While the Roman Gregorian calendar is based on the movements of the sun, the Torah calendar is based on the movements of the moon, and the agricultural cycles in the Land of Israel.
We will discuss how the agricultural cycles in the Land of Israel relate to the Torah Calendar in upcoming chapters, but first we need to discuss the importance of Yahweh’s New Moon Days, and the commandments He wants us to perform on them.
Whenever a Temple or Tabernacle stands, Israel is to bring a daily sacrifice offering of two lambs, along with their associated meal and drink offerings.
Bemidbar (Numbers) 28:2-3
2 “Command the children of Israel, and say to them, ‘My offering, My food for My offerings made by fire as a sweet aroma to Me, you shall be careful to offer to Me at their appointed time.’
3 “And you shall say to them, ‘This is the offering made by fire which you shall offer to Yahweh: two male lambs in their first year without blemish, day by day, as a regular burnt offering.’”
In addition to the two lambs Yahweh commands us to bring as a daily burnt offering, Yahweh commands Israel to bring yet two more lambs on the weekly Sabbath (for a total of four, on a regular Sabbath day).
Bemidbar (Numbers) 28:9-10
9 ‘And on the Sabbath day two lambs in their first year, without blemish, and two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with oil, with its drink offering
10 this is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering with its drink offering.
The offerings that are to be brought are additive. In addition to the daily and/or the Sabbath offerings, Yahweh tells us to bring still more offerings on the first day of the month, which we will see is the day the first crescent sliver of the new moon is sighted.
Bemidbar (Numbers) 28:11-15
11 “’At the beginnings of your months you shall present a burnt offering to Yahweh: two young bulls, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year, without blemish;
12 three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with oil, for each bull; two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with oil, for the one ram;
13 and one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with oil, as a grain offering for each lamb, as a burnt offering of sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to Yahweh.
14 Their drink offering shall be half a hin of wine for a bull, one-third of a hin for a ram, and one-fourth of a hin for a lamb; this is the burnt offering for each month throughout the months of the year.
15 Also one kid of the goats as a sin offering to Yahweh shall be offered, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.’”
The reason Yahweh requires more offerings on the feast days is that there are more visitors to the Temple during the pilgrimage festivals: hence, there need to be more priests. Since there are more priests present in the Temple on those days, they need more food to sustain them.
It is sometimes thought that the New Moon Day is a commanded Sabbath of rest. However, while there are many reasons to believe this, we should note that the Torah does not command us to cease work on a regular new moon day.
The New Moon Day of the seventh month, however, is different. The New Moon of the Seventh Month is called Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה). Although technically this phrase translates as the ‘Day of Blowing’ or the ‘Day of Shouting’, it is normally called the ‘Day of Trumpets.’ On this day, all Israel is to cease from its regular work, and assemble in a set-apart gathering.
Bemidbar (Numbers) 29:1-6
1 “’And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a set-apart gathering. You shall do no customary work. For you it is a day of blowing (the trumpets).
2 You shall offer a burnt offering as a sweet aroma to Yahweh: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year, without blemish.
3 Their grain offering shall be fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the ram,
4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs;
5 also one kid of the goats as a sin offering, to make atonement for you;
6 besides the burnt offering with its grain offering for the New Moon, the regular burnt offering with its grain offering, and their drink offerings, according to their ordinance, as a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to Yahweh.’”
Let us note once again that while verse 1 clearly tells us not to work on the new moon of the seventh month (Yom Teruah), there is no such parallel command to cease work on the regular new moon days.
Amos 8 is sometimes used to argue that the regular New Moon Days are also commanded days of rest. However, as we will see, Amos 8 is not speaking about the regular new moon days, but about Yom Teruah.
Yahweh often uses plays on words as a kind of a pun. In Amos 8, Yahweh makes a play on words between the word ‘summer’ (keitz, קָיִץ), and ‘the end’ (ha-ketz הַקֵּץ).
