One of the gifts of Jewish feminism to the Jewish community has been the rediscovery of Rosh Hodesh as a woman’s holiday. Ever since the publication of Arlene Agus’s essay “This Month is for You” in Elizabeth Koltun’s classic anthology The Jewish Woman (1976), groups of women have been gathering in synagogues and homes to mark the appearance of the new moon. These groups have been fertile spaces for the cultivation of women’s religious leadership, the creation of new rituals, and personal sharing. Moving Tradition’s program Rosh Hodesh—It’s a Girl Thing! uses the framework of Rosh Hodesh to provides safe spaces for adolescent girls to talk about their deepest concerns. A number of Jewish practices that have gained wide currency —the addition of a water-filled “Miriam’s Cup” to the cup of Elijah on the Seder table, for example —originated in Rosh Hodesh groups.
Now, in a lovely children’s book, New Moon (Three Gems Publishing, $18), Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael introduces Rosh Hodesh to a new generation of girls. In simple language, the book tells the story of Rose, a girl who loves the moon for the special times it brings. These include Sukkot, Tu B’shvat, Passover, and especially Rosh Hodesh, when her mother’s friends come to the house. The women put on special clothes, sing and dance, bake moon cookies with frosting —Rose’s favorite part of the holiday—and howl at the moon. Raphael communicates a lot of information about the feminist celebration of Rosh Hodesh in an inviting and nondidactic way. Rose’s mother tells her about how the Shekhinah, the Divine Mother, gave Rosh Hodesh to women because of their refusal to contribute their jewelry to the golden calf when the Children of Israel were in the desert. She describes Miriam’s cup and the midrashic association of Miriam and water, and mentions a number of other important Jewish women—Judith, Vashti, Esther and Lilith —some of whose stories are associated with particular times of the year.
Part of the charm of the book is its delightful full-color illustrations by Susan Cathcart and Marilyn Kane that beautifully complement the words of the text. The second half of New Moon is a coloring book, with drawings by Cathcart that echo pictures and themes in the text. This is a great Hanukah—or post- Hanukah—gift for girls roughly between the ages of about three and eight who may have heard numerous Jewish stories with male protagonists and who now have a tale and ritual of their own.
Judith Plaskow, Jewish feminist theologian, is professor emerita of religious studies at Manhattan College. Her new book is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, with Carol P. Christ.