Rosh Hodesh and Honoring Our Presidents

I hope everyone is having a Hodesh Tov, a good start to the month of  Tamuz.  Tamuz is a tricky month. On one hand it is the transition from spring to summer, and many are getting ready to go away on vacation. On the other hand it is the month in which the Romans breached the Jerusalem city walls on the way to the destruction of the Temple. As a result we engage in a period of mourning leading up to Tisha B’Av and the destruction of the Temple.

Following a lunar calendar, the appearance of a new moon was a cause for celebration in biblical times.  The shofar was blown, Hallel (the prayer praising G-d’s name) was recited and a celebratory meal was eaten.  Because the proclamation of a new moon affected the calendar (especially regarding the festival days on which no work could be performed), great care was taken in ensuring the exact date that the moon was cited.  Two witnesses were needed to see the moon and report to the head of the rabbinical court.  Declaring the new moon was also an act of power that could be exacted by the head of the Sanhedrin, or rabbinic court.

In Tractate Rosh Hashanah[1] two witnesses tell Rabban Gamliel, the head (nasi) of the Sanhedrin that they did not see the new moon.  Despite their testimony, Rabban Gamliel declared it to be Rosh Hodesh.  Rabbi Joshua, the 2nd in command, disagreed publicly with Gamliel, implying that it was not yet Rosh Hodesh.  The implication is that Joshua’s calendar would be different than Gamliel’s.  Gamliel then commanded Joshua to come with his staff and money pouch on the day that would be Yom Kippur according to Joshua’s calendar, having him violate the festival.  Joshua obeyed, thus giving in to Gamliel’s calendar.  Clearly, when Rosh Hodesh was declared had tremendous power in determining the calendar.

While Rosh Hodesh had tremendous implications in the rabbinic era, what importance does the festival have to us today?  We no longer rely on witnesses to establish our months, determining the new moon instead by arithmetic calculation.  While the proclamation of a new moon is not as magnanimous event for us as it was in the rabbinic period, it can still have tremendous implications in our lives.  It is a chance to acknowledge ending one period of time and entering another.  Today is actually the 30th day of the month of Sivan, symbolizing leaving that month and reflecting upon its significance as we get prepared to begin a new month, a new era.

The new moon also gives us an opportunity to acknowledge G-d’s awesome power in creation.  We sing Hallel, as we did this morning, to praise G-d’s role in creating the natural world and an aspect of that is establishing the cycle of the moon.  Celebrating the new moon gives us a reason to rejoice and connect to our fellow Jews, especially during the large spans of time when there are no major holidays. We do not need to wait until Rosh Hashanah for a new beginning-rather each month provides us a chance to renew our spirits and reminds us of the changing seasons that G-d has established.

In addition, we embrace the New Moon is through an existing yet little-known ceremony called Kiddush Levanah towards the beginning of every month (which if you remind me we will do next Saturday night).  In this ceremony, one gazes upon the new moon, blesses it, and extends his/her feet heavenward, as if he/she could touch it.  This ceremony is generally done with at least 3 people so that they can greet one another upon seeing the new moon (Shalom Aleichem and Aleichem Shalom), and it is done outside in full view of the moon.  It has the potential to be a spiritual moment through recognizing the beauty of G-d’s creation.

Finally, Rosh Hodesh has regained focus as a holiday of celebration, especially among women.  The tradition according to Midrash is that G-d gave Rosh Hodesh to women to celebrate as a result of their refusing to give their golden jewelry for the construction of the golden calf.  In rabbinic times, women were exempt from doing laundry, sewing and weaving on Rosh Hodesh, what was known as “women’s work!” instead celebrating the day with their families.

Beginning in the 1970s, feminist circles began reclaiming Rosh Hodesh through developing rituals such as lighting candles in pools of water, sharing stories, singing together and comforting one another.  Women’s Rosh Hodesh ceremonies can be found in many communities.  These ceremonies focus on the importance of renewing oneself just as the moon is renewed and on the connection between the monthly cycle of the moon and women’s’ monthly cycle. Some communities even have a Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girls Thing program, a five year curriculum for girls in Grades 6-10 to work with a mentor on issues connected to womanhood and adolescence.

We have two exceptional women who we are celebrating today on Rosh Hodesh. These women have stepped outside their comfort zone to become the leaders of our congregation. They have often been present in the synagogue office as an unpaid, full-time job. It’s not easy to take on the mantle of Presidency, which is why our congregation is often scrambling to find a new leader, yet these women took over the position with grace, dedication and a love for our congregation. They also did something unique in becoming co-presidents, each taking on different portfolios related to our congregation. Your accomplishments include (among others) bringing in a STEM Preschool, getting a CofO established on our building, revitalizing our Keter Torah program and creating an Office Manager position.  You have set the bar high and demonstrated what it means to be caring, devoted and hard-working leaders in serving our congregation and the Jewish people.

This has not been an easy year for either Martha and Diane as both of you have suffered personal losses. We mourn your loved ones who have passed on and we remark on how despite going through these great difficulties, your efforts to strengthen our congregation continued unabated. We are so fortunate that you will be continuing as dedicated congregants. Diane will be devoted to our Partners in Caring program, one component of which is getting Friendly Visitors to see congregants who are home-bound; and Martha I’m sure will continue to be involved in the financial aspects of the congregation.

Mazal Tov, Diane and Martha, on this special, well-deserved day. On behalf of the congregation, it is my pleasure to present you with a very special gift: Kiddush cups with a beautiful-feminine figure as part of the base. We hope you will use them every Friday night. Thank you to Barbara Rosenblum for choosing such a fitting gift for our Presidents. To celebrate this milestone, let us turn to Page 825 and read responsively.

[1] Rosh Hashanah Chapter 2 Mishnayot 8-9

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