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How is Rosh Chodesh celebrated?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month, is a quasi-holiday in Jewish tradition. It is not as serious as other holidays, such as the Shabbat, Passover etc., when Jews refrain from working—but it is celebrated to some extent.

The Bible, for example, says “on the day of your celebration and holidays and on the firsts of your months”—seemingly putting the holidays and Rosh Chodesh in the same category.

In the past, Jews would not work at all on Rosh Chodesh. In a conversation with King David, for example, Jonathan (son of King Saul and David’s best friend) refers to the day before Rosh Chodesh as the “day of work”—i.e., in contrast to the following day, Rosh Chodesh, when there would be no work. (Check out the Book of Samuel I chapter 20. Great story.)

Ancient Jews also used Rosh Chodesh as a day to make pilgrimage to the prophet of the day. Thus when the Shunamite woman tells her husband that she’s going to visit the prophet Elisha, he says to her: “Why are you going to him today—it is neither a Sabbath nor Rosh Chodesh?” (She was going to ask him to heal her son. Check out Kings II chapter 4. Even better story.)

Similarly, when the prophet Isaiah prophesies about a utopian future, he says that “every Rosh Chodesh and Sabbath all flesh will come to bow” before G-d. (Check out Isaiah chapter 66. The best and final story.)

In today’s day and age, Rosh Chodesh is celebrated primarily by a festive meal and a number of rituals:

1. An additional prayer during the morning services called “Hallel”, followed by 'Musaf' for Rosh Chodesh.

2. A special reading from the Torah during the morning services.

3. An additional prayer called “Yaaleh Viyavo" is inserted during the Amidah prayer and Grace After Meals.

In some Sefardic congregations a candle is lit on the eve of Rosh Chodesh.

Additionally, Jews do not take a haircut, fast or eulogize on Rosh Chodesh because of its “holidayness.”

[Ed. note: Also read "What's the connection between women and Rosh Chodesh?"]

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