1) RETROACTIVE "KIDUSH HA'CHODESH"
QUESTIONS: The Mishnah states that witnesses may desecrate Shabbos in order to travel to Beis Din to testify that they saw the new moon. However, they may desecrate Shabbos only if they will reach Beis Din on the day which needs to be declared as the new month (that is, the day that, without their testimony, would be the thirtieth day of the previous month). If they will arrive only on the following day, their testimony is of no benefit since the month will have already been declared to be Me'ubar.
(a) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Kidush ha'Chodesh 3:15-17) writes that even when witnesses arrive after Beis Din declares the month Me'ubar (and Rosh Chodesh is the day after the witnesses saw the moon), if they arrive at the end of the first day of the new month their testimony (that they saw the new moon a day earlier) is accepted; Beis Din is Mekadesh the month retroactively and establishes Rosh Chodesh on the thirtieth day of the preceding month instead of the thirty-first day, as it was previously established.
According to the Rambam's ruling, why does the Mishnah say that witnesses who will not reach Beis Din within a day of seeing the new moon may not desecrate Shabbos? The Rambam maintains that Beis Din may declare the new month retroactively, and thus the witnesses should be permitted to travel to Beis Din on Shabbos since their testimony will be useful.
(b) Another difficulty with the Rambam's opinion is the Mishnah later (25b) which states that if Beis Din or all of the people saw the new moon in its time but there was not enough time to be Mekadesh the new month before nightfall, the month is Me'ubar. According to the Rambam, why should it be Me'ubar? The Beis Din should simply be Mekadesh the previous day as the new month retroactively.
(c) Moreover, the Rambam seems to contradict his own ruling. He writes (Hilchos Kidush ha'Chodesh 3:1) that if witnesses saw the new moon but realized that they will not reach Beis Din in time (before nightfall of the thirtieth day), they should not bother going at all (even if they will not need to desecrate Shabbos) because their testimony will be of no benefit since Beis Din will have already made the month Me'ubar. According to the Rambam's other ruling, however, the witnesses should be required to go to Beis Din because Beis Din can be Mekadesh the new month retroactively. (RITVA here and 25b)
(a) The LECHEM MISHNEH (3:1) answers all three questions by asserting that even the Rambam agrees that, mid'Oraisa, Kidush ha'Chodesh cannot be done retroactively but only on the actual day declared as the new month. Furthermore, mid'Oraisa there is no need to be Mekadesh the month retroactively even if Beis Din made a mistake, because the authority of Beis Din in establishing the new month is absolute; Beis Din's decision is binding even if Beis Din errs accidentally, advertently, or because of lack of knowledge (25a). What, then, does the Rambam mean when he says that if witnesses come later, Beis Din is Mekadesh the month retroactively?
The Rambam maintains that in a case in which witnesses come later and say that they saw the new moon (so that the preceding month should have been made Mechusar and not Me'ubar), the Rabanan enacted that Beis Din should accept their testimony in order to prevent people from mocking the rulings of Beis Din, saying that their calculations of the calendar are inaccurate. Since there is no reason to correct Beis Din's Kidush ha'Chodesh other than to prevent mockery of Beis Din, the witnesses who come later may not desecrate Shabbos in order to come. In addition, if witnesses see the new moon but realize that they will not be able to reach Beis Din in time, there is no reason for them to travel since Beis Din's declaration (even if incorrect) is perfectly valid. (The Rabanan have the power to rearrange the calendar even retroactively due to the above-mentioned rule (25a) that whatever day they declare to be the new month is Halachically the new month.)
The MINCHAS CHINUCH (4) questions the Lechem Mishneh's answer. The Rambam (Hilchos Kidush ha'Chodesh 3:18) writes that if witnesses come to Beis Din between Yom Kippur and before Sukos and say that they saw the new moon in its proper time (and thus the preceding month, Elul, should have been Mechusar), Beis Din accepts their testimony and establishes the new month to have occurred one day earlier. Consequently, the first day of Sukos occurs one day earlier. How can Beis Din change the day of the new month retroactively (by nearly two weeks) and cause all of the Korbanos that were offered for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to have been offered on the wrong days? The Mishnah (30b) says that Beis Din enacted a decree not to accept witnesses who arrive after Minchah time, which clearly shows that Beis Din does everything it can in order to prevent Korbanos from being offered on the wrong day.
(b) The MINCHAS CHINUCH explains that, mid'Oraisa, certainly the testimony of witnesses is accepted retroactively. However, the rule that the day of the new month is sanctified even when Beis Din sanctified it in error applies even when Beis Din already pronounced one day as the new month and later pronounces a different day. The new day which they declare becomes the beginning of the month with regard to all matters from now on, while until now the new month is considered to have been the original date. For the rest of the month, the day of the month is counted from the new declaration. Their declaration is said to be effective "mi'Kan ul'Haba l'Mafrei'a."
Regarding the Mishnah which implies that there is no retroactive Kidush ha'Chodesh, the Minchas Chinuch explains that the only reason the day of the new month is declared based on the testimony of witnesses is because of a Mitzvah to be Mekadesh the new month based on the testimony of witnesses (20a). The Rambam understands that this Mitzvah applies only on the day of the new moon. After that day, there is no Mitzvah to be Mekadesh the new month based on witnesses. Consequently, even though Beis Din may re-establish the day of the new month retroactively, by doing so they uproot the fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Kidush ha'Chodesh based on witnesses.
