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How is Rosh Chodesh celebrated?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

  

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Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, is a quasi-holiday in Jewish tradition. It is not as serious as other holidays, such as the Shabbat, Passover etc., when Jews refrain from working—but it is celebrated to some extent.

The Bible, for example, says “on the day of your celebration and holidays and on the firsts of your months”—seemingly putting the holidays and Rosh Chodesh in the same category.

In the past, Jews would not work at all on Rosh Chodesh. In a conversation with King David, for example, Jonathan (son of King Saul and David’s best friend) refers to the day before Rosh Chodesh as the “day of work”—i.e., in contrast to the following day, Rosh Chodesh, when there would be no work. (Check out the Book of Samuel I chapter 20. Great story.)

Ancient Jews also used Rosh Chodesh as a day to make pilgrimage to the prophet of the day. Thus when the Shunamite woman tells her husband that she’s going to visit the prophet Elisha, he says to her: “Why are you going to him today—it is neither a Sabbath nor Rosh Chodesh?” (She was going to ask him to heal her son. Check out Kings II chapter 4. Even better story.)

Similarly, when the prophet Isaiah prophesies about a utopian future, he says that “every Rosh Chodesh and Sabbath all flesh will come to bow” before G-d. (Check out Isaiah chapter 66. The best and final story.)

In today’s day and age, Rosh Chodesh is celebrated primarily by a festive meal and a number of rituals:

1. An additional prayer during the morning services called “Hallel”, followed by 'Musaf' for Rosh Chodesh.

2. A special reading from the Torah during the morning services.

3. An additional prayer called “Yaaleh Viyavo" is inserted during the Amidah prayer and Grace After Meals.

In some Sefardic congregations a candle is lit on the eve of Rosh Chodesh.

Additionally, Jews do not take a haircut, fast or eulogize on Rosh Chodesh because of its “holidayness.”


[Ed. note: Also read "What's the connection between women and Rosh Chodesh?"]

TAGS: Rosh Chodesh

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Hallel
Hebrew word meaning "praise." Normally is a reference to Psalms 113-118-- Psalms of jubilation which are recited during the morning prayers of all joyous holidays.
Grace After Meals
Biblically mandated prayer, consisting of four blessings, recited after eating more than an ounce of bread.
Amidah
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Rosh Chodesh
The "Head of the Month," Rosh Chodesh is observed the first day of every Jewish month. If the previous month had 30 days, then the last day of the previous month is also observed; hence a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is a semi-holiday, marked by Torah-reading and special prayers.
Musaf
The additional prayer service added (after the morning prayers) on Sabbath, Biblically mandated holidays and the first day of the Jewish month.
Samuel
1. A prophet and judge who appointed Saul as the first king of Israel in the 9th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, named after the abovementioned Samuel, one of the main characters of the book.
Saul
First king of Israel, anointed by the prophet Samuel in 878 BCE. Was dethroned because he failed to carry out G-d's command, and the royal crown was transferred to King David and his descendents.
David
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
Isaiah
1. One of the greatest prophets, lived in the 7th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Isaiah. The book is filled with prophecies concerning the Messianic redemption.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.