Eighteen Treatises from the Mishna, by D. A. Sola and M. J. Raphall, , at sacred-texts.com
§ 1. If a witness was unknown, others were sent with him to testify concerning his character. Formerly, evidence as to the appearance of the new moon was received from any one; but when the heretics corrupted [the witnesses], 1 it was ordained, that evidence should be received only of those whose good character was well known.
§ 2. Formerly fires were lighted on the tops of the mountains [to announce the appearance of the new moon]; but when the Samaritans led the nation into error, 2 it was ordained that messengers should be sent out.
§ 3. In what manner were these mountain fires lighted? They brought long staves of cedar wood, canes, and sticks [or branches] of the olive tree, also the coarse threads, or refuse of flax, which were tied on the top of them with twine; with these they went to the top of the mountain, and lighted them; and kept waving them to and fro, upward and downward, till they could perceive the same repeated by another person on the next mountain, and thus on the third mountain, &c.
§ 4. Whence did these mountain fires commence? From the Mount of Olives to Sartaba, 3 from Sartaba to Grophinah, from Grophinah to Hoveran, from Hoveran to Beth Baltin; they did not cease to wave the flaming brands at Beth Baltin to and fro, upward and downward, until the whole country of the captivity 4 appeared like a blazing fire. 5
§ 5. There was a large court in Jerusalem called Beth Yangzek, where all the witnesses met, and where they were examined by the Beth Din. Great feasts [or treats] were made for them there, in order to induce them to come often. At first they did not stir from
that place all day [on the Sabbath], 6 till the elder Rabbon Gamaliel ordained that they might go 2000 cubits [amoth] on every side; 7 and not only these, but also the midwife, going to give her professional assistance, and those who proceed to another . place to assist the inhabitants in case of fire, attack of enemies, inundation, or to save people from under the ruins of fallen buildings, are considered as inhabitants of that place, and may go from thence [on the Sabbath] two thousand [amoth] cubits on every side.
§ 6. In what manner was the examination of the witnesses conducted? The first pair were always examined first. The eldest of them being introduced first, the following questions were put to him: "Tell us in what form you saw the moon; was it with her horns turned towards the sun, or away from it? To the north or to the south [of the sun]? What was her elevation on the horizon? Towards which side was her inclination? What was the width of her disk?" If he said towards the sun, his evidence went for nothing. The second witness was then brought in, and examined; if the evidence was found to agree, their testimony was received as valid. The remaining pairs of witnesses were then superficially examined, not because there was any necessity for their evidence, but only not to disappoint them, 8 and also to encourage them to come another time.
§ 7. The chief of the tribunal [בית דין] then said, the feast of the new moon is mekoodash [consecrated]; and all the people said after him, "Mekoodash, mekoodash." Whether the new moon had been seen at the proper time or not it was consecrated. R. Eleazar, son of Zadok, said, "If it had not been seen at its proper time, it was not consecrated, because it had already been consecrated in heaven."
§ 8. Rabbon Gamaliel had, on a tablet, and on the walls of his room, various delineations of the figure and aspect of the moon, which he shewed to ignorant witnesses, asking them, "Was it of this figure, or of that?" It happened once, that two witnesses came and said, "We saw the moon in the eastern part of the heavens in the morning, and in the western part in the evening." R. Johanan ben Nourri declared them to be false witnesses; but when they came to
[paragraph continues] Jamnia [יבנה], Rabbon Gamaliel received their evidence as valid. Two other witnesses came and said, "We saw the moon on its proper day, 9 but could not see it on the next evening of the intercalary day;" 10 and R. Gamaliel received them: when R. Dosah, son of Arkenaz, said, "They are false witnesses; for how can they testify of a woman being delivered [on a certain day], when, on the next day, she appears yet with every sign of pregnancy?" 11 Then R. Joshua said unto him, "I approve your opinion."
§ 9. Upon this Rabbon Gamaliel sent him [R. Joshua] word, saving, "I order you 12 to appear before me on the day of Atonement, according to your computation, with your staff and [purse of] money in your hand." 13 R. Akivah went to him [R. Joshua], and found him grieving, he said then to him, "I can prove that all Rabbon Gamaliel has done is [well] done, for it is said, 'These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which ye shall proclaim,' either at their proper time, or not at their proper time, their convocations are to be considered as holy festivals." When he [R. Joshua] came to R. Dosah ben Arkenaz, the latter told him, "If we are to reinvestigate the decisions of the tribunal of Rabbon Gamaliel, we must also reinvestigate the decisions of all the tribunals of justice which have existed from the time of Moses till the present day; for it is said, (Exod. xxiv. 2), 'Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders went up [to the Mount].' Why were not the names of the elders also specified? To inform us, that every three men in Israel that form בית דין [tribunal of justice] are to be respected in an equal degree with the tribunal of Moses." Then did R. Joshua take his staff and money, and went to Jamnia, to Rabbon Gamaliel, on the
very day on which the Atonement would have been, according to his computation; when Rabbon Gamaliel arose, and kissed him on his [fore] head, saying, "Enter in peace, my master and disciple! My master—in knowledge; and my disciple—since thou didst obey my injunction."
159:1 Bribing them to give false evidence to mislead the Sanhedrin.
159:2 By their lighting these firebrands or beacons on the mountains at wrong times, to make a mockery of, or to mislead, the Jews.
159:3 This and the following are the names of the various mountain stations.
159:5 As every Jew used to go on his roof waving a blazing torch.
160:6 If they arrived on that day, when, according to law, they could only go four "amoth."
160:7 See Treatise Erubin, chap. IV.
160:8 As it would afflict them to be sent away without being examined by the Beth Din, and to have taken their journey in vain.
161:9 On the night of the thirtieth day of the month.
161:10 The thirty-first day since the first of last month, and the second or intercalary day of the feast of the new moon.
161:11 In the original, "with her belly up to her teeth."
161:12 Rabbon Gamaliel was prince of the Captivity, and chief of the Sanhedrin.
161:13 It is unlawful to carry a purse on the day of Atonement; but, according to the computation of R. Joshua, the day of Atonement would be a day too late; for, as he rejected the evidence of the witnesses because they assigned [in his opinion] too short a time for the appearance of the moon after its conjunction with the sun, he would be obliged to add an intercalary day, which would cause the day of Atonement to happen a day later than its proper day; as Rabbon Gamaliel knew, from astronomical observations, that the period between the conjunction and appearance of the moon occurs sooner at one time than at another; and that, therefore, the evidence of the witnesses might he true, and ought not to be rejected.