“The Sanhedrin was assembled in the courtyard of Jerusalem on the 30th of each month from morning to evening, waiting for the reports of those appointed to OBSERVE the new moon” (article “New Moon” – Jewish Encyclopedia).
“There was no fixed calendar till the fourth century…and the New Moon was declared from ACTUAL OBSERVATION. The eye-witnesses were carefully examined on the 30th day of each month…if no witnesses were available, then the following day was New Moon” (article, “New Moon” – Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible).
“Originally, the New Moon was not fixed by astronomical calculators, but was solemnly proclaimed after witnesses had testified to the REAPPEARANCE of the crescent of the moon. On the 30th of each month, the members of the high court (Sanhedrin) assembled in a courtyard in Jerusalem, named Beit Ya’azek, where they waited to receive the testimony of two reliable witnesses; they then sanctified the New Moon. If the Moon’s crescent was not seen on the 30th day, the new moon was automatically celebrated on the 31st day” (article, “New Moon” – Encyclopedia Judaica).
“Each lunar month began with the New Moon Sanctification by recognition of the Sanhedrin. Policy dictated that two witnesses in two different locations, in or near jerusalem, must testify to SIGHTING the new moon crescent. A vote by the Sanhedrin was then required to officially reckon a new month beginning” (Christian Era Calendars, by Clark K. Nelson).
“During the period of the Sanhedrin, a committee of the Sanhedrin met to evaluate reports of SIGHTINGS of the lunar crescent…” (Calendars, by I. E.. Doggett).
“Considerable attention was paid to the determination of the new moon by the Sanhedrin through the testimony of TWO EYEWITNESSES … ” (Article “Rosh Chodesh” – The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion).
“At the time of the new moon, the sun begins to illuminate the moon with a light which is VISIBLE TO THE OUTWARD SENSES, and then she displays her own beauty to the beholders” (The Works of Philo, Special Laws II).
“When the Temple stood, this was a festival proclaimed by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem after witnesses testified to OBSERVING the new moon” (Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, Jacob Neusner).
“A person who has seen the new moon, but is unable to go [to give evidence], must be brought [if unable to walk] mounted on an asses or even in a bed. Persons afraid of being waylaid by robbers may take sticks with them; and if they have a long way to go, it will be lawful for them to provide for themselves, and carry their food. Whenever [witnesses] must be a day and a night on the road, it will be lawful to profane the Sabbath to travel thereon, to give their evidence as to the APPEARANCE of the new moon. For thus is it written (Lev. xxiii. 4), “These are the feasts of the Lord, the holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their appointed seasons” (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 1:9, and quoted verbatim in Flavius Josephus’ Sequel to the History of the Jews).
“The phases of the moon could easily be recognized by everybody. The new moon indicated the beginning of the month.… Though the ‘new moon’ could be OBSERVED by every individual, to prevent any mistake or doubt the duty of fixing the new month was assigned to a rabbinical council in Jerusalem. Their decision was subject to the testimony of two reliable witnesses. As soon as their reports have been received and checked by astronomical calculation, an official message was sent out by chains of fire signals” (The Judaic Heritage, by Rabbi Dr. R. Brasch).
“The ancient Jewish calendar depended not on mathematical calculations and arrangements, but was set from month to month according to the physical appearance of the new moon. Witnesses who had seen the FIRST SIGN OF THE CRESCENT on the horizon after sunset were expected to report the fact to the authorities, who thereupon published throughout the country the fact that the new month had begun (The Pharisees, by Louis Finkelstein, professor of theology at Jewish Theological Seminary of America).
“For the new moon was reckoned by actual personal observation, NOT BY ASTRONOMICAL CALCULATION, with which, however, as we know, many of the rabbis must have been familiar . . . So important was it deemed to have faithful witnesses, that they were even allowed, in order to reach Jerusalem in time, to travel on the Sabbath” (The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, by Alfred Edersheim).
“The beginning of the months were determined by DIRECT OBSERVATION of the new moon. Then those beginning of months (Rosh Hodesh) were sanctified and announced by the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, after witnesses testified that they had seen the new crescent and after their testimony had been thoroughly examined, confirmed by calculation and duly accepted” (The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar, by Arthur Spier).
“But unless all indications are deceitful, they did not in the time of Jesus … possess any fixed calendar, but on the basis of a purely EMPIRICAL OBSERVATION, on each occasion they began a new month with the appearing of the new moon…” (The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, by Emil Schurer).
“At the end of the lunar month, when the moon passes a point between the sun and the earth — the point of conjunction — the moon appears completely dark and is invisible to us. Shortly after that, it reemerges as a thin, crescent-shaped line. That moment is called molad halevanah, “birth of the new moon”, and Rosh Chodesh is the DAY ON WHICH THE NEW MOON APPEARS. The calculation of the precise moment of the appearance of the new moon was transmitted to the sages in an unbroken tradition that goes back to Sinai. It was called sod ha’ibur, “principle of intercalation” (Rosh Hashanah 20b). Although the exact time of its reemergence was known, the new moon was sanctified by the Bet Din in Jerusalem on the testimony of two witnesses who had sighted its appearance” (The Essence of the Holy Days, by Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Finkel).
Readers of this article may also want to read: “New Moon: Visible or Invisible?“