Netzarim, Original followers of Yeshua & His 12
The new moon controversy
There seems no other topic so divisive in the Netzari, or "Messianic" faith - those who abide by Yahweh's mitzvoth (teaching and instruction) and in Yeshua's atoning death for our sins (John 17:3) - than "when does the new month begin?"
Above: New Moons from Jerusalem (left to right) March, June, September, December 2010
It is doubtful the question can ever be settled to the satisfaction of all as the argument has been going on for centuries! Who am I to even dare to solve it? Well I don't desire to "solve it!" My hope is that each person looking into the question will not just blindly follow what someone else says, but will instead look into the matter with some wholeheartedness on their own. I am also not going to riddle this document with countless scriptural references but instead will present a case that simply asks you to consider the signs Yahweh has provided in both Scripture and nature itself. This He confirms in Genesis 1:14-18; His Sun and Moon are for - "signs, seasons, days and years." So on with this discussion.
Two Schools of Thought
One camp says the month begins at the sighting of the thin, crescent moon, and only upon the sighting. I will refer to this camp as the “crescentists”, though I mean no disrespect by the term. The other camp says the month begins in darkness upon the lunar conjunction which testifies that the old month has ended, and the new month has begun even when a crescent is not observed and indeed, that it does not depend on the actual sighting of the new moon. This camp I will call the “conjunctionists”.
Just to be clear, I am in the second camp. But by saying so, I do not mean "day 1 of the new month begins at the conjunction", rather I mean "day 1 begins with the sunset which follows the conjunction". It is very hard,in my walk, to believe or accept that as the Creator of all things, Yahweh, would expect us to determine the beginning of the month by such an imprecise and variable sign as the sighting of the crescent moon!
On the other hand, I can certainly believe that the uninformed, the casual, or the passive would simply “accept”, without much thought, that the “new moon” means “the first crescent” since, after all, it is the first evidence we can possibly have (isn’t it?) which indicates a “new moon”! Actually, no! The first evidence is another sign. I contend the first crescent of the month is only a visible sign that the new month has already begun – i.e., that the new moon has already occurred, not that the new month begins the night of that sighting. I say this, because I am aware of a little secret! That secret is that the crescent is visible at another time, providing another sign equally important to the sign of the first crescent of the new month! Though little known, that secret time indicates the current month is about to end!
It is surprising how many people today have no clue the moon is visible throughout the entire month (with one notable exception). They also don’t realize the moon is visible in the wee hours of the morning, as the aged moon approaches the end of the month, when it also appears as a very thin crescent! It does! You can actually see this for yourself! If you took the time each month to pay attention to the phase and position of the moon, you would find that each month, just as the moon is about to pass into conjunction (when it is obscured in the brightness of the sun – the “exception” mentioned above), there comes a day when, that morning at sunrise, the moon is still just barely visible, in the brightening dawn, when it appears as a very thin crescent – the “oldest” visible moon – utterly identical to the situation when the “new” moon after conjunction is just becoming visible at sunset! The following morning, at sunrise, absolutely no crescent is seen! None of this is hidden from you! You can, all by yourself, validate all I am saying here by simply stepping outside each day and noting the position and appearance of the moon, though some days you will have to drag yourself outside at some very unusual hours, perhaps when you’d rather be sleeping.
So I pose to all reading this article the following question: If the first visible crescent of the new month, at sunset, marks the beginning of the month, then wouldn’t the last visible crescent at sunrise mark (or at least indicate) the end of the month? If not, why not? After all, if the sighting of the first crescent moon is a sign that marks the “new month”, when did the “old” month end? Wouldn’t it make complete sense that if the spotting of the first crescent indicated the “new month”, then spotting the last crescent of the “old” month would be an equally valuable sign to indicate the last day of the “old month”? This is a serious question! Please think about it and answer it!
Of course you can’t answer, as you have no answer. There can be no answer! For if the “spotting of the first crescent at sunset” means the “new month” has begun, then the “spotting of the last crescent at sunrise” would necessarily mean, at sunset that evening (since the “day” changes at sunset), the new month would begin. But wait! If the new month began, we should see a crescent at sunset that very evening after seeing the last crescent of the old month that very morning? But we don’t! We don’t see a new crescent that same evening. Then I must ask another question: What do we do with the day or two when, at sunset, no moon is visible at all?
