Rosh Chodesh ֠The Difference Between Kedushat Ha-Yom and the Prohibition of Work

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

 

Kedushat Ha-Yom (Intrinsic Sanctity of the Day) and the Prohibition of Work on Rosh Chodesh

 

            The Torah does not explicitly mention a prohibition of work on Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is also omitted from the list of mo'adot (special occasions) in Parashat Emor, because that list comes primarily to catalogue those special times of the year that are sanctified[1] – days of mikra'ei kodesh, "holy gatherings" – and the first thing that is said about such days is that work is forbidden on them. Rosh Chodesh is not a day of mikra kodesh, and it might not be subject to a prohibition of work.

 

            The talmudic passages contradict themselves on this point. In the discussion in Arakhin (10b) regarding the days on which Hallel is recited, it says that there is no Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, because "it was not sanctified regarding the performance of work." Similarly in Chagiga (18a) in the discussion regarding the prohibition of labor on Chol ha-Mo'ed, it says: "Rosh Chodesh will prove the point, for it has a Musaf offering, but the performance of work is permitted." And so too in Shabbat (24a), with respect to the obligation to mention Rosh Chodesh in Birkat ha-Mazon, it says: "Is Rosh Chodesh to be mentioned in Birkat ha-Mazon? Should you say that it is unnecessary in the case of Chanuka, which is only by rabbinic decree, then on Rosh Chodesh, which is by Torah law, it is necessary; or perhaps since the performance of work is not forbidden, it is not mentioned?"

 

            On the other hand, in Megila (22b), in the course of a discussion about the number of people who are called up to the Torah on different days, a Baraita is cited which states: "This is the rule: whenever it involves cancellation of work for the people, e.g., on public fast days and on Tish'a be-Av, three people read; whenever it does not involve cancellation of work for the people, e.g., on Rosh Chodesh and on Chol ha-Mo'ed, four people read." The continuation of the Baraita says that there is no cancellation of work on Rosh Chodesh, because, as it would appear, the people were accustomed[2] not to work on Rosh Chodesh.

 

            Already at this stage, it might be proposed that there is a difference between the first three passages and this last one. The first three passages establish that Rosh Chodesh does not have intrinsic sanctity (kedushat ha-yom) that forbids work to be performed thereon because it is a holy day. The last passage deals with the practical issue of "cancellation of work for the people," and in this context, what is important is the final result and not the reasons and motives.

 

            It might be added that while it is nowhere explicitly stated in Scripture that the performance of work on Rosh Chodesh is forbidden, there are certain elements that distinguish Rosh Chodesh from ordinary days:

 

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginning of your months [Rosh Chodesh], you shall blow with the trumpets. (Bamidbar 10:10)

 

And in the beginnings of your months… this is the burnt offering of every month throughout the months of the year. (Bamidbar 28:11-14)

 

Why will you go to him today? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath. (II Melakhim 4:23)

 

Then Yehonatan said to David, Tomorrow is the new moon… Why does the son of Yishai not come to the meal, neither yesterday, nor today?… for our family has a sacrifice in the city. (I Shemuel 20:18-29)

 

As for new moons and sabbaths and the calling of assemblies, I cannot bear iniquity along with solemn meeting… Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates. (Yeshayahu 1:13-14)

 

I will also bring all mirth to an end, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her appointed times. (Hoshea 2:13)

 

When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn, and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the efa small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances of deceit? (Amos 8:5)

 

And it shall come to pass, that every new moon, and every sabbath, shall all flesh come to bow down to the ground before Me, says the Lord. (Yeshayahu 66:23)

 

            These verses paint a picture of Rosh Chodesh as being a special day, that includes a Musaf offering in the Temple, special feasts, elements of joy and gladness, cessation from commerce, and going out to meet the prophets.

 

            Indeed, even though Rosh Chodesh does not fall into the category of days of "holy gathering," it still has special sanctity, as we say explicitly in our prayers: "He who sanctifies Israel and the New Moons," and as is reflected in the Mishna (Rosh ha-Shana 2:8): "The head of the court says: It is sanctified. And all the people say after him: It is sanctified, it is sanctified."

 

            When we come to clarify the nature of this sanctity, it seems that we should examine it in light of other days, which also have special sanctity, even though that sanctity is distinct from that of Rosh Chodesh both in its substance and in its essence.

