Rosh Chodesh is the name for the first day of every month in the Hebrew calendar, marked by the appearance of the New Moon. It is considered a minor holiday, akin to the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot. This is the very first commandment given to the nation as a whole, an indication that the concept of Rosh Chodesh, or the New Moon, is very meaningful.
According to the Talmud (tractate Megillah 22b), women are exempt from work on Rosh Chodesh. In recent times this has led to the formation of women’s groups to celebrate Rosh Chodesh, and women within Judaism.
Female-centered Rosh Chodesh observances vary from group to group, but many are centered on small gatherings of women. There is often a particular interest in the Shekinah, considered by the kabbalah to be a feminine aspect of God. These groups engage in a wide variety of activities that center around issues important to Jewish women, depending on the preference of the group’s members.
On every Rosh Hodesh the Women of the Wall – a coalition of Conservative, Orthodox and Reform women in Israel – gather on the women’s side of the Wall for the morning prayer service. This includes women reading from the Torah and wearing tallit (prayer shawl), tefillin, and kippah (skullcap). And on every Rosh Hodesh, there are violent attempts by seemingly religious men to stop them. In the past this has led to some arrests – of the women, not the attackers…
Since its founding in 1989, Women of the Wall has fought a legal battle asserting a right to conduct organized prayer at the Kotel and challenging government and private intervention in its efforts. There have even been laws proposed that would prohibit women from these prayers and advocating prison time for women who attempt to pray in any way that might offend an orthodox man.
Jewish groups around the world have organized events and prayer services in solidarity and support of the women’s right to pray at the Wall.
This past week, chair throwing was the violent act of choice. Rena Magen, one of the participants in the service described it like this:
I thought you would like to see this video of our “c-hair raising” experience at the Kotel this past Tuesday when I went to daven with the Women at the Wall.. it was not even 7:00 am yet (the starting time of the minyan) and we were simply standing around waiting, not even 10 of us.
All of a sudden, chairs started flying at us from the men’s side of the mechitzah, with great force. About 10 total, one after the other, very quickly. It was so outrageous that we hardly had time to be afraid. I am amazed that whoever shot this clip had the presence of mind to do so.
The police came quite quickly after it was all over and from that moment on there were MANY police guarding us on either side of the mechitzah. We had a nice service after that, complete with the requisite angry incessant shouting from the men and the nasty comments and curses from the women.
The group’s next minyan is Thursday, April 15, Rosh Chodesh Iyar. Anyone in the area?