Festivals, Prayers & Services
New Moon Festival
In quite a number of instances, rabbinic law actually forbids the observance of certain commandments in Torah. This practise the Prophet Yeshua` strongly criticised: “So for the sake of your Traditions, you have in fact nullified the commandment of God!” (Sefer Yeshua‘, passage 119 verse 8).
One such instance where mainstream rabbinical Judaism directly forbids observance of Torah, is in the observance of the New Moon Festival (Rosh Chodesh). As a consequence, their calendar can be out by as much as 2-3 days (in a biblical leap year, it can be out by as much as a full month)!
Talmidis, Karaite Jews and Samaritans all observe the biblical month. Amazingly, Rabbinic Judaism looks down upon us all for observing Torah in this way, and belittles the festival as one tolerated as a festival for women. Rabbinical Jews are our brothers and sisters, and always have our love, but it remains a sadness to us that they look down upon us as backward for yearning to uphold our ancient heritage, and for taking joy in Torah – to do our utmost to fulfill every part of Torah:
“Let me tell you this, it’s easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one yodh or tittle of the Torah to become void.” (SY 123:3)
Why look for the new moon at all?
In Genesis 1:14, it says, “And God said, ‘Let bright lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. They will be signs to mark off the appointed times, the days, and the years.’ ” And in Psalms 104:19 it relates, “God created the moon for the appointed times”.
These two verses give us the basic purpose of why we maintain the practice of sighting the New Moon. The Sun (or rather, the setting of it) marks off each day, while the sighting of the first visible sliver of the moon enables us to set the times of the biblical festivals (the “appointed times”; in Hebrew, ,mo‘edim). Without Chodesh (The New Moon Festival), the Israelite religion would have no calendar. And without a calendar, we would not be able to determine the dates of the festivals.
Simply by acknowledging or being aware of the sighting of the New Moon, helps to fix in your mind that the next biblical month has begun. And throughout the month, you can more or less figure out how far into the month you are, just by looking at the sky and observing the phases of the moon. For example, in the northern hemisphere:
First visible sliver on the right – first day of the month:
Half moon on the right – seventh day of the month
Full moon – fifteenth day of the month
Half moon on the left – twenty-first day of the month
‘Covered’ Moon (no moon visible) – twenty-ninth or thirtieth day of the month
The next time the moon is visible in the sky, take a look at it and see if you can tell which day of the biblical month it is!
How the New Moon is sighted
The New Moon must be seen with the naked eye (that is, without any artificial means). It has to have been witnessed by at least two witnesses, and then be proclaimed to the community.
We can take a look at the New Moon from anywhere in the world. However, for the sake of uniformity, the date of the first day of the new month (Rosh Chodesh) is fixed by a sighting from the land of Israel. At present, since the Talmidi community has no independent means of making this observation, we currently use the sightings of the Karaite Jewish community in Israel, who then broadcast their sighting via e-mail and the Internet.
The observance in mainstream Judaism
In rabbinic Judaism, the practice of determining the calendar by the biblically ordained sighting of the New Moon has been ignored. Rabbanite Jewish months are reckoned by a complex set of calculations to ensure that certain holy days do not fall on days of the week that the rabbis have commanded they should not fall. For this reason, you will find that occasionally, the first day of the biblical new month and the Rabbinic new month do not fall on the same day.
The rabbis in ancient times largely forbade people to observe the New Moon Festival. They felt that observing it was tantamount to worshipping it as the goddess Astarte (some people would even copy pagan practice by touching their fingers to their lips in a kiss to the goddess; see Job 31:26-28). Other people openly made sacrifices to Astarte, the “Queen of Heaven” on The New Moon Festival (see Jeremiah 44:16-22).
In other words, to prevent a bad thing (the Moon being worshipped as a goddess), the rabbis forbade a good thing (observance of the New Moon Festival to set the calendar). As long as we remember that the moon does not in and of itself stand for anything, that it is merely a sign and a memorial, there should be no danger of idolatry.
In modern rabbinic Judaism, the day is seen purely as a day for women to get together to socialise and to pray and study. However, in ancient times, and according to what was gifted to us in the bible, the day was observed as a day of rest by both men and women.
What happens on Chodesh (The New Moon Festival)?
Although it is not essential for anyone but the official witnesses who sight the New Moon, some people still like to go outside and see the New Moon for themselves. To avoid any accusations of pagan worship, we then turn our backs to the New Moon and say a blessing to sanctify the day (that is, set it apart). We thank God for setting the Moon in the sky as a sign of the months.
Again, although it is not necessary for anyone but the witnesses, some people also like to blow the shofar (ram’s horn; see Ps 81:3-4).
