By Deborah Bers: Every month, Jewish women have a reason to celebrate, and it’s not what you may think. Rosh Chodesh, on the Hebrew calendar, marks the end of a month and the beginning of the next. This waxing and waning is mirrored by the ebb and flow of the monthly cycles of women, which has been given as one reason women are singled out to celebrate this occasion to a greater extent than the rest of the population. Another reason points to the days of the Golden Calf, when women refused to participate by donating their jewelry for the construction of an idol, demonstrating their unwavering faith in God.
Rosh Chodesh literally means “head of the month,” and in ancient times, was celebrated when the first sliver of the new moon became visible. A festival was announced the next day with a shofar blast, which would signal convocations, special sacrifices and other festivities. Now that we no longer have a Temple in which to bring sacrifices, little is done other than some additional prayers during services.
Women do, however, celebrate this occasion by refraining from work and instead gather together to learn Torah or discuss the significance of events or other things relating to the upcoming month. In some communities it is customary to wear new clothing as a way to honor this day. The JCCH has recently begun to join this festivity, gathering the women of the congregation for an evening of informal learning, socializing and celebrating at a different congregant’s home each month. The first one, hosted by Eileen Lieberman, to mark the beginning of Tevet, was well-attended and by all accounts a huge success. We lit Chanukkah candles together, participated in a discussion led by Barbara Paris, in which we learned about Rosh Chodesh and the story of Yehudit, who saved the Jews from the siege of Holofernes, and enjoyed some delicious home-baked treats. The next celebration, for the month of Sh’vat, took place at the home of Debbie Schiff.
Rosh Chodesh celebrates the persistence of life, despite its ups and downs, symbolized by the disappearance and reappearance of the moon, and women are there, with their steadfast faith, to ensure the continual “renewal” of health and vivacity in their families and in their communities.