The first mitzvah that the Israelites received in the Torah is concerning the month and about marking our time. When the people were still in Egypt, God ordered that the month upon leaving Egypt be set as the first month of the year and also to start marking our time according the cycle of the moon.
“The Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year..” (Ex. 12:1-2)
The new moon used to be celebrated as a holiday, with a feast included, but in the post-biblical times it lost importance as a holiday. However, the proclamation of the new moon by the rabbis was of great importance in order to determine the beginning of the holidays in each month. In antiquity, Rosh Hodesh was established using eye witnesses. Up until the times of the Tannaitas, the words “This month” of the mitzvah was understood to be something visible, that is, the appearance of the crescent moon. And so, each new month was declared by the beit din in Jerusalem only after receiving testimony of two people who had seen the “new moon”. Nowadays we use the calendar established by Hillell II in the 4th century of the common era which bases the new moon on the precise momento of the “molad”, or New Moon, when the moon is perfectly lined up with the earth and the sun, and the illumination of the moon is at 0%.
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Read Torah from Around the World #307: Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:1 – 13:16)
Friday 15 January, 2015 18:14hrs
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Heading: Art by Bogie, Detail of Menorah in the Bet Januká synagogue