Multiple Intelligences: Verbal-linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, naturalistic, spatial

Core Concept:

Rosh Hodesh was so important that it was decided by eyewitness testimony at the Sanhedrin (court) in Jerusalem. The Mishnah describes the procedure and the importance of eyewitness testimony to the first crescent, prioritizing the trip to testify in Jerusalem over issues of health and of keeping Shabbat.


This lesson provides an opportunity for students to grapple with rabbinic texts that discuss the ancient, pre-calendar system of deciding and declaring Rosh Hodesh. In doing so, they begin to understand that our practices are rooted in ancient tradition and ancient texts, and they begin to appreciate the study of classical texts, an experience that has played a central role in Jewish life for many generations.


Students will work with a havruta to study the Mishnah that describes how the new month was declared and announced in the time of the Temple. They will review the content of the texts as a class.


  • Flashlight
  • SMARTBoard or computer screen
  • Chairs arranged for “witness” to sit and testify
  • Snacks for witnesses to eat before court
  • One or two pieces of poster board

Journal JC 4.1: Testifying About the New Moon

Instructional Materials
Instructional Material JC 4.1: Where Was the Moon When You Saw It?
Instructional Material JC 4.2: Rabban Gamliel's Chart

Rubric for Work on Rosh Hodesh (Lessons 4 and 5)

Worksheet JC 4.1a -JC 4.1c: Mishnah Rosh Hashanah
Worksheet JC 4.2: New Moon Observation

Prepare in Advance:

  • The beginning of this lesson must be taught BEFORE Rosh Hodesh because the second half of the lesson includes a new-moon observation that begins at home and requires follow-up AFTER a Rosh Hodesh has passed. Therefore, the sequence of the unit may require some adaptation, depending on how this lesson falls in relation to Rosh Hodesh:
    • If lesson falls within 1 week of Rosh Hodesh (ideal): Teach this lesson through moon observation assignment in Step 12 before Rosh Hodesh. Conduct moot Sanhedrin in next subsequent class period following Rosh Hodesh.
    • If lesson falls 1-2 weeks before Rosh Hodesh: Teach this lesson through moon observation assignment in Step 12. Teach Lesson 5. Conduct moot Sanhedrin in next subsequent class period following Rosh Hodesh.
    • If lesson falls 2-3 weeks before Rosh Hodesh: Teach this lesson through moon observation assignment in Step 12. Teach Lessons 3 and 5. Conduct moot Sanhedrin in next subsequent class period following Rosh Hodesh.
    • If lesson falls 3-4 weeks before Rosh Hodesh: Teach this lesson through moon observation assignment in Step 12. Teach Lessons 3, 5, and 6. Conduct moot Sanhedrin in next subsequent class period following Rosh Hodesh.
  • Note: This lesson is split between two class periods because it is split by a moon observation that takes place at home. It is not likely that either half of the lesson will require a full period.
  • If possible, arrange for an assistant to be present during the moot Sanhedrin to help supervise students who are waiting to appear as witnesses.
  • Print pictures of the moon from Instructional Material JC 4.1 or Instructional Material JC 4.2, and place on a poster board, to be used as a diagram in the moot court in Step 12.
  • Prepare and send Voicethread for students to respond to when they see the new moon:
    • Enter your Voicethread account through
    • Click on "MyVoice" and look in the folder called "3rd Grade Files to Copy." Open the Voicethread titled "Rosh Hodesh Voicethread."
    • Click on the Menu button and select "Make a Copy."
    • Add the initials of your school to the title to ensure that this Voicethread can be used only by your school, and click "Close." If you do not change the name, you may see comments from other schools.
    • Move it to your class file. Leave the original Voicethread in "3rd Grade Files to Copy" for other teachers to use.
    • To share the file, move it into the group that includes the students in your class. Select the appropriate level of sharing that you want to give students. At a minimum, select "View" and "Comment." Since you would like students to add images of the new moon, select "Edit" as well.
    • Check the "Playback" and "Publishing Options" as well. If you do not want students to share the Voicethread outside the class, click "Hide the Final Share slide" box in the "Playback Options" menu.

Use of Technology:

  • Blog/webpage
  • SMARTBoard (optional)

Quad 2 Left Inform.jpgStep 11, Quad 2, Left (Inform)

Objective: Students will become familiar with the process of declaring Rosh Hodesh as it is described in the Mishnah.

Activity: Students will study the Mishnah that describes the process of declaring Rosh Hodesh.