 

The Fiftieth Day – the Day on which the Shetei ha-Lechem is Offered

 

            In the section dealing with the mo'adot (Vayikra 23), the Torah discusses at length the mitzva of the omer offering, the mitzva of counting until the fiftieth day, and the mitzva of the shetei ha-lechem offering brought on the fiftieth day together with other sacrifices that must accompany it. Since the Torah does not give a date for bringing the shetei ha-lechem offering other than by way of the fifty-day count, it would seem that in the absence of a count there is no offering. In the absence of this offering, it would seem that the day loses its status as a day of mikra kodesh, as Scripture states: "And you shall proclaim on this very same day, that it may be a holy gathering to you" (Vayikra 23:21).

 

            As we know, the Sages in tractate Menachot disagree whether or not in our time the mitzva of counting the omer is by Torah law. According to those who maintain that it is by rabbinic decree, because its Torah status depends on the sacrifice of the omer offering, today when there is no omer offering,[3] the fiftieth day should also not be holy, because that holiness depends upon the offering of the shetei ha-lechem. This, however, is certainly not the case, for the fiftieth day [= the festival of Shavu'ot] is holy, even in time, by Torah law. This is for two reasons:

 

1)         This festival is mentioned elsewhere as the "harvest festival"[4] and the "festival of weeks,"[5] without any dependency being made on counting the omer and bringing the shetei ha-lekhem.

 

2)         In this section itself, the Torah establishes the day as a day of mikra kodesh. Days that fall into this category are days which by their very essence are fixed into the calendar for all future generations. This is stated explicitly in the Torah: "And you shall proclaim on this very same day, that it may be a holy gathering to you: you shall do no servile work: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations" (Vayikra 23:21).

 

The term "throughout your generations" as it is used here can be understood in two ways:

 

1)         An allusion to the other dimensions of the day, because of which the day is a day of mikra kodesh for all generations.

 

2)         The very fact that the fiftieth day is the day that is fit for the shetei ha-lechem offering makes it a day of mikra kodesh even in our time.[6]

 

We have demonstrated that while it is true that, according to the plain sense of the Torah section (Vayikra 23), the fiftieth day is in its essence a festival day for bringing a particular offering, nevertheless the sanctity of the day is that of a day of mikra kodesh,[7] which bestows intrinsic sanctity on the day. Put differently: The day of offering the shetei ha-lechem becomes a holy day in the calendar, no different than the fifteenth of Nisan or the fifteenth of Tishrei, only that here the determining factor is the bringing of the offering, and not the day of the year.

 

The essential sanctity of the day brings with it the prohibition of "You shall do no servile work",[8] and the obligation to offer the Musaf sacrifices mentioned in Parashat Pinchas. These sacrifices are distinct from the offerings discussed in Parashat Emor, and stem from the unique sanctity of the day. This sanctity is bestowed on the day according to the criteria operative outside of the Temple, that is to say, the evening is considered part of the next day, and not according to the criteria of a day of sacrifice, where the evening is considered part of the previous day.

 

The Day on which the Korban Pesach is Offered

 

On the fourteenth day of the first month towards evening is the Lord's passover. (Vayikra 23:5)

 

            This verse makes no mention of any special sanctity, the day is not defined as a day of "holy gathering," and there is no indication that work is forbidden thereon. One might even wonder why this verse is included in this chapter, the essence of which are the days of mikra'ei kodesh, as is even noted in the section's introduction: "The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy gatherings."

 

            We find, however, that elsewhere the Torah refers to the day on which the korban Pesach is brought as a feast day (chag): "You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover (chag ha-pesach) be left to the morning."[9]

           

            When we examine the nature of this feast day, it seems that its sanctity derives from the sacrifice that is offered on it, and therefore it is not defined as a day of mikra kodesh. It is not fixed in the calendar as a holy day but rather as a day of sacrifice. If the sacrifice is brought on that day, the day has the sanctity of the sacrifice, but if the sacrifice is not brought, the day is not sanctified, for its entire sanctity stems from the sacrifice.

 

            When we compare this day to the fiftieth day of the omer, we notice certain opposite features. The fiftieth day has no set date in the calendar, but rather it is fixed as the fiftieth day following the omer offering. But when it is fixed, its sanctity is intrinsic to the day, and it is a day of mikra kodesh.

