A Special Shabbos Meal on Rosh Chodesh
This Shabbos falls on a Rosh Chodesh (or, this coming Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos)-
My mother always prepared a special kugel when Rosh Chodesh fell on Shabbos. Is there a halachic basis for this custom?
Do I fulfill the mitzvah of celebrating Rosh Chodesh by eating a fleishig sandwich at my desk?
This Shabbos, Parshas Va’eira falls on Rosh Chodesh. The questions that we will discuss this week are:
(1) Is celebrating Rosh Chodesh with a festive meal required according to halacha?
(2) Did Chazal require this observance, or was it a custom that developed?
(3) How does one observe this on Shabbos, when we already eat special meals in honor of Shabbos?
The practice of having a festive family meal on Rosh Chodesh is already mentioned in Tanach, where we see that Dovid excused himself from attending Shaul HaMelech’s table because his family was having a celebration, and we furthermore see that his absence at Shaul’s table would be noticed on Rosh Chodesh (Shmuel I, 20:18, 29). This teaches that there is a reason to celebrate on Rosh Chodesh, although we do not know from this event whether this practice is required or simply a common custom. By the way, this section of the book of Shmuel is read as the Haftarah when Shabbos falls out on Erev Rosh Chodesh, and, in addition, many Sefardim read its first and last verses after reading the Haftarah for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh when Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos and Sunday (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 425:2).
How much of a meal?
The Gemara rules that one is not required to eat a meal containing bread on Rosh Chodesh (Berachos 49b). On the other hand, Rosh Chodesh is considered a minor Yom Tov on which it is forbidden to fast (Taanis 17b), some authorities even contending that this prohibition is min haTorah (Shitah LaRan, Shabbos 24a s.v. Im Timtzah Lomar, quoting Rabbeinu Yonasan; Chayei Adam, Klal 118:2, as he understood the Rambam; see also Magen Avraham 418). We will discuss shortly whether one is required to serve something special in honor of Rosh Chodesh.
Why do we have this special meal?
The Kolbo (#43) mentions two reasons for having an especially festive meal in honor of Rosh Chodesh:
(1) Since Rosh Chodesh is a day of atonement, we honor it, which in turn accomplishes that it atones in an even greater way.
This idea is extended in later sources, who explain that not only should one serve something special on Rosh Chodesh to note its elevated status, but that the meal itself should be served in an honored way sitting properly at a table, as one eats the Shabbos and Yom Tov meals (Kaf Hachayim 419:5).
This allows us to answer one of our original questions:
"Is it sufficient for me to fulfill the mitzvah of celebrating Rosh Chodesh by eating a fleishig sandwich at my desk in work?"
According to the Kaf Hachayim, this is not the proper way to observe Rosh Chodesh.
Dressing for Rosh Chodesh
The Kaf Hachayim mentions other halachos that result from this sense of kovod Rosh Chodesh. He mentions authorities who rule that one should wear some of one’s finer clothes on Rosh Chodesh. I remember prominent Jews who wore their Shabbos hats on Rosh Chodesh but otherwise dressed in regular weekday clothing (see Maasei Rav, Hilchos Rosh Chodesh #151).
Other Reasons for Celebrating Rosh Chodesh
(2) The Kolbo mentions a second reason for having a festive meal on Rosh Chodesh. Celebrating Rosh Chodesh reminds people to recite tefillas musaf (quoted in the name of the Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer).
(3) The Elyah Rabbah provides a third reason why we add to our meal on Rosh Chodesh, but I need to supply some background before quoting his explanation.
Seudas Ibur Hachodesh
Before our calendar was created by Hillel Hanasi, the system of whether a month was twenty-nine days long or thirty depended on witnesses testifying before a specially-appointed Beis Din that they had seen the new moon. When the Beis Din accepted testimony on the thirtieth of the month that witnesses had seen the new moon, the Beis Din followed an elaborate procedure to declare that day to be Rosh Chodesh, thus making the previous month only twenty-nine days long. However, when witnesses did not arrive on time, the month was thirty days long, and the next day, the thirty-first as counted from the previous month, automatically became Rosh Chodesh.
It was important for people to find out which day had become Rosh Chodesh. To call attention to this when the month was thirty days, the Beis Din sat down to a special and noteworthy meal attended by ten or more people, whose entire purpose was to alert people that the previous month was a day longer. This special meal, the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh, has the halachic status of a seudas mitzvah, a meal celebrated for the sake of a mitzvah, similar to the meal of a siyum, bris milah or pidyon haben.
The Seudas Ibur Hachodesh had many extraordinary features specifically to attract attention. For example, the attendees were required to arrive at the hall many hours before the meal was actually served. In addition, the participants were required to travel through the streets in the middle of the night when the streets were usually quiet, and to make much noise during the meal, presumably by singing zemiros; all in order that people should realize which day was Rosh Chodesh (Sanhedrin 70b).
The Rishonim dispute exactly when the invitees arrived at the hall, and when the meal was eaten. According to Rashi, the participants ascended to the meal when it was still day on the 30th, but did not eat the meal until sometime during the night of the 31st, and then deliberately left the room before the night was over when the streets were usually deserted. Thus, there was noise at night during the meal, and the exiting of the hall into the completely quiet streets in the wee hours of the morning also aroused attention.
