Announcing the New Moon
On the Sabbath before the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) there is a custom to announce the day (or days) of the week on which it will fall, and to recite a blessing over it, “that God should renew this coming month for us and the entire Jewish people for goodness and blessing” (Or Zarua, Shibulei HaLeket).
This constitutes a kind of remembrance of the bygone Sanctification of the New Month which was performed by an authorized Rabbinic Court. For this reason, it is customary to mention the exact time of the new moon’s appearance. It is also customary to stand during the recitation of the Blessing of the New Moon in memory of commandment to sanctify the new Hebrew month, for the people would stand before the Rabbinic Court during this act (Mishnah Berurah 117:1; Iggrot oshe, Orach Chaim 1:142).
In some places the practice is for the rabbi to recite the Blessing of the New Month. This too commemorates the Sanctification of the New Month in Temple times wherein it was the rabbinic chief justice who would announce the arrival of the New Month.
The announcement of the New Moon is made on the Sabbath because the entire congregation is present at that time, and this allows all to hear when the New Moon will occur. Moreover, the other six weekdays are blessed by virtue of the Sabbath, and the New Moon likewise derives its sanctity from the Sabbath which precedes it; hence, we bless the new month on the Sabbath, when we begin to sense the festivity of the approaching New Moon.
Working on Rosh Chodesh
Though it is permitted to perform “melakha” (creative, purposeful work forbidden on Sabbath and Festivals; hereafter simply “work”) on Rosh Chodesh, this really should be forbidden, as it is on the intermediate days of a Festival (“Chol HaMoed”). After all, the rule is that the more holy the day, the more it must be dedicated to sacred matters, and work should be refrained from accordingly.
For example, on Sabbath – because it is the most sacred of days – all manner of work is forbidden. Major Holidays (“Yamim Tovim”) are second to the Sabbath in sanctity, and all types of work are forbidden thereupon, with the exception of food preparation (“okhel nefesh”). On the intermediate days of a Festival, a step below the Major Holidays, some forms of work are forbidden and others are permitted. In truth, the New Moon should be treated no differently than the intermediate days of a Festival; however, because the Twelve Tribes of Israel took part in the Sin of the Golden Calf, Israel was deprived the special status of the twelve New Moons.
The Special Status of Women
Women, however, because they did not take part in the Sin of the Golden Calf and refused to contribute their rings to its creation,
merited divine reward in both this world and the World to Come. In this world their reward is that they “observe the New Moon more than the men.” In the World to Come “they will renew their youth like the moon which is renewed [each month], as it is written (Psalms 103:5): ‘Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’ ” (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 45).
It follows that women absorb more of the sanctity of the New Moon and therefore customarily refrain from performing work on it (Tur-Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 217).
It is true that in Temple times, when the Mussaf (Additional) Offering was part of the New Moon service in the Temple, there were even men who refrained from performing significant types of work on this occasion; however, this custom lacked validity due to the Sin of the Golden Calf. Women, on the other hand, who did not take part in this transgression, enjoy a greater affinity to the New Moon’s sanctity, and their custom is therefore valid.
From Which Types of Work Do Women Refrain
Therefore, a woman should choose some type of work to refrain from on the New Moon – for example, knitting – in order to make a distinction between the New Moon and any other day. At the very least a woman should not plan to perform any significant work on this day.
More stringent women refrain from the kinds of work forbidden during the intermediate days of a Festival (“Chol HaMoed”). This includes sewing and knitting and fixing things in the house. However, they may
cook and bake and iron, like during the intermediate days of a Festival. It is also permissible to wash laundry in a washing machine. And if clothes must be washed for the purpose of the New Moon itself,
even hand washing is permitted.
The work a woman does in order to earn a living is permissible even for more stringent women, because if a woman misses work every New Moon, she will end up losing her job. Even if a woman can be certain that she will not be fired, she is permitted to work if she needs the income or if her absence will result in a loss to her employer.