 

            The day of bringing the korban Pesach, on the other hand, has a fixed date in the calendar, the fourteenth day of the first month, but its sanctity is only the sanctity of the sacrifice and not intrinsic to the day. This being the case, the sanctity and the day of offering the korban Pesach begins on the morning of the fourteenth of Nisan and continues into the night that follows, like all sacrifices, concerning which the night follows the day. It would seem that the precise moment that the feast day of Pesach begins is sunrise of the fourteenth of Nisan, though it is possible that the day only begins at the time of the sacrifice, namely, after midday.[10] The end of the day is also subject to a Tannitic dispute, whether it is at midnight or at daybreak of the fifteenth.[11] It is possible then that the feast day of Pesach is from midday of the fourteenth to midnight of the fifteenth.[12]

 

            We learned at the beginning of the fourth chapter of Pesachim: "In a place where it is customary to perform work on the eve of Pesach until midday, it may be done. In a place where it customary not to perform [such work], it may not be done." This Mishna implies that the prohibition of work after midday is by strict law, whereas customary practice determines whether or not work is permitted during the first half of the day. All agree that there is no prohibition of work on the eve of Pesach on the night of the fourteenth,[13] and it is only from sunrise on that there is room to forbid work based on the customary practice. The nature of the prohibition of work from midday on, according to the Gemara (Pesachim 50b), seems to be the same as the nature of the prohibition of work on the eve of Shabbat and the eves of the other festivals from the time of mincha on – that is to say, so that there be time to make all the necessary preparations for Shabbat and the festivals. On the eve of Pesach, when there are many mitzvot to perform and preparations to make, the prohibition was expanded so that it begins already at midday, and according to some customs, even before midday.

 

            The Yerushalmi, however, suggests a different reason for the prohibition of work on the eve of Pesach from midday on, namely, that that is the time for bringing the korban Pesach, and by strict law there is a prohibition to work on a day of sacrifice. But as opposed to a person who is obligated to bring some other sacrifice, who is forbidden to perform work all day long, here the prohibition to work is only from midday on, because the korban Pesach cannot be brought before midday. By custom, however, there are those who forbid work on the eve of Pesach even before midday, in order to liken the day to a day on which an ordinary sacrifice is brought, when work is forbidden from the beginning of the day.

 

            If the prohibition of work stems from the fact that it is a day of sacrifice, the question arises whether the prohibition is by Torah law or by rabbinic decree. The Tosafot (50a, s.v. makom) write that the Yerushalmi implies that the prohibition is by Torah law. Indeed, this is the plain sense of the Yerushalmi, which derives the prohibition from verses. The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Yom Tov 8:17-18): "Since the fourteenth of Nisan is unlike other eves of festivals, because it has a chagiga sacrifice and the slaughter of a sacrifice, therefore on the fourteenth of Nisan the performance of work is forbidden by the words of the Rabbis (divrei Soferim], as on Chol ha-Mo'ed, and [its prohibition] is less severe than that of Chol ha-Mo'ed, and work is only forbidden from midday on, which is the time for slaughtering [the korban Pesach]. But from sunrise to midday, it depends on custom. In a place where it is customary to perform work, work may be performed; in a place where it is customary not to perform work, it may not be performed." The Rambam does not appear to disagree with Tosafot about the nature of the prohibition. He is merely being consistent with his own position stated in the second principle of Sefer ha-Mitzvot, that anything that is not explicitly stated in the Torah is called "divrei Soferim."[14]

 

            Another disagreement among the Rishonim appears to be connected to this point and to proper understanding of the root of the prohibition.

 

            The Ba'al ha-Ma'or (Pesachim 16b in Alfasi) writes:

 

From here we learn that in our time, when there is no sacrifice, it is treated like any other Friday or eve of a festival – in a place where it is customary to do work, work may be done, in accordance with the custom.

 

            The Ra'avad in his strictures disagrees and argues that the prohibition is in force even today, but he seems to imply that fundamentally he agrees with the idea that there is no reason to forbid work in our time, only that the prohibition remains in force based on our hope that the Temple will speedily be rebuilt in our time.

 

            The Ramban (ad loc.) maintains that the prohibition applies even in our time because once a decree is issued, it can only be annulled by a more prominent court. He appears to be saying that even in our day the prohibition is based on the concern that people will be negligent in bringing the korban Pesach, and therefore the decree will remain in force until another more prominent court comes to annul it.

 

            According to the Ba'al ha-Ma'or, we are not dealing with a rabbinic decree, but with a Torah prohibition according to which work may not be performed on the day that the korban Pesach is brought. From this it follows that in the absence of a korban Pesach, work is no longer forbidden by strict law, and it is entirely dependent upon custom.

