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Kiddush Levanah: Sanctification of the Moon

Kiddush Levanah: Sanctification of the Moon

Kiddush Levanah in Brooklyn © by Zalman Kleinman
Kiddush Levanah in Brooklyn © by Zalman Kleinman

What Is Kiddush Levanah?

Kiddush Levanah, the Sanctification of the Moon, is performed once a month, during the first part of the lunar cycle. Said outdoors at night, Kiddush Levanah is a meaningful ritual highlighted by a Hebrew blessing, selections of Psalms and other prayers. It is often followed by joyous dancing.

The Significance of the Moon

To bless the new moon at the proper time is like greeting the Divine Presence.

Talmud, Sanhedrin 42a

There is something mystical about the moon. Despite its secondary status as a luminary, people have always been fascinated by its silvery, luminous light and its precise cycle of waxing and waning. Indeed, the months of the Jewish calendar follow the phases of the moon.

The sages of the Talmud write that the renewal of the moon each month reminds us of the magnificent wonders of G‑d’s creation, as if the Divine Presence in our world, so often hidden, is coming out to greet us.1 Because the moon has the most visible cycle of all the stars and planets, we take the occasion of its renewal to make a blessing in appreciation of the entire masterpiece of celestial orchestration.2

So, once a month, Jews open their prayerbooks to speak of the moon. Upon seeing the soft, mellow light of the moon born again in the night sky, we recite a special blessing and verses of praise called the Sanctification of the Moon, or kiddush levanah (Heb. קידוש לבנה).

Here is the behind-the-scenes story.

When to Do Kiddush Levanah?

The Sanctification of the Moon is done at night,3 when the moon is waxing and is bright enough that we can benefit from its light. Therefore, the ceremony may be performed only between the third and the fifteenth days of the Jewish month.4 (Note that the precise dates depend upon when the moon is “reborn,” which fluctuates from month to month. See Molad Times).5

One should not recite the Sanctification of the Moon on a night when clouds are completely covering the moon.6 But if there is only a thin cloud cover, and the light of the moon is still clearly visible,7 it is okay to do the ceremony. If one begins the blessing and it suddenly becomes cloudy, one should still complete the service.8

According to the Kabbalists, it is best to wait until the seventh day of the month to sanctify the moon.9 But if you suspect that it will be cloudy for most of the month (as it sometimes is in winter), you should perform the service at the first opportunity.10

The Sanctification of the Moon is truly a joyous occasion, and we make a point of performing it in the best of moods. In the month of Tishrei (the period of the High Holidays), when we spend the first ten days repenting for our wrongdoings during the past year, we postpone the service to the night after Yom Kippur.11 The same applies to the month of Av, whose first nine days are spent mourning the destruction of the Holy Temple. We wait until the night after the Ninth of Av to sanctify the moon.12

Where to Say Kiddush Levanah?

We go outside to sanctify the moon, as though running eagerly to greet a king. Nothing should come between us and the heavens, even if the moon can be clearly seen from the shelter of a porch or the like.13 As befits a royal reception, the place where the ceremony is done should be free from any strong stench.14

We want to look our best on such an occasion,15 and it is preferable to sanctify the moon in a large group.16 Therefore, the very best time is immediately after Shabbat (providing it is prior to the tenth day of the Hebrew month), outside of the synagogue, when we are all together and dressed in our festive clothing.17

What and How?

The formulation of the prayer is as follows:

