What is Rosh Chodesh?

A Jewish Joke

Q: What service commemorates the cow that was sacrificed on Rosh Chodesh?

A: Moo-saf!

Rosh Chodesh “on one foot”:

Rosh Chodesh, literally meaning “Head of the Month”, is the holiday commemorating the beginning of the Jewish month. It happens every month except for Tishrei, because the beginning of that month is Rosh Hashanah.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

(ב) הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחׇדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃
(2) This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Exodus, right before the 10th Plague. Up until this time the Israelites didn’t have control over their time, and now that they are going to be free they are going to control their own calendar and use of time.

If you had to implement this from scratch, what questions would you have?

What Determines a "Month"?

(כג) וְהָיָ֗ה מִֽדֵּי־חֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ בְּחׇדְשׁ֔וֹ וּמִדֵּ֥י שַׁבָּ֖ת בְּשַׁבַּתּ֑וֹ יָב֧וֹא כׇל־בָּשָׂ֛ר לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֺ֥ת לְפָנַ֖י אָמַ֥ר יְהֹוָֽה׃
(23) And new moon after new moon,
And sabbath after sabbath,
All flesh shall come to worship Me
—said the LORD.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Isaiah, at the very end. Because this verse mentions Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, it is part of the Haftarah (prophetic reading) for when Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh coincide twice a year.

We see from this text that a “month” is the amount of time it takes to go from new moon to new moon (think “moonth”). A year is therefore 12 “moonths”.

But a Lunar Year is Shorter than a Solar Year!

(ד) הַיּ֖וֹם אַתֶּ֣ם יֹצְאִ֑ים בְּחֹ֖דֶשׁ הָאָבִֽיב׃

(4) You go free on this day, in the month of Aviv.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Exodus, right after Pharaoh freed the Israelites following the 10th Plague. “Aviv” means “spring”, so this verse indicates that Passover has to be in the spring.

This is a problem, because 12 lunar months is 354 days, while 1 solar year is 365 days. Therefore, holidays will get 11 days earlier each year. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, and that’s why Ramadan sometimes coincides with Yom Kippur and sometimes with Tisha B’Av. Without some way of fixing the Jewish calendar, Passover will eventually be in the winter.

רבי ינאי אומר משום רבן שמעון בן גמליאל מהודעין אנחנא לכון דגוזליא רכיכין ואימריא דערקין וזימנא דאביבא לא מטא ושפרת מילתא באנפאי ואוסיפית על שתא דא תלתין יומין

Rabbi Yannai says in the name of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, i.e., this is the language Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel used in his declaration of the intercalation: We are notifying you that the fledglings are tender, and that the lambs are thin, and time for the spring has not yet arrived. And consequently, the matter is good in my eyes, and I have therefore added thirty days onto this year.

Context: This is from the Babylonian Talmud, Masechet (Tractate) Sanhedrin, which is about the roles of judges.

In order to fix the calendar, by the time of the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 1:1) it was decided that every so often a panel of 3 judges could declare the need for an extra month at the end of the year (Adar 1 / Aleph, since the year began with Nisan back then). The word the Talmud uses is “intercalating”; today we could call this “declaring it a leap year”. This text shows how they came to this conclusion (for another take on the matter, see here: https://youtu.be/_0ffgZKL66M)

Note that when there is a yahrtzeit (anniversary of a death) or a Hebrew birthday in the month of Adar, in a leap year it falls in Adar 2 / Bet. This keeps it the same distance from Passover. On the other hand, if a death or birth occurs during a leap year in Adar 1 / Aleph or 2 / Bet, then it all gets consolidated into Adar during non-leap years.

(יא) נִמְצָא בְּמַחֲזוֹר שֶׁהוּא כָּזֶה הֶחֳדָשִׁים כֻּלָּם חָדְשֵׁי הַלְּבָנָה וְהַשָּׁנִים שְׁנֵי הַחַמָּה. וְהַשֶּׁבַע שָׁנִים הַמְעֻבָּרוֹת שֶׁבְּכָל מַחֲזוֹר וּמַחֲזוֹר לְפִי חֶשְׁבּוֹן זֶה הֵם שָׁנָה שְׁלִישִׁית מִן הַמַּחֲזוֹר וְשִׁשִּׁית וּשְׁמִינִית וּשְׁנַת אַחַת עֶשְׂרֵה וּשְׁנַת אַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה וּשְׁנַת שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה וּשְׁנַת י''ט. סִימָן לָהֶם גו''ח י''א י''ד י''ז י''ט:

(11) It comes out that in a cycle that is like this, all of the months are lunar months and the years are solar years. And the seven leap years in each and every cycle – according to this calculation – are the third year of the cycle, the sixth year, the eighth year, the eleventh year, the fourteenth year, the seventeenth year and nineteenth year. Their symbol is

Context: This is from Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, where he took the rules in the Talmud and removed the discussion so you could just see the bottom line.