 

            It seems to me that the prohibition of work on the day we bring the korban Pesach stems not only from the sacrifice. The day on which we bring the korban Pesach has the status of a feast day, as we saw in the verse: "the sacrifice of the feast of the passover." It was also from this verse that Chazal learned the law regarding the chagiga sacrifice brought on the fourteenth of Nisan, that is, the chagiga sacrifice that is offered together with the korban Pesach, in addition to the chagiga of the fifteenth which is a sacrifice of Chag ha-Matzot.

 

            The Gemara in Pesachim (98a) states:

 

Our Rabbis taught: If someone set aside his korban Pesach and died – if his son had been counted with him [on that offering], he should bring it as a korban Pesach; if his son was not counted with him, he should bring it as a peace offering…. Rav Ashi said: Where he died after midday, and it is in accordance with Rabbi Shimon….

 

            Rabbenu Chananel explains (ad loc.):

 

Where he died after midday, and [the son] never became subject to the laws of aninut [acute mourning], for from the time of the korban Pesach, it is considered like Yom Tov, for Hallel is recited,[15] [and] therefore he does not become subject to the laws of aninut.

 

            According to Rabbenu Chananel, once the time of the korban Pesach has arrived, the day has the law of a Yom Tov. This also seems to be the position of the Rambam, who writes that the fourteenth of Nisan is different than the eves of other festivals because it has a chagiga and the slaughter of the korban Pesach. That is to say, work is forbidden not only because of the korban Pesach, but also because of the chagiga, which characterizes the day as a Yom Tov. According to the Rambam, this law was extended by way of custom to all days on which a sacrifice is offered, as he rules in Hilkhot Kelei ha-Mikdash (6:9-10):

 

What is a wood offering? Certain families had a fixed time to go out to the forests to bring wood for the fire [on the altar], and on the day that the members of the family would bring the wood, they would bring free will burnt-offerings. This is the wood offering. For them it was like a festival day, and they were forbidden to engage in eulogies, fasting or the performance of work. This was a custom. Even an individual who donates wood or sticks for the fire [on the altar] – on that day he is forbidden to engage in eulogies, fasting, or the performance of work. And this is a custom.[16]

 

            The Sefer ha-Chinukh (mitzva 89) also defines the offering of the korban Pesach as a Yom Tov:

 

We are therefore commanded first to destroy the chametz that is temporarily despicable in our eyes, and then to begin with the korban Pesach which is the beginning of the joy of the good festival (ha-mo'ed ha-tov).

 

            The novelty in the words of the Chinukh is that he connects the Yom Tov of slaughtering the korban Pesach to the main festival that immediately follows – Chag ha-Matzot. According to him, the korban Pesach is the beginning of the joy of the festival.

 

            The fact that the korban Pesach is found in the Torah section dealing with the mo'adot, even though the day on which it is brought is not a day of mikra kodesh, can be understood, then, in one of two ways: 1) Based on the Chinukh's position, because the slaughtering of the korban Pesach is the beginning of the festival of Chag ha-Matzot[17]; 2) Because Chag ha-Pesach, as a day on which a sacrifice is brought, has an additional dimension that stems from that and gives it a semi-Yom Tov status, with a certain level of prohibited work. This status allowed it entry into the section dealing with the mo'adot, despite the fact that it is not a mikra kodesh.

 

            We saw above that the Rambam writes that on the day of the korban Pesach one is forbidden to do work, similar to Chol ha-Mo'ed. This comparison is based on the talmudic passage (Pesachim 55b) that compares Chol ha-Mo'ed to the fourteenth of Nisan regarding various labors, even though they are different in certain aspects.

 

The Mishna Berura (468, no. 7) summarizes:

 

The Acharonim write that anything that is permitted on Chol ha-Mo'ed - e.g., something that would be lost, or someone who does something in an untrained, rather than a professional manner, and it is needed during the festival, or other things that are permitted on Chol ha-Mo'ed ­– is certainly permitted on the eve of Pesach after midday. Similarly, anyone who is permitted to cut his hair or launder his clothing on Chol ha-Mo'ed, e.g., one who arrives from abroad, or is released from prison, is permitted to do so also on the eve of Pesach after midday.

