By Israel Drazin


Currently, announcements are made and prayers recited in synagogues on the Sabbath before a new month begins to inform congregants when the first sliver of the new moon will appear. This service commemorates the ancient practice, before a lunar calendar was established by Hillel II in the mid-fourth century CE, that set new months after two witnesses testified they saw the new moon and the court informed the people of the event.[1] The synagogue announcements recall these court announcements. This is done for every month except the month of Tishrei, the month which begins with Rosh Hashana, the New Year. Why?


Most scholars explain that this deviation from the customary practice was caused by the ancient decision to observe Rosh Hashanah for two days rather than one day mandated in the Torah.[2]


They say that since the Torah only requires a single day holiday the rabbis feared that the people might disrespect the second day of Rosh Hashanah; to preclude this and prompt observance of the second day, they decreed that the first day of Tishrei should not be proclaimed.


This explanation is problematical. I pointed out in my book Maimonides and the Biblical Prophets, “The Real Reason for the Additional Day of Holidays,” that the biblical book Samuel shows that some celebrations of the New Moon[3] were observed for two days during the reign of King Saul, about 1000 BCE, and probably earlier. Thus the practice of adding an extra day for the New Moon celebrations and Rosh Hashanah, which is a New Moon celebration, is quite old and the fear did not exist in the past, before the synagogue announcement practice began.


More significantly, sometime around 500 BCE, the Judeans[4] added an extra day to virtually all holidays and rabbis didn’t mandate that the new moon not be announced for these months. So what is the real reason for the failure to announce the new moon of Tishrei?


Some people insist that the announcement is omitted to confuse Satan who, not knowing when Rosh Hashanah will begin, would be unable to bring evil reports to God in a timely fashion. Jews believed that their future was determined on Rosh Hashanah and wanted to do all they could to assure a favorable divine decision.


The superstition about Satan imagines that Satan is a dupe who depends on humans to tell him when a month begins and God can be persuaded to harm Jews based on the eloquence of a demon. Some Jews might be embarrassed if this is the real reason. But Jews are like other people, many are superstitious.[5]




[1] Jewish holidays are based on the lunar calendar and the people needed to know when the month begins.

[2] Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6.

[3] The Bible required special sacrifices for each New Moon and the book Samuel shows that the Israelites celebrated the day with festive meals. The biblical New Moon was one day.

[4] As they were called at the time.

[5] In my book Maimonides: The exceptional Mind, I reveal many Jewish practices that are based on the belief in the power of Satan, such as the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah,  Kaparot, tashlikh, and others.  While rationalists such as Maimonides, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Menachem Meiri rejected belief in demons, others such as Rashi, Nachmanides, and the Zohar believed they exist. Mark, the first book of the New Testament after the letters of Paul, focuses on demons and early Christians who were actually Jews.