Moon and Women

Celebrating the new moon has special significance for women.

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Reprinted with permission fromThe Tapestry of Jewish Time: A Spiritual Guide to Holidays and Lifecycle Events (Behrman House).

Rosh Chodesh is a holiday for everyone, but women have a special attachment to the day.  For at least 2,000 years, Jewish women have celebrated the appearance of the New Moon in their own way, most notably by refraining from sewing, spinning, weaving or doing any needlework. It was a day on which women were free of family chores, a one- or two-day vacation they honored every month. In some communities, women would gather to light candles (perhaps recalling the bonfires of Israel), tell one another stories, enjoy one another's company.

the moonMany societies associate women's bellies with the moon. In Judaism, the rabbis offered the following explanation for the special relationship between women and the new moon: After the Exodus, while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from God, the Israelites, impatient and worried, succumbed to idolatry. They pooled their gold and made the golden calf. But in this case, the rabbis tell us, "the Israelites" means only the men. The women refused to participate; they refused to offer up their gold and jewelry for such an abomination. Yet when the time was right, they proved themselves generous, for upon Moses' return and the building of the Tabernacle, they gave abundantly of their mirrors and other prized belongings to help make the sacred instruments of the Temple. God rewarded the women for their devotion and their generosity by granting them the New Moon as their holiday.

In the 1970s, Jewish women around the world began to reclaim Rosh Chodesh. Once again women are celebrating the day, alone or together, as they light candles afloat in pools of water in crystal bowls. They sing songs, share stories, study Torah, comfort one another in response to recent losses, or rejoice at one another’s successes and pleasures, large or small. It is a time of caring and connecting, of knowing that they belong. And for some, it is a moment of reconnecting to a tradition that they had thought had no place for them.

The celebration for Rosh Chodesh--for both men and women--continues with the kiddush halevanah, the sanctification of the New Moon, on the first or second Saturday night of the month.  After the evening service, if the skies are clear and the moon can be seen, the congregation goes outdoors. Congregants turn their faces skywards and say:

Halleluyah. Praise God from the heavens, praise God from the heights. . .. Blessed are You, God, Sovereign of the universe, who with but a word created the heavens and who said to the moon that she will be renewed as a crown of splendor for all God's children, just as they are destined to be renewed like her.

A private prayer for those in need of healing or seeking to have a child is sometimes inserted here.

Kiddush halevanah cannot be said after the moon has reached its zenith. That time belongs to next month's New Moon.

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Rabbi Nina B. Cardin

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin the Director of the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network and past General Consultant to COEJL.