 

            The talmudic passages and the posekim imply that the law governing Chol ha-Mo'ed is more severe than that of the fourteenth of Nisan. Even without examining the basis for the prohibition of work on Chol ha-Mo'ed, it is clear that Chol ha-Mo'ed falls into the category of days of mikra kodesh. It would appear, according to the plain sense of Scripture, that work is forbidden to a certain extent on these days, only that Scripture handed the matter over to the Sages to establish the scope of the prohibition – which labors are forbidden and under what conditions.[18]

 

            The difference between the fourteenth of Nisan and Chol ha-Mo'ed can be explained in one of two ways:

 

1)         Chol ha-Mo'ed is a day of mikra kodesh, whereas the fourteenth of Nisan is not.

 

2)         The talmudic passage reflects the state of the fourteenth of Nisan after the destruction of the Temple, when the prohibition of work is less severe owing to the absence of sacrifices.

 

The Sanctity of Rosh Chodesh – its Essence and Uniqueness

 

            After having examined two unique days – the fiftieth day of the omer and the fourteenth day of Nisan – and the nature of their sanctity, I wish to return to Rosh Chodesh and try to understand the essence of its holiness.

 

            Rosh Chodesh is not a day of mikra kodesh, nor is it found on the list of mo'adot in Parashat Emor, but it is included in Parashat Pinchas in the list of sanctified days on which a Musaf offering is brought. It should be noted that the Musaf offering of Rosh Chodesh is identical with the offerings brought on Pesach and on Shavuot: two bullocks, one ram, and seven lambs for a burnt offering, and a kid of the goats for a sin offering.

 

            Yom Tov is generally characterized by several features: mikra kodesh – special food and drink and clean clothing; a prohibition of work; a Musaf offering; and by rabbinic decree, reading a Torah section pertaining to the day and reciting Hallel. Of all these features, the only one that applies to Rosh Chodesh by Torah law is the Mussaf offering, it being the only expression of the day's sanctity. It seems, therefore, that the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh stems from that sacrifice, and it is that sacrifice that bestows upon Rosh Chodesh its unique status.

 

            It is clear, then, that Rosh Chodesh, which the Prophets portray as a day of special festivity, as we saw at the beginning of this lecture, lost its special status when the Temple was destroyed and the sacrificial order ceased.

 

            The fourteenth of Nisan fared slightly better, inasmuch as it is the eve of Pesach and because it is mentioned in the Torah section dealing with the mo'adot and it is connected in the popular mind with the preparations for the holiday, so that a special halo continues to hover over it to this day. Following the destruction of the Temple, Rosh Chodesh was left as an ordinary weekday, until new customs and practices were introduced for the purpose of preserving the special nature of the day.

 

            I wish to briefly review several practices observed on Rosh Chodesh and try to understand their meaning.

 

Ya'aleh ve-Yavo in the Amida Prayer

 

            Chazal instituted that Rosh Chodesh be mentioned in the Amida prayer, and, as the Tosefta (Berakhot 3) puts it, the special insert is termed "the sanctity of the day" (kedushat ha-yom). One proof that we are dealing with an insert that reflects the sanctity of the day is that one who forgets to say ya'aleh ve-yavo in Birkat ha-Mazon, replaces it with a blessing of kedushat ha-yom, as is stated in Berakhot (49a).[19] It seems to me that this is the basis of the difference between the evening service on Rosh Chodesh and the morning and afternoon services. The obligation to say ya'aleh ve-yavo on the night of Rosh Chodesh does not stem from its special sanctity, for that sanctity is only found during the day, owing to the Musaf offering. Rather, the obligation to say ya'aleh ve-yavo at night stems from the fact that it is the first day of the month, and one is obligated to mention the special features of the day during prayer. If one forgets to mention those special features, however, one is not required to repeat the prayer. During the day of Rosh Chodesh, on the other hand, the obligation to recite ya'aleh ve-yavo follows from the special sanctity of the day, owing to the sacrifice that is brought on it. And if one forgets one of the special inserts that reflect a day's special sanctity, one must go back and repeat the prayer.[20]

 

Hallel

 