We stand under the open sky, facing east and looking into our prayerbooks.18

  • We begin by reciting the first six verses of Psalm 148, giving praise to G‑d for the moon, sun, stars and heavens, “for He commanded and they were created.”
  • Next, we place our feet together, look at the moon and recite the blessing, “. . . He gave them a set law and time, so that they should not alter their task . . . Blessed are You, L‑rd, who renews the months.”19
  • After lifting our heels three times,20 we then address the moon, so to speak: “Blessed is your Maker; blessed is He who formed you . . . Just as I leap toward you but cannot touch you, so may all my enemies be unable to touch me harmfully . . .” We emphasize these ideas by repeating this paragraph (and some of the subsequent stanzas) three times. Each time we begin, we lift ourselves to stand on our toes three times.
  • Next we address the deeper significance of the lunar cycle: “David, King of Israel, is living and enduring.” The kingdom of David is compared to the moon. Though it may have lost much of its former radiance, it will be restored to its glory in messianic times.21
  • Since we just finished speaking of our enemies, we make a point of wishing peace to those who are peaceful. We turn to three of our fellow congregants and wish them peace, shalom aleichem,” and they wish us peace in return, aleichem shalom.”22
  • Inspired by the joy of greeting the Divine Presence, we exclaim three times, “May this be a good sign and good fortune for us and the entire Jewish nation.” This is also why we greet those around us, since joy is always greater when shared with others.23
  • We then recite two verses from the Song of Songs (2:8–9) that describe G‑d “looking through the windows, peering through the crevices,” just as the light of the moon does on a clear night.
  • G‑d’s omnipresent protection is described again in the next Psalm we say (121): “The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night… The L‑rd will guard your going and coming from now and for all time.”
  • We then repeat King David’s words (Psalm 150): “Praise G‑d in His holiness, praise him in the firmament of His strength . . . Let every being that has a soul praise the L‑rd.”
  • This is followed by a passage from the Talmud that describes the Sanctification of the Moon: “It was taught in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael: Even if Israel merited no other privilege than to greet their Father in Heaven once a month, it would be sufficient for them . . .”
  • Next is a psalm (67) that was recited in the Holy Temple, describing how G‑d’s miracles will cause the nations to recognize and praise Him: “The nations will extol You . . . The nations will rejoice and sing for joy, for You will judge the peoples justly and guide the nations on the earth forever.”
  • We conclude with the “Aleinu” prayer, in which we say that the nations of the world “bow to vanity and nothingness. But we bend our knee, bow down, and offer praise before the supreme King of Kings . . .” This prayer emphasizes that our blessing on the moon is in no way a form of idol worship.24
  • If there is a quorum of ten men, the mourner’s kaddish is recited.

Once we are done, we dance as at a wedding celebration.25


One of the underlying themes of the Sanctification of the Moon is our gratitude to G‑d for all that He has given us. Like the moon, the fate of the Jewish nation has waxed and waned throughout history. Yet we are still here to tell the tale. Sanctifying the moon on its reappearance is a way of renewing our trust in G‑d’s constant presence in our lives, and restoring our awareness that all He does is ultimately for our good.


Commentary of Rabbi Jonah Gerondi on Rabbi Isaac Alfasi’s code, Berachot, end of ch. 4.


See glosses of Rabbi Jacob Emden, the “Yaavetz,” to Talmud, Sanhedrin 42a.


Glosses of Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the “Rema,” to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 426:1.


Taz commentary (by Rabbi David Halevi) to Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 426:3. See Rabbi Jacob Emden, Siddur Yaavetz, introduction to kiddush levanah.


Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 426:3.


Magen Avraham commentary (by Rabbi Avraham Abele HaLevi) to Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 426:1.


Rabbi Abraham David of Buczacz, Eishel Avraham ad loc.


Ba’er Heitev commentary (by Rabbi Yehudah ben Shimon Ashkenazi, 1730–1770) to Shulchan Aruch, ibid.


Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 426:4. See Taz, ibid.; Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his prayerbook.


See Taz, ibid.; glosses of Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, the “Rebbe Rashab,” in Siddur Torah Ohr (Kehot, 1987); Rabbi Abraham David Lavut (1818–1890), Shaar Hakollel 33:3.


Rema ibid.


Magen Avraham, ibid. 426:6.


Taz, ibid. 426:14. Of course if one is not feeling well, it is okay to say the blessing while one is looking at the moon from indoors.


This is true of other blessings too (Magen Avraham, ibid.). But since this is usually done in the street, where it is more common to have this issue, it is noted here.


Rema, ibid. 426:2. See Mishnah Berurah (by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the “Chafetz Chaim”) 118:7.


Magen Avraham, ibid. 426:10.


Shulchan Aruch, ibid.


See Mishnah Berurah 100:2.


The source for the blessings is in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 42a.


Talmud, Tractate Soferim 20:2; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 426:2.


Rema, ibid. 426:2.


Magen Avraham, ibid. 426:11.


Rabbi Mordechai Jaffe (1530–1612), Levush Hachur 426:1.


Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, Likkutei Maharich, vol. 2, end of Seder Rosh Chodesh. He quotes another reason: the author of this prayer is Joshua and it is said of him (Talmud, Bava Batra 75a) that “Joshua’s face is like the face of the moon.” Therefore we say this prayer here, since there is a connection between Joshua and the moon.


Rema to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 426:2.

