Traditional Jewish Talmud - cover

p. iii
















Next: Introduction to Tract Rosh Hashana (New Year’s Day)

p. xix


NOTWITHSTANDING the fact that in the history of every nation, especially such as has ever attained to an established form of government, the calendar is a matter of great importance, the Scriptures do not in any manner treat of the Jewish calendar. There cannot even be found a fixed time whence the commencement of the year should be reckoned, although there is this passage in Exodus (xii. 2): “This month shall be unto you the chief of months: the first shall it be unto you of the months of the year.” Doubtless this may be assumed to point to the month of Nissan (about April), as not only the most important month, but also as the beginning of the year.

In another passage (Exod. xxiii. 16), however, we find it written: “And the feast of ingathering (Tabernacles), at the conclusion of the year.” This would be a palpable contradiction to the previous passage, were it not for the fact that the words “Betze’th Hashana” (rendered as “at the conclusion of the year”) in the quoted passage can be, with perfect accuracy, translated “during the year.” While such a translation would clear away all doubt as to Nissan being the beginning of the year, it could under no circumstances be applied to the Feast of Tabernacles, which is neither “at the conclusion” of the year nor “during the year” (in the sense “when the year has advanced”), if the beginning of the year be Tishri (about September). Hence the passage should be translated: “And the feast of the ingathering, which had been completed at the conclusion of the year”; i.e., in the months preceding the month of Tishri.

In the face of these contradictory terms, we must revert to historical facts which would support one or the other of the above assertions, and we find, that not only the Egyptian rulers, but also the Jewish kings since the time of Solomon, counted the beginning of the year of their accession from the month of

p. xx

Nissan, while other Eastern potentates, such as the Armenian and Chaldean kings, counted the commencement of their year of accession from Tishri.

It is not certain whether the Israelites, after their conquest of Canaan, computed their calendar in conformity with that of the country whence they came or with that of the country they had conquered; but it is plain that in the Mishnaic period, or after the erection of the second Temple, they counted the beginning of the year from Tishri. It may be, however, that their kings, following the example of their predecessors, commenced counting the year of their accession from Nissan, and in all civil contracts and state documents, according to the existing custom, used dates to agree with Nissan as the first month of the year.

On the other hand, the priestly tithes, during the days of the erection of the second Temple, were

payable in Elul (about August), which was considered the expiring season of the year, in order to prevent the confusion which might arise from mixing one year’s tithes with those of the other. The priestly tithing of fruits was, however, delayed until Shebhat (about February), the time when the fruits had already matured on the trees, in order that the various tithes should not be confused and to prevent the priests and Levites from unduly interfering with the affairs of the people.

The prehistoric Mishna, which always formed the law, in conformity with the existing custom, and not vice versa, 1 found four different New Year’s days in four different months, and, with the object in view of making the custom uniform in all Jewish communities, taught its adherents to observe four distinct New Year’s days, at the beginning of the four respective months in which certain duties were accomplished. Thus the text of the opening Mishna of this tract, prior to its revision by Rabbi Jehudah Hanassi, read as follows: “There are four different New Year’s days; viz., the first day of Nissan, the first of Elul, the first of Tishri, and the first of Shebbat.” The different purposes for which these days were established as New Year’s days were well known at that time, and it was therefore deemed unnecessary to specify them. At the time

p. xxi

of the new edition of the Mishna, by Rabbi Jehudah Hanassi (the Prince), when the Temple was out of existence, and consequently tithes were no more biblically obligatory (the authority of the priests having been abrogated and reverted to the house of David, the great-grand father of the editor), the latter referring to the first day of Nissan and the first day of Elul as New Year’s days, added, by way of commentary, the words, “for kings and cattle-tithe.”

He also cited the opinions of R. Eliezer and R. Simeon, that the New Year’s Day for cattle-tithe should not be celebrated separately, but on the general New Year’s Day; viz., on the first day of Tishri, as under the then existing circumstances there was no necessity to guard against the confusion of tithes accruing from one year to the other. From this it may be concluded that R. Jehudah Hanassi, in citing the above opinions, alluded to them as being in conformity with his own opinion. To that end he also cites the opinions of the schools of Shamai and Hillel respectively.