The Rambam (Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 3:7) explains what happened somewhat differently. In his opinion, the attendees arrived at the social hall at around dawn of the morning of the thirty-first day, a rather bizarre time to begin a simcha, and also a usually very quiet time, but the festive meal did not begin until many hours later. I presume that, since they had a minyan of attendees, they first davened, which itself would add something atypical to the proceedings, since they were not davening in shul.
Commemorating the Seudas HaIbur
The Elyah Rabbah explains that the reason why we eat something special on Rosh Chodesh is to commemorate the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh. This reason is somewhat curious because the contemporary practice is to eat something special every Rosh Chodesh, whether or not the previous month was twenty-nine or thirty days, whereas the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh was observed only when the previous month contained thirty days. In other words, our festive meal is to remind us of the practice of the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh, but it is not a reenactment. Thus, we observe none of the halachos of the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh, a factor no doubt appreciated by the attendees, the housewives, and, particularly, the neighbors.
A Curious Menu
Since the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh was meant to attract attention, one would think that its menu would also be atypical, and indeed it was, but in a bizarre way. The menu for this meal was permitted to contain only two items: bread and beans. The participants were not permitted to eat anything else at this meal, and certainly not permitted to serve any meat or drink any wine (Sanhedrin 70b).
This is a very strange menu, particularly for a meal that is halachically a seudas mitzvah, which we are normally required to celebrate with a very nice meal. After all, the observance of a seudas mitzvah during the Nine Days permits one to eat meat and drink wine in order to observe the mitzvah appropriately. Why was the menu for the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh restricted to bread and beans, which is a bare-bones minimum meal (see Bava Metzia 49a)?
Several reasons are suggested for this restriction. Some propose that each person brought his own meal with him, and limiting the meal to bread and beans allowed even a pauper to participate. Remember that the dayanim who were members of the special Beis Din were chosen not on the basis of their financial means but for their halachic acumen, and Talmidei Chachamim may not be the wealthiest individuals.
Others contend that the meal was kept meager so that the participants would observe this meal only for its intended purpose — that of promulgating which day was Rosh Chodesh. (Both of these reasons are mentioned by the Yad Ramah ad locum.)
Must I eat something special on Rosh Chodesh?
Now that we have explained the reason why we eat something special in honor of Rosh Chodesh, we will discuss whether this is a takanah that Chazal established, or it is simply a minhag.
The Tur understands that Chazal established that one should eat something special in honor of Rosh Chodesh, and cites four corroborating proofs. The Beis Yosef, the primary commentary to the Tur, deflects the Tur’s evidence, noting that the sources do not necessarily demonstrate that it is obligatory to eat something particular in honor of Rosh Chodesh. In fact, some earlier authorities imply that indeed Chazal never required celebrating Rosh Chodesh with food (Rambam, as explained by Aruch LaNer, Sanhedrin 70b).
These are the Tur’s proofs:
1. The Gemara Yerushalmi (Megillah 1:4) mentions that when the seudas Rosh Chodesh or the seudas Purim fall on Shabbos, one should postpone these festivities to Sunday. Since the seudas Rosh Chodesh is compared to the seudas Purim, which is a mitzvah, the Tur reasons that the seudas Rosh Chodesh is also a mitzvah.
In response, the Beis Yosef notes that the Ran explains that the Yerushalmi is not referring to a meal in honor of Rosh Chodesh, but refers specifically to the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh discussed above, and that this source does not require eating something extraordinary in honor of Rosh Chodesh. According to the Ran, the Yerushalmi is ruling that should the thirtieth day of the month fall on Friday in a month that is thirty days, the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh is not conducted on Shabbos, although it is the night of the thirty-first day, but instead on Motza’ei Shabbos, the night following.
2. The Tur cites as a second source the pasuk that says, “On the day of your celebration, and on your festivals and on your new moons, you shall blast the trumpets over your burnt-offerings and over your feast peace-offerings; and they shall be homage for you before your G-d; I am Hashem, your G-d” (Bamidar 10:10). Since the Torah mentions Rosh Chodesh together with the festivals, this indicates that there is a mitzvah to serve festive meals on Rosh Chodesh just as there is on Yom Tov.
The Beis Yosef responds that this does not demonstate that one must eat something special on Rosh Chodesh, but at most alludes to such a practice.
3. The third source of the Tur is the fact that Dovid HaMelech excused himself from Shaul’s presence because he had a family celebration to observe, and the day was Rosh Chodesh. The Beis Yosef retorts that this does not indicate that one is required to have a family celebration on Rosh Chodesh, but it may have been completely coincidental that Dovid’s family gathered that day or, alternatively, they used it as an excuse for such family get-togethers. Furthermore, the pasuk is not proof that such a celebration indeed occurred, but merely that Dovid presented it as an excuse. Still, the Beis Yosef notes, this is evidence that a practice of special family get togethers in honor of Rosh Chodesh must have been fairly common.
