A woman prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall during Rosh
Chodesh. (Photo by Brian
Shalom Brothers and Sisters,
Then at the beginning of each of
your months (rosh chodesh) you shall present a burnt offering to the Lord: two
bulls and one ram, seven male lambs one year old without defect.
Around the end of November, people begin to ask us when
Chanukah starts, since this fun holiday can begin anytime between
the end of November to the end of December.
When is Chanukah? The Hebrew date is always the
same, the 25th of Kislev. But, of course, people are really wondering
what date the holiday falls on the Gregorian calendar. This year, Chanukah starts on December 6, so it is just a
couple of weeks away.
The date of Chanukah or
any other Jewish holiday doesn't change from year to year; however, a Jewish
year can change in length from 353 to 354 or 355 days long. And a Jewish leap
year can be 383, 384 or 385 days long.
Because the Jewish year is not the same length as the year
on the civil calendar, the dates of holidays seem to shift quite a bit.
A Jewish girl recites prayers after lighting the chanukiahs
candles at Chanukah. (Photo by Robert Couse)
Why are the two calendars different in length?
The civil Gregorian calendar is based on the solar cycle of
365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time it takes
the earth to make one complete rotation around the sun.
To correct the problem of those extra hours, an extra day is
added to February every four years. This
keeps the equinox (when the sun shines directly on the equator) occurring on
generally the same date every year: March 19 or 20 and September 22 or 23.
The Jewish calendar is a luni-solar calendar. It
considers three things: the yearly rotation of the earth around the sun, the
daily rotation of the earth on its own axis, and the monthly cycle of the moon
around the earth.
Each new moon cycle begins a new month or Rosh
Chodesh. However, there are approximately 12.4 lunar months in every
solar year. In other words, a lunar year is about 11 days shorter than a solar
If the Jewish calendar were a strict lunar calendar that has
29.5 days in a month, every 16 years or so the Fall Feasts would be held in
Spring, and Passover would be held in autumn. This is the case with the Islamic
month of Ramadan that shifts throughout the seasons making a full cycle every
The Passover (1919
To keep the Jewish holidays and appointed times in
their correct seasons, every two or three years the month of Nissan begins
earlier and an extra month is added. This 13-month year is called Shanah Me'uberet, literally, a pregnant year.
The additional month of Adar 1 (also called Adar Aleph) is
added before Adar, which is designated Adar 2. Interestingly, Adar 1 is
not used for celebrating such things as Yahrzeits
(anniversary of a death),
Bar Mitzvahs and birthdays. Adar 2 is considered the real month for honoring
The addition of the extra month guarantees that
Passover (Pesach) and the wheat harvest feast (Pentecost / Shavuot) occurs in
the spring. There is still a slight shifting, however, that results in the
Jewish High Holidays falling anywhere from early September all the way into
Between AD 320 and 385,
Hillel II, the Nasi (Prince) of the ancient Jewish Sanhedrin, established the
calendar that is used today which follows a 19-year cycle, realigning the lunar
and solar calendars.
In this system the extra month is added on the 3rd, 6th,
8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the cycle. The current cycle began at
the start of the Jewish year 5758, which occurred on October 2, 1997.
The Gregorian calendar, however, was created in 1582
by Pope Gregory XIII and proclaimed the official civil calendar of Britain and the British colonies of America
The new moon phase is the moon at its darkest in the night
The sky almost
appears to have no moon at all.
Chodesh, the New Month
"And on your joyous
occasions, your fixed festivals and new moon days, you shall sound the trumpets
over your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being." (Numbers
The beginning of a new month is pivotal in the
Jewish calendar because all of the holidays are marked by their month.
Every month is either 29 days (known as Chaser or lacking,
in Hebrew) or 30 days (Malei
or full). The beginning of the month
is called Rosh Chodesh (Head of the Month).
In Biblical times and
today, Rosh Chodesh itself is considered a minor holiday, much the same as the
intermediate days of Passover.
In the Book of Samuel, we see that the new moon was honored
with a feast: David said to Jonathan, Behold,
tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit at table with the king. But
let me go, that I may hide myself in the field till the third day at evening.
