The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
Weekly Shiur In Halakhic Topics
Yeshivat Har Etzion
on a Shiur by HaRav Shlomo Levi
An essential element of the Jewish calendar is the determination of Rosh
Chodesh, the day when each month begins.
Since our months, by biblical law, begin with the sighting of the new
moon (molad), which can occur on either the thirtieth or thirty-first
night of a given month, we need to determine which of these is Rosh Chodesh.
In ancient times, this was done
through eyewitnesses, who would testify before the High Court in Jerusalem that
they had seen the new moon the previous evening; once they had been
cross-examined and judged to be trustworthy, the court would declare the day to
be sanctified (Mekudash) as Rosh Chodesh. This process is known as Kiddush
Ha-chodesh (sanctification of the month). Nowadays, we have a fixed calendar, and
we observe either one day of Rosh Chodesh (if the thirtieth day becomes the
first of the new month) or two (the thirtieth and the thirty-first, the latter
becoming the first day of the new month).
Nevertheless, on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh (for all months but
Tishrei), we make a formal announcement in the synagogue about it, amid prayers
for peace and prosperity in the coming month, which we call Birkat
Ha-chodesh (blessing of the month).
What is the relationship between them? The Magen Avraham writes (OC
customary practice is to stand while proclaiming that Rosh Chodesh will be on
such-and-such a day, similar to Kiddush Ha-chodesh, which was performed
Rav Akiva Eger raises an objection (Hagahot, ad
am ignorant and do not know where we find that Kiddush Ha-chodesh was
performed standing. On the
contrary, [what is stated] at the beginning of Rosh Ha-shana implies that
it was performed seated.
Rav Akiva Eger appears to be referring to the first mishna in the
third chapter of Tractate Rosh Ha-shana:
three people saw [the molad], and they are the court – two should stand
up, seat [two] of their colleagues next to the third, and testify before
them, and they say: "Mekudash! Mekudash!"
Even without this proof from Rosh Ha-shana, it seems to be clear
that the court must be seated when it sanctifies the month, for all judicial
actions require that the judges be seated, and Kiddush Ha-chodesh is a
The Iggerot Moshe
(OC I, no. 142) and other Acharonim answer that a distinction
must be made between the presiding justice's declaration and the people's
response that the day is sanctified as Rosh Chodesh. The presiding justice who rules that the
month is sanctified must sit, but the people who respond "Mekudash!" (as is brought in Rosh
Ha-shana 2:7) would stand.
Accordingly, we too must stand when we sanctify the month, as the people
did in ancient times. The Iggerot Moshe adds that it would
appear that when the people said, "Mekudash!" the presiding justice would
also stand, and this apparently is what the Magen Avraham refers
We see then that in addition to the court's ruling about the
sanctification of the month, the people must also attest to that ruling. In this shiur, we will examine
the meaning of this declaration during the era Kiddush Ha-chodesh was
based on the sighting of the new moon.
Is that declaration an integral part of the court's action, and is there
any foundation to compare that to the Birkat Ha-chodesh recited
IMPORTANCE OF THE COURT IN ERETZ YISRAEL
In the Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot (Positive 153) we find a famous
disagreement between him and the Ramban regarding Kiddush Ha-chodesh in
our time. According to the Rambam,
sanctifying the month on the basis of our calculations works because the High
Court in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of
Israel, already sanctified all of the months. The Rambam adds:
we to assume, for example, that the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael would disappear from Eretz Yisrael — God forbid, for He has
promised that He would never totally wipe out the nation… our calculations would
not help us in any way!
That is to say, even after Hillel II (who headed the High Court, 320-365
C.E.) instituted that the months be sanctified on the basis of calculations, the
validity of that sanctification is conditioned on the fact that there are Jews
living in Eretz Yisrael. The Ramban, in his Hassagot,
disagrees: Hillel and his court already sanctified the months in advance, and
thus the sanctification is valid unconditionally!
The Rambam's position requires explanation, for he too seems to agree
that Hillel already sanctified the months.
Furthermore, there is no High Court today, nor even a court whose judges
have received authentic semikha (ordination in a direct chain from
Sinai). How then is it possible to
sanctify the month today? The Acharonim discuss the Rambam's
position at length, along with the difficulties which arise from it. Without entering into the complexity of
the matter, it is clear that according to the Rambam, the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael play a role in the act of
Kiddush Ha-chodesh. The
Maharalbach in his Kunteres Ha-semikha connects what the Rambam says here
to his position regarding the renewal of semikha. According to the Rambam, it is possible
even today to renew semikha, provided that all the sages of Eretz Yisrael agree to it. In light of this, the Maharalbach
understands that the small number of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael enjoy the status of the
High Court for the purpose of Kiddush Ha-chodesh.
