Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah
The Missing Rosh Chodesh   Scripture mandates that the first day of every Hebrew month, Rosh Chodesh, be observed with an additional set of sacrifices.  This Korban Musaf includes two bulls, one ram, seven lambs (all burnt-offerings), and one goat as a sin-offering (Numbers 28:11-15).  The first day of the seventh month, known in rabbinic literature and popularly as Rosh Hashanah, stands out because it is the only Rosh Chodesh that is also a full-fledged holiday.  Labor is prohibited and the shofar is sounded (29:1).  The additional sacrifices for Rosh Hashanah include one bull, one ram, seven lambs (all burnt-offerings), and one goat as sin offering.  Lest one erroneously conclude that Rosh Hashanah trumps Rosh Chodesh and that only the Musaf of the former is brought, the Bible expressly states that both sets of Musaf sacrifices are brought on that day (29:6).   In the post-Temple era, the doctors of the liturgy questioned whether it is necessary to refer to Rosh Chodesh in the Rosh Hashanah prayer service.  Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas suggested that on each of the two days of Rosh Hashanah the cantor should make a conditional reference to Rosh Chodesh.  On the first day he should say, “whether it is today or tomorrow,” and on the second day he should say, “whether it is today or it was yesterday.”  The sages rejected this idea (Mishnah Eruvin 3:9).   The Mishnah presupposes that Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days.  The Bible mandates a one-day holiday.  However, because of uncertainty regarding when the New Moon was declared, those Jews living at a distance from the high court had to observe a second day, because it was not clear on which day the holiday fell.  Even in Jerusalem during the Temple-era, it was occasionally necessary to observe two days to take account of the non-timely arrival in that city of witnesses coming to testify about the appearance of the moon on the thirtieth day of the preceding month (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 4:4).  Historians are uncertain when this practice first developed.  It certainly obtained during the Tannaitic and early Amoraic periods even in the Land of Israel where the second day of other festivals was not observed (Beitzah 4b).   The third generation Babylonian Amora Rabbah (early 4th century CE) records that in the academy of Rav Huna there arose the question whether Rosh Chodesh should be mentioned on Rosh Hashanah (Eruvin 40a).  That this issue was still being debated two centuries after it first emerged indicates that the prevailing practice was not to mention Rosh Chodesh. Why do we so conclude?  Because if, following the regular monthly pattern, Rosh Chodesh were mentioned even on Rosh Hashanah, nobody would bother to question that (by definition then-standard) practice.  The fact that the question was raised showed that Rosh Chodesh was not, in standard practice, mentioned.  It was the absence of that liturgical element that was the issue.   The Talmud attempts to resolve all this by citing the sages’ objection to Rabbi Dosa’s proposal.  Since the rule is that the law follows the majority opinion, then Rosh Chodesh should be kept out of the Rosh Hashanah prayers.  But this proof was deflected.  Perhaps the sages only objected to the conditional aspect of Rabbi Dosa’s formulation.  Ultimately, the Talmud concludes that the liturgical description of the holiday as a “day of remembrance” implicates both the New Year and the New Month.  Leviticus 23:24 describes the first day of the seventh month as a memorial to the blast of the horn; Numbers 10:10 counts the New Moons among those days that shall be for Israel “a memorial before your God.”  The Jerusalem Talmud comes to the similar conclusion that it is unnecessary to include an explicit mention of the New Moon in the New Year prayer service (Yerushalmi Shevuot 33a).   However, in the Minor Tractates we find a liturgical formulation for Rosh Hashanah that does include an unambiguous mention of Rosh Chodesh (Soferim 19:3).  Geniza fragments from the Land of Israel confirm that this was the established liturgy during the early medieval period.   Rabbi Isaac ben Eliezer of Worms (11th century), Rashi’s teacher, insisted that Numbers 28:11-15, the Scriptural section detailing the Musaf of Rosh Chodesh, be recited during the Musaf service of Rosh Hashanah.  His rationale was that since “zikaron,” or remembrance, applied to both the New Year and the New Moon, it would be unlawful to refer to one aspect of the day’s additional offerings while omitting another (Siddur Rashi).   This approach was ultimately rejected by the Ashkenazi decisors, who continued to keep mention of Rosh Chodesh out of the High Holiday service.  According to Tosafot, the following concern was paramount:  Rosh Chodesh is always observed on the thirtieth day of the preceding month.  If that day is regarded as the first day of the subsequent month, then the previous month only had twenty-nine days, and Rosh Chodesh is observed for only one day.  If, however, the previous month is allotted a full thirty days and the first day of the subsequent month is on the thirty-first day, then two days of Rosh Chodesh are observed.  In the case of Tishri, however, Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days.  