Rosh Chodesh ×¨Ö¹××©× ×Ö¹×Ö·×©× - Head of the month
(A work in progress)
The following has been taken from Judaism 101 Rosh Chodesh
In Hebrew, Rosh Chodesh means, literally, “head of the month” or “first of the month.” Rosh Chodesh is the first day of any new month. If a month is 30 days long, then the 30th day is treated as part of the Rosh Chodesh for the next month, and the Rosh Chodesh for next month extends for two days (the 30th of the earlier month and the 1st of the later month).
In ancient times, Rosh Chodesh was a significant festival day. At that time, the new months were determined by observation. Each month began when the first sliver of moon became visible after the dark of the moon. Observers would watch the sky at night for any sign of the moon. If they saw the moon, they would report their sightings to the Sanhedrin, which would interrogate them to make sure that they were not mistaken. Where in the sky did the moon appear? Which direction was it pointing? If two independent, reliable eyewitnesses confirmed that 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.
The day after the moon appeared was a festival, announced with the sounding of the shofar, commemorated with solemn convocations, family festivities and special sacrifices. The importance of this holiday in ancient times should not be underestimated. The entire calendar was dependent upon these declarations; without the declarations, there would be no way of knowing when holidays were supposed to occur.
In later days, however, the calendar was fixed by mathematical computation. After the destruction of the Temple, sacrifices were no longer available. Accordingly, the significance of this festival has substantially diminished. There are some slight changes to the liturgy for Rosh Chodesh, including the addition of part of Hallel after the Shemoneh Esrei, and some additional Torah readings, but that is about the only observance of Rosh Chodesh today.
It remains a custom in some communities for women to refrain from work on Rosh Chodesh, as a reward for their refusal to participate in the incident of the Golden Calf. See The Role of Women. Shabbat Mevarekhim
The Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh is known as Shabbat Mevarekhim, which means “the Sabbath of blessing.” After the Torah reading in the Shabbat service, the prayer leader holds the Torah scroll, recites a blessing hoping for a good month, then announces the day of the upcoming week when the new month will begin and the name of the new month.
Shabbat Mevarekhim is not observed during the month of Elul to announce the beginning of the month of Tishri, the month in which Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) occurs. The common-sense explanation of this omission is simply that the month of Tishri is anticipated throughout the month of Elul with increasing intensity as Rosh Hashanah approaches, making a formal announcement of the date unnecessary. However, a Chasidic tradition teaches that G-d himself blesses the first of Tishri, the anniversary of Creation, and gave the privilege of blessing the rest of the months to the Jewish people.
Note that Shabbat Mevarekhim is not necessarily the last Shabbat of the month. In a 30-day month, the 30th is part of Rosh Chodesh for the next month. If the 30th falls on Shabbat, it is the last Shabbat of the month, but Shabbat Mevarekhim occurs on the 23rd, which is the last Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh.
The following is taken from Judaism 101 Women’s Holiday: Rosh Chodesh
Rosh Chodesh, the first day of each month, is a minor festival. There is a custom that women do not work on Rosh Chodesh. A midrash teaches that each of the Rosh Chodeshim was originally intended to represent the one of the twelve tribes of Israel, just as the three major festivals (Pesach, Sukkot and Shavu’ot) each represent one of the three patriarchs. However, because of the sin of the Golden Calf, the holiday was taken away from the men and given to women, as a reward for the women’s refusal to participate in the construction of the Golden Calf.
How do we know that women didn’t participate in the Golden Calf incident? The midrash notes that Exodus 32 says that “the people” came to Aaron and asked him to make an idol. Aaron told them to get the golden rings from their wives and their sons and their daughters. Note that the biblical verse doesn’t say anything about “the people” getting the rings from their husbands, only from wives and sons and daughters, from which we can infer that “the people” in question were the men. Then Ex. 32:3 says that “the people” broke off the golden rings that were in their ears. The bible does not say that they got the gold from their wives and sons and daughters; rather, it says that “the people” (i.e., the same people) gave their own gold. The midrash explains that the men went back to their wives and the wives refused to give their gold to the creation of an idol. As a reward for this, the women were given the holiday that was intended to represent the tribes. The Role of Women in the Synagogue
To understand the limited role of women in synagogue life, it is important to understand the nature of commandments in Judaism and the separation of men and women.
Judaism recognizes that it is mankind’s nature to rebel against authority; thus, one who does something because he is commanded to is regarded with greater merit than one who does something because he chooses to. The person who refrains from pork because it is a commandment has more merit than the person who refrains from pork because he doesn’t like the taste. In addition, the commandments, burdens, obligations, that were given to the Jewish people are regarded as a privilege, and the more commandments one is obliged to observe, the more privileged one is.
Because women are not obligated to perform certain commandments, their observance of those commandments does not “count” for group purposes. Thus, a woman’s voluntary attendance at daily worship services does not count toward a minyan (the 10 people necessary to recite certain prayers), a woman’s voluntary recitation of certain prayers does not count on behalf of the group (thus women cannot lead services), and a woman’s voluntary reading from the Torah does not count towards the community’s obligation to read from the Torah.
In addition, because women are not obligated to perform as many commandments as men are, women are regarded as less privileged. It is in this light that one must understand the man’s prayer thanking G-d for “not making me a woman.” The prayer does not indicate that it is bad to be a woman, but only that men are fortunate to be privileged to have more obligations. The corresponding women’s prayer, thanking G-d for making me “according to his will,” is not a statement of resignation to a lower status (hardly an appropriate sentiment for prayer!) On the contrary, this prayer should be understood as thanking G-d for giving women greater binah, for making women closer to G-d’s idea of spiritual perfection, and for all the joys of being a woman generally.
MechitzaThe second thing that must be understood is the separation of men and women during prayer. According to Jewish Law, men and women must be separated during prayer, usually by a wall or curtain called a mechitzah or by placing women in a second floor balcony. There are two reasons for this: first, your mind is supposed to be on prayer, not on the pretty girl praying near you. Second, many pagan religious ceremonies at the time Judaism was founded involved sexual activity and orgies, and the separation prevents or at least discourages this.
The combination of this exemption from certain commandments and this separation often has the result that women have an inferior place in the synagogue. Woman’s obligations in the home (which are the reason why women are exempt from time-based commandments like formal prayer services) often keep them away from synagogue. In several synagogues that I have attended, the women’s section is poorly climate controlled, and women cannot see (sometimes can’t even hear!) what’s going on in the men’s section, where the services are being led. Women are not obligated by Jewish law to attend formal religious services, and cannot participate in many aspects of the services (traditional Jewish services have a very high degree of “audience participation” — and I’m not just talking about community readings, I’m talking about actively taking part in running the service).
But as I said before, this restriction on participation in synagogue life does not mean that women are excluded the Jewish religion, because the Jewish religion is not just something that happens in synagogue. Judaism is something that permeates every aspect of your life, every thing that you do, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed, from what you eat and how you dress to how you conduct business. Prayer services are only a small, though important, part of the Jewish religion.