Kiddush Levana: the Sanctification of the Moon
The Internet loves to joke about how much Jews love the moon, but it's true. We love the moon. It is central to Judaism, just as it is to religions and cultures around the world.
In the Talmud, it is stated that "to bless the new moon at the proper time is like greeting the Divine Presence." (Sanhedrin 42a).
As discussed in "The Months of the Hebrew Year", the Jewish calendar is a lunisolar calendar. Each month begins on the new moon and we track each month acknowledging both the sun and moon.
The moon is often, though not only, referred to as feminine, but exists in both masculine and feminine contexts, with many spiritual and Kabbalistic correspondences. There are many traditions that center around the moon, but did you know that we don't just celebrate Rosh Chodesh? Kiddush Levana, or the sanctification of the moon, must also be performed at the start of each Jewish month.
Though this ritual holds a great deal of significance, it is lesser known in many Jewish communities. The exact date is debated within Jewish communities, but it is generally accepted that Kiddush Levana is performed within the third to the fifteenth day of the new moon, while the moon is bright and waxing, with the vast majority of Jews doing so after the first Shabbat of the new month, beginning after Havdallah (2). The exact date will depend on your community and minhag.
"The moon, when she was first created, was a glistening jewel. She did not merely reflect light, but rather transformed it and brought out its inner beauty, much as a precious stone glistens with a secret, hidden light all its own. In her own way, the moon was greater than the sun—for the sun only shines from its surface, whereas the moon shone from its inner essence. The sun holds the light that extends outward, whereas the moon holds the light of being." Rabbi Isaac of Homil.
Kiddush Levana is performed outdoors, underneath the moon. If the moon is covered by clouds and is invisible, it cannot be performed. A small number of clouds, with the moon still visible, is permissible. The sanctification of the moon is a joyous ritual, preferably performed in a group. As many gather in the synagogue for the closing of Shabbat, it is performed outside of the shul when possible. However, as we are currently in a time of distancing, performing it alone or over Zoom is entirely permissible.
The ritual is a celebration. We, as Jews, reflect the moon. Our history has waxed and waned, and yet we return, we endure. Once the ritual is finished, it is custom to dance with the joy of a wedding to honor the moon in the sky, ourselves beneath it, and the Divine around us.
It is debated whether or not women are required to perform this ritual, as it is a time-based one and women are frequently exempt from performing such rituals. The answer to this discussion varies by the community (1). However, no matter your gender, enjoy taking part!
The entirety of the Kiddush Levana ritual may be found within your Siddur, particularly those for Shabbat and Festivals. However, if you do not have access to a Siddur, here is the ritual, summarized from the Chabad website.
The ritual itself is performed by standing beneath the moon, facing towards the east, and reciting the following prayers.
It begins with the recitation of the six verses of Psalm 148.
Place your feet together, look at the moon and recite the blessing, “. . . He gave them a set law and time, so that they should not alter their task . . . Blessed are You, L‑rd, who renews the months.”
Lift your heels three times and to the moon say, “Blessed is your Maker; blessed is He who formed you.. Just as I leap toward you but cannot touch you, so may all my enemies be unable to touch me harmfully..” This is repeated three times (including lifting your heels).
Continue with, “David, King of Israel, is living and enduring.”
When performed in groups, “shalom aleichem,” is said to our fellow daveners, “aleichem shalom.”
Then exclaim three times, “May this be a good sign and good fortune for us and the entire Jewish nation.”
Then recite Song of Songs (versus 2:8–9).
Once completed, Psalm 121 is then recited.
Then, Psalm 150.
Followed by a passage from the Talmud,
“It was taught in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael: Even if Israel merited no other privilege than to greet their Father in Heaven once a month, it would be sufficient for them . . .”
Next is Psalm 67.
Finish with the Aleinu prayer.
Then, once concluded, begins dancing and rejoicing, as one would do at a wedding.
This, however, is not the only way to honor the moon in her new cycle. As we expand in our ritual over the years, so can you expand upon the Kiddush Levana practice.
As modern practitioners seek to find ways to explore Jewish rituals as a means of connection, Kiddush Levana provides a beautiful opportunity for monthly instructions. Standing outside, beneath a waxing moon, the presence of Shekhinah is palpable to all. Whether you're new to Jewish prayer or a staple in your synagogue, the act of Kiddush Levana is fulfilling and expansive.
For many modern practitioners, the inclusion of meditation, of self-work, of shadow work informs their rituals, while for others, it includes anointing and burning of candles, practicing breathwork, honoring ancestors, or some combination of these elements.
Many choose to include music in their rituals, dancing to their favorite songs, particularly by empowering artists.
Truthfully, finding the joy under the moon is a personal, liberating experience. If you find that painting, writing, lighting candles, or any other ritual, gives you the joy of the Divine, then including it in your Kiddush Levana ritual is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
For a full example of my own personal Kiddush Levana ritual, check out my Patreon.
Havdallah: the closing ceremony of Shabbat, performed at sundown.
Rosh Chodesh: a minor holiday signifying the start of a new month.
Minhag: tradition, referring to Ashkenazi, Sefardic, etc.