Gut Chodesh 


a sliver of moon rises with the sun (2-24-17)

My second grader has been studying the phases of the moon at school, so we’ve been watching the moon more intently for a couple of weeks. He was happy to tell me that Friday morning’s sliver was a “waning crescent.” The waning crescent means the new moon is only a couple of days away, and then the moon will get brighter again.  

After he shared his knowledge with me, I asked if he knew what the new moon brought with it. He didn’t, and when I told him the new moon brought the new Jewish month with it, he was SO excited at this news!!  

And, I must admit, I find it rather exciting too… so I decided to look up and share the official blessing for the new month… and what I found was more intriguing than even I expected!!! 

You see, the “celebration of the new month” to which I’m accustomed is a pronouncement in synagogue on the last erev Shabbat of the month.  The pronouncement tells us the day in the next week on which the new month will begin and, as translated in the Mishkan T’filah siddur, includes this prayer: 

Our Gd and Gd of our ancestors, may the new month bring us goodness and blessing. May we have long life, peace, and prosperity, a life exalted by love of Torah and reverence for the divine; a life in which the longings of our hearts are fulfilled for good. 

Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur (Shabbat) at 261 (CCAR 2007).  

However, as I looked up the specific language of that prayer to provide in this post, I found out that custom of announcing when the new month would begin did not originate until the 9th century… and Halakah (Jewish law) actually prescribes a different and much more meaningful custom!!

According to the Talmud, we are to stand outside some night between the third and fourteenth day of the month, looking at the waxing moon that is growing in brightness and recite a prayer praising Gd for Creation.  Ideally we will observe this custom in the company of friends, because then we can share our joy at the moon’s renewal, which gives us hope for our own renewal and growing brightness with the Light of Gd.  The Talmud explains:  

Said Rabbi Aha bar Hanina in the name of Rabbi Asi in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: Reciting the blessing over the moon at the proper time is like greeting the Shekhinah [indwelling presence of Gd] personally… Said Abaye: Therefore we should say the blessing standing up (as though greeting Gd). Meremar and Mar Zutra went so far as to climb up on one another’s shoulders while saying the blessing. 

Sanhedrin 42b (as quoted on My Jewish Learning ). 

And The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Ashkenaz) explains that greeting the moon is like greeting the Shekhinah because 

the only way we can recognize the existence of Gd is through [Gd’s] works. … In nature it is seen through the orderly functioning of the enormously complex heavenly bodies. … This phenomenon is most apparent in the cycles of the moon, because its changes are more visible than those of any other body. Thus, when we greet the moon, we greet its Maker and Guide. 

Artscroll Siddur at 612 (citing Rabbeinu Yonah, Berachos 4).  

I took the liberty of “updating the prayer”** that is to be said outside with the moon between the 3rd and 14th of the month, and I provide it here for others to use and share: 

Praised are You, Hashem, our Gd, Ruler of the Universe, whose word created the universe and whose breath created the celestial bodies. Gd gave them appointed times and roles, and they never miss their cues, doing their Creator’s bidding with gladness and joy. Gd, the true and faithful Creator, commanded that the moon would renew itself as a beautiful crown in the sky. May we renew ourselves and proclaim the beauty of Gd’s glorious universe. Praised are you, Hashem, who renews the months. 

Tonight begins the new Jewish month … so next weekend, grab a friend and head outside to appreciate the moon, Creation, Gd, and our ability to renew our own lives!!!  

Shavua Tov (a good week!)
and Gut Chodesh (a good month!)

may we all be blessed, jen

**”updating the prayer” means that I removed language referring to Gd as male and language suggesting the moon was a crown for Israel (rather than humanity). 

6 thoughts on “Gut Chodesh 

    • Simcha — Thank you very much for your comment!! Please allow me to explain what I meant, and then perhaps we can find common ground…
      I actually agree with you that the moon is special to Jews and that there is nothing derogatory to non-Jews about acknowledging the special role the moon plays in assigning dates for our holidays.
      I also, personally, believe a person (or a group) can say “Gd created the moon as a special sign for me” without excluding the possibility that Gd also created the moon as a special sign for others.
      But, for example, I live in a community where 7 of 9 religious school students have one parent who is Jewish and one parent who is not. My job is to teach those children awe and reverence for Hashem, love of Judaism, stories from Torah, and customs for holiday observance… so that they might grow up to be adults who incorporate Judaism into their lives.
      If I ask those children to say the moon is “a crown of splendor for Israel, who will be renewed like the moon to proclaim Gd’s greatness”… one or more child inevitably will ask me: “does that mean Gd didn’t create the moon for my dad?” Or “My mom isn’t Jewish, can she say this prayer?” … and then any hope I had of teaching those children to find sacred moments with Hashem in the moon’s transitions will be lost in a battle of semantics, or worse yet, they will think Judaism sees one of their parents as inferior and, loving their parent, they will alienate themselves from Judaism.
      …and many non-Orthodox American adults who attend Shabbat service would have a similar reaction to language that could imply Israel is special to Gd, because Americans hear that language as an example of prejudice against non-Jews.
      …so my edits were intended not to deny the significance of the moon to Israel or the special role it plays for us, but rather to make the language palatable to the interfaith families with whom I most often interact… because I want them to remain affiliated with Jewish institutions and have the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom and strength that Judaism has to offer.
      Again, thank you for your comment so that I could explain. I don’t know whether my explanation made it “better” from your perspective, but please know I welcome respectful dialogue because it gives me a chance to learn from others!
      with blessings, jen

      • Hi Jen,

        It must be incredibly challenging working with children for whom their home life is so in conflict with what you are trying to teach them. It is wonderful that you are trying to keep them connected to Judaism and Hashem even so.

        I would disagree with changing the wording, or trying to make Judaism “fit” the situation though. They are not easy questions that the children would ask, if they were to ask them, but they are real questions with real answers. Answers that can show respect and love for their parents without being apologetic for Torah.

        I do understand where you are coming from, and your explanation is good to hear.

      • Hi Simcha. Teaching children whose lives are not immersed in the daily rhythms of Judaism to appreciate the beauty and wonder of our religion can be challenging (even if both of their parents are Jewish!). But through challenges, Hashem brings us growth and blessing. And I pray the children’s futures are blessed by the knowledge they learn with us as well.
        I understand and respect your position about not modifying the language, and in many contexts, I would agree with you that we should keep the original language and do a better job explaining why we say what we say. But there are contexts in which I still believe minor modifications are appropriate to help mostly-secular Jews adopt Jewish customs. Perhaps for now, on this issue in this context, we can agree to disagree and yet remain friendly? That is my hope! jen

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