By Israel Drazin
The Real Reason for the Additional Day of Holidays
This essay is taken from my book Maimonides and the Biblical Prophets. Because of its length, I am dividing it into three parts. Since I discussed what I think is the true reason why an extra day was added to biblical holidays, including the ancient practice of announcing when the new moon appeared, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the current practice of announcing the beginning of Jewish months.
Why Did the Practice of Announcing the Day of the New Moon in Synagogues Begin?
This ceremony of announcing the start of a new Jewish month in synagogues began after the ancient procedure of using the testimony of witnesses to establish the beginning of a month; that is, after Jews began to use the calendar for this purpose, after the fourth century.
Since the ancient system was to announce the new moon so that people would know what day the elders or court established as the first day of the month, Jews decided to continue the traditional announcements even though they no longer had a useful purpose.
The question arose: where should the announcement be made and when? Jews decided that the most practical method was to make the statement on Shabbat at the synagogue service simply because this was the time and place where most Jews gathered.
The next question was whether people should be told of the new moon after the appearance of the month, like the ancient tradition, or before. Again, as a practical matter it was decided to make the proclamation before the onset of the new month. If the pronouncement were made after the onset of the month, it may not be made until six days after the new moon and it would serve no useful purpose at all. However, if the congregation were informed of the upcoming Chodesh before the day occurred, the announcement would alert the people that Chodesh would be on a certain date and they should come to the synagogue to say the special prayers and listen to the Torah reading associated with Chodesh.
Why is there a practice to make no announcement to alert people when the month of Tishrei, the month of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, begins? Some people insist that no announcement is made in order to confuse Satan who, without the announcement, would not know when Rosh Hashanah begins and would not be able 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 quite a dupe and also that God can be persuaded to harm Jews based on the eloquence of the demon.
Once we remember that the present synagogue proclamation recalls the ancient pronouncement made by elders or a court, we realize that the answer is simple: there was no rush to publicize the first day of Tishrei in ancient times because the ancients had declared Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah, a two-day holiday.
Thus, the declarations of the new moon in synagogues today, including the practice not to do so before Tishrei, are reminders of the pre-calendar procedures of ancient Jewry.