Rosh Chodesh, (Hebrew: ראש חודש) is the name for the first day of every month in the Hebrew calendar. It is marked by the appearance of the New Moon.
In ancient times, Rosh Chodesh was a significant festival day. During those times the new months were determined by observation. Each month began when the first sliver of moon was seen by two separate. The Sanhedrin (an assembly of twenty-three judges) would then interrogate them to make sure they were not mistaken, asking for information regarding the moon’s time of appearance, position in the sky, and directionality.
Above: Modern Moon Chai Necklace by PhonyArt
Where in the sky did the moon appear? Which direction was it pointing? If two reliable eyewitnesses confirmed 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 month began.
Above: Face of the Moon Hair Barrette by ClayBeadsandMore
Back then Rosh Chodesh was an important holiday. The entire Jewish calendar was dependent on the declaration of the new moon. Without them there was no way of knowing the exact times holidays were supposed to occur. However, in recent times the significance of this festival has substantially diminished.
Above: Baby Moon Earrings by markaplan
In spite of its diminished importance within the Jewish community, other than its being announced in synagogues the Shabbat before its occurrence with a prayer for the New Moon being added to that week’s liturgy, Rosh Chodesh is now looked upon as a special holiday for women. There are several reasons.
First, according to legend, Rosh Chodesh was a “reward” holiday for women because they refused to give up their jewelry for the infamous Golden Calf during the Exodus. This righteousness gave women the privilege of not having to work on Rosh Chodesh.
Secondly is the cyclical relationship between the moon and a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Third, the status of the moon has often been compared to the status of women. The Talmud recounts a legend that the moon and the sun were originally of equal size and brightness, but the moon asked how two could rule equally; G-d responded by making the moon smaller. In ancient texts, woman likewise has a lesser status and is subservient to man.
Today you can find many female-centered Rosh Chodesh “celebrations” through women’s groups that meet over the course of this time. Many of these groups focus on the Shekinah, or feminine aspect of G-d.
Activities vary according to each group. But most explore spirituality, education, health issues, and/or ritual, and might include activities such as drumming, dance, music, chanting, and/or cooking.
This upcoming Rosh Chodesh begins the new month of Av at sundown on Sunday, July 11, 2010.
Above: Night and Day – Watercolor Print by mishmishmarket
written by April Grunspan