Kiddush Levana I

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The monthly recitation of Kiddush Levana is as much mystical as it is ritual. Each month, shortly after the appearance of the new moon, a special blessing and series of prayers are recited in praise of the moon’s renewal. Sefardim generally refer to this ritual as “Birkat Halevana”, referring to the opening blessing recited upon the moon’s renewal. It may just be that Birkat Halevana is this ritual’s true and original name. No one is quite sure how the popular term “Kiddush Levana” found it’s way to normative parlance.[1] 

One should be sure never to miss the deadline for the recitation of Kiddush Levana.[2] One who recites Kiddush Levana is considered to have “greeted” the Divine presence.[3]  As such, we should be sure to recite it while standing[4] and full of joy. This is why the recitation is often postponed to Motzai Shabbat when people are in a more festive mood.[5] It was actually Motzai Shabbat when the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, sending the Shechina into exile, making Motzai Shabbat an auspicious time for reciting Kiddush Levana. It is also best recited on Motzai Shabbat as that is when people are to be found in their finest clothes, a fitting way to “greet” the Divine Presence.[6] Indeed, if one is reciting it on a weekday, one is advised to ensure one is wearing something proper and dignified.[7] Some have the custom to put on Shabbat clothes if reciting Kiddush Levana on a weekday![8]

The first source for this mitzva is in the Talmud[9] which teaches in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: “Anyone who blesses the new moon is as if he has greeted the Shechina [the Divine Presence]”. Some interpret Kiddush Levana as an act symbolizing that if one wishes to come closer to God, one would be well advised to appreciate Him through His creations. The moon is especially appropriate for this purpose, as the Jewish people are frequently compared to the moon. Just as the purpose of the moon is to reflect the light of the moon during dark nights, so too the Jewish people are charge with the mission of reflect Godliness into an often spiritually dark world. 

Another interpretation suggests that just as the moon is constantly in a cycle of increasing and then decreasing in size, so too, historically the Jewish people have gone through similar cycles, sometimes experiencing ‘lows’ only to re-emerge refreshed and rejuvenated like the moon. This is especially true concerning King David who is mentioned in the course of Kiddush Levana. Just as the kingdom of David rose and fell, it is ultimately going to be reborn with the coming of the Messiah. 

A popular social component of the Kiddush Levana is the custom to wish at least three people a hearty “Shalom Aleichem”. Some teach the role of this greeting is to show that just as we have greeted God, so too we hurry to greet and bless our fellow Jews.[10] Similarly, since the Kiddush Levana includes a curse for the enemies of the Jewish people, we therefore quickly turn to our brethren to wish them only well.[11]  One of the reasons for the thrice repetition of Shalom Aleichem is to correspond to the three names by which the moon is called: Yare’ach, Levana, and Sahar.


[1] Minhag Yisrael Torah O.C. 426:1

[2] Shraga Hameir 6:12

[3] Ta’amei Haminhagim 453

[4] Rashi;Sanhedrin 42a

[5] O.C. 426:2

[6] O.C. 426:2

[7] Rema; O.C. 426:2

[8] Minhag Yisrael Torah 426:3

[9] Sanhedrin 42a

[10] Kaf Hachaim 426:46, Maharil 47, Or Zarua Rosh Chodesh 456, Levush

[11] Mateh Moshe 540, Magen Avraham 426:11

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

43 comments

  1. One should be sure never to miss the deadline for the recitation of Kiddush Levana.[…….. This is why the recitation is often postponed to Motzai Shabbat when people are in a more festive mood———————————-
    Which of course leads to a shiur in risk management – how does one trade off the sure thing of saying it at the first opportuniy(plus getting zrizim credit?) with waiting fot motzai shabbat and perhaps missing it (but getting hiddur credit)
    KT

  2. R. Enkin:

    can you please address the line in kiddush levana where it appears (chalila) that one is actually praying to the moon –k’shem …she’aini yachol lingoa bach, kach lo yuchlu….

