Friday, July 20, 2012

5th New Moon: Information

Karaite Korner Newsletter #558

New Moon Report
July 2012
Fifth Biblical Month

I've just been on the phone for the last hour with observers in Israel and so far no one saw the new moon on Friday July 20, 2012. It was a difficult sighting and even under ideal conditions might not have been visible. Further reports might arrive after the Sabbath, but for now we have to wait until Saturday night for the beginning of the Hebrew month. 

This month highlights one of the challenges of dealing with difficult sightings of this nature. We may have a similar situation for the upcoming holiday of Yom Teruah (Day of Shouting/ Trumpets). There is a chance the moon will be sighted on Monday September 17, 2012, but by no means a certainty. With only 39 minutes of lagtime (the time from sunset until moonset) this will be a difficult sighting under the best of conditions. In principle, if the moon is not visible Monday night September 17, that means Yom Teruah won't begin until Tuesday night September 18. 

What complicates matters is that many of the observers will be celebrating Yom Teruah based on the traditional rabbinical timing. Those observers won't report their sightings until Tuesday night or later. We could end up with a situation that the moon is sighted Monday night, but we won't find out about it until twenty-four hours later. In the meantime, we have to decide when to observe Yom Teruah: on Monday night, on Tuesday night, or both. 

This might sound like a "glitch" in the system, but it's actually an inherent part of the system. No one knows for sure the day or the hour of the beginning of the Hebrew month until it happens and in some instances until a day after the fact! This is why rabbinical tradition teaches that every Yom Teruah (which they also call Rosh Hashannah) must be kept for two consecutive days. In ancient times, a negative sighting (non-sighting) of the moon could only be confirmed on the third day of the month because they had to wait for potential new moon witnesses to arrive from the north of the country (also the new moon court was not allowed to meet on a holiday). Every year they would observe Yom Teruah on two consecutive days, but then fix the dates of Yom Kippur and Sukkot based on the testimony of the witnesses. The modern rabbinical calendar fixes the beginning of Yom Teruah based on average lunar conjunction (no-moon) but still preserves the tradition of observing it on two consecutive days, a practice that obviously goes back to the time when they still sighted the moon with the naked eye. 

This Yom Teruah we may be in a situation very similar to what all ancient Jews had to deal with, not knowing when the Hebrew month began until after the holiday has passed. This makes the observations in Israel all the more important. Anyone following me on Facebook knows I'm getting married on August 4 and planning on spending the next year in the United States with my new bride (she's American). Because of the importance of Yom Teruah, I've decided to put my new life on hold and fly back to Israel to try and sight the new moon on September 17. I've invited Keith Johnson to join me as a second witness. Please participate in this holy mission with us by contributing towards the cost of our travel expenses by making a tax-deductible donation at:
http://www.makorhebrew.org/donations.shtml

You can also make a donation over the phone (or by check) by calling Deb at:
682-422-6007.

Nehemia Gordon
Longwood, Florida

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