            The Gemara in Arakhin (10b) states that Hallel is not recited on Rosh Chodesh because it is not sanctified with a prohibition of work. On the other hand, the Gemara in Ta'anit (28b) says: "When Rav came to Bavel, he saw them reciting Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, and he thought to stop them. When he saw that they were skipping sections, he said: Infer from here that they are following a custom received from their forefathers." Rava also asserts there: "This implies that Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is not by Torah law." It seems that the matter should be understood as follows: When the Musaf offering was brought on Rosh Chodesh, there was room to say[21] that Hallel should be recited owing to the sanctity of the sacrifice and not owing to the sanctity of the day, for the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh stems entirely from the sacrifice. This is what is meant by the Gemara in Arakhin, that Rosh Chodesh was not sanctified with a prohibition of work because of the day itself, for it is not a day of mikra kodesh, and it is not even a day of sacrifice, like the fourteenth of Nisan – where sanctity is bestowed upon the day because of the sacrifice, owing to the fact that it is included in the Torah section dealing with the mo'adot. When, however, the Temple was destroyed and the sacrifices ceased, the people in Bavel wanted to mark the day and commemorate its sanctity by reciting Hallel but skipping certain sections. The skipping was, of course, meant to distinguish this Hallel from Hallel recited by strict law.

 

The Prohibition of Work

 

            As we saw above, the Gemara in Megila states that calling a fourth person to the Torah on Rosh Chodesh does not involve cancellation of work, that is to say, it was common practice on Rosh Chodesh not to work. The Rishonim offer two explanations of this prohibition. Some say that the Gemara is referring to the custom of women to refrain from working on Rosh Chodesh, explaining the practice in light of what is stated in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer. Rashi writes (Megila, ad loc.):

 

It does not involve so much cancellation of work, because women do not work on [Rosh Chodesh]. Thus we also say in tractate Rosh ha-Shana (23a) regarding the fire signals: Because of cancellation of work for the people for two days. I heard from my elder teacher, of blessed memory, that they were given this mitzva because they did not remove their earrings for the [golden] calf. (Addition: I found in the forty fifth chapter of the Baraita of Rabbi Eliezer: The women heard and did not wish to give their earrings to their husbands, but rather they said to them: You wish to make an idol and graven image that does not have the power to save. And the Holy One, blessed be he, gave the women their reward in this world, that they should observe Rosh Chodesh more than men, and in the world-to-come they will renew themselves like the new moon. As it is stated: "So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's" [Tehilim 103:5]). Scripture supports this, for it is written: "to the place where you hid yourself on that day of the deed." And Yonatan translates: be-yoma de-chol – on a weekday. And there it is Rosh Chodesh, for he says to him: "Tomorrow is the new moon. And he calls the eve of Rosh Chodesh "day of the deed." This implies that Rosh Chodesh is not a day of deeds.[22]

 

            The Abudraham adds in the name of the midrash that women merited not to work on Rosh Chodesh –

 

Because they were quick to contribute to the Mishkan. As it is stated: "And the men came after the women" (Shemot 35:22). And it was erected on the first of Nisan. And they did not want to give their earrings for the [golden] calf. [God] gave them their reward that they observe Rosh Chodesh.

 

            According to this approach, work should be forbidden on Rosh Chodesh because of the Musaf offering that is brought on that day, but when the offering ceased to be brought, the prohibition lapsed.  It was, however, preserved by women, who had refused to contribute to the golden calf, but zealously donated to the Mishkan, indicating that their connection to the Mishkan and the sacrificial order was stronger than that of men. It is they, therefore, who observe Rosh Chodesh – the prohibition of work on which is connected to the Temple service – more than men.

 

            It might be added that it was owing to the desire to preserve the memory of the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh in our time that it was precisely the women who adopted this prohibition. The men recited Hallel in synagogue, while the women, who were exempt from Hallel, because it is a time-related positive commandment, refrained from work, this being a prohibition that applies also to women. This abstention from work was interpreted by Chazal in the manner described above as a reward for their vigilance at the time of the sin of the golden calf and for their zealousness in the building of the Mishkan.

 

            A second explanation is found in the Mordekhai (Megila, no. 806):

 

Ri says that heavy work, e.g., plowing and sowing, is forbidden even to men.

 

            According to this understanding, the prohibition of work on Rosh Chodesh applies also to men, for the same reason, but we have to examine what is meant by "heavy work." Before we explain this, let us consider the position of the Bach who writes:

 

Not that men themselves are forbidden to engage in heavy work, but rather that the master of the house is forbidden to force men who are subordinate to him to perform heavy work on Rosh Chodesh.