2) AGADAH: THE HIRED WITNESS
OPINIONS: The Gemara quotes the Tosefta which relates that the Baisusim paid two people 200 Zuz each to give false testimony in Beis Din that they saw the new moon. One of the hired witnesses decided to reveal the plot during his testimony. As part of his testimony before Beis Din, he gave a very strange description of the moon that he saw. He told Beis Din that when he ascended Ma'aleh Adumim he saw the new moon crouching between two rocks. Its head was like that of a calf and its ears were like those of a goat. Its horns were like those of a gazelle and its tail was between its legs. He said he fainted when he saw it, and that if Beis Din does not believe him he has a bundle of 200 Zuz in his pocket to prove it.
What is the meaning of these metaphors?
(a) The AKEIDAH (#67) explains that "Ma'aleh Adumim" refers to the sovereignty of the nation of Edom, the controlling power in Eretz Yisrael at the time this incident occurred. He meant to say that the reason the Baisusim are able to plot against the Jews is because the Chachamim's authority is so weakened due to the troubles that the Jews face as a result of the tyrannical rulers.
The moon is a symbol of the Jewish people. When the witness said that he saw the moon between two mountains, he meant that the Jews in Eretz Yisrael were under Roman rule and the Jews outside of Eretz Yisrael were under the rule of the Yishmaelim (or Parsiyim).
"Its head was like that of a calf" refers to the sin of the Golden Calf, the repercussions of which still weaken the power of the leaders of the Jewish people.
"Its horns were like those of a gazelle" refers to the pride ("Keren") of the Jewish people. The gazelle sheds its horns every year, an allusion to the pride of the Jewish people which has fallen.
"Its tail was between its legs" indicates that the Jewish people walk among the nations like a frightened, vulnerable animal.
The witness said, "If you do not believe me" -- that the Baisusim are trying to fool you -- "I have a bundle of 200 Zuz in my pocket." If you do not believe that I was hired to fabricate testimony but instead you accept my testimony about the new moon, I will have fulfilled the task for which I was hired and I will have earned 200 Zuz from the Baisusim.
(b) The MAHARSHA says that the witness was bemoaning the fact that Beis Din no longer is able to be Mekadesh the new month properly because of all the people who try to impede it. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (14a) says that the Romans passed a decree which prohibited Semichah, ordination, and they declared that anyone who receives Semichah will be put to death and the nearest city will be destroyed. The Gemara relates that Rebbi Yehudah ben Bava "went between two great mountains and two great cities," so that if the Romans caught him giving Semichah to his students they would not know which city to destroy and thus they would destroy neither. He gave Semichah to five Talmidim.
It is to this incident that the witness here alludes. He saw the moon between two mountains, a reference to the fate of Kidush ha'Chodesh which depended on the heroic act which Rebbi Yehudah ben Bava did between two mountains (he granted Semichah). Without Semichah, the members of Beis Din cannot perform Kidush ha'Chodesh.
"Its head was like that of a calf" refers to the leader of the Jewish people, Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai. The Gemara in Pesachim (112a) says that Rebbi Akiva was unwilling to give Semichah to Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai because of the Roman decree. In his attempt to persuade Rebbi Akiva to give him Semichah, Rebbi Shimon compared himself to a young calf that is unable to nurse from its mother. The witness said that "the head [of the Jewish people] is like a calf" who wanted to eat but was unable to and did not receive Semichah from Rebbi Akiva.
"Its ears were like that of a kid" means that those who wish to hear words of Torah and to receive Semichah are unable to do so, and thus they are forced to remain like a young goat, unable to mature by learning Torah from their teachers or to receive Semichah from them. The witness expressed the forlorn state of Kidush ha'Chodesh and his unwillingness to falsely testify.
(c) The MAHARSHAM cites in the name of the VILNA GA'ON (Aliyos Eliyahu 13b) that "its ears were like those of a kid" means as follows. A goat's ears are doubled over and closed (see Mishnah, Bechoros 40b). The crouching moon refers to the Baisusim who wanted the moon to appear in the sky in a place where it did not exist. Accordingly, the ears of this imaginary moon "were like those of a kid," which means that the Baisusim have ears like a goat which are doubled over and closed in their refusal to listen to the Chachamim.
Based on this approach, it may be suggested that the witness' statement that the moon was crouching between two rocks is an allusion to the Gemara in Berachos (61a) which says that the Yetzer ha'Ra is like a fly that sits "between the two valves of the heart," and to the Gemara there (32a) which likens a heart influenced by the Yetzer ha'Ra to a "heart of stone." The Baisusim are dominated by their Yetzer ha'Ra which crouches between the two sides of the heart, and thus their heart is like stone.
The way they scorn the leadership of the Chachamim resembles the way the people built the Golden Calf, when they insisted on building it against the word of the true leaders.
"Its ears were like those of a gazelle" means that one who trusts them is considered as though he places his money on the horn of a gazelle, as the Gemara in Kesuvos (107b) mentions. The animal will certainly run away and take all of the money with it.
"Its tail was between its legs" symbolizes the fear of the Baisusim of being caught by the Chachamim.
(See also CHASAM SOFER, who offers another approach to this Agadah.)