So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down
(1 Samuel 20:5, 24)
Although Jewish men and women celebrate Rosh Chodesh, women
have a special connection to this semi-holiday. It is
that because the women refused to relinquish their jewelry
to the men in
the incident of the Golden Calf, they were given this
special day as a kind
of holiday. The expressions of that holiday differ
from community to
by Brian Negin)
Even today we see vestiges of celebrating the new moon:
When I was a young boy living in South Bend Indiana,
attending the Hebrew Institute Hebrew school, once a month we would have a
party in celebration of the new moon or the beginning of the new Hebrew
calendar month, said Barry, a member of the Bibles For Israel team. This
meant an hour or so away from our studies when we could drink juice, eat fruit
and just have fun.
On the Sabbath of Blessing of
the month (Shabbat Mevarkhim HaChodesh), which is the
last Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh, additional prayers are recited to create
spiritual sustenance for the coming month.
The blessing asks God to renew the month for life and for
peace, for gladness and for joy, for deliverance and for consolation.
Sometimes the Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh is just a day
before. In that case, the Sabbath is called Shabbat
Machar Chodesh (Shabbat of
If the Sabbath falls on the new moon, it is called Shabbat
Rosh Chodesh and additional Torah (Numbers 28:11) and Haftarah (Isaiah
66:23) readings are added.
The Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Torah reading describes the Rosh
Chodesh offerings at the Temple:
At the beginning of each of your
months you shall present a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls and one ram,
seven male lambs one year old without defect. (Numbers 28:11)
The Haftarah portion reveals that the nations will
come to Jerusalem
at the new moon to worship before the Lord when Messiah returns:
From one New Moon to another and
from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before Me, says
the LORD. (Isaiah 66:23)
This reveals that God has not and will not abandoned His
Carrying the Torah at Rosh Chodesh (Photo by
Sanctification by the
On Shabbat Mevarkhim (the Shabbat that blesses the new month),
we remember the Sanhedrin's role in sanctifying this new moon, which was not
always easy to spot in the sky.
During its rebirthing phase, the moon rises and sets
with the sun for one or two days. Because of its proximity to the sun
during this time, the moon is difficult to impossible to see.
After its apparent absence, it reappears in the night sky as
a faint sliver in the west.
In ancient times the Sanhedrin (also known as the rabbinical
city council) would only declare a Rosh Chodesh on the testimony of two
In a large courtyard called Beit Ya'azek, members of the
rabbinical council would question witnesses who had claimed to have seen the
new moon the previous day.
The Trumpet at the Feast
of the New Moon (1890 Holman Bible)
The members of the Sanhedrin knew astronomy well and
thus knew which questions to ask. They knew when the new moon was to
appear and where it could be seen. Nevertheless, the sanctification of the moon
required the testimony of two witnesses who had actually seen it.
As the witnesses arrived they would ask the following
- In which direction was the
moon in relation to the sun?
- Was it to the north or south?
- How high in the sky did the
- In which direction were the
crescent's tips facing?
- How wide was it?
In each case they would first question the older member of
the pair and then the younger. If their testimonies matched, they would
proclaim the 30th day as Rosh Chodesh making that a 29 day month, and say, Mekudash! (Sanctified!). With
everyone responding, Mekudash! Mekudash! (Chabad)
If no witnesses were found, the following day was celebrated
as Rosh Chodesh and the previous month became a 30-day month.
Women of the Wall pray on Rosh Chodesh in Jerusalem. (Photo by
The Midrash (book of rabbinic stories and teachings) teaches
that the Jewish people who are holy (And you shall
be holy to Me, for I, the Lord, am holy, (Leviticus 20:26))
sanctify (make holy) the new moon through their blessings of it.
And He directed the moon
to renew herself as a crown of glory to (the Jewish nation), who likewise are
destined to be renewed like her ... (Chabad)
Rosh Chodesh is thus seen as a kind of second chance. It is
a monthly reminder: just as the moon is renewed from almost complete extinction
emitting not an iota of light, we are likewise destined to be renewed like her.
In Judaism this renewal is seen as a national
rebirth when the Messiah returns, which will be shared by the entire world.
Just as the moon wanes every month, the Jewish nation seemed
to wane after the days of Solomon. Nevertheless, Israel will be
restored to her full brightness, and the entire world will be impacted.
