The mishna in Yoma 3:1 talks about watching for dawn to know if it's time for the morning offering, and then Yoma 3:2 asks:

וְלָמָה הֻצְרְכוּ לְכָךְ, שֶׁפַּעַם אַחַת עָלָה מְאוֹר הַלְּבָנָה וְדִמּוּ שֶׁהֵאִיר מִזְרָח, וְשָׁחֲטוּ אֶת הַתָּמִיד,

And why was all that necessary? Because once the light of the moon rose and they thought that the east was lit up and slaughtered the continual offering, [and afterwards] they had to take it out to the place of burning.

How could anybody confuse moonlight for sunlight? I've been out in the countryside far from city lights under a bright full moon, and it's nothing like sunlight. (And the moon in this case wouldn't even be full yet.)

The g'mara reports that the school of R' Yishmael taught that it was a cloudy day and light scattered in all directions. I don't buy it; moonlight diffused through heavy clouds looks different from sunlight so diffused.

There's an additional problem: on a full moon, moonrise is the same time as sunset. Moonrise advances about an hour, give or take, per day, so if you count a few days back from the full moon for 10 Tishrei, the moon is rising in the east in mid-afternoon, which is nowhen near the time of the morning offering. By the time it's dark enough to see moonlight, the moon isn't in the eastern sky. Perhaps the mishna meant that they saw the setting moon, except it says "east" and the moon sets in the west.

What confusing lighting conditions is the mishna referring to? According to R' Yishmael, how would a cloudy day contribute to this error?


2 Answers 2


When I'm sick during the winter (happens a lot unfortunately), I daven vasikin at home. I use the myzmanim + cell phone clock method, but also have a window nearby with the shades open. I've noticed that there's a substantial variation in the amount of light at sunrise, depending on the weather. If it's cloudy, it can be pretty dark outside, even when the clock tells me it's actually sunrise.

For the tamid, they weren't looking for sunrise - they were looking for alos, when the amount of light is tiny. I haven't done the exercise of looking out the window at alos, but when it's cloudy, I can easily imagine that the minimal amount of light needed is reduced even further and you can mistake the moon for it. The comments on the question, quoting Bartenura and others, are right though that this can't happen on Yom Kippur.

Now is probably not the best time to experiment. Alos is way too early in the summer, at least for me.

  • Oh, I missed that the target time was alot; I thought it was later, reasoning thus: the ideal time to say the Sh'ma is right at sunrise (somewhere in B'rachot), the t'filah comes after the Sh'ma, and the times of the t'filot were set based on the times of the daily offerings. Perhaps after Shabbat I'll have a question about reconciling that. Commented May 24, 2019 at 21:05
  • The Rambam is a little more explicit. sefaria.org/… When the east lights up is definitely before sunrise, and until this story happened they did it even earlier than that. I assumed it was alos but don't have a proof.
    – Heshy
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 21:11
  • Even for a cloudy day, I can't quite see how the moon would brighten the sky on anywhere of the same level as the sun does. I haven't experimented, but moonlight doesn't penetrate much beyond cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Sunlight, of course, penetrates every cloud type, even the tallest cummulo-nimbus. At the point of alot, on a cloudy day, I still think a full moon would not equal sunlight intensity. It may be worth my while to experiment.
    – DanF
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 17:03

The simple answer is that the entire discussion about the moon appearing like the sun is not literal. It is simply a teaching aid, and a model that is referenced in another area of the Torah.

That if this idea of using allegorical models and paradigms is confusing, think about how chemistry is taught in school. Complex discussions of molecular structure, for example, are often presented through the use of simplified physical models that can be understood by everyone.

The simplified models presented in the five books of Moshe are even known to a child of five years old like is said by Yehuda ben Teima in Avot 5:21. And one of the requirements of learning Mishnah is proper comprehension and understanding.

This idea, that this particular detail is allegorical, is emphasized by the commentaries to the very Mishnah you link to, for example the Bartenura who says in regard to the phrase ”one time the luminary called the Moon (הלבנה) rose etc.:

לאו ביוה״כ קאמר, דא״א לעלות מאור הלבנה סמוך לשחר ביוה״כ שהוא בשליש החודש

This isn’t speaking about Yom HaKippurim. That it is impossible for the luminary called HaLevanah* to rise close to morning on Yom HaKippurim, which is in the first third of the month. Rather, in the final third of the month is when the moon rises close to dawn. And this event is an error (See Mishnah Brachot 2:3) and causes us to apprehend (meaning to grasp with understanding), lest in regard to Yom HaKippurim, other errors will occur. We are required to act in a similar fashion in regard to everything.

One of the points brought out in Brachot 2:3 is that when you see an error, go back to the beginning. In context, look to the source within the Torah for the Avodah of Teshuvah, which appears in parshat Bereshit as cited below.

