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Back when the months of the Jewish calendar were determined by observations of the new crescent moon, eyewitnesses would bring their testimony to the rabbinical court in Jerusalem, and the court would sanctify the new month based on this testimony. Since a lunar month is about 29 ½ days, a Hebrew month (which has to have a whole number of days) can have either 29 or 30 days. So the court then had to get the word out to the rest of the Jewish world about which day had been declared the first of the month, so that everyone could observe the holidays on the same day. Originally this was done by signal fires (as in The Lord of the Rings), which transmitted the message rapidly. But then the Cutheans, a sect opposed to the rabbis, launched the first phishing scam and made signal fires on the wrong days to throw people off.

https://reformjudaism.org/passover-7-or-8-days

When did the "phishing scam" occur?

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This is discussed in Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2:2

Initially, after the court sanctified the new month they would light torches on the mountaintops, from one peak to another, to signal to the community in Babylonia that the month had been sanctified. After the Samaritans [Kutim] corrupted and ruined this method by lighting torches at the wrong times to confuse the Jews, the Sages instituted that messengers should go out to the Diaspora and inform them of the start of the month. ( בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה הָיוּ מַשִּׂיאִין מַשּׂוּאוֹת. מִשֶּׁקִּלְקְלוּ הַכּוּתִים, הִתְקִינוּ שֶׁיְּהוּ שְׁלוּחִין יוֹצְאִין )

https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Rosh_Hashanah.2.2?lang=bi&with=English%20Explanation%20of%20Mishnah&lang2=en

The "Cutheans" | הַכּוּתִים Ha-Kuthim refers to the Samaritans.

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  • Okay, thanks. That tells me what I was looking for. – Ruminator Apr 9 at 18:50
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    A later Mishna in that chapter says the fire signals started in Jerusalem, which means it had to have been before the war with the Romans in 70 CE ... Wikipedia says The date of the schism between Samaritans and Jews is unknown, but by the early 4th century BCE the communities seem to have had distinctive practices and communal separation. The Second Temple period is really murky; I'd imagine a scholar like Lawrence Schiffman could help narrow it down a bit more. I wonder if it was before or after the Hasmonean Revolt ... – Shalom Apr 9 at 19:25

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