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Rosh Chodesh, ( ; trans. Beginning of the Month; lit. Head of the Month), is the name for the first day of every month in the Hebrew calendar, marked by the appearance of the New Moon. It is considered a minor holiday, akin to the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot.

Origin of Rosh Chodesh

The Book of Exodus establishes the beginning of the Hebrew calendar:
"And the LORD spoke unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: 'This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.'" (12:1-2)
In the Book of Numbers, God speaks of the celebration of the new moon to Moses:
"And on your joyous occasions - your fixed festivals and new moon days - you shall sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being."

The occurrence of Rosh Chodesh was originally based on the testimony ofwitnesses observing the new moon. When two reliable witnesses appeared before the Sanhedrin the day was declared as Rosh Chodesh, either making the month a full month or a defective, 29-day month. After declaring the new month, news of it would then be communicated throughout Israelmarker and the diaspora.

At a later date, a custom was developed in which an additional day could be added to the month to ensure that certain holidays (such as Yom Kippur) did not fall on the days before or after Shabbat.

Announcement of Rosh Chodesh

Despite the existence of a fixed calendar, the date of Rosh Chodesh is still announced in synagogues on the Shabbat (called Shabbat Mevarchim) prior to its observance. The announcement is made before returning the sefer torah back to its place in the aron kodesh with a modified version of the Yehi Ratzon ("May it be Your will"): "May it be Your will... that You inaugurate us for the month," followed by an announcement of the date and time of the new moon. This announcement is referred to as the molad, or "birth." If Rosh Chodesh occurs on Shabbat, the announcement is made on the preceding Shabbat. Although the molad marks the precise date and time of the new moon, Rosh Chodesh itself may not be observed until several days later to accommodate the observance of other holidays.Rosh Chodesh Tishrei (which is also Rosh HaShana) is never announced.

Observing Rosh Chodesh

Traditional observances

During the evening service of Rosh Chodesh, a prayer Ya'a'le Ve-Yavo is added to the Avodah, the prayer for the restoration of the Templemarker and a segment of the Amidah. During the morning service, Ya'a' le Ve-Yavo is again recited and either a whole or half Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is recited. The Book of Numbers 28:1-15, which includes the offerings of Rosh Chodesh, is read. An additional prayer service, called Mussaf, is added to commemorate the original sacrifices in the Templemarker. After the service, many recite Psalm 104. The Ya'a'le Ve-Yavo prayer is also inserted in the Grace after Meals (Birkat Ha-Mazon). Many have a custom to make sure to eat a special meal in honor of Rosh Chodesh, as the Code of Jewish Law suggests. This gives on the opportunity to recite the Ya'a'le Ve-Yavo in the Grace after Meals. Some Hasidic Jews sing Psalm 104 during this meal.

If Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbat, the regular Torah reading is supplemented with a reading of Numbers 28:9-15. The Mussaf prayer is also modified when Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbat. The central benediction is replaced with an alternate version (Ata Yatzarta) that mentions both the Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. If Rosh Chodesh falls on a Sunday, a different Haftarah, Mahar Hodesh (I Samuel 20:18-42) is read. The Kiddush Levanah (sanctification of the moon) is recited soon after Rosh Chodesh, typically on the first Saturday night after Rosh Chodesh.

Modern observances: Rosh Chodesh and women

According to the Talmud (tractate Megillah 22b), women are exempt from work on Rosh Chodesh, and Rashi, in commenting on this passage, delineates the activities from which they may refrain: spinning, weaving, and sewing — the skills that women contributed to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The midrash Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer explores this exemption in chapter 45:

"Aaron argued with himself, saying: If I say to Israel, Give ye to me gold and silver, they will bring it immediately; but behold I will say to them, Give ye to me the earrings of your wives and of your sons, and forthwith the matter will fail, as it is said, "And Aaron said to them, Break off the golden rings."
The women heard (this), but they were unwilling to give their earrings to their husbands; but they said to them: Ye desire to make a graven image of a molten image without any power in it to deliver.
The Holy One, blessed be He, gave the women their reward in this world and the world to come.
What reward did He give them in this world?
That they should observe the New Moons more stringently than the men, and what reward will He give them in the world to come?
They are destined to be renewed like the New Moons, as it is said: Who satisfieth thy years with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle."

Female-centered Rosh Chodesh observances vary from group to group, but many are centered around small gatherings of women, called Rosh Chodesh groups. There is often a particular interest in the Shekinah, considered by the kabbalah to be a feminine aspect of God. These groups engage in a wide variety of activities that center around issues important to Jewish women, depending on the preference of the group's members. Many Rosh Chodesh groups explore spirituality, religious education, ritual, health issues, music, chanting, art, and/or cooking. Some groups also choose to educate young Jewish women in their community about sexuality, self-image, and other women's mental and physical health issues.

See also


  1. Kosofsky, Scott-Martin. The Book of Customs: A Complete Handbook for the Jewish Year. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2004. p.91
  2. All passages from the Torah are taken from The JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, Second Edition. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2003.
  3. Kosofsky, p. 92
  4. Friedlander, Gerald, trans.Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer: The Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer the Great According to the Text of the Manuscript Belonging to Abraham Epstein of Vienna. New York: Hermon Press, 1965, p. 353-354.
  5. Gottlieb, Lynn. She Who Dwells Within: A Feminist Vision of a Renewed Judaism San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995, see esp. Ch. 12: "The Initiation of the New Jewish Woman."

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