Chapter Seventeen

Concerning the Feast of the New Moon

So far we have related how the Jews celebrate their three main feasts, and now follows the description of all the feasts and holy days, which they celebrated at their own places where they lived [in the diaspora.] We shall first discuss the feast day which they have every month.

Some time ago, the first day of each New Moon was a holy day, therefore God ordered them to bring special sacrifices on each first day of the New Moon, as can be seen in the fourth book of Moses Num. 28.11. Today it is only a half-holiday, on which they may work or not. They write that the women are more obliged to keep it than men, and they should refrain from all work, because they did not want to give their golden earrings and jewelry to the Golden Calf on the New Moon, but they gave willingly all their rings and bracelets for the building of the Temple, which was built on the first day of March. The day before, the most pious Jews fast, and they beg God to give them a happy New Moon. In the morning they go to shul, and they say a few more special prayers than on other days. At noon they have a good meal. They write that it is a Mitzvah, a special law that they should sit at the table longer than usual, and be happy and cheerful, as it is writtenNum. 10.10: When you are happy at your feasts and your New Moons... To stay at the table longer, they usually play cards all day, talk, and entertain themselves, and find all kinds of means to make themselves happy.

A lunar eclipse is considered an evil sign brought on by those who hate the Jews, therefore they fast that day, and they beg God to protect them from their enemies.

When the moon is a few days old, three days at least, they gather at night, if they can see the moon, in a garden, or on the street, under the open sky. They lift up their eyes skywards to the moon, stand up straight, and bless the moon with the following prayer, which the most learned and most noble Rabbi says, and the others repeat: Praised be you, Lord our God, king of the world, who through your word, and the spirit of your mouth, made heaven and all its host, gave them a law and a time to follow your orders, and not to change, to follow happily and willingly the will of God the creator, who is the true creator and his work is true. He told the moon to renew herself, for her renewal is a beautiful crown and honor for all who have been carried in a mother's womb (that is, all the Israelites so called by the prophet Isaiah 46.3), who should also be renewed like the moon, so that they may praise and honor the Creator and the name of his exalted kingdom. Praised be your Creator, praised be he who made you, praised be your Lord, praised be your Creator. (Here they jump up towards the sky, the higher the better, and they say to the moon:) Just as I jump up towards you but cannot reach you, so may it happen to my enemies, that they may not be able to do evil to me or destroy me. (Here they stand again and say three times:) Ex. 15.16 Let terror and fear fall upon them through your great power, that they may be silenced and petrified like stones; they shall be dumb as a stone. Through your strong arm, let terror and fear fall upon them. After that, each one turns to the other and says: Schálom aléchem, peace be with you, and the others say: Alechem schalom, schalom alechem, schalom al jisrael, upon you be peace also, and over all Israel, Amen. This blessing they usually save until the Sabbath of the New Moon, because then, after they have ushered out the Sabbath with joy, they go right away in their best Sabbath clothing to honor the New Moon, and to usher it in, and receive it with joy.

While I am talking about the moon, I cannot omit a nice conversation and Confabulation between God and the moon, which can be read in the Talmud. It reads as follows. Rabbi Simeon, son of Pazzai taught Babylonian Talmud, Hullin 60b: It is written: And God made two great lights, a great light, and a small light. The moon said to God: Lord of the world, is it possible for two kings to reign under one crown? God answered: Go hence, and make yourself small. The moon said: Lord of the world, if I spoke correctly and truly before you, why should I become smaller? God answered: Go hence, and reign by day and by night. Said the moon again: What kind of honor is that to burn a light by daylight? What is the use of it? God answered: Go hence, the people of Israel shall count their days and seasons by you. Said the moon: this is also impossible, because they have to consider the Tekuphos, or the two solstices, and when day and night is the same, [the equinoxes] as it is written Gen. 1.14: And they shall be for signs, for a designated time for days and years. God went on: Go hence, and the Tzaddíkim and the just will name themselves after you, like Jacob the small, [see Amos 7.2] Samuel the small, [a first-century Talmud scholar, so called on account of his humility] David the small. [See I Sam. 17.14] But when God saw that he could not calm her down he said: Hebhiu cappárah alái, al schæmiatti æs hajaréach. (This is how it stands in the editions of Venice, it is also thus cited by Rabbi Bechai in his interpretation of the fourth book of Moses Num. 28.15. In the edition of Basel it is different.) That is: Offer a reconciliation offering for me, because I made the moon smaller. This is the reason why Rabbi Simeon, son of Lakis said: How different is the ram that was sacrificed at the New Moon, of which it is said, Chattas lehael, a reconciliation offering for the Lord, that is, God said: This ram shall be a reconciliation offering for me, because I made the moon smaller. [I.e. even God needs pardon for treating someone roughly.] So far the Talmud. The Rabbis discuss the interpretation of this at great length. The most noble among the Elders held the opinion that the sun and the moon were of equal strength at the beginning of the creation, therefore it says first: And God made two great lights. But as soon as the moon started to complain to God, and wanted to reign over heaven alone, God made her smaller and took her own light away, and said that she should derive her light from the sun. So soon after that it says: A big light and a little light, because before that, there had been two big lights. But when the moon complained about it, God felt sorry, and ordered the bringing of a sacrifice for him [i.e. to expiate God's offense] on each New Moon. Other rabbis considered this opinion as blasphemy, because God is just, and he cannot commit a sin or injustice. They therefore made great efforts to interpret it in the right way, and explained the word Alai, for me, which is written with the letter Ajin, in several different ways as we can see in R. Bechai.

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Alan D. Corré