Yet, from a calendrical standpoint, the first of Tishri is the first, not the second, day of Rosh Hashanah.  Were Rosh Chodesh to be mentioned in the prayer service, people might incorrectly infer (from standard monthly practice, as just summarized) that the first of the month was on the second day of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.  They would, accordingly, wind up observing both Yom Kippur and Sukkot one day too late.   To avoid this pitfall, the liturgy was purposely crafted in order not to ignore the New Moon (Machzor Vitri; Tosafot Eruvin 40a), while at the same time not explicitly acknowledging it.  Cognizant of the arguments put forth by Rabbi Isaac, Rabbenu Tam conceded that mention should be made of the two sin-offering goats, but explicit statement about the New Moon omitted (Tosafot Beizah 15a).   Professor Ezra Fleischer offered a novel way of reconciling the liturgy of Eretz Israel with the decisions of the two Talmudim as understood by Tosafot.  As long as Rosh Hashanah was observed for two days, it was necessary to excise mention of Rosh Chodesh from the Rosh Hashanah liturgy lest the public err in matters of the calendar.  This obtained while the calendar was still determined on the basis of testimony.  After the establishment of the fixed calendar during the Patriarchate of Hillel II (c. 358 CE), however, Rosh Hashanah was observed, in Eretz Israel, for only one day.  With the arrival in Israel of Provencal rabbis in the 12th century, the older practice of a two-day Rosh Hashanah was restored.  It was during the era of one-day observance that the Masekhet Soferim-Geniza version of the liturgy was in use.   According to Rashi, as embellished by Maharsha, a very different concern led to the removal of mention of Rosh Chodesh from the Rosh Hashanah prayer service.  It was feared that people might come to disrespect the second day of Rosh Hashanah, profaning the day by performing forbidden labors.  With the establishment of the fixed calendar, true doubt regarding the date of Rosh Chodesh no longer existed.  Emphasizing, in the prayer service, that the first day of Rosh Hashanah is, also, the true day of Rosh Chodesh might well tend to diminish the significance of the second day of Rosh Hashanah in the eyes of the public.   Protecting the holidays from potential disrespect is a frequent theme in rabbinic literature.  While the Sabbath was a revered institution in Jewish life (violation thereof constituting a capital offense), the holidays were clearly held in much lower regard.  Although, on festivals, labor is generally prohibited, the Bible permits such labor to the extent it involves activities associated with food preparation (Exodus 12:16).  And halakhah permits carrying and kindling even for matters unrelated to cooking.  It became easy for the layman to develop a dismissive attitude toward Yom Tov.  This is especially true for the second days of Yom Tov, observance of which is mandated neither by the Bible nor rabbinic decree, but merely by dint of the binding “custom of the forefathers.”   Taking popular sentiment into consideration when crafting the liturgy, the sages tried to eliminate items that might compromise the integrity of holidays.  Accordingly, Rosh Chodesh is conspicuously absent from the Rosh Hashanah Amidah.  Even the Blessing of the New Month, recited on the Sabbath preceding every Rosh Chodesh, is omitted on the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah.  The precise date of the New Moon had to be concealed.  [The conventional explanation why there is no blessing on the Sabbath preceding Tishri quotes the verse, “Blow the horn at the new moon, at the full moon (ba-keseh) for our feast-day (Psalms 81:4).  The word “ba-keseh” is imprecisely translated as “concealment.”  The basis for this homily seems to be the concern expressed above for the possible degradation of the holiday.]   This same phenomenon can be detected in the liturgy for Shemini Atzeret.  Although the eighth day of Sukkot is also the doubtful seventh day, and as such Diaspora Jews are bidden to sit in the Sukkah, this is not reflected in any of the prayers. There is, on this day, no blessing recited over sitting in booths (Sukkahh 47a), nor is there a blessing said over the Four Species.  (They are not taken at all.)  The Amidah for this day gives no hint of the existence of Sukkot.  The Musaf prayer and Maftir reading incorporate only the sacrifices of the eighth day, despite the fact that on days number two through seven of the festival the previous day’s sacrificial verses are rendered out of doubt.   Implicit in this overall discussion is that the sages of antiquity considered their contemporary laymen to be highly attuned to the nuances of the prayer service.  It was assumed that congregants were reading each and every word of the prayer service carefully; thus, they might draw incorrect conclusions from such a close textual reading.   Plainly, the same cannot be said of our own times.  We lack these critical elements:  1) kavvanah (concentration on the meaning of the liturgical text and on its spiritual and emotional essence -- and, most importantly, the keen awareness that our prayers are direct communication with God) and 2) havanah (understanding, in the broad sense). They are what it means to pray as a Jew.