Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rosh Chodesh (with a Feast)

ראש חודש

Rosh Chodesh literally translates from Hebrew as "Head of the Month" and is the name given to the first day of every month in the Hebrew Calendar. Traditionally Rosh Chodesh was not announced until two independent observers had reported seeing a New Moon to the beit din (rabbinic court in Jerusalem) where the judges would evaluate the witness testimony and if they independently could verify the sighting of the new moon the Temple would declare the arrival of Rosh Chodesh.

Why celebrate Rosh Chodesh? This one seems to be on flimsy evidence to say the least. It is often attributed to Exodus 12:1-2
And the LORD spoke unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,
This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.
This verse to me still doesn't offer reasonable enough "command" from God to celebrate the new moon; I have found reference to an event that is said to have happened around two weeks before Exodus while Moses was still in Egypt. God showed Moses the cresent moon and commanded him to "sanctify it". It could also be said that the Israelites adopted the significance of the moon as a direct contradiction to the Sun/Ra worship that was forced on them in Egypt.

In around 360 CE Hillel II introduced the "fixed calendar" to Judaism. This changed the tradition a little with the dates of Rosh Chodesh already known there was no longer a need for it to be "witnessed"; however the festival was still celebrated the day following the New Moon by by offering sacrifices, burning incense, chanting special prayers, blowing the shofar (a ceremonial rams horn) and eating a celebratory feast.

There are several Laws of Rosh Chodesh, two of which I wish to specifically point out here, and then discuss further with some other points from that same article.
  • One should not fast on Rosh Chodesh even if the fast is intended for just a few hours.
  • Although there is no obligation to wash and eat a meal in honor of Rosh Chodesh one should endeavor to increase in one's eating on Rosh Chodesh in honor of this day, and even to include bread during the meal.
Why do I bring these two points up in particular? Good Question. I guess I should admit at this point that I have an ulterior motive for discussing Rosh Chodesh; and that is precisely it's relation to feasting; food and eating; in a celebratory manner in a group of people.

I grew up in a reasonable sized family but my fondest memories as a child are mostly of my grandmother cooking and feeding us. Something she continues to do to this day, however she no longer can maintain the lengthy standing time in the kitchen like she used to. There is something very special that happens when a group of people share a meal together; I feel it's the common denominator - we're all pretty much the same - we all eat.

It doesn't matter at all if you're eating the same food or not; I personally find myself in situations where I'm eating very differently to those around me, and while I eat a strict vegetarian diet, I do prepare and cook meat for others to consume.

I do this for a couple of reasons;
  • I'm a pretty good cook, at least I like to eat the food I cook, and others do to. The satisfaction I personally get from seeing the satisfaction someone else receives from my labor of kitchen love (ask any grandmother who cooks, the secret ingredient is always love!!
  • One of my core beliefs is that of tolerance, acceptance and while making my views and thoughts on a range of topics available to anyone who'll give me an ear; I refuse to enforce them upon anyone else. I'm a good cook, why should they miss out on my Roast Lamb just because I won't eat it?
What I would like to encourage anyone who reads this to do is get a group of friends together, cook up a fantastic feast, sit down and eat with each other, enjoying each other's company and in moderation the food and perhaps a glass of wine or two. You could organize to regularly have feasts with a group of friends and perhaps even do it to celebrate Rosh Chodesh in your own way.

Before partaking in the meal depending upon company I say grace, sometimes to myself, occasionally out loud. Grace doesn't have to be religious, it doesn't even have to mention God.

An example of something to use in mixed company could be as simple as:
May we be thankful for the food we are about to consume;
May we be mindful of those who do not have a meal today;
May the food we consume nourish our mind, body and soul;
and a share of it be shared with all of creation for the benefit of all
If you're fortunate enough to have a group of friends like my regular dinner guests the dinner conversation can be so fantastically rewarding.
Remember what Socrates said... Philosophy is a Team Sport!
Encourage dinner discussion, with love, acceptance and tolerance.
Peace to you all.

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