As mentioned at the onset of this discussion, a very careful study of the Bible reveals that Yahweh nowhere tells us that the month begins at “the spotting of the crescent after sunset”. Check this yourself! There are so many studies on this matter, I don’t think I can add any new insight. So it is not out of line to claim that “the month ends that same day that the last tiny crescent is spotted at sunrise and sunset that same day marks a new month.” This is as good as claiming that the first crescent in the evening determines the new month. So it seems that Yahweh left it up to us to determine when the month ends and when it begins! And what a mess we have made of it! We humans have not done so well when things are left up to us! From “Don’t eat of the tree in the center of the garden” to “Keep the 7th day Holy”, to “...observe Pesach at its designated time”, to “homosexuality is an abomination”, we can’t seem to follow the simplest of the mitzvoth!
Here is the deal. The sighting of the “first crescent” simply cannot mark the “new moon” or “new month” any more than the last visible crescent of the “old” moon marks the “end of the month”. It’s that simple. The first sighted crescent can only represent a confirmation that the new month has already begun, just as the last crescent indicates only that the month is about to end! Any skilled observer will conclude after just a few months of watching the moon that the last crescent in the morning and the new crescent in the evening marks nothing more than a simple pointer to the fact that the month ended and began between them. The month, therefore, begins in darkness.
Yes, the new month begins in darkness! The day ends (and begins) in darkness, the week ends (and begins) in darkness, and the year ends (and begins) in darkness. (The year? Yes! Adar, the last month of the Hebrew year means “to darken”.) It seems self-evident, does it not, that if our measure of the day, week, and year, end and begin in darkness, the month would end and begin in darkness as well? Indeed, darkness is very important to Yahweh. The covenant with Avram was made in darkness (Genesis 15:7); Pesach took place in darkness (Exodus 12:12); Yeshua rose in the dark (John 20:1). In fact, Yahweh dwells in darkness (Exodus 20:21, 1 Kings 8:12, Psalm 18:11), and the very creation itself began in darkness, (Genesis 1:2), and ends in darkness (Revelation 20:11).
(Don’t confuse this clear importance of darkness with the equal if not superior importance of light. Yahweh said: “Let there be Light”, and saw that it was good (Genesis 1:3-4), and Yeshua said He is the “light of the world” and that whoever followed him would not walk in darkness [meaning without hope] and have eternal life. (John 8:12). Indeed, light triumphs over dark. (Revelation 21:23, 25). So both light and darkness have clear purpose and importance to Yahweh.)
Further, crescent sanctification is condemned! Yes! Yahweh wants us to venerate Him as Creator - not His creations (Deuteronomy 17:2-5). What’s more, the few times Scripture mentions crescent moons directly it is never about the start of the month but instead centers on pagan worship:
A Lesson in Current Events
Continuing with our topic of the new moon let’s examine the real-world events of September, 2010. This month was significant not only because the New Hebrew year begin that month, but four great commanded mitzvoth happened in September. These were: 1 Tishri (the New Year), Yom Kippur, and the 1st and 8th days of Sukkot. The observances of all these mitzvoth depend on the month of Tishri beginning on the correct day.
The great controversy of “when did the new month of Tishri begin” in Sept 2010, was very prominent because the accepted Hebrew calendar indicated 1 Tishri began at sunset on September 8th (as observed from Israel.) But the New Moon was not spotted until sunset on September 10th! So which was correct? Calendar or observation? Did 1 Tishri begin September 8th (in darkness) or September 10th (with the sighting of the crescent)?
For clarity, the following are two calendar months. The first is the established Hebrew calendar for September, 2010, and the second is the “Crescentist” calendar which results from the spotting of the first crescent moon of the month. Refer back to these as I make reference to dates in the discussion which follows.
For those who accepted the calendar date, Sept 8, Yom Kippur began at sunset on Sept 17th. For those who accepted the sighting of the crescent moon, Yom Kippur did not begin till sunset Sept 19th. Similarly, the calendar recorded Sukkot began at sunset on Sept 22nd, but the crescentists did not start Sukkot until sunset Friday, Sept 24th, as they counted 15 days from sunset Sept 10th! Only one can be correct. But which?
Let’s focus a moment on Sukkot. Sukkot is decreed by Yahweh as a holy day, to be observed the 15th day of the month of Tishri. See Leviticus 23:34. As an appointed time, marking a High Holy Day, it is pretty important that we begin Sukkot at sunset on 14 Tishri, because darkness that evening begins the day of 15 Tishri.
See For Yourself!
