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Rosh Hodesh

Rosh Hodesh at the Jewish Women's Center
Rosh Hodesh: A History

Rosh Hodesh at the Jewish Women's Center

The Jewish Women's Center of Pittsburgh began as a Rosh Hodesh group in 1992, meeting each month on the eve of Rosh Hodesh. View our calendar for this year’s dates.

Sample rituals

We have created our own Rosh Hodesh rituals which have evolved over the years. These sample rituals include information about the new month, blessings for candle lighting, Kiddush, and Shehecheyanu, and suggestions for personal observance. View several Rosh Hodesh rituals for:

Rosh Hodesh rituals for other months are available by contacting us.

For many years, our Rosh Hodesh program year had a specific theme:

  • 2008 to present: A potpourri of themes including Torah yoga, crafting amulets, Jewish women's writings, social action projects and women-centered holiday celebrations.
  • 2007-2008/5768: Israel at 60: The Women.
  • 2006-2007/5767: It Isn’t Your Grandmother’s Mikveh.
  • 2005-2006/5766: The Study of Midrash of Biblical Women.
  • 2004-2005/5765: A Year of Kavannah.
  • 2003-2004/5764: Confirming, Confronting, Creating: Jewish Women Explore Ritual.
  • 2002-2003/5763: Reaching In, Reaching Out: A Community of Jewish Women.
  • 2001-2002/5762: Heart, Mind, and Soul: Living Jewish Feminism.
  • 2000-2001/5761: A Smorgasbord of Different Formats and Topics of Interest to Us as Jewish Feminists.
  • 1999-2000/5760: Connections and Commitment.
  • 1998-1999/5759: Women of Valor in 5759.
  • 1997-1998/5758: Making Meaning: Creating Ritual from the Heart.

We at the JWC hope that you will join us for a Rosh Hodesh celebration to experience this meaningful time for women and to participate in our community of Jewish women.

Rosh Hodesh: A History

The first of each Jewish month is Rosh Hodesh, the “head of the month.” Rosh Hodesh celebrates the new moon which, with its slender crescent shape, is barely visible in the night sky. In midrash (Biblical commentary) and folk belief, Rosh Hodesh has been traditionally identified with women. Moon worship was prevalent throughout the ancient Near East. Even in Biblical times, there is evidence that a festival of the new moon was celebrated. Eventually, this holiday became the focus of controversy between the religious establishment and the folk. However, it was important for the religious leaders to acknowledge the needs of the people who were living among the other peoples of this region. Thus, the Festival of the New Moon was probably “made” into a de facto holiday because people were already designating the appearance of the new moon as a sacred time. Stories were circulated about the special privilege of Jewish women to observe this holiday in recognition of their noble behavior when the Golden Calf was erected and worshipped at the base of Mt. Sinai.

As a reward for the women’s refusal to participate in the making of the Golden Calf, God gave the new moons as holidays to women, and in the future world too, they will be rewarded for their firm faith in God, in that, like the new moons, they, too, may monthly be rejuvenated.

Louis Ginzberg, Legends of Our People Vol. 3:122

As it evolved, Rosh Hodesh became a way for the religious establishment to combat idol worship and to satisfy the need to continue observance of the sacred relationship between the moon and women which had been part of the indigenous mythologies of the region.

On Rosh Hodesh, women were supposed to refrain from work, to eat a festive meal, and to light candles, which commemorated the torches which were lit in Biblical times when the new moon was first sighted in the sky.

However, over the centuries, Rosh Hodesh evolved into a day less focused on women and more as a holiday marked in the synagogue with special prayers and blessings, as Shabbat and the other holidays and festivals.

In recent decades, with the rise of the Jewish feminist movement, women have recaptured Rosh Hodesh and reshaped it to our contemporary life. It has become an occasion for Jewish women to gather for newly created Rosh Hodesh rituals, for learning and spiritual exploration, and to mark life’s passages. It offers Jewish women a special space at a special time.

Jewish Women’s Center of Pittsburgh

Copyright © 1997 -
Jewish Women’s Center of Pittsburgh
P.O. Box 81924
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 422-8044