1) HALACHAH: NISAN -- THE FIRST MONTH
QUESTION: The Beraisa says that Nisan is the Rosh Hashanah "for months." What practical difference does this make?
ANSWER: The RASHBA explains that the intent of the Beraisa is teach what the Torah means whenever it mentions the "first month," the "second month," and so on. Not only does this information enable one to know when events mentioned in the Torah occurred, it also has practical ramifications:
1. When the Torah says that a festival must be observed in the "first month" or in the "seventh month," one now knows exactly when the festival must be observed. (RASHBA)
2. The MITZPEH EISAN adds that in a place where no one refers to months by their numbers, one who pledges to do something in the "third month" refers to Sivan. The laws of Nedarim teach that when a person uses an ambiguous phrase which has no commonly-accepted meaning (based on normal usage of language), one should follow the meaning of the Torah's usage of that phrase (as Tosfos says in Pesachim 2a, DH ha'Noder, and in other places).
3. On the verse "ha'Chodesh ha'Zeh Lachem Rosh Chodashim" (Shemos 12:2), the RAMBAN explains that the commandment to remember Yetzi'as Mitzrayim is fulfilled when one counts the months from Nisan, the month in which the Jews left Mitzrayim. This is similar to one who counts the days of the week from Shabbos, who thereby fulfills the Mitzvas Aseh to remember Shabbos. (See the following Insight with regard to counting the number of the secular month.)
The RITVA, in support of the Ramban, quotes the Mechilta (end of Parshas Bo, Parshah 1) and the Targum Yonasan (Melachim I 8:2) who write that Tishrei was called the first month during the time of Adam ha'Rishon. Only later, at the time of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim, did Nisan acquire the title of "the first month."
The Ramban adds that the names commonly used for the months (Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, etc.) originated only after the Jews returned from Bavel. Before that time, months were referred to by their numbers. The Ramban suggests that the Babylonian names of months were adopted in commemoration of the redemption from the exile of Bavel (just as the months are numbered from the month in which Hash-m redeemed the Jews from Mitzrayim). The mention of the month's Babylonian name reminds a person of Hash-m's kindness when He saved the Jews from Bavel. (This approach is in accordance with the Gemara in Berachos (13a) which says that one must thank Hash-m for every redemption and not just for the first or most recent one.)
2) HALACHAH: SECULAR MONTHS
QUESTION: The Beraisa says that Nisan is the Rosh Hashanah "for months." The Gemara implies that one should refer to the months by their number in reference to the month of Nisan.
Is one permitted to use the secular names of months?
There are two other reasons to prohibit the use of secular names of months:
(a) The MAHARAM SHIK (#117) writes that one should not use the secular names of the months, and one certainly should avoid the non-Jewish system used to count the months (with January as the first month). This is based on the Mitzvas Aseh to count the months from Nisan in order to always remember Yetzi'as Mitzrayim (RAMBAN, Shemos 12:1; see previous Insight).
Additionally, the names of the months (and the days of the week; see Insights to Shabbos 129:3
) are based on names of gods that were used in idol-worship.
Is there any basis to permit one to refer to a month by its secular name or by its number?
(a) As mentioned above (see previous Insight), the RAMBAN explains that the names commonly used for the months (Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, etc.) originated only after the Jews returned from Bavel. The Ramban suggests that the Babylonian names of months were adopted in commemoration of the redemption from the exile of Bavel (just as the months are numbered from the month in which Hash-m redeemed the Jews from Mitzrayim). The mention of the month's Babylonian name reminds a person of Hash-m's kindness when He saved the Jews from Bavel.
The SEFER HA'IKARIM (3:16) understands the Ramban's words as follows. The exile to Bavel effectively brought to an end the 890 years of autonomy that the Jews had enjoyed as a result of the redemption from Mitzrayim. Therefore, there was no longer a necessity to count the months from Nisan to recall the redemption from Egypt (see also CHASAM SOFER, Teshuvos CM 1, DH Nachzir).
However, the PERUSH HA'KOSEV in the Ein Yakov to Megilah (3a) strongly opposes this view. He explains that although the Jews who left Bavel added names to the months, they did not stop using the numbering system; they continued to count the months from Nisan. Although one is permitted to refer to each month by its name, one who refers to the months by number must use Nisan as the first month. This opinion is supported by the GET PASHUT (127:35), MINCHAS CHINUCH (311:3), and RAV OVADIAH YOSEF shlit'a (in YABIA OMER 6:9:4). (It is interesting to note that even the Perush ha'Kosev may agree that, in practice, the Sefer ha'Ikarim's conclusion is correct, because once the months were named it was almost unheard of for anyone to refer to a month by its number. See TESHUVOS V'HANHAGOS 1:830.)