1 Thus Yahweh Elohim showed me: Behold, a basket of summer (קָיִץ) fruit.
2a And He said, “Amos, what do you see?” So I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”
2b Then Yahweh said to me, “The end (הַקֵּץ) has come upon My people Israel. I will not pass by them anymore.
3 And the songs of the Temple shall be wailing in that day,” says Yahweh Elohim — “Many dead bodies everywhere, they shall be thrown out in silence.”
4 Hear this, you who swallow up the needy, and make the poor of the land fail,
5 Saying: “When will the New Moon (Day) be past, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat?
Making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the scales by deceit,
6 That we may buy the poor for silver,
And the needy for a pair of sandals —
Even sell the [chaff of] wheat?”
On first reading, one might easily conclude that Yahweh was upset because His people were buying and selling on the regular New Moon Days. However, we need to understand Yahweh’s play on words here, because the summer (קָיִץ) fruits come at the end (הַקֵּץ) of summer, which is when Yom Teruah is held, in the seventh month. Thus it seems that it was not just any New Moon Day that Yahweh was upset about His people breaking, but Yom Teruah. Therefore, in the absence of any stronger evidence that His people were not supposed to buy or sell on the regular new moon days, we cannot say conclusively that the regular new moon days are commanded days of rest from all work.
However, even if we are not required to cease work on the New Moon Days, there is still some question about whether or not we are commanded to assemble. There are four specific passages in Scripture which some see as proof that we are to gather on the regular New Moon Days. Let us take a close look at each them, because the evidence can seem confusing.
The first reference to gathering on the New Moon Day is found in 1st Samuel 20:5, where David tells Jonathan that he should eat at the king’s table “tomorrow”, because it will be the New Moon Day.
Shemuel Aleph (1st Samuel) 20:5
5 And David said to Jonathan, “Indeed tomorrow is the New Moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king to eat.”
It could be that the reference to the New Moon here is a reference to Yom Teruah, as it was in Amos 8. However, it is also possible that it was King Shaul’s custom to assemble his court on the New Moon Days. Either way, we cannot prove a Torah requirement to assemble on the New Moon Days, as the Torah does not command us to rest on a regular new moon day.
The second passage that suggests a possibile need to assemble on the regular new moon days is found in Second Kings 4:22-23.
|2nd Kings 4:22-23
22 Then she called to her husband, and said, “Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of Elohim (Elisha) and come back.”
23 So he said, “Why are you going to him today? The day is neither a new moon, nor a Sabbath.”
And she said, “Shalom (It will be well).”
|(22) וַתִּקְרָא אֶל אִישָׁהּ וַתֹּאמֶר שִׁלְחָה נָא לִי אֶחָד מִן הַנְּעָרִים וְאַחַת הָאֲתֹנוֹת | וְאָרוּצָה עַד אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים וְאָשׁוּבָה:
(23) וַיֹּאמֶר מַדּוּעַ אתי [אַתְּ קרי] הלכתי [הֹלֶכֶת קרי] אֵלָיו הַיּוֹם לֹא חֹדֶשׁ וְלֹא שַׁבָּת | וַתֹּאמֶר שָׁלוֹם
The husband of the woman of Shunem asked her why she wanted to go see Elisha, seeing as it was neither ‘a’ new moon, nor a Sabbath. Had he referred to ‘the’ new moon, we might assume he was speaking about Yom Teruah. However, since he remarked only that it was not ‘a’ new moon, it could be that it was a custom for the people to gather on the new moons. However, we cannot conclude a need to gather on the regular new moon days, since the Torah does not command us to assemble on the New Moon Day.
The third reference to gathering on the New Moon Day is found in the prophecies in Ezekiel. This presents an interesting case, because it does seem to indicate a need to assemble at the eastern gate of the Temple on the Sabbath and the New Moon Days, although the Torah gives us no such requirement at present.
1 ‘Thus says the Master Yahweh: “The gateway of the inner court that faces toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath it shall be opened, and on the day of the New Moon it shall be opened.
2 The prince shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gateway from the outside, and stand by the gatepost. The priests shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings. He shall worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he shall go out, but the gate shall not be shut until evening.