4. As additional support that one should serve a special meal on Rosh Chodesh, the Tur cites a Midrash (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana) that states: “A person’s sustenance is established from Rosh Hashanah until Rosh Hashanah, aside from what he spends for Shabbosos, Yomim Tovim, Roshei Chodoshim, Chol Hamo’eid, and what the children take to school (for tuition).” Of course, this source again does not prove that such a celebration is mandated, but merely suggested. Furthermore, one could perhaps rally evidence against this proof since the Gemara (Beitzah 16a), a more authoritative source than the Midrash, omits mention of Rosh Chodesh when it cites this same idea. Thus, perhaps the Gemara implies that there is no requirement to eat something special on behalf of Rosh Chodesh. To this, the Beis Yosef explains that Rosh Chodesh expenditures are included in those of the Yomim Tovim mentioned in the Gemara, and therefore there is no evidence that the Gemara disputes the position of the Midrash.
Notwithstanding his criticism of the Tur’s sources, the Beis Yosef nonetheless cites other authorities who agree with the Tur, and in Shulchan Aruch mentions a mitzvah of adding to one’s meals on Rosh Chodesh, using the same terminology as did the Tur. Others rule that although there is no requirement to eat bread on Rosh Chodesh, it is praiseworthy to eat a nice meal in its honor and drink appropriately (Darchei Moshe 418, quoting Or Zarua).
Aside from the Tur’s four sources, there are at least two other sources in Chazal that refer to eating special foods in honor of Rosh Chodesh. One Gemara records a custom that Torah scholars gathered on Rosh Chodesh to eat grapes together (Yerushalmi Berachos 6:4).
In addition, Mesechta Sofrim (19:9) mentions that the elders of the Jewish people, their disciples and other prominent leaders gathered after mincha on Rosh Chodesh for a festive event that lasted until sunset, and required wine — after which they recited special berachos, prayers and praises in honor of the occasion.
Can this celebration be the above-mentioned Seudas Ibur Hachodesh? Since neither the timing nor the menu of this celebration fulfill that of the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh, this obviously refers to a different celebration.
What do we eat on Rosh Chodesh?
The Shulchan Aruch rules that one should eat something extra on Rosh Chodesh, yet we have demonstrated that Chazal did not require eating bread and making a full meal. If that is true, exactly how does one celebrate this Rosh Chodesh meal?
The Elyah Zuta explains that the proper practice is to add an extra course on Rosh Chodesh to whatever one would usually serve: On Shabbos an extra course that one would usually not serve on Shabbos, and on a weekday an extra course that would otherwise not be served. This is indeed the most common practice used to celebrate Rosh Chodesh. For example, Rav Nissim Karelitz of Benei Beraq eats fish for his main course on weekdays, but on Rosh Chodesh he substitutes meat for the fish course. On Shabbos, a common custom is to add an additional kugel, which is called the Rosh Chodesh kugel.
Someone who is poor is not required to spend significantly in honor of Rosh Chodesh, but instead should simply serve a fruit with his regular meal (Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Vayikra II #10). Fortunately, it is rare that we evidence this level of poverty today – someone for whom purchasing an apple is an unusual expense.
Notwithstanding the Elyah Zuta’s ruling and the common practice of adding a special side dish when Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos, there would seem to be a halachic problem with this practice. According to the Tur, the Yerushalmi ruled that when Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos, one should postpone the Rosh Chodesh celebration until after Shabbos. According to this approach, adding an extra kugel to the Shabbos menu is not the proper approach to fulfill the custom. Indeed, we find several halachic authorities who follow this Yerushalmi literally. Some suggest that one should lengthen the third Shabbos meal into the night in honor of Rosh Chodesh (Magen Avraham 419:1), whereas others recommend serving an elaborate Melavah Malkah (Siddur Yaavetz, cited by Shaar Hatziyun 419:5 and Kaf Hachayim 419:3). Still others quote the Yerushalmi that the meal should be postponed until Sunday (Ben Ish Chai, Vayikra II #10).
Nevertheless, the prevalent custom is to add a side dish to the Shabbos meal in honor of Rosh Chodesh. Some contend that since the Ran understood that the Yerushalmi is referring to the Seudas Ibur Hachodesh (see above, the Beis Yosef’s refutation of the Tur’s first proof), there is no requirement to postpone the Rosh Chodesh treat to after Shabbos, and therefore our custom fits all the Talmudic sources beautifully. Proof to this approach is rallied from the Zohar, which implies that Rosh Chodesh should be celebrated together with the Shabbos meal (Nezirus Shimshon 419).
The Holier Rosh Chodesh
It is interesting to note that the mussaf text of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh does not simply combine the elements of the Shabbos mussaf and that of the weekday Rosh Chodesh mussaf. Rather, aspects of its structure and components are much closer to the mussaf of Yom Tov than they are to the musaf of either Shabbos or Rosh Chodesh. (I have written a more detailed article about this phenomenon, which I hope to distribute on the next Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. Someone please remember to remind me.) Thus it appears that the sum is greater than its parts – that the two special occasions of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh combine together to create a special kedusha that neither can create on its own.