The day is observed as a day of rest, almost like a Sabbath (2Kings 4:23) and people do not travel (1Samuel 20:18). There is no work and no selling (Amos 8:5), and it is a day of worship (Ezekiel 46:1-7, Isaiah 66:22-24), and of remembering (that is, of the fact of what the sighting was for; see Numbers 10:10). Above all, it is to be a day of joy (Numbers 10:9-10).
The New Moon Festival as a day of rest, and clan gathering
The Torah does not go into detail about what kinds of work are forbidden at the New Moon Festival. Apart from not engaging in one’s regular employment or labour, no buying or selling, and not travelling, the details are not explained. As long as one refrains from regular work and from travelling, then for those who wish to observe the New Moon Festival, that is enough to fulfil the commandment to rest.
In the monarchic period, when Israelite society was a clan-based society, clans (that is, extended families) chose one New Moon a year when they would return to their ancestral town or city and offer a zevach ha-yamim – an annual offering (see 1Sam 20:5-6, 28-29). A clan gathering such as this could take place annually at any New Moon Festival, and was an opportunity for the extended family to get together, to network, and to solidify family ties.
I think it would be a good thing for the Talmidi community to revive this custom. With the fracturing of western society, and with the mishpachah (extended family) being the unit on which Israelite society ideally functions, it would help build and maintain bonds within extended families. Pick a place and any New Moon, and use it each year as a time for your ‘clan gathering’ – call it a mishteh ha-yamim la-mishpachah (annual clan banquet) perhaps.
A day of worship and joy
At the New Moon Festival, we remember YHVH as the creator of the moon, and say a few appropriate prayers and blessings. Some people also have a special meal for the day, but this is traditional and not essential. All that is important is that the day is set apart and somehow made special.
In ancient times, it was traditional to go and listen to the words of a wise teacher or sage on New Moon. In 2Kings 4, Hannah tells her husband that she wants to go and see the prophet Samuel. “Why?” he asks her. “It’s not a Sabbath or a New Moon!”
There is also a curious story in the first book of Samuel, chapter 20. It relates how the young David feared that King Saul was planning to kill him. In order to prove this to his close friend Jonathan, Saul’s son, David tells him that he will not turn up for the king’s feast held on The New Moon Festival. Jonathan says that David will be sorely missed, but David explains that if Saul becomes angry at his absence, then that will be proof that the king is out to kill David.
There is evidence throughout the bible and later literature, that the New Moon Festival was observed right through, from the time of Moses, to King David’s time, to the times of the Prophets, right up until the time when the Great Sanhedrin was disbanded by the Romans in the 1st century CE.
Varying levels of observance within the Talmidi community
Observance of The New Moon Festival varies greatly within the Talmidi community. It ranges from merely acknowledging the date and not doing anything else, to observing full rest, not working, and saying special prayers. However, what all Talmidi groups have in common, is that we calculate the date in the same way; we all work out the months – and thereby the calendar – of our religious year according to biblical instruction and ordinances.
The appliance of astronomy in determining the date of the New Moon
The question inevitably arises, when do we know when to expect the New Moon? In ancient times, witnesses were sent out on the days around the expected sighting. Nowadays we use scientific, astronomical data to predict when the New Moon will be visible. After the sun sets, each night the moon is visible for a while until it too sets. At the New Moon Festival, it is the time between the setting of the sun and the setting of the moon that the sighting is made.
The calculation of leap years
A second question comes up – the matter of leap years. A lunar year – a year made up of months calculated solely from the moon – is only 354 days long. Since a solar year is approximately 365.25 days long, this would mean that each year, the dates of festivals would be eleven days earlier than in the previous year. Eventually you could have Passover in December and Hanukkah in August! How did the ancients make adjustments?
The only way that the year can be adjusted is to “observe the month of Aviv”, which is to be the first of our months (Ex 12:2). Aviv means ‘ripening barley’. So after the barley harvest in Israel has ripened, the next New Moon is the beginning of the first month of the year. When we follow the instructions given in the book of Exodus, we don’t have to make any complicated calculations to intercalate a leap year (when we insert the extra month of Adar Beyt, that is, ‘Adar 2’); the leap years calculate themselves.
Again, rabbinic Judaism does not follow these instructions, but Karaite Jews and Talmidis do. The Talmidi community again relies on the examination of the barley crop by members of the Karaite community in the land of Israel (see New Year).
Where Chodesh (The New Moon Festival) is mentioned in the Miqra (Hebrew bible)
The following passage in the Miqra concern the New Moon, and what it is for:
Num 10:1-10, Num 28:11-15,
Ps 8:1-4, Ps 81:3-4, Ps 89:35-37, Ps 104:10,
Is 1:13-14, Is 66:23,