3 Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the entrance to this gateway on the Sabbaths and the New Moons before Yahweh.
|(1) כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה שַׁעַר הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית הַפֹּנֶה קָדִים יִהְיֶה סָגוּר שֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה | וּבְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת יִפָּתֵחַ וּבְיוֹם הַחֹדֶשׁ יִפָּתֵחַ:
(2) וּבָא הַנָּשִׂיא דֶּרֶךְ אוּלָם הַשַּׁעַר מִחוּץ וְעָמַד עַל מְזוּזַת הַשַּׁעַר וְעָשׂוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים אֶת עוֹלָתוֹ וְאֶת שְׁלָמָיו וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוָה עַל מִפְתַּן הַשַּׁעַר וְיָצָא | וְהַשַּׁעַר לֹא יִסָּגֵר עַד הָעָרֶב:
(3) וְהִשְׁתַּחֲווּ עַם הָאָרֶץ פֶּתַח הַשַּׁעַר הַהוּא בַּשַּׁבָּתוֹת וּבֶחֳדָשִׁים | לִפְנֵי יְהוָה
Verse one tells us that the Eastern Gate shall be shut the six working days, but that it shall be opened on the Sabbath, and on the day of the New Moon. Because Ezekiel contrasts the Sabbath and the New Moon with the six “working days”, it would seem that the new moon days will be commanded days of rest during the future. This is further reinforced by the fact that we are told that the people of the land will need to assemble before the Eastern Gate on the Sabbaths, and on the New Moons. It would seem that the only way this will be possible is if the people do not have to work on the Sabbath and on the new moon days.
It is not clear why Ezekiel would give us a requirement to assemble on the New Moons in the future when the Torah does not require us to gather on them now. However, Isaiah 66:23 does give us a second witness that in the future, all Israel will be required to gather before Him on the New Moon Days.
23 And it shall be that from New Moon Day to New Moon Day, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,” declares Yahweh.
|(23) וְהָיָה מִדֵּי חֹדֶשׁ בְּחָדְשׁוֹ וּמִדֵּי שַׁבָּת בְּשַׁבַּתּוֹ | יָבוֹא כָל בָּשָׂר לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְפָנַי אָמַר יְהוָה|
In the last chapter we saw that the timing of the Sabbath is determined by a ‘count of seven.’ However, all of Yahweh’s other appointed times are based on the new moon days. For one example, the Passover is to be held fourteen days after the new moon of the first month is declared (Exodus 12:6). Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement is to be held on the tenth day after Yom Teruah (the New Moon of the Seventh Month) (Leviticus 23:27). Since the timing of these festivals is based on the timing of the new moons, if the new moons are declared on the wrong day, it throws off the timing of all the rest of the festivals as well.
Yahweh appoints times when He wants to meet with His prospective bride Israel. Now, if our Fiance has a date with us, but we do not show because for some reason or other we are not paying attention to His calendar, what is He going to think? Do we want to stand the King of the Universe up for a date?
Since the declaration of the New Moon is so essential to knowing when to celebrate Yahweh’s festivals, we need to know how Yahweh wants us to determine the New Moon, so we can meet with Him on the times He appoints. Therefore, let us take some time to learn about the New Moon Days, so we can be certain we are doing things according to Yahweh’s will.
According to modern astronomy, a moon is thought to be ‘new’ when it sits in line between the sun and the earth (in the 3 o’clock position, above). When the moon is in this kind of linear alignment, the moon is said to be ‘in conjunction’ relative to the earth.
To look at it another way, when the moon is in conjunction, the moon sits in the same general direction from the earth as the sun does. The reason the moon is not visible is because it is ‘conjoined’ with the sun (and hence the name, ‘lunar conjunction’).
A total solar eclipse is a type of lunar conjunction. A total solar eclipse takes place when the moon sits directly in between the sun and the earth, blocking the sun’s light. However, the moon does not have to eclipse the sun in order to qualify as a conjunction.