Let’s set aside the two camps for a moment. As you read the next few paragraphs there are neither crescentists nor conjunctionists for the signs are the same for either. If you had been clever the evening of Sept 22nd, 2010, while watching at sunset you would have seen the most amazing thing! Just as the sun set on the horizon that evening, had you turned 180 degrees azimuth and looked to the east, just opposite the setting sun, (assuming your eastern horizon was not blocked), guess what you would have seen?
You would have seen the nearly full moon just rising! If you don’t understand the significance of this to Sukkot, please continue reading!
Seeing the moon rise, just moments before the sun sets, means that the moon is almost full, or even “at” full. That night, the moon was so nearly “full” that it would be completely “full” in just a matter of a few hours! Therefore on the evening of Sept 22nd, in Israel (and most other parts of the world) this sight meant that the moon would be completely full sometime during the day which was just beginning (meaning the 24 hour period)! At sunset that night, according to the accepted calendar, it became 15 Tishri – Sukkot!
This juxtaposition, sunset beginning the 15th day of the Hebrew month and the full (or very nearly full) moon rising at the same time as sunset is very important. You see, the Hebrew month is “lunar” - based on the moon - and the “new month” is determined on the occurrence of the “new moon”. The number of days it takes the moon to go around the earth (which is known today as a “lunation” or the “synodic period”) is, on average, 29.53 days long, but our Hebrew months, must be tied to complete, 24 hour days, and therefore a month must be either 29 or 30 whole days. One can’t have a “1/2 day” day to match that of the moon’s “month”.
So what we do is permit our months to be either 29 days or 30 days, and we alternate between 29 and 30 so the moon passes from “old” to “new” between 29th day of the month and the 1st of the next month or between 29th and the 30th of the current month. This alternating 29 and 30 day months sufficiently accounts for the extra 1/2 day it takes for the moon to complete its lunation, its “month”. Have you followed this so far? Worded differently, ideally one month the moon will pass from old to new on the 1st day of the month, and the next month it will pass from old to new on the 30th day of the month, because we count whole days. If the moon’s age is 29.5 days, our calendar will, on average, show the date as either the 1st or the 30th.
Now the moon becomes full at the half-way point of the lunation, and since the lunar month is an average 29.53 days the full moon will occur at 14.75 days after new - average. It turns out we can’t rely exactly on 14.75 days though, because the number of days of the moon’s age from new to full actually varies from 13.9 to 15.6 days! This is because the moon’s synodic period varies a bit month to month, in large part due to the eccentricity of the moon’s orbit, but partly due to the earth as its orbit around the sun is also not truly circular. Also the inclination of the moon’s orbit with respect to the ecliptic also plays a small role because it affects how high above the horizon the moon appears despite its elongation from the sun. All these characteristics combine to constantly change the exact time each month of both the new and full moons, as well as the point on the earth over which these two events occur!
These effects combine to reveal that the full moon can present itself between the 14th and 15th days of the Hebrew month, or between the 15th and 16th! For example, if there are 29 days in the current month, then the new moon would happen on the 1st day of the following month. In that case, the moon does not become “one day old” until the 2nd calendar day of the month, and so on until the moon becomes full at lunar age 15 days, when the calendar shows it is the 16th! The month, which has now just begun, has 30 calendar days, and this means the next new moon will become “new” on the 30th. Now when the moon has “aged one day”, the calendar will also show the “1st” day of the month and consequently the full moon will be seen during the transition from the 14th to the 15th. It’s all terribly confusing I know, and seems terribly inconsistent. But there is one relative “constant”, however, that we can rely on.
That constant is that no matter what astronomical conditions conspire to determine the precise day and time of a full moon, the very fact that the full moon happens when it is positioned opposite the sun as seen from the earth, means that when the moon is full or nearing full, it will necessarily rise in the east around the same time as the sun is setting in the west. Think of this as a teeter-totter. The fulcrum represents the earth as in this illustration:
The child on one seat represents the sun, and the child on the other seat represents the moon. The long board connecting the two seats represents both the imaginary line between the sun and the moon, but also, when horizontal, it represents the horizon. Just as the “sun” is seen setting, the teeter-totter is horizontal, and the “moon” seen is rising. This is the condition of the full moon.
Thus, if we are counting our days correctly, the full (or nearly full) moon will always appear on the horizon as our calendar day passes from the 14th day of the Hebrew month at sunset, passing to the 15th day of the month, or the 15th passing to the 16th!
