Overriding Shabbat for Kiddush HaChodesh

Rosh Hashanah (1:9) | Yisrael Bankier | 10 years ago

The Mishnah (1:4) teaches that during the times of the Beit HaMikdash witnesses of the new moon were allowed to travel to Yerushalaim on Shabbat, even though it could mean them violating Shabbat by walking beyond the techum. Later we learn that the license to override Shabbat for providing testimony is expanded in scope. Transportation (a donkey) can be provided for a witness that is unfit to make the journey. Similarly those travelling can carry weapons if the passage is dangerous (1:9). Others that can testify about the credibility of the witness can even join him on his journey if necessary (2:1).

The Mishnah (1:9) explains that the reason that the witnesses are able to override Shabbat is because the pasuk states: “These are the appointed festivals of Hashem, the holy convocations, which you shall designate in their appropriate time.”

The Tosfot Yom Tov notes that when the Mishnah teaches that a donkey may be used to transport a witness who is unable to walk the distance, it uses the singular tense. Recall that two witnesses are required to provide testimony for kiddush ha’chodesh. We find that an individual witness is allowed to violate Shabbat in case another witness will also avail himself in Yerushalaim with whom he can pair. Whether this actually occurs is not a certainty and it is possible that this individual witness will have violated Shabbat for nothing.

Indeed the Tosfot Yom Tov cites the Mefaresh in Hilchot Kidush HaChodesh who finds it difficult that a single witness may be allowed to violate Shabbat in the case of a doubt. We learnt in masechet Shabbat that if a baby is born during bein hashmashot on erev Shabbat that his brit millah will be the Sunday of the week that follows. A brit millah can only occur on Shabbat if it occurs on the eight day (meaning the baby was born on Shabbat). In this case, since there is a doubt whether the baby was born on Shabbat, one is not allowed to violate Shabbat and the brit millah is delayed an extra day. We find therefore a case where Shabbat is not overridden in a case of doubt, so why or how can kiddush ha’chodesh be different?

Citing the Ramai, the Tosfot Yom Tov explains that kiddush hachodesh is different to brit millah. A proof can be found in that machshirei millah (those things that facilitate a brit millah, e.g. sharpening the knife) do not override Shabbat while for kiddush ha’chodesh the machshirin (e.g. taking food for the jouney) do. The Tosfot Yom Tov adds that there is good reason for greater leniency shown toward kiddush ha’chodesh for it is a mitzvah that applies to the entire nation as a whole (rabbim), where as brit millah applies to the individual and can be fulfilled the next day.

The Tifferet Yisrael finds this answer difficult. Granted that this is positive mitzvah that applies to the rabbim and it is true that such a mitzvah can override a positive biblical mitzvah. Nevertheless it cannot override a negative biblical prohibition, especially one that is punishable with karet (Yevamot 4a). Furthermore the desecration of Shabbat and Yom Tov involves both a positive and negative biblical commandment, which a positive biblical commandment cannot override (Pesachim 4a).

The Tifferet Yisrael therefore presents a different solution. The very fact that the Torah teaches that the witnesses may override Shabbat, reveals that for kiddush ha’chodesh, chillul Shabbat is permitted even in the case of doubt. This is because were it not the case, then practically there would never be a case of witnesses violating Shabbat for there is always a doubt that they might not be needed with the availability of other witnesses.

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