Again, the reason we do not have a total solar eclipses each month is that the orbits of the earth, the sun and the moon are not perfectly flat and parallel. Rather, they sit at angles to each other.
As shown in the diagram on the previous page, the reason the lunar conjunction cannot be seen from the earth is that the sun’s light reflects back towards the sun. However, as the moon continues to orbit the earth (counter-clockwise in the earlier illustration), it soon reaches a position (midway between 2 and 3 o’clock in the earlier illustration) where part of the bright side of the moon can now be seen from the earth, at eventide. This thin reflection is called the First Crescent Sliver of the New Moon, and this is the New Moon of Scripture.
In the chart below, the New Moon corresponds to the fourth row down from the top, and the third or the fourth frame from the left. Exactly how bright the moon has to become before it can be seen from the earth has to do with a variety of factors, including clouds, weather, dust in the air, and other factors affecting visibility.
Once the first crescent sliver of the new moon can be seen from the earth, the New Moon Day is declared.
The chart above gives us a typical progression of the phases of the moon over weeks. The first frame (in the upper-left-hand corner) shows the moon in its first quarter, at 50% illumination. Eight days later the moon is full, at 100% illumination. Then, approximately seven days later the moon moves into its last quarter, at slightly more than 50% illumination. Finally, roughly seven more days and the moon again moves into conjunction, and cannot be seen, because all of the sun’s light reflects back off of the far side. (This is sometimes called a ‘no moon’). Then eight days later it is back in its first quarter again, although in this chart it is at slightly more than 50%.
Notice that there are at least two days in the above chart in which the moon is visibly ‘full’. There are also two days in which the moon is in conjunction (i.e., is not visible). This is fairly normal, and it underscores the reason why it is so important to establish the New Moon Day according to the sighting of the first visible crescent sliver.
Because the sun, the moon and the earth do not have perfectly circular orbits, and because their orbits all sit at angles relative to each other, the number of days in which the moon is either in conjunction or is visibly ‘full’ can fluctuate anywhere in between 1.5 to 3.5 days. Because of this, if we were to hypothetically base the New Moon Day off of the lunar conjunction, either we would have to celebrate the New Moon Day for 1.5 to 3.5 days, or else we would have to choose one of these 1.5 to 3.5 conjunctive days as ‘the’ New Moon Day. This would be impossible to do, because the Scripture gives us no criteria for how to do that.
The reason the length of the conjunction fluctuates between 1.5 to 3.5 days is that the earth not only moves in an elliptical orbit, but it also sits at an angle as it orbits the sun (above). All of the heavenly bodies move in imperfect ellipses, and this makes the length of the lunar conjunctions grow longer and shorter over time.
Notice, however, that Yahweh does not command us to celebrate the New Moon for 1.5 to 3.5 days, but to celebrate the New Moon Day on one day. Therefore, we need to know how to establish which one day is the New Moon Day.
In First Samuel 20:5, David told Jonathan that the New Moon Day was “tomorrow.” This tells us that David did not believe the New Moon Day lasted anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5 days, but that he knew it to be a singular event, taking place on one single day.
Shemuel Aleph (1st Samuel) 20:5
5 So David said to Jonathan, “Behold, tomorrow is the New Moon, and I ought to sit down to eat with the king. But let me go, that I may hide myself in the field until the third evening.”
Because Yahweh commands us to celebrate the New Moon Day on just one single day, there must be one singular event that marks the start of the New Moon Day. As we will soon see, that singular event is the sighting of the First Crescent Sliver of the New Moon in the Land of Israel, either on the 29th or the 30th day of the month.
The Hebrew month is typically either 29 or 30 days long. But why is this? If the earth were stationary, the moon would make a complete 360 degree orbit about the earth approximately once every 27.5 days (on average). That means if the earth were standing still, it would take the moon 27.5 days, on average, to get back into alignment where the First Crescent Sliver could be seen from the earth. However, since the earth is not stationary (but moves about the sun), it has to travel more than 360 degrees. Therefore it takes the moon two extra days (on average) before it comes back into an alignment from which the First Crescent Sliver can again be seen from the earth.