To summarize what we have said thus far, we have seen that, according to
the Ramban, Hillel II sanctified the months for the future as well. According to the Rambam, on the other
hand, Hillel merely calculated the months, but it is the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael who perform the actual
WE "SANCTIFY" THE MONTH?
The Gemara in Berakhot (30b) says:
Anan said in the name of Rav: "If a person errs and fails to mention Rosh
Chodesh in the evening prayer (by omitting the Ya'aleh Ve-yavo prayer),
he does not have to go back, because the court only sanctifies the month during
The source for the rule that the months can only be sanctified during the
say is found in Sanhedrin (11a):
Rabbis taught… "Months are only
sanctified during the day…"
Abba said: "What is the verse? …it
is written: [Blow the shofar on the new moon…] For this is a statute for
Israel, a judgment' (Tehillim 81:4-5) – just as judgment is by day, so
too Kiddush Ha-chodesh is by day."
Tosafot in Berakhot note (s.v.
explain that only on the first night [of Rosh Chodesh] does he not have to go
back, because we do not sanctify the month at night; but on the second night he
must go back, for it is already sanctified from the previous day. It seems, however, that such a
distinction should not be made.
According to the first view cited by the Tosafot, since the second day of Rosh
Chodesh does not have to be sanctified by the court, inasmuch as it is already
sanctified (by God's court in heaven), the reason given to exempt a person who
forgets to include Ya'aleh Ve-yavo in his evening service – the fact that
we do not sanctify the month at night – does not apply to the second night of
Rosh Chodesh, and therefore a person who forgets Ya'aleh Ve-yavo on the
second night must indeed go back.
Why, then, does Tosafot say that such a distinction should not be
made? Surely on the second day of
Rosh Chodesh, the month is already sanctified, and there is no need for us to
sanctify it now! The answer to this
question may be found in Tosafot, Sanhedrin 10b (s.v.
explain that the heavenly court always sanctifies it at the time of the
molad. What seems correct,
though, is Rashi's explanation in the second chapter of Rosh Ha-shana,
that on the thirtieth day, the heavenly court waits for the earthly court, for
perhaps they will add a day.
However, on the thirty-first day, when they cannot but sanctify the day
(even if witnesses never arrive), it is sanctified in heaven from the
The words of Tosafot require explanation: why is the heavenly Kiddush
Ha-chodesh performed in the morning? We saw above that Kiddush
Ha-chodesh must be performed by day because it is regarded as "judgment."
It would seem, however, that this
is only relevant to Kiddush Ha-chodesh performed by the earthly court,
but as for heavenly sanctification, this should take place at the very beginning
of the halakhic day, i.e., already at nightfall!
It would seem that, according to
Tosafot, Rosh Chodesh has a certain holiness that does not apply
automatically because of the fact that a given day is the first day of the
month, but rather a special holiness that takes effect only in the morning!
We must now clarify: what exactly
is this holiness of the day that is different than the holiness of the
OF THE EVENT AND HOLINESS OF THE DAY
The Gemara in Shabbat (24b) states:
Oshaya taught: "On days that have a Musaf (additional) offering, e.g.,
Rosh Chodesh and Chol Ha-mo'ed, a person recites the Shemoneh Esreh of
evening, morning and afternoon, and he mentions the event in the avoda
blessing; if he does not say it, he must go back… On days that do not have a
Musaf offering… he mentions the event in the Shome'a Tefilla
blessing; if he does not say it, he does not go back."
According to the Gemara, there are two types of "mentioning the event."
There are days that have special
holiness, and therefore if a person fails to mention the event in his prayer, he
has not fulfilled his obligation of prayer. On the other hand, there are days, such
as public fasts, that do not have special holiness in and of themselves – the
event of that day does not obligate a Musaf offering – but rather that
day commemorates a certain event without that impacting on the basic holiness of
the day. The Gemara teaches us that
on such a day mentioning the event is not an essential part of Shemoneh
Esreh, but rather Shemoneh Esreh is the framework that we exploit in
order to mention the event.
Therefore, if a person fails to mention the event in his prayer, he does
not have to go back and repeat the prayer.
It is possible that despite the fact that the "event" of Rosh Chodesh
starts already at night, the holiness of Rosh Chodesh itself applies only to the
day and begins in the morning. The
holiness of the night of Rosh Chodesh is a holiness that is created in the wake
of the event of Kiddush Ha-chodesh, whereas the holiness of the day of
Rosh Chodesh is a holiness that is intrinsic to the day.
