We are gathered to celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new Jewish month. When introducing the commandment of Rosh Chodesh, the Torah says: "This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months for you" (Exodus 12:2). Commenting on the fact that the verse says "This month shall mark for you," Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes: "This renewal of the moon shall be a beginning of renewals for you. Noticing, realizing the fresh birth of the moon shall induce you to achieve a similar rejuvenation. You are to fix your moons, your periods of time by taking note of this ever fresh recurring rejuvenation." Rosh Chodesh is a time for introspection and reflection on the previous month that was, and on the new month that will be.
Rosh Chodesh is an especially meaningful day for Jewish women. It has blossomed into a celebration of women and femininity. According to tradition, when the Children of Israel built the Golden Calf, the women refused to participate. As a reward, they were given Rosh Chodesh. Another connection between women and Rosh Chodesh is the similarity between the moon's 29 ½ day cycle and women's menstrual cycles. Robin Zeigler, a modern writer on Judaism, explains: "All throughout the generations women have experienced the same cycles of life. Like the familiar moon, the body gently speaks to us."
Women throughout Jewish history have celebrated Rosh Chodesh by taking a break from their everyday lives and gathering together. We join our foremothers as we gather to celebrate the new month and our lives as Jewish women. In the words of Hannah Senesh:
There are stars whose radiance is visible on earth
though they have long been extinct.
There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world
though they are no longer among the living.
These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark.
They light the way for mankind.
Announcing the New Month
When the Sanhedrin, or Supreme Court, used to convene in Jerusalem, the new month was not declared until two witnesses who were able to verify that they had seen the new moon came and testified before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin would then declare it Rosh Chodesh and would let the rest of Israel know, originally by sending signals through fires lit on mountaintops, and later by sending messengers to all the villages and towns of Israel. When the Sanhedrin was disbanded in the 4th Century CE, a fixed calendar was instituted in which Rosh Chodesh was determined based on astronomical calculations of the new moon. As a vestige of the old system, and to remind us of the centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish thought and Jewish life, Rosh Chodesh is determined based on the appearance of the new moon over Jerusalem. When the new month is announced in synagogue on the Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh, the exact moment when the new moon appears over Jerusalem is announced as well. Let us now announce the new month that we have gathered to celebrate.
Announce Rosh Chodesh and the "Molad"
Rosh Chodesh for the month of _____, will be/was (give day of Rosh Chodesh) at _____ (give exact calculation, which is available on Ezras Torah.)
In keeping with the ancient tradition where the Sanhedrin would light fires on mountaintops to spread the new that the new month had been declared, we will now light a fire to mark the new month.
Light a candle
There is an ancient custom associated with Rosh Chodesh known as kiddush levana, or "the sanctification of the new moon." This prayer is said outside in the moonlight. Its source is a Talmudic passage which states: "Whoever blesses the month in its proper time, receives the Divine Presence." The Talmud further teaches, "If Israel had only merited to receive the Divine Presence once per month, it would have been sufficient for them." Part of this prayer includes the traditional Jewish greeting of saying "Shalom Aleichem," "Peace upon you," to which one responds "Aleichem Shalom," "Upon you peace."
As we are gathered to sanctify the new month and new moon, let's introduce ourselves to the group using the traditional greeting. Since we are all women, we can use the feminine form of the greeting "Shalom Aleichen" and "Aleichen Shalom." Each person here should introduce herself using either her Hebrew or English name and the name of her mother, and grandmother if she chooses.
Participant: "I am _____ bat (the daughter of) _____ ."
Group: "Shalom Aleichen _____!"
Participant: "Aleichen Shalom!"
We will also use this opportunity to reflect on the previous month and to maintain the unity with Jerusalem that is inherent in Rosh Chodesh. More than a physical place in the world, Jerusalem exists in our minds and our hearts. As each one of us introduces ourselves, think back on the previous month and identify "your Jerusalem" from the month. Your Jerusalem may be a pleasant memory, a nice thought, or a memorable conversation.
Everyone introduces herself using the formula above. After the individual responds to the group "Aleichen Shalom" she should say "My Jerusalem was…"
Introducing the Month and the Activity
After everyone has introduced herself to the group and identified her personal Jerusalem, someone should introduce the month being celebrated with a brief description of the month, its major holidays and women to celebrate that are associated with the month. Once the month has been introduced, someone should describe the month's activity.Closing Ceremony
Let's take a moment to bless the new month and bless each other. The traditional blessing of the new moon, which is said in synagogue on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh concludes with a brief prayer for the upcoming month. We will start by saying this prayer, and anyone who wants to add to it is welcome.
May the Holy One, blessed be He, grant that the new month bring to us and to all his people, the house of Israel, life and peace, joy and gladness, salvation and comfort,
Pause to allow people to add their personal wishes for the upcoming month.
When everyone is done, conclude:
And let us say, Amen.