Because the moon has to travel for approximately two more days before the First Crescent Sliver can be seen from the earth again, it takes approximately 29.5 days (on average) to go from one First Crescent Sliver to the next. In practical terms, what this means is that the Hebrew month is normally either 29 or 30 days long; and that is why, on the evening ending the 29th day of the month, observers in the Land of Israel go outside just before eventide, and look for the first crescent sliver of the new moon up in the sky. If they see the First Crescent Sliver, they go and tell the Priesthood at the Temple Mount.
If the Priesthood does receive at least two verifiable sightings at the end of the 29th day, they declare (or ‘sanctify’) the New Moon. However, if the Priesthood does not receive at least two verifiable sightings at the end of the 29th day (for any reason), the new month is declared by default at the end of the 30th day. This is because, by definition, a Hebrew month cannot be more than 30 days long; and unless the First Crescent Sliver is physically sighted at the end of the 29th day, the month is assumed to be 30 days long.
The Talmud also bears witness to this. Although the Talmud is not Scripture, the Talmud does give us a historical record of the practices and beliefs the rabbis kept in the Second Temple Period (which was the time period when Yeshua lived and ministered). For example, Talmud Tractate Rosh Hashanah (‘Head of the Year’) even records the interrogation methods used by the Priesthood, and tells us the questions the priests asked of the witnesses, in order to verify whether or not they had actually seen the First Crescent Sliver.
How do they test the witnesses? The pair who arrive first are tested first. The senior of them is brought in and they say to him, “Tell us how you saw the moon, in front of the sun, or behind the sun? To the north of it, or to the south? How big was it, and in which direction was it inclined? And how broad was it?”
If he says “In front of the sun,” his evidence is rejected. After that they would bring in the second and test him. If their accounts tallied their evidence was accepted, and other pairs were only questioned briefly, not because they were required at all, but so that they should not be disappointed, [and] so that they should not be dissuaded from coming.
[Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 23b]
The reason the priesthood was able to ask the witnesses such specific questions about the moon’s appearance is that because the earth sits on its axis at an angle, the moon’s summer and winter flight paths are different. Because of this, the horns of the first crescent sliver point in different directions at different times of year. In the summer, the horns point more to the left, whereas in the winter, the horns point more upwards, as the moon lies more ‘on its back.’
The moon also appears bigger or smaller in the sky depending upon where the moon is in its orbit. If the moon is closer to the earth, the moon appears larger; and if the moon is farther away, it appears smaller. While it is possible that a malicious witness could keep track of these things well enough to fake his testimony, it is unlikely that such thing would regularly pass the Levitical interrogation.
It is important to note that in the Second Temple Period (i.e., Yeshua’s day), the New Moons were not determined by pre-calculation, but by visible sighting. This means that the Rabbinical Jewish Calendar (the so-called Hillel II Calendar) was not in use in Yeshua’s time, seeing as it bases the start of its month on complex mathematical predictions, rather than on witnesses to the First Crescent Sliver. It also shows us that calendars such as the Lunar Sabbath and Lunar Conjunction Calendars (which begin the month on the Lunar Conjunction) were not in use in Yeshua’s day, because one cannot use witnesses to sight the Lunar Conjunction (because it is invisible).
The general rule is that a month always defaults to a 30 day length unless the First Crescent Sliver of the New Moon has been physically sighted at the end of the 29th day, proving the month was shorter than the 30 day default standard. However, just to be clear, let us note that it is hypothetically possible to have a 28 day long month, or even hypothetically a month that was 27 days long.
It takes the moon an average of 27.5 days to orbit the earth, and then an average of two more days to get back into a position from where it can be seen from earth again. Suppose it is winter, it is cloudy at the time the first crescent sliver is to be sighted. When this happens, the difference between the time the first crescent sliver would have been seen, and the time the New Moon Day was declared by the thirty day default grows by half a day each month. If this happens three months in a row, the expected time until the next first crescent sliver decreases to 28 days. Should this happen five months in a row, the expected time until the next first crescent sliver decreases to only 27 days.