In this way we know for a fact that if Yahweh declares His Holy day on the 15th of the month – will we see a full moon or nearly full moon! The dates for Sukkot, Pesach (Passover – Passover begins at sunset on Nissan 14, so the date changes to the 15th at sunset on the 14th), and Unleavened Bread are so declared – so on each of these Holy days, we know we will be blessed with a full moon during the observance, as a sign (Genesis 1:14). But more importantly, if the moon is clearly before or past “full” at sunset those important nights which begin the Holy day, we have done something wrong in our counting of the days.
Please note I have not cited one scripture demanding that a commanded Holy day occur on the “full moon”! This is because Yahweh never says to observe the full moon, rather He says the observance is on the 15th of the month, or at sunset on the 14th of the month (see the previous paragraph). But the conclusion that the commanded feasts of the 15th of the month is also a full moon is inescapable because the month is based on the moon.
I say above we will be blessed with a full moon “during the observance” (of the Holy day) because the moon becomes completely full not at the same hour of the same day every month, month after month. Nor does it always become completely full just as the moon rises. Nor is the moon visible to all the earth the moment it becomes completely full. So the illustration of the teeter-totter is not meant to imply that the moon must be absolutely full as the sun sets. Rather the moon becomes full at some time during the period between the 14th/15th or 15th/16th days of the Hebrew month. Thus, the fact that the moon did not rise precisely “full” at sunset on Sept 22, 2010 is not at all unusual. In fact, the moon became truly “full” during the 24 hours after it rose that night – that is, during the 15th of the Hebrew month - during the observance of the first day of Sukkot.
A Sliver of Truth
Now let’s turn our attention back to the crescentists who, in Sept 2010, did not see the crescent of the new moon until sunset of the 10th. Because the new moon was not spotted until that date, their month of Tishri could not begin until sunset that evening! So all day Sept 11th was, according to them, “1 Tishri” (remember the established Hebrew calendar showed 1 Tishri began at sunset on Sept 8th, so Sept 11 was 3 Tishri.) Therefore, Yom Kippur, for the crescentists, began at sunset on Sunday, Sept 19, and Sukkot began at sunset on Friday, Sept 24th. (Each of these observed dates, according to the crescentists therefore fell two days later than the accepted calendar. Please refer back to the calendar illustrations, above.)
But let’s look closely at this. Sukkot, as we know, falls on 15 Tishri – this is a Biblically commanded date, and 15 Tishri, as we have seen above, means we should see the sign of a full moon at sunset on 14 Tishri. But by the crescentist’s observation, their 15 Tishri necessarily fell on Sept 25 (since they did not spot the new moon till Sept 10th), so there should have been a full or nearly full moon rising at sunset, Sept 24th. As the moon rose that night, Sept 24th, if the Hebrew date transitioned from 14 to 15 Tishri, it should clearly not be past full. So what actually happened that night?
On Sept 24th, 2010 in Israel the sun set at 5:35 pm. The moon rose in Israel at 5:47 PM. (The moon rising after sunset generally indicates full moon had most likely already passed, though this is not always true. So this witness alone is not sufficient to say the moon was past full. More about this later). As the moon rose that night, it not only rose 12 minutes after sunset, but the face of the moon was already noticeably waning gibbous! This is a most important clue! The waning gibbous appearance of the moon that night was very clearly indicating it was no longer “full”, rather, it confirmed it was past full! (The term “waning gibbous” means the moon had already visibly moved past its “full” phase and was no longer truly “circular” or “disk-like” in appearance. The similar gibbous appearance before a full moon is called “waxing gibbous” – approaching, but not quite full.) Another way to say this is that according to the visible age of the moon (not by any calendar), at sunset Sept 24th, one could quickly determine the date could not be transitioning to 15 Tishri! Full moon had already happened! Therefore it had to be at least 16 Tishri! In fact, crescentist were two days off, as the moon rose nearly full at sunset Sept 22nd. Again, a skilled observer would have known this. The crescentists, in Sept 2010, observed Sukkot on the wrong day!
For those of you who missed moonrise at sunset Sept 22, 2010, it was a beautiful sight as 15 Tishri 5771 began! At sunset, near our Sukka, we turned and looked to the east, and there was the bright, glowing, almost precisely full moon, just above the horizon! It was a most beautiful sign, just as Yahweh said His Sun and Moon were for – “signs, seasons, days and years” (Genesis 1:14-18), confirming that the date was the 15th and that the Holy day of Sukkot had arrived. Baruch Hashem! The published calendar was correct!
