January 2, 2022

Rosh Hashanah 20

The sole focus of our daf today (Rosh Hashanah 20a-b) are the laws pertaining to Rosh Chodesh and the various factors that would lead the Sanhedrin to add an extra day to a month.
According to Rabbah bar Shmuel, the new moon should be sanctified when seen, and any other manipulations of the fixing of the month – such as the adding of an extra day to a month – should only be done for the sake of the overall integrity of the Jewish calendar, and not for the sake of specific needs of the people.
However, according to Ulla, an extra day may be added out of consideration specific needs of the people. And what is meant by specific needs? Vegetables, and the dead. As the Gemara explains, if there were no break between Shabbat and Yom Tov (eg. if Yom Tov fell on Motzei Shabbat/Sunday), then the vegetables to be eaten on Shabbat and Yom Tov would need to be picked no later than Friday, and (in the pre-refrigeration days) by the time it was Yom Tov, they would have wilted. And in the same situation, if someone died on Friday, were there to be no break between Shabbat and Yom Tov, they would not be able to be buried until after Yom Tov – by which time the body would have started to decompose.
Though, on first glance, Ulla’s argument is compelling, the approach of Rabbah bar Shmuel seems to have been the preferred option of the Sages. Still, concern for ‘vegetables and the dead’ did feature in the decisions of the Sanhedrin, though this was not the exclusive factor as to why they added an extra day to a month. But why is this so?
I believe that the reason for this is that were the calendar to regularly be moved – as would likely occur if one were to rule according to Ulla’s reasoning – there would be those who would present further reasons why the calendar needed to be moved, and as our Sages say, אין לדבר סוף (there would be no end to it). Moreover, having explicit public policy considerations relating to the possibility of a lack of fresh produce and decomposing bodies is very bad for public confidence and morale.
So what did our Sages do? They made sure that such concerns played a role in their decisions, but also made sure that they were subsumed into a broader policy of making calendrical decisions based on concerns for the overall integrity of the Jewish calendar. In doing so, they responded to those concerns, without unnecessary agitating or unsettling the people.
What this suggests is that there are times when specific concerns need to be directly and explicitly addressed, and other times when those same concerns can be addressed but with greatly subtlety whereby attention is not drawn to them, and just as I believe that this is what took place here with respect to calendrical decisions, I also think that this occurs in numerous other areas of Jewish law – where certain decisions seemingly taken for specific reasons are also made with a sensitivity and consideration for other reasons as well.
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