(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Bais Medrash (c) Torah.Org

Date: Sun, 1 Aug 1999 23:51:02 -0400 (EDT)
From: Russell Hendel <  rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu>
Subject: Re: Question on a Rambam

Jonathan Chipman asks a question on the Rambam (V1 #88) (Rambam points out
that if witnesses do not come then the month begins at its astronomical
beginning--otherwise if witnesses come we go by the witnesses). Jonathan
points out that this is a big chidush.

To properly understand this I bring Rav Hirsch's model (See Ex12:1).

Rav Hirsch compares the whole process of creating the first of the month to
a "date with G-d". So to speak, G-d calls up the Jewish people and asks
them out. For example, He wants to take them out on Nisan 14th to celebrate
the exodus from Egypt.

Of course, continuing the analogy, Israel has to go out (it would be rude
to turn down a date from G-d). But like any date Israel has some leeway.
Israel can say "Pick me up in 14 days" or "Pick me up in 15 days". The new
month can be intercalculated on either the 30th or 31st day. To continue
the analogy Jewish law allows the court to delay when the Jews are picked
up, for personal reasons. For example if the roads are muddy Israel can say
Hmm...I can't make it in 14 days...I won't look right...how about 15 days
In other words the law allows us to deliberately delay the onset of
holidays for purely personal reasons.

What is the point that Rav Hirsch is making? Rav Hirsch points out that
without this freedom on Israel's part (to define when they go out) it
appears that Astronomical law is governing the G-d-Israel relationship. For
it is the moon that is determining when G-d and Israel meet.

Precisely by allowing the court to deliberately declare the first of the
month a day later, the law says "It is not the moon that is determining
when G-d and Israel meet but Israel is acting of its own free will".

Rav Hirsch then compares this to pagan religions where the gods are bound
by time. By contrast we are not bound by time.

Thus Rav Hirsch sees the law that the Court can declare the 1st of the
month on a day different that the astronomical 1st to be an affirmation of
Israelite freedom from astral influences.

Nevertheless the courts cannot be totally chaotic (They can't delay the
date indefinitely). So the law is that the new moon can be declared on its
actual astronomical day or the day after but not two days after.

>  From this entire model we can see that the 1st of the month is a
complicated interplay between (a) the actual astronomical 1st of the month
and (b) the needs of the people to delay the month (to push off when they

Seen in this vein the Rambam does not seem so strange. Rambam is saying
that if the people do NOT override the astronomical 1st then that is the
actual 1st of the month!!!

Hope this helps. Please read Rav Hirsch in the original. He doesn't exactly
use the word "date" but the concept of a "date with G-d" I obtained from
Rabbi Soloveitchick who frequently compared setting times to learn Torah to
a "rendez vous with the Shechinah"

Russell Hendel
Moderator Rashi Is Simple