Thursday, June 05, 2014

Talmud, calendar, moon (and Torah), sun

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: ‘Daf Yomi’: Talmudic Rabbinical Thought Was Part Lunatic, Part Moon Shot.Why gamblers, pigeon racers, and usurers can’t witness a Jewish new moon, and why the lunar calendar still matters.
How often does a modern city-dweller think about the moon? Could you tell, without looking it up, what phase the moon is in tonight, or where it will appear in the sky at any given hour? Probably not, and why would you—for many of us today, the moon is just a big decoration in the sky, and the destination of some old Apollo missions. For the rabbis of the Talmud, however, the moon was the key to the whole rhythm of Jewish life. Because the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, with the beginning of the month tied to the appearance of the waxing crescent moon, the whole rabbinic and priestly establishment was highly attuned to the moon’s phases and trajectories. This week’s Daf Yomi reading, which included the end of Chapter 1 and all of the brief Chapter 2 of Tractate Rosh Hashanah, was all about the procedures for determining exactly when the waxing crescent moon appears.

Mr. Kirsch does not mention the solar calendar, which is known from the Enochic literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls etc., and which was quite important to some Jews in the Second Temple period. Some posts relating to it are here, here, here, and here.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

While we're on the subject of the Moon: I've been looking for an excuse to mention this story, which has received a lot of coverage in the last couple of weeks: Sending a Torah to the moon. A company in Tel Aviv aims for cultural preservation by rocketing Torah scrolls to the moon for posterity (Jerusalem Post).
Tel Aviv-based company Torah on the Moon was hoping to deposit Torah scrolls on the moon as part of a cultual preservation project in case something should happen to Earth, the Washington Post reported this week.


Last week, the engineering arm of the European Space Agency confirmed that it has been commissioned to test the space-hardiness of the capsule that would contain the Torah, the Post reported.

The capsule must be designed to protect the sacred text from the moon’s harsh radiation and temperature changes for at least 10,000 years. The moon lacks an atmosphere to trap heat, and the surface temperatures can rocket to a daytime high of about 253 degrees and plunge to 279 degrees below zero at night.

There were separate plans in the works to carry Hindu scriptures called the Veda and the I Ching, an ancient Chinese philosophical work, to the moon if the Torah mission was successful. The texts would join a Bible left on the moon in 1971 by Apollo 15 commander David Scott.