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Every month ladies get a “special holiday” and so some of us meet up, hang out, shmooze, eat, and take the day off. The obvious question is why? Why do we celebrate it? What is Rosh Chodesh? And why is it a holiday for women?
First off, we need to understand the Jewish calendar. It follows the lunar cycle in that each new month begins with the reappearance of the new moon and the months are 29 or 30 days. However, we have a luni-solar calendar (our months are based on the moon but the calendar is also coordinated with the solar calendar). This is done in order to ensure that the holidays occur in their proper seasons. For example, the torah has a mitzvah that passover must be celebrated in the spring and the holiday of Sukkot marks the harvest festival which must occur during the fall. Since the moon revolves around the earth in approximately 29 ½ days and thus the lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, we adjust the lunar calendar thus being connected to the solar schedule and its seasons. We don’t add a day every 4 yrs like we do in February in the Gregorian calendar but rather we add a full month, a second Adar called Adar 1, to make sure passover occurs in the spring and the rest of the holidays in their proper times. Additionally these leap years occur 7 times within a 19 yr cycle.
So now back to Rosh Chodesh. It literally means the “head of the month.” Rosh=head and chodesh =Month. It’s the first day of the new month, the beginning of each lunar cycle. In Hebrew the root word of chodesh is chadash=new. This refers to the renewal and rebirth of the new moon. The association of newness has important implication for a persons spiritual service in that Rosh Chodesh is also referred to a “time of atonement.” You can change a situation and yourself for the better, no matter how bad it seems. In addition, just like the moon waxes and wanes each month and brings with it a sense of renewal and rebirth, the Jewish people are the same in that we wax and we wane, “destined to be renewed like the moon.” At times we have seemed to decline or disappear only to have the ability to rise up from oblivion and restore ourselves to a greatness stronger than before. We have seen that the ability for the Jewish people to renew themselves is unlike any other people in history, who had golden age and then disappeared forever or slid into the shadows of our world…The Jewish people have had golden ages time and time again. And this all stems from the fact that we have the ability to renew and rejuvenate ourselves. For example “This essential characteristic of Jewish history was first seen in Egypt, when the jewish nation had fallen to the 49th level of impurity – one level above spiritual extermination – only to renew itself so amazingly that after seven weeks it was able to stand at Mount Sinai, experience prophecy, and receive the torah.”
Why do we care about the calendar?
So interestingly enough the calendar is so central to Judaism that Rosh Chodesh is the first commandant given to the jewish people as a whole nation, and that is to sanctify the month. Why was this?
- Every holiday besides for Shabbos is dependent on the holiday of rosh chodesh being confirmed and sanctified
- If rosh chodesh was not confirmed or sanctified it would not be possible to fulfill the mitzvah of celebrating the holidays such as pesach and succos.
Why is it the first mitzvah? What’s so important about it?
Up until the point of receiving the mitzvah of rosh chodesh, the Jews had been slaves in Egypt. Their time was not their own. Now, says God, you are becoming masters of your time. And not only of your own time, but of My time as well! It’s as if God said, “Become a partner with me in defining the spiritual reality of time.” That is what we celebrate every month, our humble partnership with G-d.
In ancient times, Rosh Chodesh was a significant festival day and the new months were determined by observation. The Lunar months begin at the exact moment when the moon begins its new cycle. At this precise moment, the moon is lined up with the sun and earth in such a way it is completely invisible. The new month began when the first sliver of moon became visible after the dark of the moon. Hence when two reliable and consistent eyewitness observers attested to the Sanhedrin (the Rabbinical Court) on seeing the new moon, the Sanhedrin would declare the new month, sanctify it, and would send out messengers to tell the people the new month had begun. At the time the entire calendar was dependent on these declarations because without them we wouldn’t know when the jewish holidays were to occur.
How did the Jews celebrate it?
The day after the moon appeared, Rosh Chodesh was marked by the sounding of the shofar, special sacrifices, and it was a day of family festivities, special meals, singing, and dancing. Later on once the Jews were being exiled, the Rabbinical Court fixed our calendar through mathematical computations to ensure that we would still have the ability to celebrate the holidays in their appropriate times.
Why is it considered a womens holiday?
In the Talmud [tractate Megillah 22b], we read that women are exempt from work on Rosh Chodesh. The Talmudic commentators Rashi and Tosphos explain that women traditionally celebrate Rosh Chodesh as their exclusive mini-holiday. Why is this? Because, during the SIN OF THE GOLDEN CALF women refrained from participating, and refused to dedicate their jewelry to the building of the calf. Just like the moon, becomes brighter and bigger only after it disappears completely into darkness, they knew that better times were on the way and would not give up on G-d. As a reward, God gave women an extra holy day each month, free from work. Some women refrain from work completely and some just refrain from tedious house work.
There is also a similarity between the lunar cycle and a women’s menstrual cycle. Just as the moon is renewed every month, so too are women renewed every month. Just as women go through cycles of change of renewal such as-their menstruation, birthing, and menopause, likewise each month the moon waxes and wanes with the same predictability. One can look at the moon and observe its phases the same way a woman can observe her internal body changes.
What are some ways to celebrate?
Rosh Chodesh is not considered a regular work day and retains a separate identity. Its on a higher level than an ordinary weekday. Today, there are some additional prayers and torah readings read on the day of rosh chodesh itself and on Shabbat mevarchim which is the Shabbat prior to rosh chodesh, however, the holiday of Rosh Chodesh is not celebrated to the extent that it was in ancient times.
However, in some communities around the world, it is still celebrated with singing and dancing and food by both males and females. Since it is considered a women’s holiday, in celebration of the day’s special character, is customary for women to wear new or special clothing on Rosh Chodesh, and some communities have special gatherings for women, where they will learn some Torah together, or dance and sing together, or exactly what we’ve been doing for the past year here! So cheers to many more amazing RO Rosh Chodesh gatherings!