Gleanings: The Moon And Rosh Chodesh

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Reprinted with permission from Moonbeams: A Hadassah Rosh Hodesh Guide, edited by Carol Diament, published by Hadassah.

In the first book of the Bible we read of the creation of the moon:

God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times--the days and the years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth." And it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth, to dominate the day and night, and to separate the light from darkness. And God saw that this was good.

­-- Genesis 1:14-18 

Immediately prior to the exodus from Egypt, God commands the Israelites to mark the months of the year:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.

-- ­Exodus 12:1-2

The Book of Numbers briefly describes the celebration of Rosh Chodesh:

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.

-- Numbers 10: 10

This passage from the Book of Numbers is chanted during the traditional synagogue morning service each Rosh Chodesh:

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. 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. 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. Their libations shall be: half a hin [a hin is approximately six quarts] 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. 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.

-- Numbers 28:11-15

The Mishnah describes how torches were lit to provide notification of the sighting of the new moon:

Originally they used to light beacons (to convey the news of the new moon to the Jews in the diaspora of Babylonia). When the Cutheans (Samaritans) adopted evil courses (and lit beacons on the thirtieth day, so as to mislead the Jews in Babylonia), they made a rule that messengers should go forth. How did they light the beacons? They used to bring long poles of cedar and reeds and olive wood and flax fluff which they tied to the poles with a string, and someone used to go up to the top of a mountain and set fire to them and wave them to and fro and up and down until he saw the next one doing the same thing on the top of the second mountain; and so on the top of the third mountain. Whence did they carry the chain of beacons? From the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem to Sartaba, and from Sartaba to Grofina, and from Grofina to Hauran, and from Hauran to Beth Baltin. The one on Beth Baltin did not budge from there but went on waving to and fro and up and down until he saw the whole of the diaspora (the district of Pumbedita in Babylonia) before him like one bonfire. (On seeing the beacon fire, the inhabitants used to light torches.)

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