That it (this reference to the moon being confused with sun) is not speaking about Yom HaKippurim. That it is impossible for the light of the (full) moon to appear at Yom HaKippurim which is in the first third of the month...

And also as Rambam emphasizes:

ידוע כי הלבנה אינה עולה מן המזרח אלא אחר חצות החדש.

And it is known that the moon doesn't ascend from the east unless it is after half of the month... (and Yom HaKippurim is always on the 10th of Tishrei in the first 1/3 of the month)

And in the context of the first chapter of Mishnah Yoma which begins this discussion and also references the first 7 days (before Yom HaKippurim) and the subject of husband and wife (all of which alludes to the allegorical reference model, namely the seven days of creation and the creation of Adam, the husband, and the wife, Chava), it points to the Torah source which is the paradigm from which these laws are based.

And this is also asked in the commentary of Yachin to the Mishnah you reference which questions why it was necessary:

לעלות לגג לראות, ולא הסתפקו בראי' פשוטה למזרח

To ascend to the roof (another allusion to this spiritual/Heavenly/Angelic paradigm from the 7 days of creation, meaning the 6 days of building [that roof, גג which is gematria 6] and Shabbat Kodesh. Like is brought in Talmud, the 6000 years of this world are based upon the paradigm established in the 6 Days of Building, building בנין which is also the language used in the formation of Chava, Adam’s wife.). Wouldn't it be sufficient to glance to the east like the simple meaning of the words? But Yachin states that it is necessary to understand the concept properly.

That after the creation of Adam HaRishon, he was separated into two individuals, the husband, Adam, who would be the Mashpia, and Chava, the wife, who would be the Mekabel.

And this process was based upon the earlier paradigm which G-d established in regard to the appearance of the single light on the first day of creation and then the subsequent creation of the two (equal) great sources of that single light within the creation itself, like is stated in Bereshit 1:14-16.

(That this follows the general Torah concept that there are three partners in a Jewish marriage, husband, wife and G-d [who hovers over the marriage bed] like is implied from the words איש and אשה which are formed from two equal parts of fire or light (אש) and G-d (יה) who unites them to be a manifestation of oneness (one flesh).

And Torah emphasizes in midrash to Bereshit 1:14-16 that as a consequence of the insistence of the moon, meaning that the moon said in order to proclaim G-d's oneness as King (to avoid the confusion that there might be two G-ds, two Kings) requires that one of us must be reduced in stature (temporarily) and serve as a Mekabel, G-d reduced the Moon. And that appearance, that the sun and moon look obviously different, is what is seen during the entire period of exile.

But the Torah teaches that ultimately, when we have returned to G-d in teshuvah, another reference to the concept of Yom HaKippurim, meaning during the final redemption, the moon will return to its true, original state, like is said in the Santification of the Moon prayer.

And it is in that context, meaning in the context of the ultimate point of Yom HaKippurim (that all Israel will return to their Father in Heaven, and the reduced appearance/condition of the moon will be returned to its fullness) that the appearance of the moon could be confused with the appearance of the sun.

  • 2
    All of the mefarshei hamishnah say that it happened kifshuto, just not on Yom Kippur. They do not say that any of this was allegorical. If you want to read the mishnah and the mefarshim allegorically, that's fine, but the mefarshim are no more explicit about it than the mishnah itself is.
    – Heshy
    Commented May 24, 2019 at 19:56
  • @Heshy Yes, Pashuto shel Mikra, meaning the plain meaning of the text as stated in the beginning of Bereshit. I haven’t said anything different. They are all referencing the same teaching method. If you have a question, look at the meforshim to Tehillim 95:4. Commented May 24, 2019 at 20:38
  • You're intentionally misinterpreting what I said. The simple reading of the mishnah is that they were confused about what time it is by looking at physical light the same way I could look out the window and be confused. The mefarshei hamishnah say nothing that contradicts this read. Is there a deeper message, consistent through the mishnah and mefarshim? Maybe. Do you know that deeper message? Maybe. To say that either the mishnah or the mefarshim say that message explicitly is false.
    – Heshy
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 11:41
  • @Heshy No need for a personal attack & no, I’m not intentionally misinterpreting what you say. If you take the language of the Mishnah the way you say it, whose language according to the tradition about the author, Yehudah HaNasi, is very precise, even to the extent that he doesn’t waste a single word, then the entire recounting of the details of the physically & materially impossible (according to the commentaries) event are meaningless. The concept of using teaching models is a common technique with the Sages & it is according to the plain meaning. Commented May 26, 2019 at 12:16
  • 1
    The commentaries do not say that it's physically & materially impossible! They say that it's impossible that it happened on Yom Kippur, and therefore must be it happened at a different time of the month and therefore they established this procedure every day including Yom Kippur.
    – Heshy
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 12:19

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