Rosh Hashana page 2

When the Sanhedrin was satisfied with the veracity of the testimony that they had received, they would rise and walk to the door facing the inner court of the Holy Temple. Standing on the steps of the Chamber of Hewn Stone, the head of the Sanhedrin would proclaim to the expectant crowd, "The day is hallowed!" The people would respond: "The day is hallowed! The day is hallowed!" The priests would immediately begin tending to the Rosh Hashana offerings, and the Levites would begin performing the musical accompaniment.

Immediately upon proclaiming, "The day is hallowed!," messengers on horseback were dispatched to bring the news of the sanctification of the new moon to all the villages of Israel and beyond. The swift broadcast of the news was essential in order to enable all to observe Rosh Hashana on the proper day.

Simultaneously, the proclamation of the new moon would go out from Jerusalem by way of torches lit by specially appointed "relay teams" who were located on strategically places hill tops. Using this method, the news could be transmitted quickly all the way to the Jewish communities of Babylon and Persia. Speed was of the essence in order to enable all to observe Rosh Hashana and the following holidays in their proper times.

This map depicts the precise route along which the torches were lit signifying the appearance of the new moon. The first station along the route was Har HaMishcha, (the Mount of Annointing, known today as the Mount of Olives). The route proceeded north east in order to reach the Babylonian city of Pumbedita, which was a major center of Jewish life.

The Mishnah relates the following: A dispute arose between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua over the criteria for accepting witnesses testifying about the new moon. The disagreement had very serious practical implications, as it affected the dates accepted by each of the sages regarding the holidays of that particular year. In order to prevent national discord, Rabban Gamliel compelled Rabbi Yehoshua to publicly accept his ruling, telling him: "Come to me with your staff and your money on the day that Yom Kippur falls according to your calculations." Carrying a staff and money were both violations of Yom Kippur. Therefore, by carrying out Rabban Gamliel's decree, Rabbi Yehoshua was publicly displaying his submission to the ruling by Rabban Gamliel concerning the fitness of the new moon witnesses. The illustration above shows Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua, (with staff and wallet), embracing, thus ending their dispute.

An incident is related in the Talmud, concerning the city of Lod: It was Shabbat. A number of witnesses to the new moon were passing through the city on their way to testifying before the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. A man named Zefer, who was the mayor of the city of Geder, detained the witnesses. He was of the opinion that witnesses had most certainly already arrived in Jerusalem and presented their testimony. Therefore, he concluded, it was unnecessary for these witnesses to continue on their way, especially since doing so involved a desecration of the Shabbat.

After the destruction of the Holy Temple, the Sanhedrin moved to the town of Yavneh, where it would receive witnesses' testimony of the new moon. The Talmud relates that Rabban Gamliel displayed pictures of the moon in various stages of its monthly course. He would use the pictures when questioning the witnesses in order to determine the veracity of their testimony. Although this scene portrays the Sanhedrin in Yavneh, after the destruction of the Holy Temple, it no doubt represents similar scenes which occurred every month for hundreds of years within the Sanhedrin that stood upon the Temple Mount.

There were enemies of the Jews who sought to harm the Jewish people by deceiving them into observing Rosh Hashana, and the ensuing holidays, at the wrong times. The Talmud tells of an attempt by the Boethusian sect, which one year bribed two witnesses to provide false testimony before the Great Sanhedrin, with the intention of causing the sages to err in their calculations of the new moon. One of the witnesses, however, proved to be a "double-agent," and revealed to the sages the bag containing two hundred pieces of silver that he had been provided in order to perjure himself. The illustration above shows him holding the bag of silver coins, while the man who had placed the bribe in his hands is being led away to receive his punishment: lashes.

"When the seventh month came... all of the people gathered together as one man into the open place that was before the Water Gate." (Neh. 7:72-81)

Following the return from Babylonian exile, a month-long campaign for repentance was commenced by Ezra and Nechemiah, on Rosh Hashana. The returnees convened in the rebuilt Temple Courtyard, and there Ezra read aloud from a Torah scroll. When the people heard the words of the Torah, they were overcome with remorse, and began to lament. Ezra and the Levites stayed the outcry, saying, "This day is sacred to the L-rd! Stop your mourning and stop your crying!"

"All inhabitants of the world, and dwellers of the earth, As a banner raised high in the mountains you shall see; and as the blasting of the shofar you shall hear" (Isaiah 18:3)"... Our G-d and G-d of our fathers, sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles, draw near our scattered ones from among the nations, and gather us in our dispersions from the ends of the earth. Bring us to Zion, Your city, with gladness, and to Jerusalem, Your Holy Temple, with everlasting joy. There we will perform before You our obligatory offerings, as commanded us in Your Torah, through Moses Your servant, from the source of Your glory, as it is said: And on the day of your joy, and on your festivals and new moons, you will sound the trumpets upon your offerings, and they will be for you a remembrance before your G-d; I am the L-rd your G-d." (from the Rosh Hashana Musaf prayer)