Rav Ovadiah Yosef concludes that one should not refer to the months by the secular numbering system (referring to January as "1"). (It should be noted that the months of September, October, November, and December are named according to their numbers ("septem" means seven, "octo" is eight, "novem" is nine, and "decem" means ten). However, these implied numbers are not in reference to January, as September is the ninth month from January and not the seventh, and October is the tenth month and not the eighth, and so on. Rather, the months of September through December refer to the count of months starting from March, which was the month at which the ancient Roman year commenced. Two months were added to the Roman calendar after the original calendar was established. In fact, the numbers represented by the names of the months from September to December conform to the count of months from the time of the year which usually corresponds to Nisan. For example, October, or "the eighth month," usually corresponds to the month of Cheshvan, which is the eighth month from Nisan.)
RAV MOSHE STERNBUCH shlit'a (Teshuvos v'Hanhagos 1:830) takes issue with Rav Ovadiah's ruling. He argues that the Mitzvah to count the months from Nisan has no bearing on the months of the solar year; it is only applicable to the months of the lunar year. Accordingly, one is permitted to use the secular numbering system. (Rav Sternbuch cites support for his words from the practice of the Brisker Rav and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik.)
(b) With regard to the mention of the names of idols, since these idols are no longer known or worshipped in the civilized world one should not be prohibited from mentioning their names, especially since one has no intention to refer to the idols when he says the name of the month.
(See Insights to Shabbos 129:3
for a comprehensive discussion with regard to referring to the days of the week by their secular names and to years and hours according to the secular count.)
3) AN ODD ORDER OF VERSES
QUESTION: The Gemara cites numerous verses to prove that Nisan is the first of the months. The first and third verses are from Zecharyah, while the second, fourth, and fifth are from Esther. Why does the Gemara quote the verses in such an odd order?
ANSWER: The ARUCH LA'NER explains that it is logical for the Gemara to start from Zecharyah (which is in Nevi'im) before Esther (which is in Kesuvim), because the books of Nevi'im come before Kesuvim.
The Gemara quotes Zecharyah 1:7 first, because it is the earliest of the verses cited from Zecharyah.
The month mentioned in that verse is the eleventh (Shevat). Since Shevat is the second to last month, the Gemara proceeds to cite the rest of the verses in descending order of months. Hence, the next verse the Gemara quotes mentions the tenth month (Teves), the third verse mentions the ninth month (Kislev), the fourth verse mentions the third month (Sivan). The fifth verse mentions the twelfth month (Adar), which, starting from the eleventh month (the month in the first verse quoted by the Gemara) is the last month in the order. The Gemara's final proof is from a verse which mentions the first month, Nisan. This verse is mentioned last because the Gemara is going to reject it. Since it is a weaker proof than the others, it is mentioned last.
4) HAMAN'S FIRST MONTH
QUESTION: Of the numerous verses cited to prove that Nisan is the first month of the year, the final proof is from the verse in the book of Esther which describes Haman's drawing of lots in "the first month which is Nisan." The Gemara says that this is not an absolute proof because perhaps the verse means only that Nisan is the first month from the time at which Haman started to hate the Jews.
The other verses from Esther also detail the chronology of the acts of Haman. Perhaps the verse which refers to Adar as the twelfth month, and the verse which refers to Sivan as the third month, also count the months from the time at which Haman started to hate the Jews. Why does the Gemara not reject those proofs as well? (MAHARSHA)
(a) The RASHASH answers that the book of Esther would count the months from the time at which Haman started to hate the Jews only if doing so would teach something new. The verse which says that Haman drew lots in the first month (Nisan) teaches that Haman was very quick to act on his hate for the Jews. The other verses, however, teach nothing new if they refer to the time at which Haman started to hate the Jews. Therefore, they must refer to the first month of the year.
(b) In a similar vein, the RITVA and TOSFOS HA'ROSH answer that in order to publicize when Haman's hatred of the Jews began, the verse mentions that the month of Nisan was the first month after Haman started to hate the Jews. Subsequently, there is no necessity in the other verses to count the number of months from that time. Rather, those verses mention the number of months based on the order of months of the year, with Nisan as the first.