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Alexander Birbrair Belo Horizonte December 24, 2017

Does it needs to be under the open sky, or it can be just seeing the moon from a window or balcony?
Best, Reply

Mendel Adelman December 26, 2017
in response to Alexander Birbrair:

Hello Alexander,

The Rema (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 426:4) writes that it should not be done under a roof (or a tree).

The Mishna Berurah brings a few reasons for that custom and says that blessing the moon is like greeting the Divine Presence, and one should leave their house, just as one would do to greet a king.

However, if there is no suitable outdoor location, it can be done inside. Reply

dean long beach, ca October 26, 2017

suppose that, for whatever reason, one performs this alone. two questions: (1) can this be performed on erev shabbos (8th of month)? (2) if this is first performed alone, and then unexpectedly one finds themselves motzei shabbos (9th of month) with a minyan that is then performing this, should the individual join to complete this what would then be a second time (but this time with a minyan) ? Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for October 30, 2017
in response to dean:

Kiddush levanah should not be recited on Friday night, as it is Shabbos. And once it was done, it should not be repeated that month, even if one comes across a minyan. Reply

Kristy Warshauer Wilmington May 31, 2017

How absolutely beautiful ! thank you ! Reply

Anonymous February 13, 2017

I appreciate your explanations like we wish peace to those who are peaceful. Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for February 29, 2016

Re: Women and Kiddush Levanah As with all mitzvahs that are time bound, i.e. limited to a specific time, women are exempt from this observance. Reply

Rachel los angeles February 27, 2016

Very nice. The direction and Halachas are nicely explained, however....where is the bit's only a man's mitzvah? This should definately be exemplified. I was so ready to rush outside:) also, the mitzvah of women watching men here, is a unique opportunity because women should other times not watch men praying.. increased simcha! Reply

Peter Rabbe Plaski S. December 21, 2017
in response to Rachel:

Well said! Reply

Anonymous Still where I dont want to be August 22, 2014

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein Thanks. I understand what your saying, but why bother with it at all. I look up at the stars and think 'wow thats amazing', the entire creation is amazing but I couldn't make anything more important than the rest of his creation. I would rather just tell him he's an amazing creator instead. If that makes sense. This is what I dont get with christians who only say thanks when eating, surely we must thank him for everything, not just food. I met some orthodox jews recently, they all had books in their hands. The nice lady told me that they were prayer books, they were thanking HaShem for everything, even whilst waiting on a train, which I thought was nice. Reply

Esther September 15, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I don't know where you this from but Christina's thank god for everything literally ! Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein August 12, 2014

To Gobsmacked The sanctification of the moon is not worship of the moon, but a blessing of thanks to G-d who created the moon, just as we bless and thank G-d for the food we eat, the clothes we wear, our health, etc. This is why once we begin the blessing, we are no longer supposed to look at the moon, so that it should be clear that we are not praying to the moon. On a mystical level, you are right, we should sanctify all of creation. It is our job in life to reveal within each thing how it is a creation of G-d and how it expresses G-dliness. This is accomplished by using things for a mitzvah or a prayer. Reply

Anonymous Earth, the place I dont want to be August 1, 2014

Sanctifying the moon, a big blob of dust in the middle of nothing, you might aswell sanctify everything and everyman on the planet since HaShem created those too and those men have waxed and waned through the ages...that includes yourselves...but wait, isnt that idolatry... "He alone is holy" I cannot believe I just read this, nothing and no one is worthy of worship apart from HaShem. You cant worship things he created because he created everything therefore everything he created would be deserving of the same worship.

I am now going to curl up in a ball and cry because i dont understand how you can do these things and I wonder how HaShem feels when he see's you sanctifying an inanimate sphere, like the pagans did with celestial jupiter, venus, mars etc. (Yes it does actually make me cry) Reply

Catherine McKaskey Charlotte September 4, 2013

never knew this. Love it. Reply

Alex August 20, 2013

Is it including the 3rd and the 15th day or not? Thank you. Reply

Stan Montreal July 16, 2013

Thank you a lot I'm so excited to find this, I'm gonna do it every month! Reply

Citrine US April 8, 2013

This is lovely! I'm so excited to find this, I'm gonna do it every month! (Why didn't anyone ever tell me about this? hmmm) Reply

kobus Mossel bay, ZA August 14, 2012

new moon what do i do for the new moon? Reply

Andreea L. Levine Gloversville, NY/USA July 20, 2012

sanctification of the moon. Excellent article with ability to look up prayers and exact Psalms & verses. Good history, exactness in how to perform! Reply

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