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Announcing Rosh Chodesh

Excerpted from Rabbi Elchanan Adler’s Yerach Tov: Birkat HaChodesh in Jewish Law & Liturgy 


On the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh, it is customary to recite Birkat HaChodesh. Birkat HaChodesh, as practiced by Ashkenazic Jewry, is comprised of five elements: The paragraph of Yehi Ratzon, announcement of the molad, the paragraph Mi She’asah Nissim, announcement of the day of the week on which Rosh Chodesh will fall, and the paragraph of Yechadshehu.

This book will discuss the source of Birkat HaChodesh as a whole, and the reason that we recite it. In particular, we will discuss the relationship between Birkat HaChodesh and the ritual of Kiddush HaChodesh, the procedure for declaring and sanctifying each new month, that was practiced in the Temple era. After that, we will analyze the source of each element of Birkat HaChodesh, as well as how each element became integrated, in its present form, with the recitation of Birkat HaChodesh as a whole.

Announcing Rosh Chodesh

Early authorities do not discuss all five elements of Birkat HaChodesh. Rather, they focus on the announcement of the upcoming day on which Rosh Chodesh will fall. Indeed, the other elements were incidental to the custom of announcing the day of Rosh Chodesh. (For instance, the Yehi Ratzon prayer was not added until the eighteenth century!)

Most commentaries assert that the purpose of Birkat HaChodesh is to announce when the new month will begin, and discount any connection between Birkat HaChodesh and Kiddush HaChodesh. Ohr Zarua characterizes the difference between Birkat HaChodesh and Kiddush HaChodesh as follows:

This is not a Kiddush, a sanctification, but rather a mere announcement, as our Rabbis decreed to announce to the public using the language of a blessing in order for them to know when Rosh Chodesh will be and in order for them to be careful about observing its laws.

R. Eliezer of Metz notes that we have no chief judge, and therefore our Birkat HaChodesh cannot constitute a Kiddush HaChodesh:

This is not a Kiddush, since we have no chief judge in our midst, and this mitzvah is dependent on the chief judge’s presence; rather, the early authorities decreed that the public should be informed about Rosh Chodesh in order for them to be meticulous about it and about those laws dependent on it.

Shibbolei HaLeket discusses a custom of some communities, where the beadle would announce “Rosh Chodesh” during Ma’ariv leading into Rosh Chodesh, and the congregation would respond “for happiness and rejoicing.” He notes that since this practice was performed at night, while Kiddush HaChodesh can only be performed during daytime, it is clear that this announcement is merely to remind people to recite Ya’aleh Veyavo during the Amidah, rather than to sanctify the month in any way. He then addresses the custom of Birkat HaChodesh:

Similarly, the announcement of Rosh Chodesh on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh is not a remembrance of Kiddush HaChodesh, since we only perform Kiddush HaChodesh in its proper time [i.e. on Rosh Chodesh itself]; rather, it is to announce for the people in synagogue the day on which Rosh Chodesh will fall, so that everyone should know, since during the week people are sometimes preoccupied with work and do not come to synagogue.

The Machzor Vitri also articulates this point:

If Rosh Chodesh falls in the coming week, the chazanannounces and informs the congregation of its set time so that they should know when the holidays fall, and when to recite Musaf and Hallel, and to inform women when to abstain from work.

Nevertheless, some authorities seem to draw a parallel between Birkat HaChodesh and Kiddush HaChodesh. For example, Rokeach  writes, “Birkat HaChodesh is in exchange for Kiddush HaChodesh,” indicating a clear parallel between the two ceremonies. Similarly, Ra’avyah explicitly links the custom to recite Birkat HaChodesh with the ancient ceremony of Kiddush HaChodesh. In addition, according to Machzor Vitri, Birkat HaChodesh enables us to determine when the holidays fall, just like Kiddush HaChodesh. It might be suggested that those Rishonim who state that “this is not a Kiddush HaChodesh,” simply mean that Birkat HaChodesh is not a genuine Kiddush HaChodesh, but it is still a remembrance for Kiddush HaChodesh, and that it is still modeled after Kiddush HaChodesh.

Moreover, Magen Avraham writes that we customarily stand while reciting Birkat HaChodesh just as Kiddush HaChodesh took place while standing. Magen Avraham uses the word “dugmat, patterned after,” to describe the relationship between the two rituals. And, although Machatzit HaShekel avers that “patterned after” merely means that Birkat HaChodesh is a remembrance of Kiddush HaChodesh, this sentiment is still in itself exceedingly significant.