In 358 CE Hillel II fixed the Jewish calendar so that one could plan ahead. Leap years, when an extra month was added, were put at specific points in the 19 year cycle so as to make sure all the math worked out. The cycle is 19 years long, because that’s the length of the Metonic cycle, which is when the lunar orbits of the planets reset themselves. The Babylonians, Chinese, and Israelite calendars all used this system, which the Greeks calculated as well. Today, the Bahai calendar is based on this 19 year cycle too.

How Long Is a Month?

(ה) סֵדֶר הֶחֳדָשִׁים הַמְּלֵאִים וְהַחֲסֵרִים לְפִי חֶשְׁבּוֹן זֶה כָּךְ הוּא. תִּשְׁרֵי לְעוֹלָם מָלֵא. וְטֵבֵת לְעוֹלָם חָסֵר. וּמִטֵּבֵת וְאֵילָךְ אֶחָד מָלֵא וְאֶחָד חָסֵר עַל הַסֵּדֶר. כֵּיצַד. טֵבֵת חָסֵר שְׁבָט מָלֵא. אֲדָר חָסֵר נִיסָן מָלֵא. אִיָּר חָסֵר סִיוָן מָלֵא. תַּמּוּז חָסֵר אָב מָלֵא. אֱלוּל חָסֵר. וּבְשָׁנָה הַמְעֻבֶּרֶת אֲדָר רִאשׁוֹן מָלֵא וַאֲדָר שֵׁנִי חָסֵר:

(ו) נִשְׁאֲרוּ שְׁנֵי הֶחֳדָשִׁים שֶׁהֵן מַרְחֶשְׁוָן וְכִסְלֵו. פְּעָמִים יִהְיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם מְלֵאִים וּפְעָמִים יִהְיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם חֲסֵרִים וּפְעָמִים יִהְיֶה מַרְחֶשְׁוָן חָסֵר וְכִסְלֵו מָלֵא. וְשָׁנָה שֶׁיִּהְיוּ בָּהּ שְׁנֵי חֳדָשִׁים אֵלּוּ מְלֵאִים הִיא שֶׁנִּקְרְאוּ חֳדָשֶׁיהָ שְׁלֵמִים. וְשָׁנָה שֶׁיִּהְיוּ בָּהּ שְׁנֵי חֳדָשִׁים אֵלּוּ חֲסֵרִים נִקְרְאוּ חֳדָשֶׁיהָ חֲסֵרִין. וְשָׁנָה שֶׁיִּהְיוּ בָּהּ מַרְחֶשְׁוָן חָסֵר וְכִסְלֵו מָלֵא נִקְרְאוּ חֳדָשֶׁיהָ כְּסִדְרָן:

(5) The order of the full and lacking months according to this calculation is like this: Tishrei is always full; and Tevet is always lacking; and from Tevet onward, [it is] one full and one lacking, in order. How is this? Tevet is lacking, Shevat is full, Adar is lacking, Nissan is full, Iyar is lacking, Sivan is full, Tammuz is lacking, Av is full, Elul is lacking. And in a leap year, First Adar is full and Second Adar is lacking.

(6) There remain two months – which are Marchesvan and Kislev. Sometimes both of them will be full, sometimes both of them will be lacking and sometimes Marchesvan will be lacking and Kislev will be full. A year in which both of these months are full is one in which its months are called complete. And a year in which both of these months are lacking is one in which its months are called lacking. And a year in which Marchesvan is lacking and Kislev is full [is one in which] it months are called in order.

Context: This is from the Mishneh Torah again.

Based on mathematical calculations, some months have 30 days (“full months”) and some months have 29 days (“lacking months”). When a month has 30 days, the last day is Rosh Chodesh and the first day of the next month is also Rosh Chodesh. When a month has 29 days, only the first day of the next month is Rosh Chodesh.

How Was a New Month Determined?

