MOON, BLESSING OF THE, prayer of thanksgiving recited at the periodical reappearance of the moon's crescent. In Hebrew, the prayer is known by several names: Birkat ha-Levanah ("the blessing of the moon") or Kiddush Levanah ("sanctification of the moon"). It can be recited front the third evening after the appearance of the new moon until the 15th of the lunar month; after that day, the moon begins to diminish. The prayer is recited only if the moon is clearly visible (not when it is hidden by clouds), and it should preferably be said in the open air. According to the Talmud (Sanh. 42a), "Whoever pronounces the benediction over the new moon in its due time welcomes, as it were, the presence of the Shekhinah" ("Divine Presence") and hence it is recommended (Sof. 20:1) to pronounce the benediction, if possible, on the evening after the departure of the Sabbath when one is still in a festive mood and clad in one's best clothes. The blessing of the new moon in some rites is delayed in the month of Av until after the Ninth of *Av, in Tishri, until after the *Day of Atonement, and in Tevet until after the fast of the tenth of *Tevet. A mourner does not bless the moon until after *shivah ("the first week of mourning"); in the rainy season, however, when the moon is often hidden by clouds, he recites it whenever possible. The blessing of the moon is not recited on Sabbath and holiday eves, mainly because of the prohibition to carry prayer books outside the house or synagogue building when there is no *eruv. The basic text of the blessing is given in Sanhedrin 42a and in Soferim 2:1, but many addditions were subsequently made. In the present Ashkenazi ritual, the blessing is introduced by the recital of Psalms 148:1–6 (in the Sephardi rite also Ps. 8:4–5), after which a benediction praising God as the creator and master of nature is pronounced. In the mishnaic period, the proclamation of the new month by the rabbinical court was celebrated with dancing and rejoicing. It is still customary to rise on the tips of the toes in the direction of the moon while reciting three times "As I dance toward thee, but cannot touch thee, so shall none of my evil-inclined enemies be able to touch me." This is followed by "Long live David, King of Israel" (also pronounced three times) and by the greeting Shalom aleikhem ("Peace be to you") which is extended to those standing around who respond Aleikhem shalom ("to you be peace"). This part of the ceremony is reminiscent of the days of *Judah ha-Nasi when the Romans abrogated the authority of the rabbinical court to consecrate the new moon which therefore had to be carried out clandestinely. "Long live David, King of Israel" served as a password between Judah ha-Nasi and his emissary R. *Ḥiyya (RH 25a). It also voiced Israel's continuous hope for redemption by the Messiah, a descendant of David whose kingdom would be "established forever as the moon" (Ps. 89:38). The ceremony concludes with the recital of several scriptural verses, a quotation from the Talmud (Sanh. 42a) "In the school of R. Ishmael it was taught: Had Israel merited no other privilege than to greet the presence of their Heavenly Father once a month, it were sufficient," the plea that God readjust the deficiency of the light of the moon caused by the moon's complaint against the sun (Ḥul. 60b), and a prayer for the fulfillment of the promise of the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel when the Jews will "seek the Lord their God, and David their King" (Hos. 3:5). The blessing of the new moon and the festive character of Rosh Ḥodesh (New Month) originated in the time of the *Second Temple. Due to the significance of the moon in the Jewish *calendar (see Ex. 12:2), it may be of much older origin; in the course of time it has, however, undergone substantial changes. The rite takes the moon as a symbol of the renewal in nature, as well as of Israel's renewal and redemption. Various other elements, some of them of a superstitious nature, have become attached to the rite.
Hertz, Prayer, 994–5; E. Levi, Yesodot ha-Tefillah (19522), 302–5; Idelsohn, Liturgy, 160–1; ET, S.V. Birkat ha-Levanah; E. Munk, The World of Prayer, 2 (1963), 94–101.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.