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Why are there two days of Rosh Hashanah even in Israel?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days, both in and out of Israel.

Biblically speaking the Holiday of Rosh Hashanah is just one day: the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei). However, biblically speaking the first day of the month is to be determined by the Rabbinical court in Jerusalem (not by the calendar). 

In ideal times, when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, the day when the new month started was determined by witnesses who saw the new moon. A month in the Jewish (lunar) calendar contains 29 or 30 days1. If witnesses arrived on the 30th day of the month and testified that they had seen the new moon, then that day became the 1st day of the next month and the previous month ended up with only 29 days. If no witnesses arrived on that day, then automatically the previous month had 30 days and the next month would start on the 31st day.

Rosh Hashanah is observed two days even in the Land of Israel - as opposed to all other holidays which are only one day in Israel
As stated above, Rosh Hashanah is the 1st day of the month of Tishrei. So when the 30th day of Elul (the month before Tishrei) arrived, no one could know whether this day would end up being the 1st day of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah) or the 30th day of Elul; it depended whether witnesses would arrive on that day. This causes problems with the daily prayers, sacrifices, etc.

So our sages instituted that we should observe two days of Rosh Hashanah -- the 30th and 31st day.2 In Temple times this could end up being either the 30th day of Elul and the 1st day of Tishrei, or the 1st and 2nd day of Tishrei (as Rosh Hashanah always is today). For this reason, Rosh Hashanah is observed two days even in the Land of Israel - as opposed to all other holidays which are only one day in Israel.3

Footnotes

  • 1. Because the moon's monthly cycle is about 29 1/2 half days.
  • 2. See Talmud Beitzah 4b-5a (and see Rashi on 5a).
  • 3. All other holidays are later in the month, thus by the time they came around people in Israel already knew the correct first day of the month. Jews of the Diaspora, however, did not have this information and all of their holidays were therefore observed for two days. There is a difference in Jewish Law between the two days of Rosh Hashanah and the other two day holidays outside of Israel. Regarding Rosh Hashanah the holiness of the second day is not considered a rabbinical addition; rather the two days of Rosh Hashanah are officially considered as one long day.

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Holidays » Rosh Hashanah » About

Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.
Tishrei
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This month, which arrives in early autumn, has more holidays than any other month: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Elul
The 6th month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to August-September. This is the month which precedes Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, and is a month of introspection and repentance.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.