Significance: The beginning of a new month
Observances: Additions to liturgy and Torah readings; Rosh Chodesh is publically announced on the Shabbat before it occurs
In Hebrew, Rosh Chodesh means, literally, "head of the month" or "first of the
month." Rosh Chodesh is the first day of any new month. If a month is 30 days
long, then the 30th day is treated as part of the Rosh Chodesh for the next
month, and the Rosh Chodesh for next month extends for two days (the 30th of
the earlier month and the 1st of the later month).
In ancient times, Rosh Chodesh was a significant festival day. At that time,
the new months were determined by observation. Each month began when the first
sliver of moon became visible after the dark of the moon. Observers would watch
the sky at night for any sign of the moon. If they saw the moon, they would
report their sightings to the Sanhedrin, which would interrogate them to make
sure that they were not mistaken. Where in the sky did the moon appear? Which
direction was it pointing? If two independent, reliable eyewitnesses confirmed
that the new moon had appeared and described it consistently, the Sanhedrin
would declare the new month and send out messengers to tell people when the
The day after the moon appeared was a festival, announced with the sounding of
the shofar, commemorated with solemn
convocations, family festivities and special
sacrifices. The importance of this holiday in
ancient times should not be underestimated. The entire
calendar was dependent upon these declarations;
without the declarations, there would be no way of knowing when holidays were
supposed to occur.
In later days, however, the calendar was fixed by mathematical computation.
After the destruction of the Temple, sacrifices
were no longer available. Accordingly, the significance of this festival has
substantially diminished. There are some slight changes to the
liturgy for Rosh Chodesh, including the addition
of part of Hallel after the
Shemoneh Esrei, and some additional
Torah readings, but that is about the only
observance of Rosh Chodesh today.
It remains a custom in some communities for women to refrain from work on Rosh
Chodesh, as a reward for their refusal to participate in the incident of the
Golden Calf. See The Role of Women.
The Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh is known as
Shabbat Mevarekhim, which means "the Sabbath of blessing." After the
Torah reading in the Shabbat
service, the prayer leader holds the
Torah scroll, recites a
blessing hoping for a good month, then
announces the day of the upcoming week when the new month will begin and the
name of the new month.
Shabbat Mevarekhim is not observed during the month of
Elul to announce the beginning of the month of
Tishri, the month in which
Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) occurs. The
common-sense explanation of this omission is simply that the month of Tishri is
anticipated throughout the month of Elul with increasing intensity as Rosh
Hashanah approaches, making a formal announcement of the date unnecessary.
However, a Chasidic tradition teaches that
G-d himself blesses the first of Tishri, the
anniversary of Creation, and gave the privilege of blessing the rest of the
months to the Jewish people.
Note that Shabbat Mevarekhim is not necessarily the last Shabbat of the month.
In a 30-day month, the 30th is part of Rosh Chodesh for the next month. If the
30th falls on Shabbat, it is the last Shabbat of the month, but Shabbat
Mevarekhim occurs on the 23rd, which is the last Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh.
© Copyright 5762-5771 (2002-2011), Tracey R Rich
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