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Rabbi Dayan was learning the Torah portion of the week with his talmidim.

Parashas HaChodesh opens with the first mitzvah that Am Yisrael was instructed to perform as a nation, that of Kiddush HaChodesh,” he said. “Beis Din would declare Rosh Chodesh when the new crescent was sighted.”


“We have a set calendar, though,” said Reuven. “I don’t always see the new crescent on Rosh Chodesh!”

“In the past, there wasn’t a set calendar,” explained Rabbi Dayan “Witnesses would testify about the new crescent before Beis Din HaGadol, who would declare Rosh Chodesh based on their testimony. This continued until almost 300 years after the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash, when a set calendar was instituted by Hillel II, about 359 C.E.”

“Why would people bother to go and testify?” asked Aharon. “Some people would have to travel far by foot or animal. It’s not like they could hop into a car…”

“It was a great privilege to testify about the new moon!” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The whole Jewish nation set their calendars and holidays based on the words of the witnesses. It was even permissible to come on Shabbos from afar to testify. To encourage people to come and testify, Beis Din would provide lavish meals while the witnesses waited” (R.H. 23b).

“Sounds like fun!” Simcha commented.

“Testimony is a serious matter,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The testimony of the witnesses established the Jewish calendar; it could even lead to lashes or capital punishment in the past, and still determines monetary liability!”

“Then testifying must be scary,” said Yehuda.

“Obviously, I haven’t observed testimony about the new moon,” said Rabbi Dayan, “but I have accepted witnesses in monetary cases. It requires responsibility but is not scary. Furthermore, in monetary cases,” Rabbi Dayan added, “a valid witness who knows testimony and is requested by the litigant to testify is obligated to do so” (C.M. 28:1).

“Tell us,” said Yehoshua: “How is testimony accepted in Beis Din? Is it similar to accepting testimony about the new moon?”

“The Mishna (R.H. 23b) describes the procedure for accepting testimony about the new moon. A parallel Mishna (Sanhedrin 29a) describes the procedure for accepting monetary testimony. The basic procedure in both is similar.

“However, the Mishna in Sanhedrin requires that the witness first be warned about the significance of testimony and the severity of perjury (C.M. 28:7). This is not mentioned in Rosh Hashanah, perhaps so as not to discourage people from testifying, and because sometimes there were calendric considerations” (R.H. 20a; Rambam, Kiddush HaChodesh 3:15, 18).

“Each witness is then called in separately to testify, after which he is examined to verify the details of his testimony, what exactly he saw or heard. Of the two witnesses, the greater one is called in first, out of respect” (C.M. 28:8).

“The second witness is then called in alone, and similarly examined (C.M. 28:9). If the two testimonies are found to be similar and corroborate each other, Beis Din deliberates the case and issues the ruling.

“Regarding the testimony of the new moon, Beis Din would also make use of their scientific knowledge and disqualify testimony that they knew not scientifically possible, e.g., that the inside of the crescent faced the sun (R.H. 23b). Furthermore, slight discrepancies in estimated measurements, e.g., the perceived height of the new moon, within reasonable range of human error, did not constitute contradiction” (R.H. 24a).

“Conversely, Tur (C.M. 28) cites from the Yerushalmi that if the witnesses testify with the same wording, their testimony is suspect and needs to be examined carefully,” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “The shared wording raises concern that they planned and/or rehearsed their testimony, and it may be false. For this reason, our Sages also required that each witness state his own testimony; he cannot say, ‘I saw the same as he'” (C.M. 29:10; Sma 28:41).

Verdict: The basic procedure for accepting testimony is: warning about the severity of perjury; hearing testimony of each witness separately; and examination of the details of his testimony.


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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to [email protected]. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail [email protected].