The Talmud states that new moon witnesses can profane the Sabbath to report their sightings. Given that it is permissible in Jewish Law to profane the Sabbath only for the most exceptional reasons, the importance attributed to setting the Holy Days by the new moon sightings is noteworthy.
The Mishnaic stipulations on a new moon witness were detailed and rigorous. The sighted new moon fixed the month’s start, which in turn set the Hebrew Holy Days. Once the Sanhedrin certified the sightings, the news was communicated to far-flung Jewish communities throughout Israel and beyond.
The system of sighting, certifying and signaling continued for hundreds of years. After the Jewish revolts against Rome, most Jews were dispersed from Judea. By the middle of the fourth century the entire system of sighting, certifying, and signaling new moons and months in what the Romans had renamed “Palestine”, was in dissolution. A calculated calendar provided a temporary solution.
The Modern Jewish calendar was established by Hillel the Second, in the middle of the fourth century. Yet, the two reasons for its introduction are no longer relevant. Today, there are both enough Jews residing in and around Jerusalem to sight new moons, and ample means to communicate the sightings. NASA claims to have improved on the amazingly precise lunar cycle of 29.53059 days used in the Jewish calendar. And even though the monthly moon cycle varies by as much as +/- 0.7 days per lunar cycle, it has never been adjusted.
There is yet another, more compelling reason to return to the ancient reckoning. The same reason that allowed profaning the Sabbath: the gravity of celebrating the Holy Days on the celestially correct day.
The framers of the calendar were eminently aware of this. That is why Diaspora Jews celebrate two days for the major Holy Days. It is also the reason that Yom Teruah, even in Israel, is a two-day festival.
Ironically, according to this writer’s actual new moon sightings for the past almost-five years from the environs of Jerusalem, much of the time both days of the two-day holidays are incorrect.
Could it be that the Jewish people have been celebrating their Feasts and Fasts on the wrong days?
Could it be that this year, for instance, Yom Kippur was not on the day fixed by the Jewish calendar, but two days afterwards, according to the new moon appearance?
The new moon rarely appears before the calendar claims its due, but it usually appears one or two days after the calendar’s assertion. Before the calculated calendar of Hillel, the Jewish month was always set with the unmistakable first appearance of the new moon.
Why not celebrate the Feasts at the celestially correct time as opposed to an incorrect calendar?
My personal sightings have been confirmed by other independent new moon watchers. Yet, before the advent of modern super-computers, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove with absolute scientific certainty that my personal sightings were correct.
In 1998, an American team, including astronomer Robert Scott Wadsworth, first published a calendar of the projected monthly new moon appearances from Jerusalem. The team’s Michael Rood traveled to Israel with the express purpose of finding moon watchers to confirm his team’s exciting findings.
Rood‘s data scientifically confirms my nearly five-year’s of observation, proving that the Modern Jewish calendar is out of synch.
Instead of a calendar on the wall, we should be looking for the forlorn maiden moon each month in the twilight of the western horizon.
Independent press correspondent