Rosh Chodesh Elul – The New Month
This week we will be celebrating the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar, Elul. The concepts and lessons contained in the Jewish calendar are so central to our belief that it is necessary to teach and emphasize them regularly. One of the ways in which Jewish tradition makes us aware of the cycle of the calendar and brings home its messages is by celebrating every new moon, Rosh Chodesh, as a minor festival. On the Shabbat immediately preceding the new month, special prayers are recited in the synagogue to announce its arrival and to pray that the coming month will be blessed with success, happiness and righteousness. Before these prayers are begun, the exact astronomical moment that the new moon will appear over Jerusalem is announced. The cantor takes the Torah scroll and, together with the community, recites the following prayers:
May it be your will our God and God of our forefathers, that You inaugurate this month upon us for goodness and for blessing. May You give us long life – a life of peace, a life of goodness, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance, a life of physical health, a life in which there is fear of heaven and fear of sin, a life in which there is no shame or humiliation, a life of wealth and honor, a life in which we will have love of Torah and fear of heaven, a life in which our heartfelt requests will be fulfilled for the good. Amen.
(Here the precise time of the appearance of the new moon over Jerusalem, [known as the molad, the birth], is announced.)
He Who has performed miracles for our forefathers and redeemed them from slavery to freedom – may He redeem us soon and gather in our dispersed from the four corners of the earth; all Israel are friends. Now let us respond: Amen.
The new month (name of the month) will be on (day of the week) which is coming to us and to all Israel for goodness.
May the Holy One, Blessed is He, renew it upon us and upon all His people, the Family of Israel, for life and for peace, for joy and for gladness, for salvation and for consolation. Now let us respond: Amen.
On Rosh Chodesh itself prayers are recited that express our joy and gratitude to God for the life that He has granted us and for His blessings. We also pray that the coming month will be a fulfilling, good and happy month and a month in which God will give a positive answer to our prayers and bring the Final Redemption. An additional prayer called Musaf is added (which corresponds to the Rosh Chodesh service in the ancient Holy Temple), as well as a special reading from the Torah scroll. It is customary to eat a more festive meal than usual, and a paragraph is added in the Grace After Meals.
Although there is no prohibition of work on Rosh Chodesh, it is customary for women to celebrate the day by refraining from certain types of work. The reason for this is that soon after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people – fearful that Moses had died on the mountain — built a golden calf and worshipped it as an idol. The men contributed their gold jewelry for the construction of the idol, but the women refused to participate.84 Because of their refusal to give even tacit approval to this rebellion against God, it became customary for Rosh Chodesh to be celebrated as a “women’s festival.”
On Saturday night soon after Rosh Chodesh, sanctification of the new moon, known as Kiddush Levanah, is recited. This prayer focuses on another aspect of the moon’s symbolic meaning concerning the Jewish people and the monarchy of King David. The phases of the moon symbolize the phases of Jewish history; we pray that just as the moon becomes full after completely disappearing, so too the Jewish people should merit being a “full moon,” fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah.