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Rosh Hashanah 019: Elul Chaser or Malei

Daniel asks:


I'm stuck on a few concept.

What does it mean that rov years Elul is chasar? Or that it's never
been me'ubar since the days of Ezra (19b) In a lunar year, some
months must be maleh and some chasar, and if we're mikadesh thru
ri'ya, wouldn't it sometimes come out that it's maleh?

Also, how is it possible that in hundreds of years, there was never a
need to make Elul maleh for concerns on 20a of vegetables and corpses?

Daniel, Columbus, OH USA
The Kollel replies:

1. The Chazon Ish (OC 141:7 DH v'Ha) writes that the reason why most
years Elul was not 30 days is that it was common that the two months
that follow Tishrei (Cheshvan and Kislev) were full months of 30
days. This is because Cheshvan and Kislev are the time of the early
rains, the "Yoreh" (as we mention twice daily in the second paragraph
of the Shema, in Devarim 11:14), and as a result of the clouds it was
often difficult for the witnesses to see the moon on time so an extra
day was added to the month. Similarly, Nisan is the time of
"Malkosh," the late rains, and again because of the clouds it usually
was a 30-day month. Then, in the summer, since the days in Tammuz and
Av are very long and the nights are short it was hard for the
witnesses to see the new moon immediately after it first appeared,
and consequently Tammuz and Av usually contained 30 days. In
contrast, the beginning of Tishrei is not usually cloudy, nor are the
days long. Since there was a build-up of full months before Tishrei
it followed that the new moon of Tishrei appeared early which is why
Elul was usually only 29 days long.

2. Rashi in Sanhedrin (13a, DH Chag) writes that the months
preceeding Elul were arranged by the Sanhedrin so that Rosh Hashanah
should not fall on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday ("Lo AD'U Rosh"), and
they established the calendar in such a way that it would not be
necessary to make Elul 30 days.

In order to understand this better, I am going to give some
background for the way that Kidush ha'Chodesh works:

3. The Rashba (Teshuvos 4:254) writes that even in the times when
Beis Din was empowered to establish Rosh Chodesh according to the
testimony of witnesses who saw the new moon, the chief method of
determining Rosh Chodesh was still the astronomical calculations that
Chazal were capable of making in order to know when the new moon
would appear. While it was a Mitzvah for the witnesses to testify
that they saw the new moon, the calculations were nevertheless more

4. The Rashba proves this from Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (20a) which
states that if the month needed to 30 days long, but witnesses
already saw the new moon on day 30, Beis Din "coerces" them (see
Insights there) to remain quiet in order not to have to make the
month a 29-day month. The Gemara there says that on occasion, even
when the witnesses had not seen the moon they were told to say that
they had seen it. The Rashba writes that the reason this policy was
adopted was that Chazal knew, according to the calculations, when the
new moon really would occur, and the witnesses were necessary only in
order to fulifil the Mitzvah of sanctifying the moon by sight. The
Rashba also cites Shmuel (Rosh Hashana 20b) who says that he was
capable of fixing the calendar for all of Bavel based on his
astronomical knowledge, without relying on witnessses.

5. The Kuzari (2:64) also relates how Chazal were expert in astronomy
long before the fixed calendar alone was used. The Kuzari writes that
there was a tradition received from the house of David ha'Melech
concerning the amount of time between one month and the next, which
has been passed on for thousands of years. The commentary Kol Yehudah
on the Kuzari writes that through the influence of David ha'Melech,
researchers from the sages of Yisrael were commissioned to study the
calendar and they determined through their research and their
competent instrumentation exactly when the "Molad" would occur. 

6. We see that the months were arranged in advance so that Rosh
Hashanah would not fall on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday. Since the
principle part of establishing the new month was done by the calendar
and not by the witnesses, as the Rashba writes, we can now appreciate
better how Chazal were able to organize the calendar in advance so
that Rosh Hashanah would be on the desired day of the week. 

Kol Tuv,
Dovid Bloom

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