Parshas Yisro 5758 - '98

Outline Vol. 2, # 16

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2 # 9

Dovid and Yahonason, Continued

Last week, we discussed the story of Dovid and Yahonason, who planned to test Shaul. Dovid would not appear at the Royal Table for two days . His absence would surely be noted. If Shaul showed anger, it would indicate a change of attitude toward Dovid.

From last week:

--1. What was the significance of Rosh Chodesh and the following day? The second day was called “Hachodesh hasheni.” The Targumim and several commentaries, based on Talmud Yerushalmi, say that it referred to the second day of Rosh Chodesh. The meaning would then be: The Royal Family ate together on Rosh Chodesh. Sometimes, a person might be absent one day. To miss two days of Rosh Chodesh from the King’s table, was unheard of.

--2. How did Dovid and Yahonason know, in advance, which day would be Rosh Chodesh? Still more strange -- how did they know that there would be two days of Rosh Chodesh, in advance?

-- Rabbenu Bachaye brought this entire episode as evidence that the calendar system in effect today has always been used, precisely as it is used today. Thus, Dovid knew from the calculations exactly which days would be Rosh Chodesh.

Rosh Chodesh and the Dating System of Ancient Times: Other Views

The truth of the matter is that many disagree with Rabbenu Bachaye. Some hold that, in ancient times, the month was decided by visual sighting. Still others hold that the months were decided by a combination of the two: visual sighting and the calculations.

If so, the question returns: How did they know about Rosh Chodesh in advance?

The Thirtieth Day is Always Rosh Chodesh

Remember, the new moon comes after 29 1/2 days. Since the month has to be made of whole days, the months alternate between 29 and 30 days. Today, the 30th day is ALWAYS Rosh Chodesh, because the moon should appear during the 30th day. When the moon would appear late on the 30th day, or early on the 31st day, both the 30th and 31st are Rosh Chodesh. Marhari Halevi, in Doros Harishonim, shows that in ancient days as well, the practice was similar: The 30th day was ALWAYS Rosh Chodesh. So it was clear that Dovid and Yahonason would know the FIRST day of Rosh Chodesh. (Sha’ar Yoseif, notes to Chasom Sofer al Hatorah, Devorim p. 69-70.)

1. Rashi holds that "hachodesh hasheini" does not refer to a second day of Rosh Chodesh, but the second day of the month.

2. If so, what was the significance of the second day?

To Rashi, the point has little to do with Rosh Chodesh. Dovid always ate with the King. Occasionally, something would come up. Two consecutive days however, were suspicious. Why would Dovid not eat at the King’s table for two whole days? That the first of these days happened to be Rosh Chodesh, made matters even more surprising to the King.

Here, then, is the second answer: To Rashi, only one day of Rosh Chodesh is referred to in the verses; it would be known in advance, because the thirtieth day is always Rosh Chodesh. (See Sha’ar Yoseif, notes to Chasom Sofer al Hatorah, Devorim p. 69-70.)

Problem with the Second Answer; Solution of Chasom Sofer

However, most disagree with Rashi. The ancient Targumim, Talmud Yerushalmi, Birkei Yosef and Malbim, for example, conclude from the verses that two days of Rosh Chodesh were often observed, even in ancient times. So the question returns once again. Even if the thirtieth day is always Rosh Chodesh, how would they know that the following day would also be Rosh Chodesh? This would occur if the witnesses did not find the moon on the thirtieth day. How could this be known in advance?

Chasom Sofer finds the question to be of such difficulty that he was hard-pressed to answer. Chasom Sofer’s suggestion was that Yahonason himself was the head of the court, and as such was in the position to adjust the luach as necessary. Chasom Sofer admitted that this was unlikely -- a "forced" answer.

Even if Chasom Sofer found his answer difficult, it is important for our study of the subject. Rosh Chodesh is pronounced by the court. “Atem, afilu shogagim, atem, afilu meizidim.” (Rosh Hashanah 25a.) The court -- even if they err, even if they deliberately adjust the calendar -- the court alone is responsible for determining the dates. (Chasom Sofer al Hatorah, Devorim p. 69.)

The Decision of the Beis Din (Court) -- Even If They Err

Based on this Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 25a), Chazon Ish showed the foolishness of those who want to “correct” the calendar. The Rabbis never attempted a perfect system; their approximations can be followed and applied by everyone. Even if, in our eyes, the calculations seem to be in error -- following the commandments is training in following orders, almost a military regimen. Those who suggest the Rabbis have erred actually show their own ignorance -- the Talmud states explicitly that their decision is to be followed even if it seems to be in error. (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 138.)

The issue of the decision of the court in fixing dates begins with a series of famous Mishnayos.

Rabban Gamliel and Rebbi Yehoshua were in dispute about accepting certain witnesses. Rabban Gamliel, as head of Sanhedrin, put his foot down. He decreed that Rebbi Yehoshua come to see him with his stick and money-belt, on the day that Rebbi Yehoshua held to be Yom Kippur! In a quandary, Rebbi Yehoshua sought Rebbi Akiva. (Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 8.)

Rebbi Akiva said, “I can deduce that whatever Rabban Gamliel does is said and done. The verse states: ‘These are the seasons of Hashem, holy gatherings, which you shall proclaim.’ (Vayika 23:37). ‘You shall proclaim’ whether in its time, whether not in its time, I have no other seasons other than these.” (Rosh Hashanah, Chapter 2, Mishnah 9.)

He (Rebbi Yehoshua) went to Rebbi Dosa Ben Hurkanis (who had sided with him initially). He (Rebbi Dosa Ben Hurkanis) said, “If we come to question the decision of Rabban Gamliel, we will have to question the decision of each and every Beis Din from the days of Moshe and onwards. As the verse states (in connection with the Receiving of the Torah): ‘Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu went up (Mount Sinai) with the seventy elders.’ (Shmos 24:9.) Why does it not state their names? It comes to tell you, that every each and every Beis Din that has stood for the Jewish People, is as significant as the Beis Din of Moshe himself.” (Ibid.)

Rebbi Yehoshua’s acceptance of Rabban Gamliel’s decree, preserved the unanimity of Jewish Law. “He took his stick and money in his hand, and went to Yavneh, to Rabban Gamliel, on the day he had argued should have been Yom Kippur. Rabban Gamliel stood up and kissed him on the head. He said to him: ‘Come in peace, my master and student. My master -- in wisdom; my student -- because you accepted my words.’ “ (Ibid.)

Of course, Chasom Sofer’s answer -- that Yahonason might deliberately not accept testimony -- does seem forced. The answer does, however, shed light on the authority of the Sanhedrin in connection with the calendar.


"Who is wise? the one who sees 'hanolad.' " is not a Mishnah, but is mentioned in the Gemara (Tamid 32a). Thanks to Stuart Snider for pointing this out.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
E-mail: [email protected]

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.

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