Rosh Hashanah

Introduction to Rosh Hashanah

Introduction to Rosh Hashanah   There are two main topics covered in tractate Rosh Hashanah. The first is the sanctification of the new month and the new year.  By “sanctification” I refer to the court’s decision which day shall be the first of the new month or new year—this decision gives the day sanctity.  The […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter One, Mishnah One   Introduction This famous mishnah gives four new years and explains the halakhic significance of each of each of them.   Mishnah One There are four new years: 1)      The first of Nisan is the new year for kings and for festivals.   2)      The first of Elul is […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter One, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah lists four points of the year in which the world is judged as to the outcome of certain essential aspects of life.  As we shall see, three of them are connected to agricultural holidays and events, whereas the fourth, the judgment on Rosh Hashanah, is […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 3

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter One, Mishnah Three   Introduction In order to know what date holidays would fall on, people would need to know on what day the previous month had begun.  This would be simple for those living in and near Jerusalem because they could immediately find out whether the court had decreed the thirtieth […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 4

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter One, Mishnah Four   Introduction As we stated in the introduction, in mishnaic times they set the calendar each month based on the testimony of witnesses who would come to the central court and testified that they had seen the new moon.  Our mishnah teaches that on two months in order to […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter One, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah contains a qualification of yesterday’s mishnah, regarding when the witnesses may profane Shabbat in order to travel to Jerusalem to testifythat they had seen the new moon.   Mishnah Five Whether [the new moon] was seen clearly or was not seen clearly, they profane Shabbat […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 6

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter One, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah illustrates a concept which we mentioned at the end of yesterday’s mishnah– anything that might lead to witnesses not coming when their testimony is needed is discouraged.    Mishnah Six It happened that more than forty pairs of witnesses were on their way [to Jerusalem] […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 7

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter One, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah deals with a father and a son jointly testifying that they had seen the new moon.  In normal cases the testimony of relatives may not be joined in order to add up to the required two witnesses.  However, some sages, as we shall see below, […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 8

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter One, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah is basically taken word for word from Sanhedrin 3:3.  It is brought here again because the previous mishnah mentioned the possibility that a person would be disqualified from testifying.   Mishnah Eight 1)      And these are they which are not qualified [to be witnesses or […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 9

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter One, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah lists several different ways in which a person might come to profane Shabbat on his way to testify that he saw the new moon. The mishnah is adamant—a person on his way to Jerusalem may profane the Shabbat in any way that he needs to […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 1

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Two, Mishnah One   Introduction As I have written on several occasions, the setting of the calendar was a point of great conflict between ancient Jewish sects, namely the Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees and Dead Sea sect (which may overlap with the Essenes or Sadducees, or perhaps even both).  This mishnah alludes to […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 2

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two   Introduction Above in 1:3 we learned that the court used to send messengers out to let the people in the Diaspora know that the new month had been decreed.  In our mishnah we learn that this custom was the result of another attempt by a non-Pharisaic/rabbinic group of […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 3

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah teaches how the torches were made and how the signals were passed from the top of one mountain to another.  The mishnah is simple to understand and so no commentary appears below.   Mishnah Three How did they light the torches? They used to bring […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah continues to discuss the torches used to let the Jews in the Diaspora know that the new month had been declared in Jerusalem.  The mishnah traces a progression from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem all the way to Babylonia. At Bet Biltin the chain […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 5

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five   Introduction Our mishnah deals with the witnesses who have come to Jerusalem to testify that they saw the new moon.   Mishnah Five 1)      There was a large courtyard in Jerusalem, and it was called Bet Yazek. a)      There all the witnesses used to assemble and the court […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 6

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six   Introduction As we mentioned in yesterday’s mishnah, once the witnesses arrived in Jerusalem they were brought to Bet Yazek where the court would examine them.  Our mishnah teaches how they were examined.   Mishnah Six How do they test the witnesses? 1)      The pair which arrives first, they […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 7

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah describes the ceremonial declaration made by the court when they sanctified the new month.  We should note that we have seen several occasions in which ritual was used by the rabbis in order to engage in polemics against a rival Jewish group such as the […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 8

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah and the next one contain one of the most famous stories in rabbinic literature.  In it Rabban Gamaliel and Rabbi Joshua clash over accepting what seems to surely be false testimony as to the new moon.    Mishnah Eight 1)      Rabban Gamaliel had diagrams of […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 9

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Two, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah is the continuation of yesterday’s story of Rabban Gamaliel, Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas and the sanctification of the new moon based on erroneous testimony.  At the end of yesterday’s mishnah, Rabbi Joshua agrees with Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas that the witnesses’ testimony […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 1

