Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Rosh Chodesh
To dedicate this lesson

How Should We Observe Rosh Chodesh?

Chassidic tradition emphasizes the cyclical, rejuvenating nature of time. In this respect Rosh Chodesh is most important. It tells us to stop, to think, and to clarify our role and aspirations in life in general, specifically in serving the Creator.


Various Rabbis

6:25 a.m. Thank God I made it to the synagogue five minutes early today. Hey, what’s going on here? Why have they started praying already? Oh, I forgot again! It’s Rosh Chodesh. On Rosh Chodesh the service is longer, so we start ten minutes early and the prayer leader sets a brisk pace. No choice, I jump in to the flow of the prayer, snatch the Hallel, swallow the Musaf, and . . . off to work.
Where is the melodious Hallel? How can we properly observe Rosh Chodesh?

"May You establish a new altar in Zion"
Rabbi Gidon Binyamin
We observe a unique custom on Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) that is grounded in the words of the Geonim and cited in the Shulchan Arukh (423): "The custom is to remove Tefillin prior to praying Musaf." The explanation given for this practice is the fact that we recite the "Keter" Kedusha in the Mussaf prayer, "and it is not proper that we wear the ‘keter’ (crown) of Tefillin at this time." In other words, Jews achieve a level of sanctity on Rosh Chodesh higher than the sanctity of the Tefillin!

The "Levush" writes that even though we (Ashkenazi Jews) do not recite "Keter," we remove our Tefilln, because they represent a covenantal sign ("ot"). The Mussaf of Rosh Chodesh is also a kind of covenantal sign, and two such signs would be superfluous.

Shaarei Teshuva (25) cites a discrepancy with regard to the question of whether or not a person should put his Tefillin on again after the Mussaf prayer? In other words, the question is whether the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh is part of the intrinsic nature of the day (such that it is necessary to put one’s Tefillin on a second time), or whether it derives from the unique sanctity of the Rosh Chodesh Mussaf sacrifice (meaning that one need not put on Tefillin again after the Mussaf prayer).

According to the Scriptures, Rosh Chodesh was of such central value that it was on a par with the other festivals. In the Torah it is written, "On your days of joy, your festivals, and on your New Moons." In addition, a Mussaf sacrifice was offered on the New Moon. The Prophets refer to the Rosh Chodesh feast as an established custom in the days of Saul and David. The custom of visiting one’s rabbi on Rosh Chodesh is mentioned in the period of Elijah the Prophet. There was even a custom to desist from labor on Rosh Chadesh.

The question that naturally follows is why does almost nothing of these practices remain with us today, neither as binding law, nor even as accepted custom?

The work "Turei Even" on tractate Megillah explains that the practice of desisting from labor is contingent upon the Rosh Chodesh sacrifice. This is because there is a law that one who offers a sacrifice must refrain from labor. And while it is true that the "Tamid" offering was brought on a daily basis, it would have been impossible for everyone to desist from work continuously. It was therefore sufficient that individuals represent the people regarding this sacrifice. However, on Rosh Chodesh the law remained that a person was forbidden to perform labor while his sacrifice was being offered. According to this explanation it would appear that the day of Rosh Chodesh only possesses sanctity when the Holy Temple is standing.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (in his work "Shi’urim LeZekher Aba Mori") restricts even further the realm of Rosh Chodesh’s sanctity. In his opinion, "the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh is, by its very essence, ‘sanctity of the day,’ which is practiced in the Holy Temple and has no importance or practical bearing whatsoever outside the Holy Temple." Based on this understanding, Rabbi Soloveitchik clarifies the reason that there was no obligation to rejoice and recite the Hallel prayer outside the Holy Temple even when it stood.

The common denominator, then, of all opinions - Shaarei Teshuva, Turei Even, and Rabbi Soloveitchik - is that the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh is essentially tied to the Holy Temple. In light of this, we can better understand the words of the prayer, "You have given Your people New Moons, a time of atonement for all their offspring, when they would bring before You offerings for favor and goats of sin-offering to atone on their behalf."

In contrast with the other festivals, in which the Temple service is only one aspect of the day’s essence, Rosh Chodesh without the Temple service is nothing but a shell. Therefore, we entreat God "May You establish a new altar in Zion, and may we bring up upon it the elevation offering of the New Moon...May You bring them an eternal love and the covenant of the forefathers may you recall upon the children." May this happen speedily in our days, Amen.

From Rejuvenation to Redemption
Rabbi Yinon Ilani
The first commandment the Nation of Israel received as a nation (Exodus 12) was the commandment to sanctify the new moon.

According to the Torah, Rosh Chodesh involves two public commandments - sanctification of the new moon by the supreme rabbinic court in Jerusalem, and the Mussaf offering. By contrast, there is no Rosh Chodesh Torah commandment applying to individuals. (True, Turei Even [Megillah 22] writes that the prohibition against working on Rosh Chodseh applies to the entire Nation of Israel as those who offer sacrifices, however even he admits that this commandment does not apply to individuals as such.)

Based upon this observation, we may conclude that the principal importance of Rosh Chodesh lies in its communal nature. In the time of the Temple, a person who wanted to experience Rosh Chodesh would have to go to Jerusalem.

Over the generations, we find other customs practiced by the Jewish people on Rosh Chodesh, customs that have given a unique character to this day even for the average Jew:

1. A festive meal (Seudat Mitvah). This practice is learned from Jonathan, who tells Saul the Prophet on Rosh Chodesh that David had gone to a family feast (see Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 1:4).

2. The prohibition against work for women (see Rashi and Tosefot, Megillah 22).

3. Visiting one’s rabbi. We learn this from what is written regarding the Shunamite woman: "Today is neither Rosh Chodesh nor Shabbat" (Second Kings 4:23; see also Malbim ad loc).

4. Reciting Hallel (Taanit 28).

5. Wearing festive clothes (brought in Maaseh Rav).

In practice, however, Jews observe these customs only minimally, and this is due to the fact that the most essential aspect of Rosh Chodesh, its national form, is absent.

Indeed, from the wording of the Rosh Chodesh prayers we learn that it is a day of repentance, the "beginning of our soul’s redemption," a day for requesting the redemption of Israel. The Maharasha explains that the Rosh Chodesh goat offering is meant to weaken Esau and increase the power of the Kingdom of Israel.

Rambam (Kiddush HaChodesh 2:3) underscores the obligation of all Israel to accept the authority of the Sanhedrin, and in his Sefer HaMitzvoth (Aseh 153) he emphasizes that the sanctification of the new moon stems solely from the power of the Land of Israel.

We have learned, then, that the principle idea of Rosh Chodesh is to enhance the authority of the court in the Land of Israel. This, as noted, weakens Esau and strengthens the Kingdom of Israel. Therefore, we must encourage and strengthen the custom to walk around the Old City walls ("Sivuv She’arim") on Rosh Chodesh, and hold seminars with the participation of leading Torah scholars from all circles.

Through the convergence of the various circles on this day a unity will be achieved between rabbis and we might merit the speedy establishment of the Sanhedrin, "and though your beginning was small, yet your end should greatly increase" (Job 8:7), and we might likewise merit the fulfillment of that which is written, "And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me, says the Lord" (Isaiah 66:23).

To Renew and To Be Renewed
Rabbi Shai Grin
Rosh Chodesh is a special day. Just as the head is the most central organ in the body, so is Rosh Chodesh of central importance and influence in relation to the entire month. Rosh Chodesh can be approached on a number of levels.

From a halachic standpoint, the Shulchan Arukh (419) rules: "There is a mitzvah to feast in honor of Rosh Chodesh." This is because they made this day a kind of holiday. It also commemorates the feast they used to make for witnesses who came to Jerusalem to testify regarding the appearance of the new moon.

From a domestic standpoint, Rosh Chodesh is special because it is a time when all family members eat together and study together. Some even wear festive clothes on Rosh Chodesh.

Spiritually, Rosh Chodesh is a day of celebration that finds expression in special prayers. Chassidic tradition emphasizes the cyclical, rejuvenating nature of time, and in this respect Rosh Chodesh constitutes an important day. It calls upon us to stop, to think, and to clarify our role and aspirations in life in general and specifically in serving the Creator.

This applies to men and women alike. The mother, the foundation of the home, is capable of educating her children to recognize the importance of this day and of nurturing in them the understanding that a new month symbolizes the ability to make a fresh start.

The Rosh Chodesh of Nisan has special importance. Nisan is the first of the months of the year, the month of redemption, Israel’s exodus from Egyptian bondage. During this month we labor to clean our homes and ourselves in preparation for Seder Night. While preparing, we must not forget to thank and praise the Almighty for freeing us from bondage. We must take advantage of this occasion to strengthen our aspiration for true redemption.

Nisan must constitute a symbol of true clarification in our approach to the redemption. Therefore, on Rosh Chodesh Nisan it is particularly advisable to join the monthly Walk around the Old City Walls ("Sivuv She’arim") and to participate in the special activity relating to the redemption and rebuilding of the Holy Temple. Such deeds and clarifications will awaken our anticipation and stir us to pray that the Almighty bring us true and complete freedom speedily in our days.
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