    Please comment on the meaning of these lines and why it is indeed permissible to say despite appearances.

  3. Dear Carlos-

    If anything, it is the opening blessing (along with glancing at the moon before reciting it) that might appear as if one is praying to the moon. Therefore, one is not permitted to look at or even face the moon while reciting Kiddush Levana (other then that opening glance).

    The verse ‘k’shem’ is simply a prayer, in the context of the moon, that our enemies not be able to reach us just as we cannot reach the moon.

    Ari Enkin

  4. Joel: R’ Schiller once had an article on that in Bein Kotlei Hayeshiva. He was very opposed to delaying.

    Otherwise, the minhag is three days post-molad, although I’ve heard the Gra says from the molad is good. I wonder how that affects a month like this one, where the molad came before Rosh Chodesh.

  5. Indeed, the 3/7 day minimum before reciting kiddush levana is from the molad, not Rosh Chodesh.

    Ari Enkin

  6. >>k’shem …she’aini yachol lingoa bach, kach lo yuchlu….

    There is a custom to change the wording as follows:
    K’shem she’ani roked k’neged hal’vana v’aini yachol lingoa bah…

  7. Regarding facing the moon. I don’t understand what the problem is. When I recite a blessing on an apple, do you face the apple or turn to a different direction?

  8. Benny-

    The halacha is much more strict with celestial bodies.

    Ari Enkin

  9. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Argh!! Grammar Squad! Grammar squad!

    (Sorry I can’t help myself.)

    “found *it’s* way”

    “found its way”

    “it’s” = “it is”
    “its” = “belonging to it”

  10. R. Enkin–

    The opening blessing is clearly directed, like all blessings, to God. The issue I am pointing out with regard to “k’shem…” is that it is talking to the moon in the 2d person, and includes what appears to be a bakasha at the end (though one could say it is an aspiration rather than a bakasha).

    I am not aware of the custom that DTC quoted above at 10:31 am, but it would solve the problem because it takes away the 2d person address to the moon.

  11. Does anyone else agree with me that these articles would be more helpful if there was a little more “why” and a little less “what”. I am left with a lot more questions than answers.

  12. ….it’s my style.

    Sorry.

    Ari Enkin

  13. I’m not bothered by the first blessing (explicitly to God) or by “k’shem” (no different than a phrase like “May God save you”), but I am bothered by the idea of “greeting our Father in the heavens” when greeting the moon. It’s an association rather than a direct connection, but it feels like an association that should be avoided, not least by Chazal.

    “not so pashut” – agreed. Perhaps the topics w/o obvious explanations are the most interesting, and perhaps our job in the comments is to argue out the “why”.

  14. R Enkin:

    “The verse ‘k’shem’ is simply a prayer, in the context of the moon, that our enemies not be able to reach us just as we cannot reach the moon.”

    IOW, you yourself are saying that we pray TO the moon (lingoa BACH) in contravention of the Rambam’s Fifth Principle. Not to mention the beginning of Hil. AZ where moon worship (among others) is presented as an archetypal case of AZ. Your response begs the question.

  15. Ye’yasher kochakha, R. Enkin.
    In light of R’ Jon Baker’s illuminating question, I would interpret “ke-shem…” as an honour we accord the moon in the form of an auspicious sign, and not a supplication. In other words, the moon needs honour (as per the gemara in Chullin 60b that it deserves a consolation prize for being diminished in stature). And so we honour the moon during kiddush levanah by (a) addressing the moon directly (just as we say Shalom Aleikhem to our friends, it’s not avodah zarah there – merely a sign of friedship to our fellow Jews – so it’s not avodah zarah here either – merely a sign of friendship to the celestial body nearest to our spaceship earth); and (b) telling the moon that there is a siman tov u-mazal tov here – an auspicious sign: just as we can’t reach the moon, so too our enemies can’t reach us.