Thankfully, this kind of thing is very rare, as the Land of Israel is sunny all summer, and is also sunny half the winter. Because Israel is so sunny, the calendar auto-corrects itself before the discrepancy becomes very large, and the New Moon Day is almost always declared in its time.
Some scholars believe that when there are clouds, we should declare the New Moon at the end of the 29th day, if calculations tell us that the First Crescent Sliver of the New Moon would have been visible at the end of the 29th day, had there not been clouds. However, the proponents of this theory also acknowledge that in King David’s time, the New Moon Day was determined by the visible sighting of the First Crescent Sliver.
Shemuel Aleph (1st Samuel) 20:5
5 So David said to Jonathan, “Behold, tomorrow is the New Moon, and I ought to sit down to eat with the king. But let me go, that I may hide myself in the field until the third evening.”
Since the Hebrews did not use modern astronomical calculations in David’s time, the only way David could have said with certainty that the New Moon Day was “tomorrow” was if the first crescent sliver had not been seen at the end of the 29th day, thus assuring that the New Moon Day would be declared at its normal, default 30-day mark.
Finally, to be complete, we should discuss Psalm 81:3. Since scholars disagree over how to interpret this passage, we will use the Hebrew here.
|3 Blow in the New Moon Day a shofar, in the keseh on the day of our pilgrimage feast.||(3) תִּקְעוּ בַחֹדֶשׁ שׁוֹפָר | בַּכֵּסֶה לְיוֹם חַגֵּנוּ|
Scholars dispute what the keseh (כֵּסֶה) is. Strong’s Concordance defines it this way:
OT: 3677 kece’ (keh’-seh); or keceh (keh’-seh); apparently from OT:3680; properly, fullness or the full moon, i.e. its festival: KJV – (time) appointed.
When we look up the reference to OT:3680, we get a reference to something ‘plump’. This might refer to a full moon, or a moon in its fullness (which is the correct interpretation). However, we also get a reference to something that is clothed, covered, or concealed.
OT: 3680 kacah (kaw-saw’); a primitive root; properly, to plump, i.e. fill up hollows; by implication, to cover (for clothing or secrecy):
KJV – cladself, close, clothe, conceal, cover (self), (flee to) hide, overwhelm. Compare OT:3780.
One might infer that the thing which is clothed, covered or concealed is also the new moon, except that a new moon is not ‘plump’, ‘waxed fat,’ or ‘covered with flesh’, as the reference requires.
OT: 3780 kasah (kaw-saw’); a primitive root; to grow fat (i.e. be covered with flesh):
KJV – be covered. Compare OT: 3680.
It is important that we interpret this correctly, for if the word keseh means ‘new moon’, then Psalms 81:3 is the command to “blow the shofar on the new moon of our pilgrimage feast (חַג).” However, this is impossible, because there are no New Moon Days that are also pilgrimage feasts. This is because while Yom Teruah is an appointed time (מוֹעֲד), it is not a pilgrimage festival (חַג).
We should also recognize the fact that it makes no sense to think that Yahweh would use the word ‘keseh’ (כֵּסֶה) to describe the New Moon, when He just used the word Hodesh (חֹדֶשׁ) to describe it. Therefore, the word keseh (כֵּסֶה) must mean something else.
What the word keseh (כֵּסֶה) refers to is not exactly a full moon, but the moon when it is ‘plump’, and clothed with light. As we will see in later chapters, this describes the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles perfectly, as these are pilgrimage festivals, and they begin on or about the full moon, when the moon is generally ‘waxed fat,’ and ‘plump’, and is ‘clothed with light.’ Therefore, Psalms 81:3 is the command to blow the shofar on the Passover, and on the First Day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
|3 Blow in the New Moon Day a shofar, in the plump moon, on the day of our pilgrimage feast.||(3) תִּקְעוּ בַחֹדֶשׁ שׁוֹפָר | בַּכֵּסֶה לְיוֹם חַגֵּנוּ|