From the statement in the Mishna to the effect that “there are four periods in each year on which the world is judged,” it appears that in the Mishnaic period the New Year’s day was considered a day of repentance; and since the principal features of repentance arc devotion to God and prayers for forgiveness of sin, Rabbi states, in the Mishna, that devotion is the only requirement during the days of penitence, i.e., the days between New Year’s Day and the Day of Atonement. The legend relating that on the New Year’s day books (recording the future of each person) were opened was yet unknown in Rabbi’s time.

The story told by R. Kruspedai in the name of R. Johanan, that “on New Year’s Day books are opened,” etc., is taken from the Boraitha which teaches: “Three books arc opened on the day of judgment.” This Boraitha, however, does not refer to the New Year’s day, but to the day of final resurrection, as explained by Rashi, and that R. Kruspedai quotes his story in the name of R. Johanan proves nothing; for in many instances where teachers were desirous of adding weight to their opinions, they would quote some great teacher as their authority. R. Johanan himself permitted this method.

After Rabbi Jehudah Hanassi had completed the proper Mishnaic arrangement regarding the number of New Year’s days,

p. xxii

making the principal one “the Day of Memorial” (the first of Tishri); after treating upon the laws governing the sounding of the cornet in an exceedingly brief manner-he dwells upon the custom in vogue at the Temple of covering the mouth of the cornet or horn with gold, and declares the duty of sounding the cornet properly discharged if a person passing by the house of worship can hear it.

He arranges the prayers accompanying this ceremony in a, few words, and then dilates at great length upon the Mishnayoth treating of the lunar movements by which alone the Jews were guided in the arrangement of their calendar, upon the manner of receiving the testimony of witnesses, concerning the lunar movements, and upon the phases of the moon as used by Rabban Gamaliel. He then elaborates upon the tradition handed down to him from his ancestors (meaning thereby the undisputably correct regulations), and also upon the statutes ordained by

R. Johanan ben Zakkai, enacting that the sages of each generation are the sole arbiters of all regulations and ordinances, and may. themselves promulgate decrees even though the bases for such be not found in the Mosaic code.

He also confirms the right of the chief Beth Din (supreme court of law), but not of a lower Beth Din, of each respective period, alone to arrange the order of the holidays, on account of the already apparent discontent of the masses, who were bent upon taking the management of these subjects into their own hands.

Thus he dilates upon this feature with the minutest exactness and supports his assertions with the decision of his grandfather Rabban Gamaliel, as well as with the decisions of Rabbi Dosa ben Harkhinas and Rabbi Jehoshua, to the effect that each generation has only to look for guidance to the Beth Din existing in its own time, and that the opinion rendered by such a Beth Din is as binding and decisive as that of Moses, even though it appear to be erroneous.

Such are the contents of this tract, certainly most important from an historical and archæological point of view. Proceed, then, and study!


xx:1 Facts corroborating this statement will be found in our periodical Bakay, Vol. II., p. 20 et seq.

Next: Synopsis of Subjects of Tract Rosh Hashana

p. xxiii





MISHNA I. The first Mishna ordains New Year’s Days, viz.: For kings, for the cattle-tithe, for ordinary years, and for the planting of trees. A king who ascends the throne on the 29th of Adar must be considered to have reigned one year as soon as the first of Nissan comes. The Exodus from Egypt is reckoned from Nissan. When Aaron died Sihon was still living. He heard that Aaron was dead and that the clouds of glory had departed. The rule about Nissan only concerned the kings of Israel; but for the kings of other nations, they reckoned from Tishri. Cyrus was a most upright king, and the Hebrews reckoned his years as they did those of the kings of Israel.

One is guilty of procrastination. Charity, tithes, the gleanings of the field, that which is forgotten to be gathered in the field, the produce of corners of the field.

One is culpable if he does not give forthwith that which he has vowed for charity. In the case of charity it must be given immediately, for the poor are always to be found. The Feast of Weeks falls on the fifth, sixth, or seventh of Sivan.