 

            The Bach also writes that a man is not permitted to force his wife to work on Rosh Chodesh, but she is permitted to work if she so desires.[23]

 

            This approach may be understood as follows: The sanctified days are laid out on a scale ranging from the most sanctified day - Shabbat[24] - to the least sanctified day – Rosh Chodesh. The prohibitions of work are also graded: from a comprehensive prohibition of work on Shabbat, to the more restricted prohibition of work on Yom Tov (when okhel nefesh is permitted), to the even more restricted prohibition on Chol ha-Mo'ed, when there are allowances for work needed during the festival, something that would be lost, non-professional work, and the like, to the even more restricted prohibition of work on the fourteenth of Nisan, Chag ha-Pesach, which is not a mikra kodesh (as was explained above that regarding certain details we are more lenient about the fourteenth of Nisan than about Chol ha-Mo'ed; see Rambam, end of chap. 8 of Hilkhot Yom Tov), and finally to Rosh Chodesh which is not included in the Torah section dealing with the mo'adot, and on which the prohibition is limited to heavy work which would cancel the unique feeling of the day, when a certain dimension of festivity must find expression in abstention from difficult field tasks. According to the Bach, it might be argued that since Rosh Chodesh is connected in its very essence to the exodus from Egypt when Rosh Chodesh was given to the people of Israel, expression must be given on that day to the sense of freedom by freeing a woman from her work obligations to her husband, and workers and slaves from their obligations to their master.[25]

 

Meal, Clothing

 

            We find in Scripture that in biblical times it had been customary to eat a special meal on Rosh Chodesh,[26] and so too the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chayyim 419) rules that there is a mitzva to eat a meal on Rosh Chodesh. The posekim write that it suffices to eat a meal during the day, and that there is no need to eat a meal at night. This ruling fits in with our understanding that it is the day of Rosh Chodesh that has special sanctity owing to the Musaf offering that is brought then. The Rishonim disagree whether fasting on Rosh Chodesh is forbidden by Torah law[27] or only by rabbinic decree; see Shulchan Arukh, ibid. 418:4, and Mishna Berura, ad loc. no. 12.

 

Summary

 

            We have examined the status of Rosh Chodesh against the background of other days whose sanctity stems from the special sacrifices brought on those days.

 

We saw three levels of days having such sanctity. 1) a day on which the sanctity of the sacrifice bestows upon the day the status of mikra kodesh – the fiftieth day of the omer; 2) a day on which the sanctity of the sacrifice allows the day to be included in the Torah section dealing with the mo'adot, even though it is not a mikra kodesh – the fourteenth of Nisan, the day on which the korban Pesach is brought; and 3) a day on which the sanctity remains connected to the sacrifice and does not effect the essence of the day – Rosh Chodesh.

 

The fiftieth day of the omer is celebrated even in our time, either because of the other dimensions of the day, or because of the day's status as the day of offering the shetei ha-lechem, owing to the term "throughout your generations" found in the passage. In any event, the sanctity is not that of a day of sacrifice, and therefore the day follows the night. "Chag ha-Pesach," on the other hand, is in force today only by rabbinic decree, and the prohibition to work on that day is by rabbinic decree.

 

It would appear that on Rosh Chodesh the prohibition of work is not even by rabbinic decree, but by custom, as was explained above. On these two days, Pesach and Rosh Chodesh, the days are determined according to the criteria of the sacrifices, and not by those used outside the Temple, and therefore they begin in the morning, and not on the previous evening.[28]

 

May the Temple be rebuilt and the sacrificial order restored speedily in our time, so that we may bring all of the daily and Musaf offerings. And may sanctity rest on all of the sanctified days as in times of old.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

[1] I expanded on this point in my article, "Mo'adei Ha-Shem Mikra'ei Kodesh," Daf Kesher 493.

[2] I have adopted this term, and not a term of prohibition, because all that may be inferred from here is that it was customary practice to refrain from work, and therefore Chazal enacted that four people are called up to the Torah and not three, inasmuch as there is no concern about drawing out the prayer service.

[3] The day of waving the omer appears to have had special status during the Temple period, not a trace of which remains today. Since it is a day of Chol ha-Mo'ed, there was no need to create reminders of the day in the form of customary practices, as was the case, as we shall see below, with Rosh Chodesh.

[4] See Shemot 23:16.

[5] See Shemot 34:22, and see at length, Rav Mordechai Breuer, Pirkei Mo'adot, regarding the different dimensions of the festival. What is important for our purposes is that today we observe the other dimensions of the festival, and not the dimension of the day of the bringing of the shetei ha-lechem, which is on the fiftieth day after the bringing of the omer offering.

