By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
While on Shabbat and Yom Tov there is an obligation to eat seudot, elaborate meals that include bread, there is some confusion as to the status or even existence of such a requirement on Rosh Chodesh. Nevertheless, it is unquestionably a mitzva for one to hold a feast or otherwise increase one’s gastronomic pleasures in honor of the day. Indeed, there are many people who are meticulous in their observance of mitzvot, who are careful to do so. However, the significance and necessity of holding such a meal is subject to debate among the halachic authorities.
There are those who suggest that arranging a meal on Rosh Chodesh is equivalent to the meal one eats on Purim, which certainly shows the esteem in which it is held. In fact, some take this idea further comparing the Rosh Chodesh meal to that of any other Yom Tov due to the Scriptural adjacency of Rosh Chodesh and Yom Tov in the Torah. King David was careful to hold a feast in honor of Rosh Chodesh. One should be sure to sing songs and other praises to God at one’s Rosh Chodesh meal. We are taught that on Rosh Hashana one’s financial income is decided for the entire year with the exception of Shabbat, Yom Tov, and Rosh Chodesh expenses for which one is ultimately reimbursed.
Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that the true mitzva of holding a feast in honor of Rosh Chodesh was only in effect in days of old when the new moon was declared by the Beit Din through the testimony of eyewitnesses. Even then, the meal may not have been inherently intended as mitzva tied to Rosh Chodesh, but rather as an event to publicize that the new month had been declared. Fasting, even for a few hours, is strictly forbidden on Rosh Chodesh. Some have the custom to light candles in the home in honor of Rosh Chodesh, as is done on Shabbat.
Those who hold a meal in honor of Rosh Chodesh should do so during the day, although there are authorities who rule that the mitzva can be accomplished with a meal held at night. In the event the Rosh Chodesh falls out on Shabbat when elaborate meals are eaten anyway, one should be sure to at least add an additional dish in honor of Rosh Chodesh. Other authorities suggest that in such a case one should hold a distinct meal in honor of Rosh Chodesh on Sunday. Certainly if Rosh Chodesh is a two day event being observed on both Shabbat and Sunday, the Rosh Chodesh meal should take place on Sunday in order to ensure its distinction.
Although it seems clear from the vast majority of sources that holding a meal on Rosh Chodesh cannot be declared an outright obligation, it is certainly a commendable thing to do and an opportunity for a mitzva. It is a day when we are imbued with an additional soul similar to Shabbat and Yom Tov and those in Gehennom are given a respite on this day. Although reciting a blessing over two whole loaves of bread is the preferred way to commence the Rosh Chodesh feast, even eating a fruit in honor of the day has much merit. It is recommended to hold a complete meal consisting of fish and meat if possible.
Wearing finer clothes than usual is also recommended in honor of the additional soul that we receive. Indeed, it is recommended that each person have at least three sets of clothing in addition to their regular weekday wear – one for Shabbat, one for Yom Tov, and one to be reserved for Rosh Chodesh, Chanuka, Purim and Chol Hamoed.