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Three, Mishnah One   Introduction Although this is the first mishnah of a new chapter, it is really the last mishnah to deal with the sanctification of the new month.  It contains a few final rules governing how the court decides that the new month should be declared.   Mishnah One 1)      […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 2

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah opens the second half of tractate Rosh Hashanah, which deals mostly with the laws of the shofar and the shofar blasts, as well as the special mussaf prayers for Rosh Hashanah.  In this mishnah rabbis debate what animals’ horns may be used for the shofar  […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 3

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah discusses the shofar used on Rosh Hashanah.   Mishnah Three 1)      The shofar used on Rosh Hashanah was that of an ibex, straight, and its mouth was overlaid with gold. 2)      There were two trumpets, one on each side of it. a)      The shofar gave […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah deals with the shofar and trumpet blasts that are sounded on public fast days.  These were fast days that were declared when Israel experienced distress, mostly the distress of not having enough rain.  Tractate Taanit, the next tractate which we shall learn, is dedicated to […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 5

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Five   Introduction Leviticus 25:8-16 deals with the Jubilee year, the fiftieth year after seven cycles of seven years.  Verse 9 states, “Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month—the Day of Atonement—you shall have the horn sounded throughout your […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 6

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah deals with the physical wholeness of the shofar.  It teaches what flaws in the shofar render it invalid.   Mishnah Six 1)      A shofar which has split and then he stuck it together is not valid.   2)      If he stuck together fragments of shofars, it […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 7

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah teaches two halakhot:  1) one must hear the sound of the shofar and not an echo of the sound of the shofar; 2) when hearing the shofar one must have intention to hear it for the sake of the fulfillment of the commandment.  The mishnah […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 3, Mishnah 8

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Three, Mishnah Eight   Introduction In yesterday’s mishnah we learned that for one to fulfill one’s obligation of hearing the shofar, one must have the proper intention.  The first section of today’s mishnah provides an essential statement with regard to ritual and intention.  While ritual plays an extremely important role in Judaism, […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 1

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah One   Introduction This mishnah deals with blowing the shofar on Shabbat.  It is somewhat unclear why blowing the shofar on Shabbat should be prohibited at all.  After all, as we shall see, some places did blow the shofar on Shabbat. It seems to me that there may have been […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 2

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah is a direct continuation of yesterday’s mishnah.   Mishnah Two There was another way in which Jerusalem was greater than Yavneh, that in every city which could see [Jerusalem] and hear and was near and could get to Jerusalem, they used to blow [on Shabbat], […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 3

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Three   Introduction In the previous mishnah we learned of a decree that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai made after the destruction of the Temple.  The next two mishnayot contain other such decrees. If this mishnah seems familiar it is because we just learned it in Sukkah 3:12.  The below commentary […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 4

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Four   Introduction There are two more decrees mentioned in this mishnah, both which have to do with the testimony concerning the new month.    Mishnah Four 1)      Originally they used to accept testimony with regard to the new moon during the whole day. 2)      On one occasion the witnesses […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 5

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Five   Introduction The Amidah prayer said at Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah is the longest and most unique Amidah of the year.  It contains the three blessings which begin every Amidah—“patriarchs”, which concludes ‘magen Avraham’; “powers”, which concludes ‘mehayeh hametim’; and “the sanctification of the day”, which concludes ‘hael hakadosh’, […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 6

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Six   Introduction As the core of the three special Mussaf Amidah blessings, “malkhuyot (kingships)”, “zikhronot (remembrances)” and “shofarot” we recite verses from the Torah that use the roots of these three verses.  Our mishnah contains several debates concerning the quantity and order of these verses.    Mishnah Six 1)      […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 7

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Seven   Introduction On days upon which Mussaf is recited (festivals and Rosh Hodesh) there are two people who function as the “shaliah tzibbur”, prayer leader—the first does Shacharit and the second does Mussaf.  Our mishnah determines which of these people blows the shofar and which of them recites the […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 8

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah contains a few more rules concerning the shofar.   Mishnah Eight 1)      [For the sake of] the shofar of Rosh Hashanah one is not allowed to go past the [Shabbat] border, nor remove a pile of rocks, nor climb a tree, nor ride on an […]

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 4, Mishnah 9

Rosh Hashanah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Nine   Introduction The final mishnah of Rosh Hashanah deals with the order of the shofar blasts.  In the commentary on this mishnah I will note some of the ways in which the halakhah has developed over the centuries.   Mishnah Nine 1)      The order of the blasts:  three sets […]

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