7 = 24R6, which means we have a six day difference. Take the 12 hours of every month and multiply by six and we 3 days. Add these three days to the 6 we had left over from the calculation of days (of 29) and we are left with 9. Since every week has 7 days one can subtract the 7 from the 9 and see that as of now the difference in day of week between the Nissan Molad and that of Tishrei is 2 days. Now, if we multiply the 793 Chalakim by the six months that passed between Nissan and Tishrei we get 4,758. Since there are 1,080 Chalakim in an hour that means that the Chalakim added up to four hours and 438 Chalakim. Thus, the Nissan Molad was 2:4:438 prior to the Tishrei Molad. Since the Tishrei Molad was 6:14:0 that means that the Nissan Molad was 4:9:642. (In order to subtract the 438 Chalakim from the zero you can "borrow" one hour from the 14 and put it as 1080 in the Chalakim section, thus, 6:14:0 = 6:13:1080). Interestingly, this is Rashi's number!!!

The major question that arises is that Rashi seems to be discussing the opinion of Rebbi Yehoshua who maintains that the world was created in Nissan and Tosefos arrived at this calculation based on the fact that Adam was created on 1 Tishrei. Based on those calculations, Rashi should have stated that the Molad of the year of Creation was 6:14:0 in Nissan and the Tishrei prior to this, Shnas Tohu, was 4:9:642!!!

Perhaps the answer could be that the Gemara never stated that the Molad is actually calculated based on Rebbi Yehoshua's opinion, it just stated that the seasons, Tekufos, were calculated as such. According to Rebbi Yehoshua personally the Molad in that Nissan of Creation was, in fact, 6:14:0 and it was the Tishrei prior that was 4:9:642. Perhaps Rashi was adding a fact and not explaining the text of the Gemara when he added the point of the Molad. Keep in mind again that the Molad issue was not discussed in the text of the Gemara, just the Tekufos. Perhaps, the Molad follows Rebbi Eliezer's opinion and are calculated based on the assumption that Adam was created in Tishrei. However, since we utilize Rebbi Yehoshua's opinion for other matters that means that we use a system that starts prior to Rebbi Eliezer's system of Molads. Thus, Rashi is actually saying that the Molad of the Nissan of Rebbi Yehoshua would be calculated by us as 4:9:642 since we use Rebbi Eliezer's approach and are merely extending it backwards to see what he would have said for the time when Rebbi Yehoshua maintained the world existed.