When Is Kiddush Levanah?

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by R. Gil Student

Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the end of the Jewish summer and the beginning of the autumn holiday season. Throughout the month, we engage in customs that grow as we approach Rosh Hashanah, preparing us for the annual judgment day. In accordance with this mood, the Mateh Ephraim (582:1) writes that we should be particularly careful to recite Kiddush Levanah, the blessing on the renewal of the moon, at the best time. This poses a halakhic challenge to determine which time is best. There are at least three different opinions on the subject.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 41b) asks when the latest time is to say Kiddush Levanah. Rabbi Yochanan says until the moon’s concavity is filled. One opinion in the Gemara is that this means until seven days, another opinion is until sixteen days. The Gemara does not say anything about the earliest time for Kiddush Levanah but Rashi (ad loc., sv. ad kamah) says that you can recite the blessing on the first day of the month. Similarly, Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Berakhos 10:17) writes that if you do my recite Kiddush Levanah the first night, you can say it until the sixteenth. According to Rashi and Rambam, the best time to recite Kiddush Levanah is the first night of the month. Others disagree.

Masekhes Soferim (20:1) says: “We do not recite the blessing on the moon except on Saturday night, when he is happy (mevusam) and wearing nice clothes.” Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah (Berakhos 21a in the Rif) but without the phrase “Motza’ei Shabbos, Saturday night,” and offer two interpretations of the word “mevusam,” which we just translated as happy. The first is that it refers to Saturday night, when we recite a blessing on spices (besamim) in Havdalah. Maybe the words “Motza’ei Shabbos” were written on the side of the text by a commentator and mistakenly added into the text by a copyist. The second explanation is that the moon, not the man, should be mevusam, like a canopy, which takes two to three days after the new moon. Rabbenu Yonah rejects the first interpretation, effectively requiring you to wait three days–until the fourth night–before reciting Kiddush Levanah, so the moon is large enough to make an impact with its light. Avudraham (Hilkhos Berakhos, ch. 8) suggests that “mevusam” means sweet, i.e. when a person can enjoy the light of the moon. Similarly, the Siddur Rav Sa’adyah Ga’on (p. 90) says to recite Kiddush Levanah from the fourth night through the fourteenth night.

We have seen three views about when you may first recite Kiddush Levanah: the first night of the month, the first Saturday night, the fourth night. Surprisingly, the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 426:4) follows a fourth view. It quotes a responsum of Rav Yosef Jikatilla in which he rules, based on Kabbalah, that you may only recite Kiddush Levanah after the seventh day, i.e. beginning on the eighth night. The Bach (ad loc.) strongly opposes that view. He points out that the Gemara records a debate about the last day to recite Kiddush Levanah but not the first day, implying they all agree on that subject. But one opinion is that the last day is the seventh day, which is impossible according to Rav Yosef Jikatilla. The Bach adds that he has a tradition from his teachers that you only wait three full days before reciting Kiddush Levanah.

The Rama Mi-Fano (Responsa, no. 78) defends the Shulchan Arukh. He explains that the two opinions in the Gemara actually agree. One is saying the earliest day for the blessing (after seven days) and the other the last day for the blessing (sixteen). The Chasam Sofer (Responsa, Orach Chaim no. 102) praises this explanation and says that the custom is to wait seven days, if possible. However, the Yeshu’os Ya’akov (526:6) finds this explanation of the Gemara unlikely. (See Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Yechaveh Da’as 2:24 for more sources.)

Rav Eliezer Melamed (Peninei Halakhah, Zemanim 1:18) summarizes current practice as follows:

“The custom of Chassidim and Sephardim is not to recite the blessing before seven days in the month. The custom of Ashkenaz is to recite the blessing after three days. But in practice we recite Kiddush Levanah on Saturday night in order to say it with joy and nice clothes. So in practice, according to the custom of Ashkenaz and Morocco, we recite Kiddush Levanah on the Saturday night after three full days from the time of the molad (new moon). According to the custom of Sephardim and Chassidim, we recite Kiddush Levanah on the Saturday night after the seventh of the month.”

However, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (526:7), writing in Poland, writes that during the winter the practice is not to wait until Saturday night because of the frequency of cloudy nights. Instead, they would recite Kiddush Levanah the first night possible after three full days. Since Elul is less cloudy, it seems that Ashkenazim should recite Kiddush Levanah the first Saturday night possible. This year, the molad is on Friday so the next Saturday night is a good time for Kiddush Levanah for Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Chassidim.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

One comment

  1. I would argue the following in an essay I submitted for publication a few months ago:
    A. The only way to understand the Talmudic source is as found in Rashi, Rambam and the Meiri explicitly: If one did not say the blessing on the first night of the month, he has until halfway through the month.
    B. The Shulchan Aruch actually endorses this view.
    C. The ideas that one should wait until Saturday night or “three days” later (or something similar to that) are alternate readings of a source in Massechet Sofrim, and are irreconcilable with each other.
    D. The Shulchan Aruch uses the source from Sofrim to describe the ideal manner to perform the commandment, but not the ideal time of the month.
    E. The Pri M’gadim claimed that according to the “three days” opinion, the time is calculated exactly 72 hours after the average molad. And his claim is completely without basis.
    F. The calendars makers of the 20th century then turned and said that the kabbalistic practice of waiting seven days is calculated as exactly 7×24 (= 168 hours) from, the molad. This is also without any precedent.
    G. Major scholars who are aware of all these issues, foremost among them Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, endorse the classical opinion, A, above.

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