Friday, December 29, 2006

Daf Yomi - Rosh Hashana 24 - Highlights


When witnesses come to Yerushalayim to testify that they have seen the new moon, Beis Din interrogates them in order to ascertain that they have, in fact, seen the beginning of a new lunar cycle which looks like this

and not just the end of the previous one which looks like this.

These shapes are what the moon looks like in Israel at the beginning and end of each lunar month. The closer one gets to the equator, the flatter the crescent of the moon becomes, until it can look like this.
(Courtesy of the Aleph Society)
(23b – 24a)


The Gemora cites conflicting Braisos regarding the position of the moon. One braisa states that if he saw the moon north of the sun, his testimony is valid but if he testified that the moon was to the south of the sun, his testimony is not accepted. Another braisa is cited that rules exactly the opposite. The Gemora answers that the first braisa is referring to the summertime and the latter is referring to the wintertime.
Rashi explains that the sun sets at a different point on the western horizon each day, depending on the season. It sets farther south on the western horizon in the winter, and farther north on the western horizon in the summer. However, at the time of the new moon, the moon always appears at the "south-west corner." (Rashi implies that it appears there slightly before the moment at which the sun sets.) Therefore, on the shortest day of winter (the winter solstice) -- when the sun sets farthest south along the western horizon -- the moon is seen slightly to the north of the sun (that is, ahead of the sun in its circuit around the earth; see Rashi on the Mishnah with regard to "north" and "south" of the sun), since the moon reaches the south-westerly point at which the sun will set slightly before the sun does (i.e., before sunset). Similarly, when the sun sets in the northern side of the western horizon (in the summer) the moon still appears close to the southern corner, and thus it is seen farther south than the sun ("behind" the sun). (Courtesy of Kollel Iyun Hadaf) (24a)


Abaye explains a braisa as teaching the following halacha: If two witnesses testify that they saw the moon incidentally and subsequently tried to see it with intent but could not find it; their testimony is not accepted. The reasoning is because their initial sighting might have just been a sliver of a cloud and not the moon. (24a)


The Mishna elaborates on the procedure how Beis Din sanctifies Rosh Chodesh. The head of Beis Din declares “It is sanctified” and all the people there answer him by saying “It is sanctified. It is sanctified.” This procedure applies whether the moon was seen in its proper time or whether it was not seen in its proper time. Rabbi Elozar disagrees and maintains that if it was not seen in its proper time, Beis Din does not sanctify the day since it has already been sanctified by Heaven.

The Gemora cites Scriptural sources proving that the head of Beis Din declares “It is sanctified” and that the people there answer him by stating “It is sanctified. It is sanctified.” (24a)


The Mishna relates that Rabban Gamliel had models of the moon in various positions in his study, which he would show to the people coming to testify. In this way, conditions that might be complicated to express orally could be discussed with the help of these illustrations.

The Gemora questions as to how Rabban Gamliel was allowed to create these images, when the braisa states that it is forbidden to form heavenly objects like the sun, moon, stars and constellations. The answer offered by the Gemora is that Rabban Gamliel did not make the models himself; they were made by others.

In the course of this discussion, the Gemora learns out other halachos as well. One is prohibited from building a house in the form of the Beis Hamikdosh. One cannot make a courtyard similar to the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdosh. One is forbidden from creating a menorah corresponding to the menorah in the Beis Hamikdosh. He is not allowed to make a menorah that has seven stems even if he constructs it from other metals. Rabbi Yosi maintains that one may not make a menorah out of wood either

The Gemora learns out that it is forbidden from making images in the form of the Heavenly angels. One is not allowed to create an image of man. (24a - 24b)


The Gemora relates an incident involving Rabbi Yehuda where others had made for him an image on his signet ring. Shmuel instructed Rabbi Yehuda to mutilate it. It is evident from here that it is forbidden to retain these images even if someone else made it for him. The Gemora answers that it is forbidden to keep images that protrude because that will arouse a suspicion that it is being used for idol worship. The idolaters only worshipped images of people that protrude.

The Gemora rules that only an individual that has these images arouse suspicion but there is no concern if the community has such an image.

The Gemora offers three reasons to explain why Rabban Gamliel, who was an individual, was permitted to have these images. Firstly, since there are many people that come to the Beis din, it is regarded as being a public domain and therefore there is no concern for suspicion. Another answer presented is that the images of the moon were made in sections and they were only assembled for a very brief time and therefore there are no grounds for suspicion. An alternative answer is that these images were made for teaching purposes and in such circumstances, it will be permitted to retain those images and there will be no suspicion. (24b)