(ח) דְּמוּת צוּרוֹת לְבָנוֹת הָיוּ לוֹ לְרַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל בַּטַּבְלָא וּבַכֹּתֶל בַּעֲלִיָּתוֹ, שֶׁבָּהֶן מַרְאֶה אֶת הַהֶדְיוֹטוֹת וְאוֹמֵר, הֲכָזֶה רָאִיתָ אוֹ כָזֶה.

(8) Rabban Gamliel had a diagram of the different forms of the moon drawn on a tablet that hung on the wall of his attic, which he would show to the laymen who came to testify about the new moon but were unable to describe adequately what they had seen. And he would say to them: Did you see a form like this or like this?

Context: This is from the Mishnah, Masechet (Tractate) Rosh Hashanah, which is about Rosh Hashanah (as you might imagine). Since Rosh Hashanah is at the start of the month of Tishrei, figuring out when Rosh Hashanah was worked the same way as figuring out when any month was. Witnesses would come to Jerusalem to testify that they had seen the new moon. At least 2 of them had to agree on what it looked like.

One time the New Moon had to be declared somewhere else (for unknown reasons) and the code phrase was "David Melech Yisrael Chai V'Kayam" ("David, King of Israel, lives and endures") (Rosh Hashanah 25a:9). Henceforth, during "Kiddush Levana" (a blessing over seeing the moon, said during the first half of the month), we say (or sing) this phrase.

(ב) בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה הָיוּ מַשִּׂיאִין מַשּׂוּאוֹת....

(2) Initially, after the court sanctified the new month they would light torches on the mountaintops, from one peak to another, to signal to the community in Babylonia that the month had been sanctified.

Context: More Mishnah Rosh Hashanah.

Once the court decided that it was a new month, they had to get the word out. This was originally done by lighting torches on mountaintops across the Land of Israel and all the way to Babylonia (modern day Iraq).

Context: In “The Lord of the Rings”, the beacons were lit in a similar way to summon help from a distance. This video, set in New Zealand, shows the scene from “The Return of the King” when The Warning Beacons of Gondor were lit. (See here for more information: https://lotr.fandom.com/wiki/Warning_beacons_of_Gondor)

(ב) ...מִשֶּׁקִּלְקְלוּ הַכּוּתִים, הִתְקִינוּ שֶׁיְּהוּ שְׁלוּחִין יוֹצְאִין:

(2) ... After the Samaritans corrupted and ruined this method by lighting torches at the wrong times to confuse the Jews, the Sages instituted that messengers should go out to the Diaspora and inform them of the start of the month.

Context: The continuation of the same text about the beacons from the Mishnah.

The Samaritans moved into the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the Assyrians took the Ten Lost Tribes away in 722 BCE. The Samaritans didn’t like the Jews, and in fact the idea of “The Good Samaritan” was a New Testament dig at the Jews. When Cyrus let the Jews return from Babylonia in 538 BCE, the Samaritans tried to keep them from rebuilding Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Therefore, when the Samaritans tried to mess with the signal fire system for announcing the new month, a new system of messengers was needed. Because it wasn’t clear if the messengers reached the Diaspora on the right day, the Festivals got an extra day outside the Land of Israel (Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot) in order to make sure that they were on the right day at some point during the holiday.

(ה) בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה שֶׁאֵין שָׁם סַנְהֶדְרִין וּבֵית דִּין שֶׁל אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל קוֹבְעִין עַל חֶשְׁבּוֹן זֶה. הָיָה מִן הַדִּין שֶׁיִּהְיוּ בְּכָל הַמְּקוֹמוֹת עוֹשִׂין יוֹם טוֹב אֶחָד בִּלְבַד אֲפִלּוּ הַמְּקוֹמוֹת הָרְחוֹקוֹת שֶׁבְּחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ כְּמוֹ בְּנֵי אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל. שֶׁהַכּל עַל חֶשְׁבּוֹן אֶחָד סוֹמְכִין וְקוֹבְעִין. אֲבָל תַּקָּנַת חֲכָמִים הוּא שֶׁיִּזָּהֲרוּ בְּמִנְהַג אֲבוֹתֵיהֶם שֶׁבִּידֵיהֶם:

(5) At the present time, when no Sanhedrin and court of Eretz Yisrael are in existence, we set the calendar by calculation. It might be logical that the Jewish people everywhere, even those living in remote places of the Diaspora, should observe one day only [as holiday] just as the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael do, in view of the same calculation followed by all in determining the calendar. The sages, however, have made it a rule that the people must carefully follow the custom of their forefathers.

Context: From the Mishneh Torah again.

