Celebrating Rosh Chodesh in Your Congregation

by Annice Benamy

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, you shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings; and they will be a memorial for you before your God.  I am the Lord your God.” —Numbers 6:6

What is Rosh Chodesh?

Rosh Chodesh means “head of the month.”  When the new moon appears, the first of each Jewish month begins. In contemporary practice, Rosh Chodesh celebrations begin the Shabbat before the new month with the Rosh Chodesh prayer at the conclusion of the Torah reading. This special prayer articulates our hopes for the month including peace and prosperity to success in business, good health, and righteousness.

This is a day associated with women’s renewal and celebration. Rosh Chodesh has been an occasion for Jewish women to gather for learning, ritual, and spirituality programs. Many sisterhoods and women’s groups have created monthly Rosh Chodesh groups to offer women an opportunity to observe the new moon in song and prayer. Some groups have focused on women’s programs, holidays, and Torah study.

Women of the Wall (WoW) is a well-known Israeli Jewish progressive organization that chose Rosh Chodesh as the day to gather as a women’s prayer group and celebrate prayer at the Kotel. Women (and men) of all denominations are invited to pray using the Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh Siddur.  

How can your sisterhood or congregation celebrate Rosh Chodesh?

As your congregation and sisterhood programs for next year, create a Rosh Chodesh service and program. Suggestions include:

  • For a prayer service, purchase copies of the Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh Siddur, created in partnership with Women of Reform Judaism. There are several significant liturgical changes. To help prayer leaders, I created a Rosh Chodesh Service Guide listing optional and necessary prayers, prayer meanings/notes and music suggestions. It includes a sample Rosh Chodesh service, which can be altered to include personal readings, poetry, and music.
  • Invite a speaker from the WoW Speakers Bureau to update your group on activities at the Kotel, current WoW campaigns, and to show your support for women’s rights in Israel.
  • Create programs on women’s rights in the U.S., Canada, Israel, and around the world.
  • Highlight Jewish women’s rituals during “Hafrashat Challah” (Separating the Challah), holidays, and life-cycle events.

Observing and celebrating Rosh Chodesh is a way to renew our spirit each month, indoors or outdoors, in the first half of the month. I cannot think of a better way to be with God and nature and to contemplate the changes of life or the destiny of Israel, than while gazing at the moon and praising God for its renewal.

Rosh Chodesh Elul begins at sundown on Saturday, August 15. It will be the final Rosh Chodesh for the Hebrew calendar year 5775.

Annice Benamy is a Women of Reform Judaism board member. This piece originally appeared in WRJ’s email newsletter on August 7, 2015.

Check out WRJ programming ideas and order the WRJ 5776/2015-16 Art Calendar before the new year.

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