The Torah commands us to sanctify each month at its start, and Rosh Chodesh, literally the “head of the month,” is celebrated as a minor holiday.
It takes about 29.5 days for the Moon to orbit the Earth. During each lunar orbit, the Moon’s appearance changes from not visibly illuminated (a new moon) through partially illuminated (a waxing crescent) to fully illuminated (a full moon), then back through partially illuminated (a waning crescent) to not illuminated again (a new moon).
The first time that the waxing crescent of the Moon is visible marks the beginning of a Jewish month, called Rosh Chodesh (“head of the month”). Twelve chodashim make a shanah or year (however, since 12 x 29.5 equals 354 days, but a solar year is 365 days, an extra month (called Adar Sheni) is added to the Hebrew calendar every two or three years in order to keep the solar seasons aligned with the lunar calendar).
The Jewish Calendar
Since a Hebrew month may be either 29 or 30 days long, Rosh Chodesh may occur at two times:
- If the current month has 29 days, Rosh Chodesh is observed on the first day of the new month.
- If the current month has 30 days, Rosh Chodesh is observed on the last day of the month as well as on the first day of the new month.
The Shabbat service before the new moon is called Shabbat Mevarchim, or the Sabbath that blesses the month.” After the Torah reading service, the leader holds the Torah scroll, recites a blessing for a good month, and then announces the day of the upcoming week when the new month will begin.
The History of Rosh Chodesh
According to tradition, the very first commandment given to the children of Israel after being delivered from Egypt was to sanctify the new moon (Exodus 12:1-2), thereby causing the fledgling nation to depart from the solar tradition of the Egyptians and to look to the moon for a new means of reckoning time and seasons:
Knowing precisely when Rosh Chodesh began was critical to the order of the mo’edim, or appointed times commanded by the LORD. In fact, the entire Jewish calendar was dependent upon knowing when Rosh Chodesh began, and without this information the set times for the festivals and holidays would be lost. Therefore, during times of persecution (e.g., by the Syrian-Greeks), the Jews were often forbidden to observe Rosh Chodesh as well as Shabbat, in order to keep them from obeying God.
Significance of Rosh Chodesh
The unique feature of the moon is that it appears to us to wax and wane, to disappear and reappear, to grow, diminish and grow again. It is also the smaller of the two luminaries.
Whereas the sun is the symbol of unchanging nature, rising in the east, setting in the west, day in and day out every day of the year, the moon changes and it seems to be telling us something: You can be small and you can diminish until you almost disappear, but then, when things look their darkest, hope springs eternal.
The solar system determines the year, in Hebrew “shana,” which comes from the same root as “to repeat, to go over”. The word “chodesh” comes from the root chadash, which means new. The moon’s cycle of waxing and waning is a powerful symbol of renewal, reminding us that every diminution creates the possibility of rebirth.
Rosh Chodesh offers us the opportunity to begin anew, not just once a year, but once a month.
2013 Rosh Chodesh Dates:
November 3rd (Sunday) – Rosh Chodesh Kislev
December 3rd (Tuesday) – Rosh Chodesh Tevet
2014 Rosh Chodesh Dates:
January 1st (Wednesday) – Rosh Chodesh Shevat
January 31st (Friday) – Rosh Chodesh Adar
March 2nd (Sunday) – Rosh Chodesh Adar 11
March 31st (Monday) – Rosh Chodesh Nisan
April 30th (Wednesday) – Rosh Chodesh iyar
May 29th (Thursday) – Rosh Chodesh Sivan
June 28th (Saturday) – Rosh Chodesh Tammuz
July 27th (Sunday) – Rosh Chodesh Av
August 26th (Tuesday) Rosh Chodesh Elul
September 24th (Wednesday) Rosh Chodesh Tishri – Erev Rosh HaShannah
October 24th (Friday) – Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan
November 22nd (Sunday) – Rosh Chodesh Kislev
Devember 22nd (Monday) – Rosh Chodesh Tevet