How the law against delay affects a woman. In which month is grain in the early stage of ripening? Only in the month of Nissan. It is also the New Year for leap-year and forgiving the half-shekels. Congregational sacrifices brought on the first of Nissan should be purchased with the shekels raised for the New Year. He who lets a house to another for a year must count (the year) as twelve months from day to day; but if the lessee says (I rent this house) “for this year,” even if the transaction takes place on the first of Adar, as soon as the first of Nissan arrives the year (of rental) has expired. The first of Tishri is the New Year for divine judgment. At the beginning of tile year it is determined what shall be at the end of the year. The Supreme Court in Heaven does not enter into judgment until the Beth

p. xxiv

[paragraph continues] Din on earth proclaims the new moon. Israel enters for judgment first. If a king and a congregation have a lawsuit, the king enters first. From New Year’s Day until the Day of Atonement, slaves used not to return to their (own) homes; neither did they serve their masters, but they ate and drank and rejoiced, with the crown of freedom on their heads. R. Eliezer says, that the world was created in Tishri. R. Joshua says, that the world was created in Nissan. Says

R. Joshua, God grants the righteous the fulfilment of the years of their life to the very month and day. Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were visited on New Year’s Day. Joseph was released from prison on New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Day the bondage of our fathers in Egypt ceased. The

Jewish sages fix the time of the flood according to R. Eliezer, and the solstices according to R. Joshua; but the sages of other nations fix the time of the flood also as R. Joshua does. Whoso vows to derive no benefit from his neighbor for a year must reckon (for the year) twelve months, from day to day; but if he said “for this year,” if he made the vow even on the twenty-ninth of Elul, as soon as the first of Tishri comes that year is complete. The New Year for giving tithes is for a tree from the time the fruits form; for grain and olives, when they are one-third ripe; and for herbs, when they are gathered. R. Aqiba picked the fruit of a citron-tree on the first of Shebhat and gave two tithes of them, 1-20

MISHNA II. At four periods in each year the world is judged. All are judged on New Year’s Day and the sentence is fixed on the Day of Atonement. R. Nathan holds man is judged at all times. God said: “Offer before Me the first sheaf of produce on Passover, so that the standing grain may be blessed unto you. Recite before Me on New Year’s Day the Malkhioth, that you proclaim Me King; the Zikhronoth, that your remembrance may come before Me, for good, and how (shall this be done)?” By the sounding of the cornet. Three circumstances cause a man to remember his sins. Four things avert the evil decree passed (by God) on man; viz., charity, prayer, change of name, and improvement, Some add to these four a fifth–change of location. Three books are opened on New Year’s Day: one for the entirely wicked, one for the wholly good, and one for the average class of people. The school of Hillel says: The most compassionate inclines (the scale of justice) to the side of mercy. Who are those who inspire their fellowmen with dread of them? A leader of a community who causes the people to fear him over-much, without furthering thereby a high purpose. The legend how R. Joshua fell sick and

R. Papa went to visit him. The Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped Himself, as does one who recites the prayers for a congregation, and pointing out to Moses the regular order of prayer, said to him: “Whenever Israel sins, let him pray to Me after this order, and I shall pardon him.” Prayer is helpful for man before or after the decree has been pronounced. The legend of a certain family in Jerusalem whose members died at eighteen years of age. They came and informed R. Johanan ben Zakkai. The Creator sees all their hearts (at a glance) and (at once) understands all their works, 20-28

MISHNA III. Messengers were sent out in the following six months: in Nissan, Abb, Elul,

Tishri, Kislev, and in Adar. The legend of the king

p. xxv

(of Syria who had earlier) issued a decree forbidding the study of the Torah among the Israelites, or to circumcise their sons, and compelling them to desecrate their Sabbath. Judah b. Shamua and his friends cried aloud: “O heavens! Are we not all brethren? Are we not all the children of one Father?” etc. Samuel said: “I can arrange the calendar for the whole captivity.” Rabha used to fast two days for the Day of Atonement. Once it happened that he was right, 29-34