Maimonides / Rambam is taking on the question: If we know exactly when the holidays are, now that the calendar has been fixed, why bother with an extra day outside of the Land of Israel. His answer: Tradition! However, the Reform movement took off the extra day because they decided it was no longer necessary.

How was Rosh Chodesh Celebrated Biblically?

(י) וּבְי֨וֹם שִׂמְחַתְכֶ֥ם וּֽבְמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם֮ וּבְרָאשֵׁ֣י חׇדְשֵׁיכֶם֒ וּתְקַעְתֶּ֣ם בַּחֲצֹֽצְרֹ֗ת עַ֚ל עֹלֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם וְעַ֖ל זִבְחֵ֣י שַׁלְמֵיכֶ֑ם וְהָי֨וּ לָכֶ֤ם לְזִכָּרוֹן֙ לִפְנֵ֣י אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ {פ}
(10) 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. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I, the LORD, am your God.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Numbers. In Chapter 10, the Israelites are told to make silver trumpets so they know when the different parts of the camp are supposed to set forth (similar to bugle calls in the military). We learn here that the trumpets were sounded during the Rosh Chodesh sacrifices. This probably reminded both the priests and the people that this wasn’t just an ordinary sacrifice, but one for a special occasion.

(יא) וּבְרָאשֵׁי֙ חׇדְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם תַּקְרִ֥יבוּ עֹלָ֖ה לַיהֹוָ֑ה פָּרִ֨ים בְּנֵֽי־בָקָ֤ר שְׁנַ֙יִם֙ וְאַ֣יִל אֶחָ֔ד כְּבָשִׂ֧ים בְּנֵי־שָׁנָ֛ה שִׁבְעָ֖ה תְּמִימִֽם׃ (יב) וּשְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה עֶשְׂרֹנִ֗ים סֹ֤לֶת מִנְחָה֙ בְּלוּלָ֣ה בַשֶּׁ֔מֶן לַפָּ֖ר הָאֶחָ֑ד וּשְׁנֵ֣י עֶשְׂרֹנִ֗ים סֹ֤לֶת מִנְחָה֙ בְּלוּלָ֣ה בַשֶּׁ֔מֶן לָאַ֖יִל הָֽאֶחָֽד׃ (יג) וְעִשָּׂרֹ֣ן עִשָּׂר֗וֹן סֹ֤לֶת מִנְחָה֙ בְּלוּלָ֣ה בַשֶּׁ֔מֶן לַכֶּ֖בֶשׂ הָאֶחָ֑ד עֹלָה֙ רֵ֣יחַ נִיחֹ֔חַ אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַיהֹוָֽה׃ (יד) וְנִסְכֵּיהֶ֗ם חֲצִ֣י הַהִין֩ יִהְיֶ֨ה לַפָּ֜ר וּשְׁלִישִׁ֧ת הַהִ֣ין לָאַ֗יִל וּרְבִיעִ֥ת הַהִ֛ין לַכֶּ֖בֶשׂ יָ֑יִן זֹ֣את עֹלַ֥ת חֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ בְּחׇדְשׁ֔וֹ לְחׇדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃ (טו) וּשְׂעִ֨יר עִזִּ֥ים אֶחָ֛ד לְחַטָּ֖את לַיהֹוָ֑ה עַל־עֹלַ֧ת הַתָּמִ֛יד יֵעָשֶׂ֖ה וְנִסְכּֽוֹ׃ {ס}
(11) On your new moons you shall present a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls of the herd, one ram, and seven yearling lambs, without blemish. (12) As meal offering for each bull: three-tenths of a measure of choice flour with oil mixed in. As meal offering for each ram: two-tenths of a measure of choice flour with oil mixed in. (13) As meal offering for each lamb: a tenth of a measure of fine flour with oil mixed in. Such shall be the burnt offering of pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD. (14) Their libations shall be: half a hin of wine for a bull, a third of a hin for a ram, and a quarter of a hin for a lamb. That shall be the monthly burnt offering for each new moon of the year. (15) And there shall be one goat as a sin offering to the LORD, to be offered in addition to the regular burnt offering and its libation.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Numbers, right after the daily and Shabbat sacrifices and before the sacrifices for the other holidays. Think of this as holy BBQ (“Hakadosh barbecue”).