  16. Update on the avodah zarah problem with “ke-shem”:
    Indeed, Mishnah Berurah (se’if katan 14) rules that one should only flex his toes and not his knees while saying “ke-shem”, so as to manifest clearly that the moon is not an object of worship.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40448&st=&pgnum=184

  17. Yes, that’s right Rabbi Spira. It is clear from what we are doing during performing kiddush levanah not to give the impression that we davening to the moon.

  18. Assuming that your prayer is sincere, I guess that you are davening for the moon to become the same size as the sun?

  19. Interestingly, regarding Kiddush Levana on Motzai Shabbat, Aruch HaShulchan O.C. 426:6 notes a variant text which removes the reference to Motzai Shabbat. I believe his son writes similarly in Baruch Sheamar.

  20. Nice point Jared A!

  21. Can you touch on the Shalom Alecha/Aleichem bit more — is it thrice to one person or once to three people?

  22. what is the difference between molad and rosh chodesh?

  23. For those interested in some of the reasons for קידוש לבנה there is a fascinating R’ Bechaye at the end of בשלח where he discusses the reason for the Minhag, worth looking up!

  24. 1. Molad is the “New Moon” as would be defined by both Chazal and Science.

    2. Rosh Chodesh is the day we observe as a holiday for the new month.

    These two terms dont always coincide due to the reality of having a set calender today. Our calendar is essentially inaccurate. Close, but inaccurate. As such, the molad can be up to 30(?) hours before Rosh Chodesh.

    Im sure Rav Shalom Spira would have a lot to offer on this issue.

    Ari Enkin

  25. Dear Adam-

    It is to be said to 3 different people.

    FOR ALL INTERESTED: Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt has something like 70 pages on Kiddush Levana in his “Rivevot V’yovlot” (Vol. I I believe.)

    Ari Enkin

  26. Zach-

    I think that’s what the sefarim say will happen…

    Ari Enkin

  27. “Sefarim”? “Sefarim” say lots of things. God forbid the moon should become as large as the sun.

    My brother, who can I always look to for sense in prayer, says the bracha, nothing else.

  28. Thank you. R’ Rafael Araujo and R. Enkin, for your very kind words. I am deeply flattered.

    As R. Enkin writes, the molad represents the lunar conjunction, i.e. the moment that the sun, moon and earth are aligned such that moon is rendered invisible. See insights on Rosh ha-Shanah 20b at http://www.dafyomi.co.il/rhashanah/insites/rh-dt-020.htm for a complete explanation. [N.B. That treatise elucidates the gemara according to Rashi and suffices to explain the meaning of the molad. There is potentially a further dimension of meaning to that gemara (offered by the Ba’al ha-Ma’or) which relates to the location of the westernmost frontier of planet earth, but that is limited to the molad of Tishrei(*).]

    The time it takes the moon to orbit the earth is approximately 29.5 days. However, since the Torah states “until a month of days” (Numbers 11:20), which is a pleonasm (-it would have sufficed, from a linguistic standpoint, for the Torah to simply say “until a month”), the gemara in Megillah 5a derives that a month must be composed of a whole number of days, with no fractions allowed. As such, the Torah is commanding that every month be composed of either 29 days or 30 days. Moreover, the Torah authorizes the Sanhedrin to decide every 30th day of the month whether this will be the first day of the next month (in which case the previous month possessed only 29 days) or whether this will be the last day of the previous month (-in which case the previous month possessed a plenary 30 days) and only tomorrow will be the first day of the next month. Although scientific accuracy should be the only consideration in the Sanhedrin’s decision in principle, alternative halakhic considerations (such as avoiding the highly inconvenient coincidence of Rosh ha-Shanah with Sunday, Wednesday or Friday) are also legitimate reasons for the Sanhedrin to make its decision (-all of this being the Will of the HKB”H reflected in the Oral Torah), and whatever decision is rendered is valid, as per Leviticus 23:4 as expounded by the gemara in Rosh ha-Shanah 25a. Therefore, the day of the molad, and the day of Rosh Chodesh do not always coincide, even though they ostensibly mark the same concept.