Jewish new moon celebration (Illustration from Juedisches
a German book published in
New Moon, New Life
The rebirth of the moon at Rosh Chodesh reminds us of
the birth of our own lives. It, in essence, reminds us to approach God as
a child in simplicity, seeking a one-to-one connection with Him.
To accomplish this, a person must relate to God completely
devoid of his own personal qualifications in a sense of what the sages call mesirat nefesh (self-nullification)
or self-sacrifice in God's service.
Children, with their simple outlook on life, have no need to negate their
existence in order to connect with God.
Rabbi Yossi Braun, writing for the Chabad website, also compares
the new month to the birth of a child which always brings on a shower
of mazel tovs (congratulations) and good feelings.
Even though babies cannot determine if they will have much
to offer when they become full grown, each of us rejoices at the birth of a
child because we're so glad that God has given us a new life.
The reason we love children so much is because of their innocence,
simplicity, and purity. In truth, we don't appreciate them for their virtues,
for what they have, but for what they lack, writes Braun.
Rosh Chodesh in Jerusalem
(Photo by Brian Negin)
Children, he says, are not trying to prove anything; they
just want to exist. We celebrate our children for who they are, or more
correctly, because they are, writes Braun.
This step of passing into creation is a greater achievement
than any subsequent transitions says Braun. All future achievements are
built on this one thing: the very fact that the child exists.
And this is how the Jewish People relate to the
moon. At the middle of the month the moon is round and full and has
reached its perfection, but at Rosh Chodesh when it is a thin sliver, we
celebrate the mere fact that it exists at all.
Braun compares this with the life of each individual. As a
people, too, he writes, we have had different phases: our better days when
everything was dandy and rosy, and our end-of-the-month waning times. But, we
celebrate the fact that despite all odds, we exist. We are. And we're here to
It surely seems that the
Jewish People were at times throughout history about to disappear from planet Earth,
but so does the moon. The shining of the moon anew each month reassures us of
our ultimate rebirth the Redemption, Braun concludes.
Moon phases (Diagram
The phases of the moon remind us that no one is
perfect and that although we may fall, we are never diminished in God's sight.
The righteous can fall even
seven times, and rise again; but the wicked stumble with evil. (Proverbs
The righteous fall but they get up again. Just as the moon
rises and then declines, we are reminded of the high and low points in
everyone's lives. And just as the moon keeps coming back each month, we must
never give up.
Similarly, just as the waning of the moon suggests its
extinction, it reminds us that at the darkest of times, when the Divine
Presence seems to have left our world, it is really only hidden from our view.
The new moon also reassures of ultimate rebirth at the
Redemption. Those who know the Lord, the Messiah of Israel, know
that they are already redeemed by His blood.
rebirth of the moon each month can be for us a reminder of this rebirth, of
this redemption from sin and death.
Sliver after the New Moon taken at sunset (Photo by Andrew McMillan)
The Final Redemption,
The Messianic Rebirth
Although the rabbis compare the coming Messianic era
to the full moon, the hope of redemption and His coming is compared to the new
Its re-emergence is compared to the kingdom of David. "Though
it may have lost much of its former radiance, it will be restored to its glory
in messianic times," the Chabad website states.
Once I have sworn by My holiness;
I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as
the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness
in the sky is faithful. (Psalm 89:35-37)
The Talmud (compendium of rabbinical teachings and
discussions) teaches that when the Messiah returns, the moon will cease to diminish and remain as large and
bright as the sun.
So while the celebration of the new moon reminds us of His
coming, it also reminds us to renew our awareness of His Presence in our lives,
and to push forward into the growth and change that He has for us,
becoming all He created us to be.
When I look at your heavens, the
work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what
is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Please be a part of Adonai's end-time plan for the complete
restoration of Israel by
helping us bring the love of God to the Holy Land
and the nations.
"In the last days, God
says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters
will prophesy.... Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out
my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.... I will show wonders in
the heavens above and signs on the earth below... and all who call on the name
of the Lord will be saved." (Acts 2:17-21)
"The harvest is plentiful,
but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send
out workers into His harvest field." (Luke 10:2)
Dr. Akiva Sherman- Israeli Messianic Minister