(כד) וַיִּסָּתֵ֥ר דָּוִ֖ד בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה וַיְהִ֣י הַחֹ֔דֶשׁ וַיֵּ֧שֶׁב הַמֶּ֛לֶךְ (על) [אֶל־]הַלֶּ֖חֶם לֶאֱכֽוֹל׃
(24) David hid in the field. The new moon came, and the king sat down to partake of the meal.

Context: This is from the Biblical book of First Samuel. David isn’t sure how King Saul feels about him, so Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s friend, is going to find out at the Rosh Chodesh feast. This is part of the “Machar Chodesh” Haftarah read twice a year when Rosh Chodesh is on a Sunday.

How is Rosh Chodesh Celebrated Today?

(א) הש"ץ לוקח הספר תורה בידו ואומר:

(ב) יְהִי רָצון מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ. שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ אֶת הַחדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לְטובָה וְלִבְרָכָה. וְתִתֶּן לָנוּ חַיִּים אֲרוּכִּים. חַיִּים שֶׁל שָׁלום. חַיִּים שֶׁל טובָה. חַיִּים שֶׁל בְּרָכָה. חַיִּים שֶׁל פַּרְנָסָה. חַיִּים שֶׁל חִלּוּץ עֲצָמות. חַיִּים שֶׁיֵשׁ בָּהֶם יִרְאַת שָׁמַיִם וְיִרְאַת חֵטְא. חַיִּים שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶם בּוּשָׁה וּכְלִמָּה. חַיִּים שֶׁל עשֶׁר וְכָבוד. חַיִּים שֶׁתְּהֵא בָנוּ אַהֲבַת תּורָה וְיִרְאַת שָׁמַיִם. חַיִּים שֶׁיִּמָלְאוּ מִשְׁאֲלות לִבֵּנוּ לְטובָה אָמֵן סֶלָה:

(ג) מִי שֶׁעָשה נִסִּים לַאֲבותֵינוּ וְגָאַל אותָם מֵעַבְדוּת לְחֵרוּת. הוּא יִגְאַל אותָנוּ בְּקָרוב וִיקַבֵּץ נִדָּחֵינוּ מֵאַרְבַּע כַּנְפות הָאָרֶץ. חֲבֵרִים כָּל יִשרָאֵל וְנאמַר אָמֵן:

(ד) ראשׁ חדֶשׁ פלוני יִהְיֶה בְּיום פלוני הַבָּא עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשרָאֵל לְטובָה:

(ה) יְחַדְּשֵׁהוּ הַקָּדושׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל עַמּו בֵּית יִשרָאֵל בְּכָל מָקום שֶׁהֵם. לְטובָה וְלִבְרָכָה. לְששון וּלְשמְחָה. לִישׁוּעָה וּלְנֶחָמָה. לְפַרְנָסָה טובָה וּלְכַלְכָּלָה. לְחַיִּים וּלְשָׁלום. לִשְׁמוּעות טובות. וְלִבְשורות טובות. בחורף - וְלִגְשָׁמִים בְּעִתָּם. וְלִרְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה. וְלִגְאוּלָה קְרובָה וְנאמַר אָמֵן:

May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, grant that this coming month bring us goodness and blessing, and bestow on us a long life, a life that is peaceful, a life that is good, a life that is blessed, a life with proper sustenance, a life with physical vitality, a life conscious of heaven’s demands and wary of sin, a life free of shame and reproach, a life of abundance and honor, a life of love of Torah, conscious of heaven’s demands, a life in which the worthy desires of our hearts are fulfilled. Amen.

May God who wrought miracles for our ancestors, redeeming them from slavery to freedom, redeem us soon and gather our dispersed from the four corners of the earth. May the entire people Israel be united in friendship, and let us say: Amen.

The new month of ____ will begin on ____. May it hold blessings for us and for all the people Israel.

May the Holy One bless this new month for us and for the entire people, the house of Israel, with life and peace (Amen), joy and gladness (Amen), deliverance and consolation. And let us say: Amen​​​​​​​.

Context: This is from the Torah Service, after the Haftarah and before Ashrei. It is the blessing announcing the new month on the Shabbat prior, reminiscent of when the Sanhedrin announced the new month in Mishnaic times. We ask for “a life” 11 times because most years this is done 11 times (12 in a leap year). We don’t announce Tishrei - that’s part of why we blow the shofar during weekday Shacharit during Elul. We stand during this blessing in commemoration of the witnesses who stood to testify that they had seen the new moon.

