Mo'edim and Holidays

Mo’edim: Rosh Chodesh (“Beginning of the Month”) #NewMoon

New moon, beginning of a new monthly lunar cycle. Image credit: Creative Commons


Shalom, everyone! Rosh Chodesh, which means “new moon,” “head of the month,” or “beginning of the month,” is the name for the first day of each month on the Hebrew calendar. In ancient pre-exilic Israel, the event of Rosh Chodesh was triggered by the sighting of the first visible/waxing crescent moon each lunar month. Rosh Chodesh is considered a minor biblical holiday, similar to the intermediate days of the holidays of Pesach (Passover) and Sukkoth (Feast of Booths).

The Creator commanded B’nei Yisrael to mark the occasion of the new moon as a time of recognition. In the Book of Numbers, The Creator says to Moshe (Moses):

“Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before Eloheikhem: I am YHVH Eloheikhem,” ~ Numbers 10:10

In ancient pre-exilic Israel, the occurrence of Rosh Chodesh was confirmed by the priests observing the new moon (first visible/waxing crescent). On the day after the new moon sighting, a festival was held to commemorate the occasion which included a convocation, the sounding of trumpets and special sacrificial offerings. Rosh Chodesh was a very significant festival in ancient Israel. The entire calendar depended upon the declarations of Rosh Chodesh; without these declarations, there would be no way of knowing when mo’edim were supposed to occur.

As a result of foreign influence by their Babylonian and Persian conquerors, the post-exilic Judeans adopted a similar lunisolar calendar of the Babylonians for marking time, assigning each month an Akkadian/Babylonian name. After the destruction of the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the sighting of the first visible/waxing crescent moon was mathematically calculated using a fixed calendar developed by Rabbi Hillel II in the 4th century C.E. Over time, a custom developed whereby an additional day could be added to a month to ensure that certain holidays, for example, Yom Kippur, did not fall on days immediately before or after Shabbat (Sabbath/Seventh Day of the Week).


The Pre-Exilic Hebrew Calendar and Rosh Chodesh

There are a total of 12 or 13 months on the Hebrew calendar. Regular years have 12 months; leap years have 13 months. There are therefore 12 or 13 occasions of Rosh Chodesh during a calendar year on the Hebrew calendar. There are also two turns of the year on the Hebrew calendar. The ecclesiastical new year begins in the Spring on the 1st of Aviv. The civil new year begins in the Fall on the 1st of Ethanim.

The following are the occasions of Rosh Chodesh using the names of the months on the pre-exilic Hebrew calendar, prior to the Babylonian Exile.

Rosh Chodesh (New Moon)
Lunar Month #
Given Name Name Meaning/Notes Season Gregorian Months
 First Month  Aviv Spring, green ears (of corn)
Note: The first day of Aviv marks the ecclesiastical new year on the Hebrew calendar.
Spring Mar – Apr
 Second Month  Ziv Light, glow, or bright (flowers) Spring Apr – May
 Third Month  Mattan Gift (of crops) Spring May – Jun
 Fourth Month  Zabah Offering (of produce) Summer Jun – Jul
 Fifth Month  Karar Heat (of summer) Summer Jul – Aug
 Sixth Month  Tsahim Shining (of the sun) Summer Aug – Sep
 Seventh Month  Ethanim Perpetual (streams)
Note
: The first day of Ethanim marks the civil new year on the Hebrew calendar.
Fall Sep – Oct
 Eighth Month  Bul Rain (for crops) Fall Oct – Nov
 Ninth Month  Marpa’im Remedies (of plants) Fall Nov – Dec
 Tenth Month  Pagrim Corpses (of plants) Winter Dec – Jan
 Eleventh Month  Pe’ulot Labors (of late planting) Winter Jan – Feb
 Twelfth Month  Hayir I White (of frost) Winter Feb – Mar
 Thirteenth Month  Hayir II Note: A 13th new moon is only counted in years when the signs of Spring have not been fully confirmed by the end of the 12th lunar month.  Winter-Spring Feb – Mar

Holiday Observances

In some Torah communities, Rosh Chodesh is a day of rest for women. This is because according to tradition, women in the Nation of Yisra’el did not participate in the Sin of the Golden Calf. Another explanation is the link between the lunar cycle and the menstrual cycle: A monthly renewal.

Rosh Chodesh is announced in community houses of worship on the preceding Shabbat after the reading of the Torah portion. A special prayer is recited beseeching The Creator for His blessing during the new month.  The name of the new month, and the day of the week on which it will occur, is also announced during this special prayer.

On the day of Rosh Chodesh, some Torah communities read a special Torah portion, Numbers 28:11-15, and recite designated psalms including Psalms 104, 148, 113, 114, 117, and 118.
The traditional greeting on Rosh Chodesh is Chodesh Tov wishing a good month to the recipient(s).

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