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    The women’s festival: Rosh Chodesh – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Why do some people believe that Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of a Jewish month) is the women’s festival?

    A. Rosh Chodesh has been an important day from Biblical times onwards.

    The Torah speaks of “the day of your gladness, on your appointed seasons and on the beginnings of your months” (Num. 10:10). In the Second Book of Kings (4:23), the husband of the Shunnamite woman asks why his wife wants to visit the prophet Elisha when it is “neither New Moon or Sabbath”.

    In the Second Book of Chronicles (2:3), Solomon tells Huram of Tyre, “Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God… and for the burnt-offerings morning and evening, and on the Sabbaths and on the New Moons and on the appointed seasons…”

    Rosh Chodesh does not require abstention from work, but Hallel and Musaf are recited, and one should wear good clothes and have special meals. Once upon a time the day was associated with considerable pomp and ceremony, and in the Middle Ages various communities had their own distinctive celebrations.

    Most of this has fallen by the wayside, but there has been a renewal of interest in the long-standing tradition for women to regard Rosh Chodesh as their special occasion.

    This derives from the ancient custom for women to refrain from work on this day and to be the guardians of its importance.

    Rosh Chodesh was said to be the Jewish women’s reward for their spiritual superiority when, unlike the men, they remained faithful to God and, unimpressed with the men’s enthusiasm for an idolatrous transgression, refused to donate to the building of the Golden Calf. The women said, according to the Midrash, “You desire to make a graven image and a molten image that has no power to save!”

    The Holy One, blessed be He, gave them two rewards – that they should “observe the New Moon more strictly than the men” and that they were “destined to be renewed like the New Moon” (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 45).

    The women’s loyalty to the will of God was also shown in their support for the creation of the Tabernacle in the wilderness: “All the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands and brought that which they had spun” to the Sanctuary (Ex. 35). In this work, “the men came after the women”: according to the Ramban, not showing the same alacrity as the women (Nachmanides on Ex. 35:22).

    By their spiritual enthusiasm, the women in the wilderness were said to have made up for the sin of Eve, the first woman; the Midrash explains that why Eve sinned was that she heard from Adam the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and Adam may not have explained the command adequately. Had Eve heard the command directly her innate spiritual instinct would have prevented her from sinning (Ex. R. 28:2).

    As Rosh Chodesh is the woman’s special festival, many women have made it their day for spiritual renewal.

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