There is a custom to use a “signature tune” for each month to announce those months. These tunes are: MarCheshvan: plain Major Nusach, similar to the way MiShebeirachs are chanted; Kislev: Maoz Tzur (German tune); Tevet: Maoz Tzur (German tune); Shevat: Atze Zetim; Adar I/II: Chag Purim; Nisan: Adir Hu (German tune); Iyar: Hatikva; Sivan: Akdamut / Festival Kiddush; Tammuz: Eli Tziyon; Av: Eli Tziyon; Elul: Mi Chamocha of HHD Arvit, or L’eila L’eila if more notes are needed (kippah tip to Cantor Neil Schwartz).

בראש חודש ובחול המועד אומרים זה: אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ. יַעֲלֶה וְיָבוא וְיַגִּיעַ. וְיֵרָאֶה וְיֵרָצֶה וְיִשָּׁמַע. וְיִפָּקֵד וְיִזָּכֵר זִכְרונֵנוּ וּפִקְדונֵנוּ וְזִכְרון אֲבותֵינוּ. וְזִכְרון מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד עַבְדֶּךָ. וְזִכְרון יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִיר קָדְשֶׁךָ. וְזִכְרון כָּל עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשרָאֵל. לְפָנֶיךָ. לִפְלֵיטָה לְטובָה. לְחֵן וּלְחֶסֶד וּלְרַחֲמִים. לְחַיִּים וּלְשָׁלום בְּיום: בראש חדש - ראשׁ הַחדֶשׁ: בפסח - חַג הַמַּצּות: בסוכות - חַג הַסֻּכּות: הַזֶּה. זָכְרֵנוּ ה' אֱלהֵינוּ בּו לְטובָה. וּפָקְדֵנוּ בו לִבְרָכָה. וְהושִׁיעֵנוּ בו לְחַיִּים. וּבִדְבַר יְשׁוּעָה וְרַחֲמִים חוּס וְחָנֵּנוּ וְרַחֵם עָלֵינוּ וְהושִׁיעֵנוּ. כִּי אֵלֶיךָ עֵינֵינוּ. כִּי אֵל מֶלֶךְ חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם אָתָּה: וְתֶחֱזֶינָה עֵינֵינוּ בְּשׁוּבְךָ לְצִיּון בְּרַחֲמִים: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', הַמַּחֲזִיר שְׁכִינָתו לְצִיּון:

Our God and God of our ancestors, may the thought of us rise up and reach You. Attend to us and accept us; hear us and respond to us. Keep us in mind, and keep in mind the thought of our ancestors, as well as the Messiah, the descendant of David; Jerusalem, Your holy city; and all Your people, the house of Israel. Respond to us with deliverance, goodness, compassion, love, life, and peace, on this: Rosh Chodesh / Festival of Matzot / Festival of Sukkot. Remember us for good; respond to us with blessing; redeem us with life. Show us compassion and care with words of kindness and deliverance; have mercy on us and redeem us. Our eyes are turned to You, for You are a compassionate and caring sovereign.

Context: This is the prayer “Ya’aleh v’yavo”, which is added to the Amidah and Birkat HaMazon on Rosh Chodesh, Passover, and Sukkot (see the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 422:1)

Context: This is a version of the Miami Boys' Choir tune for "Ya'aleh V'yavo". It was recorded by the Israeli a cappella group "Kippalive" in 2020.

רַב אִיקְּלַע לְבָבֶל, חֲזָנְהוּ דְּקָא קָרוּ הַלֵּילָא בְּרֵישׁ יַרְחָא, סְבַר לְאַפְסוֹקִינְהוּ. כֵּיוָן דַּחֲזָא דְּקָא מְדַלְּגִי דַּלּוֹגֵי, אֲמַר: שְׁמַע מִינַּהּ מִנְהַג אֲבוֹתֵיהֶם בִּידֵיהֶם.

Rav happened to come to Babylonia, where he saw that they were reciting hallel on a New Moon. Unfamiliar with this practice, he thought to stop them, as he assumed that they were reciting hallel unnecessarily. Once he saw that they were omitting portions, he said: I can learn from this that they are maintaining the custom of their forefathers.

Context: This is from the Babylonian Talmud, Masechet (Tractate) Ta'anit, which is about fasts. The Mishnah (Ta'anit 4) talks about how the Priestly Blessing was said on communal fasts called on account of drought. From there, the Mishnah says that the Priestly Blessing was also said at times connected to when the Torah was read. The Gemara discusses the connection between days that the Torah is read and days when Hallel is recited. This includes Rosh Chodesh.

Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is abbreviated, skipping the "Lo Lanu" and "Ahavti" parts. It is said that this is because Hallel on Rosh Chodesh was originally a custom (per our text from the Talmud). Some have connected Hallel on Rosh Chodesh to the fact that Psalm 150 says "Hallelu/ya" 12 times, repeating the last verse, and this is like the 12 or 13 months of the year.

(ח) נִמְצְאוּ הַתְּפִלּוֹת בְּכָל יוֹם שָׁלֹשׁ. עַרְבִית וְשַׁחֲרִית וּמִנְחָה. וּבַשַּׁבָּתוֹת וּבְמוֹעֲדִים וּבְרָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים אַרְבַּע. שָׁלֹשׁ שֶׁל כָּל יוֹם וּתְפִלַּת הַמּוּסָפִין. וּבְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים חָמֵשׁ. אַרְבַּע אֵלּוּ וּתְפִלַּת נְעִילָה:

(8) Thus the Services recited daily are three; namely, the Evening Service, the Morning Service and the Afternoon Service. On Sabbaths, Festivals and New Moons, they are four—the three daily services and the Additional Service. On the Day of Atonement, they are five services, the four just mentioned and the Neilah, the closing service.

Context: This is from the Mishneh Torah again. After discussing why there are 3 daily services, Maimonides/Rambam explains that on days when there was an extra ("Musaf") sacrifice, there's an extra ("Musaf") service. When Rosh Chodesh falls on a weekday, it is customary to remove one's tefillin before starting Musaf, since we don't wear tefillin on holidays.

(ט) בראש חודש—הַרָחֲמָן הוּא יְחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ אֶת הָחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לְטוֹבָה וְלִבְרָכָה.

(9) On New Moon—May the All-merciful renew unto us this month for good and for blessing.

Context: This is the insertion into Birkat HaMazon on Rosh Chodesh.

It is probably the source for the greeting on Rosh Chodesh: “Chodesh Tov” (“a good month”) — to which the response is “Chodesh Tov”.

(ב) בְּרָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים וּבְחֻלּוֹ שֶׁל מוֹעֵד, קוֹרִין אַרְבָּעָה, אֵין פּוֹחֲתִין מֵהֶן וְאֵין מוֹסִיפִין עֲלֵיהֶן, וְאֵין מַפְטִירִין בַּנָּבִיא. הַפּוֹתֵחַ וְהַחוֹתֵם בַּתּוֹרָה, מְבָרֵךְ לְפָנֶיהָ וּלְאַחֲרֶיהָ. זֶה הַכְּלָל, כָּל שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ מוּסָף וְאֵינוֹ יוֹם טוֹב, קוֹרִין אַרְבָּעָה. בְּיוֹם טוֹב, חֲמִשָּׁה. בְּיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים, שִׁשָּׁה. בְּשַׁבָּת, שִׁבְעָה. אֵין פּוֹחֲתִין מֵהֶן, אֲבָל מוֹסִיפִין עֲלֵיהֶן, וּמַפְטִירִין בַּנָּבִיא. הַפּוֹתֵחַ וְהַחוֹתֵם בַּתּוֹרָה, מְבָרֵךְ לְפָנֶיהָ וּלְאַחֲרֶיהָ:

(2) On the days of the New Moon and on the intermediate days of a Festival, four people read from the Torah; one may neither decrease the number of readers nor add to them. And one does not conclude with a reading from the Prophets. Both the one who begins the reading and the one who concludes the reading from the Torah recite a blessing. The first reader recites a blessing before the beginning of the reading, and the last reader recites a blessing after its conclusion, but the middle readers do not recite a blessing. The mishna formulates a general principle with regard to the number of people who read from the Torah on different occasions. This is the principle: Any day on which there is an additional offering sacrificed in the Temple and that is not a Festival, i.e., the New Moon and the intermediate days of a Festival, four people read from the Torah; on a Festival, five people read; on Yom Kippur, six people read; and on Shabbat, seven people read. One may not decrease the number of readers, but one may add to them. And on these days one concludes with a reading from the Prophets. Both the one who begins the reading and the one who concludes the reading from the Torah recite a blessing; one recites before the beginning of the reading and one recites after its conclusion, but the middle readers do not recite a blessing.