I cite this real-world example of Sept 2010 to make a very important point. We must properly determine the date of the new moon for the full moon each month to fall on the correct calendar period. We have a serious conundrum regarding the commanded Holy days if we look at the moon and see it is full, but we have only counted 12 or 13 days into the month and our observance therefore falls 1 to 3 days late because we waited until we saw the crescent moon to begin the month! Indeed, referring to the two calendars for Sept at the top of this article, we see that the actual full moon for the crescentist’s version happened on what they would conclude was 13 Tishri! That was a very bad sign indeed!
Another issue is, from a Scriptural perspective, you can’t proclaim something in the heavens as “new” which has already gone forth for the better part of two days! In fact, when dealing with “newness” for all things in the heavens, Scripture is abundantly clear they begin in total darkness:
Returning to our main discussion, certainly you are now curious about the sighting of the crescent moon on Sept 10, 2010, when the calendar said the new moon (1 Tishri) occurred on the evening between Sept 8th and 9th. Why was the first crescent not spotted until the 10th?
Let’s first look at the last crescent moon of Elul, 5770, as observed on Sept 7, 2010, just before sunrise. It was a very thin, very faint crescent. (See illustration, below). The next morning, Sept 8th, no crescent was visible as the moon was much too close to the sun to be seen. Therefore at sunset, Sept 8th, no new crescent was seen, as the moon was still in conjunction, much too close to the sun. At sunset, Sept 9th, the moon, now well past conjunction, indeed very “new” and having ample elongation from the sun such that it should have been visible, did not have enough altitude to be high enough in the sky at sunset to be visible! So the new moon that evening, Sept 9th, went unseen even though it was most decidedly “new”.
A readily apparent sign that the new month was well underway was presented the following evening, Sept 10th, but missed by most observers. Instead, as it was the “first visible crescent” of the month, crescentists assumed that day began 1 Tishri. The missed sign was that when the moon was visible at sunset that evening, the sliver of crescent was noticeably larger than would be normal, and expected, for a first-visible crescent of a month (see the images of the moon, below), and the moon appeared quite far to the south from the position of the sunset indicating that the elongation from the sun was already quite large. (Elongation is a significant clue to the age of the moon). A skilled observer, having watched these sunrise/sunset lunar events would have known that the new moon occurred between the 8th and 9th of Sept, and would have known that “declaring” the moon new by the first sighting of the crescent at sunset Sept 10th was dreadfully wrong.
Below, left, is the way the moon looked in Israel, at sunset, on Sept 10, 2010. On the right, for comparison, is a more typical appearance of a very young, new moon from May, 2010.
The fact that the first visible crescent of Sept, 2010, was seen a day late was caused by the exact same orbital conditions that conspired to present a nearly full moon to rise before sunset two nights in a row that same month! The orbit of the moon being so nearly aligned with the ecliptic such that when the moon was far enough away from the sun (i.e., its elongation) it should have been seen on Sept 9th, meant instead that the moon was not high enough above the horizon at sunset that night to be seen. Though the moon would not be visible until the next sunset, a skilled observer would have known well in advance that the moon was passing from old to new during the period of Sept 8th to 9th, and that its appearance on Sept 10th was only an indication of the “newness”, already known.
I indicated at the beginning of this article that the moon becomes new in darkness and that the new moon beginning in darkness is in line with the day, week, and year which also begin in darkness. I hope by the real-world example of the lunar events of Sept, 2010, this is now clear. Just as the first visible crescent of the new month indicates only that the month has already begun, the last visible crescent of the current month is only a clear indication that the month is about to end. During the time between these two crescents, last to first, when the moon passes through darkness, the new moon and new month is born. From centuries of observation, all the nuances and variations that inflict great difficulties on just when the last crescent of the current month will be observed and the first crescent of the next month will be seen can be estimated, indeed, calculated with great accuracy. Indeed that invisible moment between them, the time when the moon passes from old to new, can be readily determined.
Today, we are blessed with great knowledge of orbital mechanics and possess computational tools which can determine the unseen moment of the new moon and we capture that information in our published calendars. So we can trust it when the calendar says sunset one evening becomes the first of the new Hebrew month even though we, ourselves, have not carefully followed the position of the moon. And we can be certain that that very evening or the next, when the calendar says the new month has begun, we will be blessed with the sighting of the first crescent moon –but only as a sign, that the new month has already begun.