Page 3 of 12Is Rosh Chodesh a festival?
The Torah seems to place Rosh Chodesh on a par with the other festivals. In Numbers chapter 28, the musaf (additional) services for Rosh Chodesh are listed along with the other festivals. The order, in Numbers 28 and 29, is:
Hag ha-Matzah the first day
Hag ha-Matzah the seventh day
Hag ha-Bikkurim - Shavuot
The Rosh Chodesh sacrifices are identical in number and in kind with those of Pesach and Shavuot. In post Temple times, a musaf service was established for Rosh Chodesh along with the other festivals. Rosh Chodesh was marked by many festive elements. There was a celebratory meal, and family gatherings were a natural for such occasions:
I Shmuel (Samuel) 20:18-29Then Jonathan said to David: "Tomorrow is the New Moon festival. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. Then I will send a boy and say, 'Go, find the arrows.' If I say to him, 'Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,' then come, because, as surely as HaShem lives, you are safe; there is no danger. But if I say to the boy, 'Look, the arrows are beyond you,' then you must go, because HaShem has sent you away. And about the matter you and I discussed--remember, HaShem is witness between you and me forever." So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon festival came, the king sat down to eat. He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David's place was empty. Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, "Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean--surely he is unclean." But the next day, the second day of the month, David's place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, "Why hasn't the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?" Jonathan answered, "David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. He said, 'Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.' That is why he has not come to the king's table."
After the Beit Din had sanctified the new moon and uttered a blessing to HaShem, special additional (Mussaf) offerings were presented to HaShem.
The traditional service includes a candle lit to burn for twenty-four hours. Some use a floating light because it resembles the moon floating in the sky. As on the Sabbath or festivals, two challot (special egg bread) are served; they are round or crescent shaped, preferably, thus invoking the shape of the moon. A new fruit will be sought for the menu for the sake of making a Shehecheyanu. The egg soup, traditionally served at the seder, is often included as a symbol of life immersed in liquid. A quiche of circular shape, or a nut loaf, are popular choices for the menu. During the meal, zemirot such as verses from the Hallel or special Rosh Chodesh songs are sung.
Over the course of later history, by association, the day was considered especially appropriate for housewarmings, dedications, wearing new clothes, and saying Shehecheyanu over new fruit. It was also called the day of good beginnings (Remember that all things go after the beginning as it is the most potent moment – we shall look at this concept a bit later.).
The joyous spirit of the day, in biblical times, is suggested by two references:Bamidbar (Numbers)10:10 Also at your times of rejoicing--your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals--you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am HaShem your God."
Hosea 2:11 I will stop all her celebrations: her yearly festivals, her New Moons, her Sabbath days--all her appointed feasts.
God does not specifically call Rosh Chodesh a rest day, but it is alluded to in:
Amos 8:4-7 Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land Saying, "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?"--skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, Buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. HaShem has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.
Rosh Chodesh was celebrated only eleven times a year. In Tishri, Yom Teruah coincides with Rosh Chodesh; to this day, the new moon of Tishri is not proclaimed in advance, in the synagogue; Yom Teruah rather than Rosh Chodesh is dominant liturgically.
The Torah does not list Rosh Chodesh with HaShem’s festivals in Leviticus 23, never the less it is a festival as we shall see. Lets note that Rosh Chodesh is specifically called a day of rejoicing in this passage from the Torah and is put on a par with Shabbat and the other festivals:
Bamidbar (Numbers) 10:1-10 HaShem said to Moses: "Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. If only one is sounded, the leaders--the heads of the clans of Israel--are to assemble before you. When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to set out. At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south are to set out. The blast will be the signal for setting out. To gather the assembly, blow the trumpets, but not with the same signal. "The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by HaShem your God and rescued from your enemies. Also at your times of rejoicing--your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals--you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am HaShem your God."
In the Nazarean Codicil, Rosh Chodesh is put on a par with Shabbat and the other festivals:
Colossians 2:16-17 Let no man therefore condemn you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body of Mashiach.