OR DETERMINATION OF THE DATE
It is possible that the issues discussed above also depend on how we
understand a fundamental aspect of Kiddush Ha-chodesh. The Torah establishes that the calendar
is not "fixed," but rather dependent upon action of the court; but what exactly
is the role of the court in Kiddush Ha-chodesh?
may understand that the court's role is limited to determining the day that is
to be sanctified, and that the holiness of Rosh Chodesh is a direct and
necessary consequence of the court's determination of the day. According to this understanding, without
the court's action, the day of Rosh Chodesh is not determined, and thus there is
no holiness of Rosh Chodesh.
According to another possible understanding, the court sanctifies the day
of Rosh Chodesh itself. According
to this understanding, the day to be sanctified can be determined through
calculation, but in order that the holiness of Rosh Chodesh should take effect
and obligate a Musaf offering and the like, an act of sanctification on
the part of the court is required.
differing views may explain the disagreement found in the aforementioned comment
of Tosafot: the first position
of Tosafot maintains that the holiness depends solely on the determination of
the day of Rosh Chodesh. Thus,
there is a difference between the first and the second day of Rosh Chodesh. On the other hand, according to the
second position of Tosafot, even if the day is known, we still require the
sanctification of the court, and this sanctification takes place only in the
morning, even when it is done by heaven.
Therefore, there is no difference between the morning of the first day of
Rosh Chodesh and the morning of the second day.
also seems that, based on these two different understandings, we can explain the
disagreement between the Rambam and the Ramban cited above. Both understand that Hillel merely
determined the days that were to be sanctified in advance, but he did not
actually sanctify the new months.
According to the Ramban, this determination suffices to bring holiness to
the day, since the role of the court ends with the determination of the
day. According to the Rambam, the
court must bestow special holiness on the day, and the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael are the only ones who can
cause this holiness to take effect.
WE SAY "MEKUDASH! MEKUDASH!"
The Ramban concludes:
say that sanctification of the month is not indispensable, and that the Sages
only required the saying of "Mekudash! Mekudash!" as a mitzva, or for the sake of
publicizing the matter. However, as
soon as the court decides that the [previous] month will be full (30 days) or
defective (29 days), I apply to it (Vayikra 23:2), "which you shall
That is to say, according to the Ramban, Kiddush Ha-chodesh
depends exclusively on the court's decision to declare a certain day Rosh
Chodesh, but saying "Mekudash" is
merely a mitzva. In contrast, the Rambam in Hilkhot
Kiddush ha-Chodesh (2:8) implies that saying "Mekudash!" is an essential element of
the court's role, and it is possible that without it, the holiness of Rosh
Chodesh does not take effect, even though we already know the date. We see then that this disagreement as
well corresponds to the two explanations brought above regarding the court's
action: is the court's role to sanctify the new month, or simply to determine
the date, after which the sanctification takes effect by
Let us return to our modern Birkat Ha-chodesh. According to the Ramban, who says that
saying "Mekudash!" is a mere mitzva
or publicizing of the matter, it is less important to recite Birkat
Ha-chodesh in our day, as the day of Rosh Chodesh is already known in
advance by way of calculation, and there is no presiding justice to proclaim the
sanctification. According to this
understanding, it is possible that even in ancient times the declaration of "Mekudash!" was performed while standing,
and perhaps even the presiding justice stood, for it is merely a ceremonial
utterance that is not indispensable to the process. According to the Rambam, on the other
hand, this declaration is of great importance, and therefore it stands to reason
that it cannot be compared to the Birkat Ha-chodesh that we say today,
for that merely determines the day of Rosh Chodesh. Therefore, there is room to say that
while in ancient times the declaration of "Mekudash!" had to be made while sitting,
today we can stand for Birkat Ha-chodesh. However, since we saw that,
according to the Rambam, the Jews of Eretz Yisrael have the status of a court
for this purpose, we may say that, on the contrary, our proclamation of the day
might be necessary in order to give expression to the consent of all the sages
in Eretz Yisrael to fix the month on
this date. Hence, Birkat
Ha-chodesh should be recited while sitting, like any other court
It should be noted that in ancient times the declaration was made on Rosh
Chodesh itself, whereas in our day it has been moved up to the previous Shabbat,
apparently because that is the time that most people are found in
synagogue. Accordingly, the
Birkat Ha-chodesh that we recite does not parallel the ancient Kiddush
by David Strauss)