MISHNAS IV. to VII. For the sake of (the new moon), of the two months Nissan and Tishri, witnesses may profane the Sabbath. Formerly they profaned the Sabbath for all (new moons), but since the destruction of the Temple they instituted that (witnesses) might profane the Sabbath only on account of Nissan and Tishri. It once happened that more than forty pair (of witnesses) were on the highway (to Jerusalem) on the Sabbath. Shagbar, the superintendent of Gader, detained them, and (when) R. Gamaliel (heard of it, he) sent and dismissed him. It once happened, that Tobias the physician, his son, and his freed slave saw the new moon in Jerusalem. The explanation of the passage Exodus xii. 1, by R. Simeon and the rabbis. Who are

incompetent witnesses? Gamblers with dice, etc., 34-36


MISHNAS I. to IV. If the Beth Din did not know (the witness), another was sent with him to testify in his behalf. It once happened that R. Nehorai went to Usha on the Sabbath to testify (to the character) of one witness. The legend how the Boëthusians appointed false witnesses.

Formerly bonfires were lighted (to announce the appearance of the new moon); but when the Cutheans practised their deceit it was ordained that messengers should be sent out. There are four kinds of cedars. The whole country looked like a blazing fire. Each Israelite took a torch in his hand and ascended to the roof of his house. Great feasts were made for (the witnesses) in order to induce them to come frequently. How were the witnesses examined? The sun never faces the concave of the crescent or the, concave of a rain bow. (If the witnesses say) “We have seen the reflection (of the moon) in the water, or through a metal mirror, or in the clouds,” “their testimony is not to be accepted.” The chief of the Beth Din says: “It (the new moon) is consecrated,” and all the people repeated after Him: “It is consecrated, it is consecrated.” Pelimo teaches: “When the new moon appeared at its proper time, they used not to consecrate it,” 37-42

MISHNAS V. and VI. R. Gamaliel had on a tablet, and on the wall of his upper room, illustrations of the various phases of the moon. Is this permitted? Yea, he had them made to teach by means of them. It happened once, that two witnesses came and said: “We saw the moon in the eastern part in the morning and in the western part in the evening.” R. Johanan b. Nuri declared them to be false witnesses. Two other witnesses came and said: “We saw the moon on its proper day, but could not see it on the next evening.” R. Gamaliel received them; but R. Dosa

b. Harkhinas said: “They are false witnesses.” R. Joshua approved his opinion. Upon this,

p. xxvi

[paragraph continues] Gamaliel ordered the former to appear before him on the Day of Atonement, according to his computation, with his staff and with money. What R. Joshua did, and what R. Aqiba and R. Dosa b. Harkhinas said about it. What R. Hiyya said when he saw the old moon yet on the morning of the twenty-ninth day. Rabbi said to R. Hiyya: “Go to Entob and consecrate the month, and send back to me as a password, ‘David the King of Israel still lives.'” The consecration of the moon cannot take place at a period less than twenty-nine and a half days, two-thirds and .0052 (i.e., seventy-three Halaqim) of an hour. Even if the commonest of the common is appointed leader by a community, he must be considered as the noblest of the nobility. A judge is to be held, “in his days,” equal in authority with the greatest of his antecedents. Gamaliel said to R. Joshua: “Happy is the generation in which the leaders listen to their followers, and through this the followers consider it so much the more their duty (to heed the teachings of the leaders),” 42-44


MISHNA I. If the Beth Din and all Israel saw (the moon on the night of the thirtieth day), but there was no time to proclaim, “It is consecrated,” before it has become dark, the month is intercalary. When three who formed a Beth Din saw it, two should stand up as witnesses and substitute two of their learned friends with the remaining one (to form a Beth Din). No greater authority than Moses, our master, yet God said to him that Aaron should act with him. No

witness of a crime may act as judge, but in civil cases he may, 45-46

MISHNAS II. to IV. Concerning what kind of cornets may be used on New Year’s and jubilee days. Some words in the Scripture which the rabbis could not explain, until they heard the people speak among themselves. The cornet used on the New Year was a straight horn of a wild goat, the mouthpiece covered with gold. The jubilee and the New Year’s Day were alike in respect to the sounding (of the cornet) and the benedictions, but R. Jehudah’s opinion was different. R. Jehudah holds that on New Year’s Day the more bent in spirit a man is, and on the Day of Atonement the more upright he is (in his confessions), the better; but R. Levi holds the contrary. “On the fast days two crooked ram’s-horns were used, their mouthpieces being covered with silver.” According to whom do we nowadays pray: “This day celebrates the beginning of thy work, a memorial of the first day”? It is unlawful to use a cornet that has been split and afterwards joined together. If one should happen to pass by a synagogue, or live close by it and should hear the cornet, he will have complied with the requirements of the law. If one covered a cornet on the inside with gold it might not be used. If one heard a part of (the required number of) the sounds of the cornet in the pit, and the rest at the pit’s mouth, he has done his duty. If one blew the first sound (Teqia), and prolonged the second (Teqia) as long as two, it is only reckoned as one. If one who listened (to the sounds of the cornet) paid the proper attention, but he that

