Rosh Hodesh, also spelled Rosh Chodesh (“Ch” as in “Bach”), is the celebration of the new Hebrew month, an ancient festival finding renewal among contemporary Jews.

Rosh Hodesh means the “head” or first day of the lunar month (just as “Rosh Hashanah” means the “head of the year”). It begins on the evening in which the first sliver of the new moon can be sighted in the sky, an event which varies between 29 and 30 days from the previous new moon. Some months have one day of Rosh Hodesh and others have two. Although now you can find the date of Rosh Hodesh by consulting a Jewish calendar, it’s wonderful to get in touch with the natural rhythms of time by also looking up to find the moon in the evening sky.

In ancient Israel, Rosh Hodesh was an important festival. After the Roman destruction of the Temple in the year 70 it was marked mostly by special prayers and readings in the synaogogue.  Rosh Hodesh remained a special semi-holiday for women: a reward, it is said, for our foremothers’ refusal to donate their jewelry to make the golden calf. Women traditionally took the day off from heavy housework or wore new clothing. Since the 1970’s, contemporary Jewish women have renewed and reclaimed Rosh Hodesh as a women’s celebration. Many identify traditional Jewish lore about the restoration of the Moon’s primordial glory with an expansion of women’s roles in the modern world. Jewish communities from Orthodox to Reform have women’s Rosh Hodesh groups that meet to celebrate the day. Activities may include learning or discussion, artwork, music, dance and movement, or sharing refreshments. But why only for women? Although Kiddush Levanah, blessing the new moon, has been re-energized as a Jewish men’s ritual, I’m in favor of sharing all of our moon rituals with people of all genders. 

 

Creative Ideas for Celebrating Rosh Hodesh

Celebrating the New Moon book cover

Classic anthology full of essays and resources for Rosh Hodesh.

Light a floating candle in a round bowl to symbolize the motifs of the moon “floating” in the heavens, as well as the round cycle of life and the waters of birth and renewal. I observed Mazal Danan, my Sephardic mother-in-law of blessed memory, kindle floating oil lights on Rosh Hodesh, each in memory of a righteous person.There is no traditional blessing to say but it’s a great time to say your own prayers and blessings in your own words.

Miriam's Well Book Cover

The guidebook that helped renew the holiday for modern women

Take a semi-holiday and schedule Rosh Hodesh as a day for self-care such as a massage, a walk in a new natural setting or art museum, getting together with a friend in person or reaching out to a friend far away.

Make it a day to help others by offering a well-considered donation to a Tzedakah (charity, righteous giving) project of your choice. Empty out your tzedakah box and donate the money to a local cause.

Have a special meal for family and/or friends, including a new fruit of the season for which you can say a she-hecheyanu blessing. You could serve crescent shaped breads or rolls to symbolize the new moon.

New Moon Book Cover

A young girl discovers Rosh Hodesh

 

When our kids were young, we followed our Rosh Hodesh dinner with an informal “family meeting” where we would discuss upcoming Jewish holidays and other family plans and issues. We would then distribute allowances–guaranteed to help kids remember the day! These and more ideas are included in a parenting book that I back when my kids were young: The Jewish Parents’ Almanac.

If you have a special family simchah (happy occasion) such as a baby naming or housewarming, see if you can schedule it for a Rosh Hodesh as an extra dimension of celebration.

Don’t look for a Rosh Hodesh in the month of Tishrei; it is superseded by Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, which also begins at the New Moon.

New Moon, New Month Cover

An Israeli family camps in the Negev Desert and learns about the moon

 

 

 

 

You can find many more ideas for personal rituals or for a Rosh Hodesh gathering here at Ritualwell.org.

 

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Featured Image: New Moon Over Earth (Archive: NASA, International Space Station, 12/29/00) via Flickr

Enjoy a Rosh Hodesh song for your celebration, or Return to the Gateway of the Moon.

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