Jews take time very seriously. Our Torah begins with the words “In the beginning,” while the Talmud starts with the question, “From what time may one recite the evening Shema?” The idea of sanctified time is one of the foundations of Jewish faith and practice.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the first commandment given to the Jews as a nation was to create a calendar based on the cycle of the moon:
"And G‑d said to Moses… in the land of Egypt… This month is for you, the head of the months. First it is for you among the months of the year." (Exodus 12:1-2).
The Torah commands us to sanctify each month at its start, and Rosh Chodesh, literally the “head of the month,” is celebrated as a minor holiday. Special prayers are added to the daily service; we wish each other “chodesh tov,” a good month.
The Jewish month begins when the new moon first appears, a tiny sliver in the night sky. Indeed, the word “chodesh” comes from the root chadash, which means new. The moon’s cycle of waxing and waning is a powerful symbol of renewal, reminding us that every diminution creates the possibility of rebirth. Rosh Chodesh offers us the opportunity to begin anew, not just once a year, but once a month.
Rosh Chodesh is also known as a “women’s holiday,” and many women have the custom to refrain from tedious household chores such as laundry and sewing on these days. The Talmud explains that Rosh Chodesh was given to women as a reward for not participating in the sin of the Golden Calf. It was the women’s luminous, unwavering faith that brought the Jewish people through one of the darkest moments in our history.
The following material will provide you with much greater insight into the meaning of Rosh Chodesh, both practically and spiritually.