[6] This seems to me to be the more reasonable alternative.

[7] Even if we follow the first understanding that this dimension of the day does not exist when there is no shetei ha-lechem, nevertheless when there is shetei ha-lechem, the day is one of mikra kodesh.

[8] See throughout the chapter that the definition of the day as a mikra kodesh is immediately followed by a prohibition of work.

[9] Shemot 34:25, and compare to Shemot 23:18. Shemot 12:14 is discussed at length by Rav Mordechai Breuer in his Pirkei Mo'adot.

[10] See Pesachim 5a, "ve-eima mi-tzafra…"; and see also ibid. 2b, the Baraita, "mei-eimatai arba'a asar asur…."

[11] See Pesachim 120b – the disagreement between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer ben Azarya.

[12] In this framework, we will limit ourselves to the prohibition of work on the fourteenth of Nisan, the feast of Pesach, and not discuss other dimensions of the feast day, e.g., the chagiga offering, the recitation of Hallel, and others.

[13] See, however, the Mishna in Pesachim 55a, which brings the view of Bet Shammai who forbid work even on the night of the fourteenth.

[14] I will not expand on this issue here, but see the commentators to the Rambam's Sefer ha-Mitzvot, the second principle, and at the beginning of Hilkhot Ishut, regarding betrothing a woman with money.

[15] Rabbenu Chananel is referring to the Hallel recited at the time of the korban Pesach's slaughter and at the time of its eating.

[16] See the lengthy discussion of the Mishneh le-Melekh (ad loc.).

[17] Compare with the words of Rav Breuer in Pirkei Mo'adot, "Chag ha-Pesach," pp. 97 ff., regarding the significance of the holiday and its connection to Chag ha-Matzot. In my opinion, it is subject to a prohibition of work that is connected to the obligation to bring sacrifices on that day.  

[18] On this point, see the talmudic discussion in Chagiga 18a and Rishonim (ad loc.).

[19] As for the need to mention Roch Chodesh in Birkat ha-Mazon, see the Gemara's uncertainty in Shabbat (24a). Regarding the difference between Birkat ha-Mazon and the Amida prayer, which does not allow for an additional blessing if ya'aleh ve-yavo was forgotten – it might be because one cannot add to the number of fixed blessings in the Amida prayer: "They enacted eighteen blessings, and not nineteen." Even though the same is true about Birkat ha-Mazon, there it might be possible to add a blessing, because a certain section of Birkat ha-Mazon – the three blessings that are recited by Torah law – has come to an end.

[20] See Rav Yosef D. Soloveitchik, Shi'urim le-Zekher Abba Mari, I, p. 146ff., who explains the matter in a different manner.

[21] This is not necessarily so, for it is possible that Hallel is only recited on a day which in itself has sanctity.

[22] It is difficult to say that an extra person is called to the Torah on Rosh Chodesh, because it doesn’t involve cancellation of work, if it is the women who refrain from working on Rosh Chodesh. Surely it is men at the prayer service and men work! It is simpler to say that the practice reflects an ancient custom, according to which even men refrained from working on Rosh Chodesh.

[23] See at length, Bei'ur Halakha, beginning of sec. 417, regarding the parameters of the women's custom.

[24] I have not dealt here with the prohibition of work on Yom Kippur which might stem from a different factor – Yom Kippur as a day of atonement – which extends rest from work to the afflictions that must be observed on that day. Nor have I dealt with the question whether Yom Kippur is holier than Shabbat, it being the sabbath of sabbaths (six days of Yom Tov during the year and Yom Kippur being their sabbath), or whether Shabbat is holier than Yom Kippur, its sanctity being dependent upon heaven rather than man. See the Tannaitic dispute in Megila 23a regarding the number of people called to the Torah on Shabbat and on Yom Kippur.

[25] See a similar idea in the Maggid Mishneh (Hilkhot Yom Tov 1:5) regarding the prohibition of work on Yom Tov.

[26] In the Yerushalmi (Megila 1:4) we find: "The meal of Rosh Chodesh and the meal of Purim we push off and do not advance."

[27] See Rosh ha-Shana 19a and Ta'anit 17b.

[28] In note 12 above I brought the view of Bet Shammai who forbid work on the day of Pesach already on the night of the fourteenth. It is possible that, according to them, once the day is included in the list of mo'adot, its beginning and end are determined by the criteria used outside the Temple.