p. xxvii

blew the cornet did not, or vice versa, they have not done their duty until both blower and listener pay proper attention. If special attention in fulfil ling a commandment or doing a transgression is necessary or not. As long as Israel looked to Heaven for aid, and directed their hearts devoutly to their Father in Heaven, they prevailed; but when they ceased to do so, they failed. All are obliged to hear the sounding of the cornet, priests, Levites, and Israelites, proselytes, freed slaves, a monstrosity, a hermaphrodite, and one who is half-slave and half-free. One may not say the benediction over bread for guests unless he eats with them, but he may for the members of the family, to initiate them into their religious duties, 46-52


MISHNAS I. to IV. Regarding if the New Year fall on Sabbath. Where the shofer (cornet) should be blown after the Temple was destroyed. What was the difference between Jamnia and Jerusalem? Once it happened that New Year’s Day fell on the Sabbath, and all the cities gathered together. Said R. Johanan b. Zakkai to the Benai Betherah: “Let us sound (the cornet)!” “First,” said they, “let us discuss!” R. Johanan b. Zakkai ordained that the palm-branch should everywhere be taken seven days, in commemoration of the Temple. Since the destruction of the Temple, R. Johanan b. Zakkai ordained that it should be prohibited (to eat of the new produce) the whole of the day of waving (the sheaf-offering). Once the witnesses were delayed in coming, and they disturbed the song of the Levites. They then ordained that evidence should only be received until (the time of) the afternoon service. Concerning what songs the Levites had to sing every day from the Psalms. What did the Levites sing when the additional sacrifices were being offered on the Sabbath? What did they sing at the Sabbath afternoon service? According to tradition, a corresponding number of times was the Sanhedrin exiled. The witnesses need only go to the meeting place (of the Beth Din). Priests may not ascend the platform in sandals, to bless the people; and this is one of the nine ordinances instituted by R. Johanan b. Zakkai, 53-57

MISHNA V. Regarding the order of the benedictions on New Year’s Day at the morning prayer, additional prayers, and at what time the cornet must be blown, etc. What passages from the Scriptures are selected for additional prayers on New Year’s Day. To what do the ten scriptural passages used for the Malkhioth correspond? How many passages must be recited from Pentateuch, Prophets, and Hagiographa? We must not mention the remembrance of the individual (in the Zikhronoth), even if the passage speaks of pleasant things. What are the passages which must be said in the benediction of Malkhioth, Zikhronoth, and the Shophroth?

R. Elazar b. R. Jose says: “The Vathiqin used to conclude with a passage from the Pentateuch.” “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is our Lord,” may be used in the Malkhioth. The second of those who act as ministers of the congregation on the Feast of New Year shall cause another to sound the cornet on days when the Hallel (Service of Praise, Ps. cxiii.-cxviii.) is read.

p. xxviii

[paragraph continues] We are permitted to occupy ourselves with teaching (children) until they learn (to sound the cornet), even on the Sabbath. The order, and how many times it must be blown; also, the different sounds and the names of them. How all this is deduced from the Bible, and the difference of opinions between the sages. Generally the soundings of the cornet do not interfere with each other, nor do the benedictions, but on New Year’s Day and the Day of Atonement they do. R. Papa b. Samuel rose to recite his prayers. Said he to his attendant, “When I nod to you, sound (the cornet) for me.” Rabha said to him, that this may only be done in the congregation. A man should always first prepare himself for prayer, and then pray. R. Jehudah prayed only once in thirty days, 57-66


xxiii:1 See introduction to synopsis of Tract Sabbath, Vol. I., p. xxix.

Next: Chapter I.