Time: 25-30 minutes

  • Turn off the light in the room. After 30 seconds, flicker your flashlight several times.
  • Ask the students to state when it might be handy to shine a light in the dark.
  • Elicit examples of ways that we use a light. These may include ways we use light to help ourselves, such as lighting our path and showing us the way. Place particular emphasis on examples of ways that we use light to send messages to others, such as using a lighthouse to alert boats or using fire to alert people when lost.
  • Explain: Many, many years ago, before there were printed calendars, light from fire was used to send out the message that the beginning of the new month, Rosh Hodesh, had arrived. People would light fires atop huge poles, which they would wave back and forth, beginning on top of a mountain in Jerusalem. As people on the top of the next mountain saw the first fire, they would light their own giant torch, and so on, until all the Jewish people in Judea and even far away in other lands knew that it was Rosh Hodesh.
  • Ask: How effective do you think that would be? Who would be able to see it, and who wouldn’t? If people can’t see the same thing at the same time, what is another way of communicating from far away?
  • We learn all this from the Mishnah, which is a book that the rabbis wrote almost 2,000 years ago. Today, you are going to study the Mishnah to learn more about these practices. Worksheet JC 4.1a - 4.1c_Page_1.jpg
  • Distribute Worksheet JC 4.1a - JC 4.1c, which contains excerpts from the Mishnah as well as questions to guide the havruta work.
  • Read the introduction to the assignment with students and review guidelines for working with a havruta.
  • Provide students with the following background information: The Mishnah was written by people who observed Shabbat, in part by not riding an animal, carrying, or walking a very long distance on Shabbat. This is important in understanding the first Mishnah because it refers to a person who witnessed the first crescent of the new moon on Shabbat and explains that one may go to Jerusalem on Shabbat to testify about what one saw even though doing so would require traveling a far distance on a donkey on Shabbat.
  • Students read through the texts in havruta, using the questions on their worksheet to guide their discussion.
Worksheet JC 4.1a - 4.1c_Page_2.jpgWorksheet JC 4.1a - 4.1c_Page_3.jpgNote: The worksheet contains four texts from the Mishnah. If your students are not used to reading Mishnaic texts, consider asking each group to focus on one text rather than having them each attempt to read all four. Make sure that each text is being covered by at least one set of havrutot so that the information is mentioned during the class's review of the text. Consider the difficulty of each text and the skill level of each pairing when deciding which text to assign to each particular set of havrutot.
  • After the havrutot have completed their assignments, the teacher will review the material by pretending to be a roving reporter at the court during witness testimony. Using your hand to mime a microphone, walk around the class and “interview” students about what is going on. Begin by saying: I am reporting from the scene of the Temple as we await the announcement of the beginning of Rosh Hodesh. Let’s find out more about what’s going on from some of the others in the crowd.” Ask questions such as:

    • Why have you been standing in the courtyard?
    • What is everyone looking at?
    • What are the witnesses doing in the court?
    • Who is all this food for?
    • What are the fires that I see in the distance?
    • Where did you come from and how did you get here?

  • Through the questions above, elicit a review of the following information: Witnesses came from all over to testify that they saw the first crescent of a new moon. They waited in a courtyard in Jerusalem called Beth Yazek to tell the court that they had seen the new moon. There was food to encourage them to come. The court questioned them carefully, starting with the first pair of witnesses that came. First they asked the elder of the pair to describe how he saw the moon; then they asked the younger one of the pair. They showed a chart of phases of the moon, and asked the witnesses to point to one that represented the way the moon looked. If they agreed and described the moon as the new moon should look, Rosh Hodesh was announced, though they always examined all witnesses so that everyone would feel included and would want to come again. At first, they announced Rosh Hodesh by lighting fires on the mountains. Later, because some people were tricking them by lighting flames when it wasn’t Rosh Hodesh, they decided to send out messengers. From other texts, we know that they used the shofar to help spread the message as well.

Quad 3 Left Practice.pngStep 12, Quad 3, Left (Practice)

Objective: Students will experience the process of declaring Rosh Hodesh as described in the Mishnah.

Activity: Students will reenact the process of witness testimony during the time of the Mishnah.

Time: 30 minutes


Worksheet JC 4.2.jpgTo be done at home, with follow-up in class after the next Rosh Hodesh:

  • Distribute Worksheet JC 4.2, which instructs students to look out for the next new moon.
  • Explain that they can expect the new moon beginning on the 29th of each Jewish month.
  • Take out the Jewish calendar that you made as a class, and figure out when you should expect the next new moon. Create a range of nights around that day, since it is possible that the calendar, which was calculated based on a formula rather than actual observations of the moon, can sometimes be slightly off.
  • Fill in the dates of this range on the worksheet, and instruct students to complete the assignment at home.
  • Th‍e worksheet instructs students to post on a class Voicethread when they see the first crescent with a description of what they saw, where they saw it (direction, distance from the horizon), and when they saw it, along with a drawing of what they saw. The questions on the worksheet are based on the questions that the students learned in the Mishnah.

The Moot Sanhedrin Procedure: To be done in class after the next Rosh Hodesh

  • Journal JC 4.1.jpgOn the class following the next Rosh Hodesh, provide extra snacks for the class to mimic the meals that were given in the Temple, and “hold court” to hear the witnesses' testimony. Serve treats to all witnesses (and their guests, the students who did not bear witness).
  • Allow all who posted on the Voicethread‍ to have a turn to “testify” before the court. Call them up in pairs, based on the order in which they posted on the Voicethread. Within each pair, allow the eldest to go first. Send other witnesses out of the room to prevent their hearing the testimony of others. (Note: This may require having an additional adult/teen in the other room to supervise witnesses.)
  • Instruct guests and witnesses who are awaiting their turn to complete Journal JC 4.1: Testifying About the New Moon. Consider providing additional writing or drawing activities to keep them controlled while the testimony is being given.
  • Ask each witness to describe for the court whether the moon was in front of the sun or behind the sun, how high the moon was, what direction it was facing, when they saw it, and where they saw it (east, west, etc.).
  • Like Rabban Gamliel, show diagrams of the moon, such as those that are included in Instructional Material JC 4.2: Rabban Gamliel's Chart, and instruct students to identify the picture that looks most like the moon they saw.
  • After the student has identified the shape, you can reveal Instructional Material JC 4.1: Where Was the Moon When You Saw It, for the student to identify the moon's position in the sky.
  • Compare the students’ sighting times with the actual sighting times of the new moon, using Note: The chart on this website is year- and location-specific. Use the box at the bottom of the page to set the chart to the appropriate year and location for your school. The second column from the left lists the sighting time of the new moon.
  • At the end, declare Rosh Hodesh as mekudash, sanctified, and have students repeat the declaration after you, in the same manner as it is declared in the Mishnah.

Instructional Material JC 4.2.jpgInstructional Material JC 4.1.jpg