Trust me, I don’t know how I made it to shul this morning – I got up around 6:15, had my coffee, uploaded the pic of the day and the vid of the day, had my ablutions, got dressed, rushed along the road up on the cliff overlooking the Netanya shore, and made it to my shachrit minyan by Barchu (which is the point where the preliminary prayers become serious), and I remember suddenly that it’s not just another Sunday, it’s Rosh Chodesh Kislev (Head of the Month of Kislev). Nice, I’m thinking, I’m glad I pushed my sorry old self to shul, because otherwise I would have had to endure the Rosh Chodesh celebration in my room. Still, it was very late and a lot to do to keep up with the boys.
I’m an old shul hand, so I caught up with the congregation by the Amidah prayer and proceeded through the Hallel, the special Torah reading and the Mussaf. I’m not sure how much spiritual elevation I experienced, it was probably a whole lot nicer and more uplifting than doing it alone, at home, or not doing it at all. Otherwise I probably had about two or three moments of an inspiration, and one Torah idea which I shared with my neighbor, Avraham, a short and stocky Sephardi guy who tolerates my badgering because I, in return, tolerate his.
OK, so I’m done with my prayer service experience which, I know, so many of our frum readers would recognize from their own hectic reality. Then it hits me that I have to rush home to cover yet another explosion between the Women of the Wall and their habitual enemies, the Haredim. I come home, I sit down by my computer screen, I go to my email – nothing. Usually, at this time of day, there’s already a message there from the WOW spokesperson about Haredi and/or local rabbi’s crimes against humanity, plus all my Kotel related RSSs should be in with tales of cops and women and talaisim and spitting and furniture – like a Jewish mixed prayer should be celebrated.
But there’s nothing. Silence. No WOW, no violence (which is a dynamite slogan, come to think of it). Did Moshiach arrive while I was in shul (something I often fear)? I go to the WOW website, and am greeted by the following:
25th Anniversary November 4, 2013: Rosh Hodesh Kislev at the Kotel and the 25th Anniversary of Women of the Wall
You see, ever since our conquest of the land of Israel from its indigenous inhabitants the Canaanites, we, Jews, have been relying on eyewitnesses to tell the high court that they had spotted the first sliver of the new moon. The court would assemble on the thirtieth of each month, in anticipation of witnesses who would testify and then the court would declare that day the Rosh of the upcoming Chodesh (and, consequently, the previous month automatically became a 29 day month).
Since the thirtieth day of the month was always potentially Rosh Chodesh, whenever a month has thirty days, the thirtieth day is observed as Rosh Chodesh together with the next day, the first of the following month. But if a month has only twenty-nine days, the Rosh Chodesh of the following month will only constitute one day (from chabad.org).
Those calendric decisions have been essentially frozen in the fifth century by Rav Hillel, who revealed a complex mathematical formula known as “secret of the impregnation” (it has to do with deciding on 13-month Jewish years, which are known affectionately as “pregnant years”). He was forced to do it, because there was no longer a functioning high court to make those decisions based on eyewitness accounts. Rav Hillel, among other things, decided that Cheshvan, Adar (and Adar Bet), Iyar, Tammuz and Elul will all have two Rosh Chodesh days; Sh’vat, Nisan, Sivan, Av will all have one day of Rosh Chodesh; Kislev and Tevet will fluctuate, depending on the year, and the first of Tishrei is Rosh Hashana and all the rules are different then.
What do I want you to take away from this mess?
First, that it’s a mess. Our tradition is messy and complicated and rife with decisions and stories and history and imagery – and that, above everything else, is why I schlepped this morning to shul, just off the beach of Netanya.