A couple of days ago, I said this episode would deal with considered selection of wires and strings – that is to say, how we assess what parts of our halakhic lives are (or should be) immovable, and which parts are more easily adjusted. But then I thought about some stuff, and actually I want to come at that idea via another route.
Mishnah, Rosh haShana, 4:4
Context: the Temple staff have been counting the days and watching the moon, and they know Rosh haShana is due. But they can’t actually get on with the official business of Rosh haShana until they’ve taken official testimony that the new moon has appeared. So they observe Yom Tov just-in-case, and when witnesses turn up, they can make it official. Okay? Onward.
|Originally, they used to accept testimony about the new moon all day
||בראשונה, היו מקבלין עדות החודש כל היום
|One time, the witnesses took their time about turning up, and the Priestly Song was messed up [the witnesses arrived too late in the day for them to make it Rosh haShana].
|| פעם אחת נשתהו העדים מלבוא, ונתקלקלו הלויים בשיר
|So they made an enactment: they would only accept testimony about the new month until mincha-time [roughly mid-afternoon].
||התקינו שלא יהו מקבלין עדות החודש, אלא עד המנחה
|And if witnesses came at or after mincha-time, [that was too bad;] they kept that day as holy [see above; they had kept the day as holy just in case, but it turned out to be not-needed], and the next day was also holy [i.e. the official Rosh haShana, from which they would start to count the calendar and so on].
||ואם באו עדים מן המנחה ולמעלן, נוהגים אותו היום קדש ולמחר קדש
|After the Temple was destroyed
||משחרב בית המקדש
|Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai made an enactment: they would accept testimony about the new moon all day.
||התקין רבן יוחנן בן זכאי, שיהו מקבלין עדות החודש כל היום
I like these Temple examples, by the way, because the taking-away of the Temple was rather like removing a pin from a string-diagram – sudden, and relatively clean-cut.
So, how can we represent this mishnah within the metaphor we’ve been developing? And is that useful?
Originally, they used to accept testimony about the new moon all day
which triggered the Priestly Song, which is sort of the trigger for its being properly Rosh haShana.
One time, the witnesses took their time about turning up, and the Priestly Song was messed up
and that messed up the accounting of the days – they didn’t know if it was Rosh haShana or not, so they didn’t know which sacrifices to do, and everything went Horribly Wrong.
But Rosh haShana needs to be a stable point. Not a wire, exactly, but wire-like in its stability. So they made an enactment which would protect it, thus:
they would only accept testimony about the new month until mincha-time, and if witnesses came at or after mincha-time, they kept that day as holy, and the next day was also holy.
Something like this diagram.
And if you look at it from a bit of a distance, it’s basically the same as it was before, see? But it’s been adjusted to protect Rosh haShana, in that now there will always be time to do the Priestly Song.
This is kind of a big deal, since it affects what day Rosh haShana is
. The SAME DATA now gives a DIFFERENT RESULT. But we decide to accept a bit of variation in the possibility of when exactly Rosh haShana officially is, so as to ensure that the Priestly Song never gets messed up.
And indeed the rabbis found this kind of disturbing. Once the Priestly Song was no longer a consideration, because there was no Temple Service, rabbinic Judaism found other ways of expressing “Today is officially Rosh haShana” – and a safeguard for the Priestly Song was no longer needed.
So they accepted testimony all day again: After the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai made an enactment: they would accept testimony about the new moon all day.
(Pin graphic from Just Mousing Around.)
So is this a useful way of looking at the mishnah? Yes, in a limited fashion. I don’t want us to fall into the trap of trying to map out the huge enormous complicated string diagram that would be the entirety of halakha, with its variations for different points in history. I don’t think that would be useful (or feasible). I also don’t think one should generally try to conceive of mishnayot in such terms; this exercise is intended only as a way to see how mishnayot such as the one above fit into the metaphor we’ve been developing, not as a general method of Mishnah-learning.
The useful thing I think we get here is seeing how our texts treat some things as hugely important – not messing up the Priestly Song on Rosh haShana – and other things as less important – being precise about which day exactly the new moon actually was – and how that affects the relationships between other data points in the halakhic universe. Some pins-and-strings we are okay moving; some pins-and-strings we are not okay moving, and the question of which is dependent on the broader circumstances.
Mirrored from hasoferet.com.