    * = Ba’al ha-Ma’or’s position is that Rosh Chodesh Tishrei must occur, at least on the westernmost frontier of planet earth, after the molad for Tishrei. Since Rosh Chodesh Tishrei is a Yom Tov, it would be illogical for the Yom Tov to begin everywhere in the world before the cosmic event of the molad even transpires.

  29. Amazing Rav Spira! Thank you!

    Ari Enkin

  30. IIRC, R Asher Weiss suggests that the proper term may be Chiddush HaLevanah, as opposed to Kiddush Levanah.

  31. Perhaps Rosh Chodesh and Kiddush HaLevanah can be contrasted with RH where we go out of our way to minimize the fact RH is also Rosh Chodesh because we want ,as RYBS noted in Noraos HaRav in a shiur on the Tefilos of RH , to emphasize and underscore that there should be no distinctions between the sun and the moon.

  32. R Enkin,
    “It is to be said to 3 different people.”
    no source?
    clearly your are not a brisker. see mipninei harav new(er) edition p. 98 that rav soloveitchik and the brisker rav used to say shalom aleichem three times to one person. vdok.

  33. Why is the initial gemora understood to not be refering to birchat hachodesh?

  34. Thank you, R. Enkin. Much appreciated.

    Regarding the exact time duration from one molad to the next, the Artscroll Bircas ha-Chammah (2009 edition, pp. 49-50) reports it to be 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.841 seconds; standing in slight contrast to the Jewish calendar’s assumption of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3.333 seconds. [I.e. the Jewish calendar lunar orbit is ostensibly about half-a-second too long.] This adds up to an extra day every 14,000 years if the Jewish calendar stays on auto-pilot. Fortunately, says the Artscroll, mashi’ach will arrive before then and the problem will be solved by the Kiddush ha-Chodesh through eyewitness testimony.

    Yet, in a footnote, the Artscoll continues that if the moon decelerates a bit, that may counterbalance the extra half a second. If so, the Jewish calendar can stay on auto-pilot indefinitely. Still, continues the footnote, the same way the moon can decelerate, so can the earth, and so the half-a-second discrepancy will remain, and we need mashi’ach to come. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of astrophysics, so I won’t offer any editorial comment, except to say that whether or not there is a half-a-second disrepancy, I’m definitely in favour of mashi’ach.

  35. Ari, you should not link to that site- it’s anti-Semitic. Link to halakhah.com instead.

    R’ Spira, as opposed to many Artscroll books, the author of that one is very clear: R’ Bleich. I know you meant no disrespect to him, but you should not cite the book as “Artscroll.”

  36. Nachum-

    What do you mean it is anti-semetic? The Talmud is tranlated. And I see it is the same as the halkha.com link you advised.

    I browsed the rest of the come-and-hear site briefly and I saw that both rabbis and ‘scholars’ quoted. But what do you mean that it is an inhernetly anti semetic site?

    Ari Enkin

  37. “Come and hear” is a well-known anti-Semitic site. They try to use the Talmud to “prove” how evil the Jews are. See the top two links at http://come-and-hear.com/navigate.html . The only good part of that site is the Talmud translation, and the identical translation is available at halakhah.com, which I believe was actually set up (by Tzvee Zahavy, credit where it’s due) because too many people were using Come and Hear. I think it’s even more complete.

  38. Ploney Almoney

    The original custom was to say “shalom alecha,” to your friend 3 times, as sort of a mantra of protection. The custom was changed as the language evolved. See: http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%207%20Ron.pdf

  39. R’ Nachum,
    Thank you. You are correct, and I apologize for this oversight on my part. Thank you for rescuing me from error (as always).

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