Context: This is from the Mishnah, Masechet (Tractate) Megillah, which is about reading the Megillah (logically). It also talks a lot about reading from the Torah. This mishnah from the Mishnah establishes that we read Torah on Rosh Chodesh, and that we have 4 aliyot. The Rosh Chodesh reading is unique in that we repeat a verse (Numbers 28:3) to ensure there are a minimum of 3 verses in each aliyah (the Talmud spends most of Megillah 22a figuring this out).

Note that Torah reading practice evolved by the time of the Gemara - there was a concern that people would come late or leave early, so the Rabbis said that one should say a blessing before and after each aliyah (Megillah 21b:16)

וְשֶׁאֵין בּוֹ בִּיטּוּל מְלָאכָה לָעָם, כְּגוֹן רָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים וְחוּלּוֹ שֶׁל מוֹעֵד — קוֹרִין אַרְבָּעָה. שְׁמַע מִינַּהּ.
But any day on which prolonging the prayer service would not constitute a deprivation of labor for the masses, for example, the days of the New Moon, when it is customary for women to refrain from work, and on the intermediate days of a Festival, when one may not perform labor unless refraining from labor will cause him to lose money, four people read from the Torah. The Gemara concludes: Indeed, learn from here that on a public fast day three people read from the Torah.

Context: This is the Gemara for the text from the Mishnah we just saw. It is trying to figure out why there are 4 Torah readings on Rosh Chodesh (and Chol HaMoed, in the middle of Sukkot and Passover), and what this tells us about how many Torah readings there are on fast days.

Wait, What’s This About Women Not Working?

(ד) דן אהרן דין בינו לבין עצמו, אמר אם אני אומר לישראל תנו לי כסף וזהב מיד הם מביאים אלא הריני אומ' להם תנו לי נזמי נשיכם ונזמי בניכם ובנותיכם והיה הדבר בטל ממנו שמעו הנשים ולא קבלו עליהם ליתן נזמיהן לבעליהן אלא אמרו להם אתם רוצים לעשות שקוץ ותועבה שאין בו כח להציל לא שמעו להם ונתן הב"ה שכרן של נשים בעה"ז ובעה"ב ומה שכר נתן להם לעה"ב לעה"ז שהן משמרות ראשי חדשים שנ' המשביע בטוב עדיך תתחדש כנשר נעורייך.

(4) Aaron argued with himself, saying: If I say to Israel, Give ye to me gold and silver, they will bring it immediately; but behold I will say to them, Give ye to me the earrings of your wives, and of your sons, and forthwith the matter will fail, as it is said, "And Aaron said to them, Break off the golden rings" (Ex. 32:2). The women heard (this), but they were unwilling to give their earrings to their husbands; but they said to them: Ye desire to make a graven image and a molten image without any power in it to deliver. The Holy One, blessed be He, gave the women their reward in this world and in the world to come. What reward did He give them in this world? That they should observe the New Moons more stringently than the men, and what reward will He give them in the world to come? They are destined to be renewed like the New Moons, as it is said, "Who satisfieth thy years with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle" (Ps. 103:5).

Context: This is from Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, a book of midrashim that claims to have been written by Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus in the 100s CE but probably actually dates to the 800s CE. It is picking up on the fact that in the story of the Golden Calf the men insisted that Aaron make them a visible god, so Aaron told them to break off the gold earrings that their wives were wearing (Ex. 32:2). In the next verse, though, it says that the men brought Aaron the earrings that they were wearing, implying that the women refused to give up their gold earrings for the creation of an idol. Therefore, this midrash says that the women were rewarded with not doing household work on Rosh Chodesh.

Robin Zeigler

A woman’s body is characterized by cycles of change” as women go from one stage of life to another: puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, birthing, breast-feeding, and menopause. “Likewise,” she writes, “each month the moon waxes and wanes with a comforting predictability” (33). She further writes: “All throughout the generations women have experienced the same cycles of life. Like the familiar moon, the body gently speaks to us. The moon’s cycles are reflected in our counting and deposited in our bodies. One can look at the moon to observe its phases, and likewise, a woman can observe her internal body changes."


Because of the association with women and Rosh Chodesh, many "Women's Rosh Chodesh" groups meet monthly. There are no formal rules for these groups, but they are spaces for female-identified individuals to gather monthly and usually have some Jewish component. The group Moving Traditions has established "Rosh Chodesh: It's a Girl Thing" groups for girls (and later "Shevet Achim" groups for boys).


With appreciation to: Adam Bellows, Yonah Bookstein, Jacob Fine, Sarah Alevsky, Sarah Chandler, Deracheha, Hadar, MyJewishLearning, and Rabbi David Polsky.