Prologue: It wasn't just a Mitzva in the Torah, it was the FIRST
Mitzva in the Torah.
And yet, when we consider it, Rosh Chodesh does not carry the same
strength in Jewish life as its other holidays do. After all, Yamim Tovim
have the status of Mikra Kodesh. Even Chanukah and Purim, days that do not
have a Korban Mussaf and are Rabbinically sanctified, carry certain rules
of work restriction signifying the sanctity of these times. What is the
Jewish view of Rosh Chodesh?
In a famous eulogy for Rav Ze'ev Gold, the Rov ztl (Divrei Hagut
V'Ha'aracha, see also Bein Kotalei HaYesahiva vol. 6) tackled the
personality Rosh Chodesh. He likened Rosh Chodesh which on the outside
seems to be regular and Chol-like. However, internally Rosh Chodesh is
Kodesh. While man goes through his daily activities on Rosh
Chodesh externally, he internalizes the Kedusha of the day with special
devotional prayers. The Rov likened Rosh Chodesh to Yosef whose internal
spirituality was not recognized by all. The emotions of his father which
Rav Moshe Soloveitchik internalized and the internal care of Rav Gold for
all Jews were seen as personifications of the Rosh Chodesh personality.
Rosh Chodesh (and these personalities) spoke to man's need not to put all
the cards on the table. Whereas one sees all on the Yamim Tovim, Rosh
Chodesh does not reveal all, leaving room for a future. To the Rov, the
internalizing and Tznius of Rosh Chodesh also was an image of hope and
Our hopes are raised with the anticipation of a new dawn. Hence
this week's Chaburah. It is entitled:
Women and the night
(Based upon the Shiurim of HaGaon Harav Asher Weiss Shlita, audio courtesy of BCBM.org)
The Mogen Avrohom (O.C. 426:1) notes that women are exempt from the Mitzva of Kiddush Levana as it is an active time –based Mitzva (Mitzvas Aseh SheHaZman Gramma). This position is cited by the Mishna Berurah and other subsequent Poskim as well. However, this position is difficult to accept because the Psak is really based upon a fundamental debate between Rashi and Tosafos (Berachos 20b) in regard to whether the exemption of women from Mitzvos Aseh SheHazman Gramma applies only to Biblical commandments or to Rabbinic ones as well. Notwithstanding the debate, it seems that the Mogen Avraham accepts the position that women are exempt from Rabbinic time based active commands as well.
The trouble begins with Rav Shlomo Kluger. Rav Shlomo Kluger (Chochmas Shlomo O.C. 426) notes the Mogen Avraham's position but asks how it is possible to debate the issue of Mitzvas Aseh SheHaZman Gramma here. After all those exceptions are based on time. This issue is based on the renewal of the moon. He equates the scenario to that of a person who was unable to partake of a particular new fruit because it was out of season. In this case, women , like men, would recite SheHeChiyanu on the new fruit since it is the fruit (not the time that it was out of season) that brings the obligation of the Bracha. The same should be true of Kiddush Levana. So why are women exempted?
The Maharil Diskin (Kuntres Acharon 5:26) notes that Birkas Hachamma is NOT Zman Grama because the blessing is based on the sun's being in the right place. He contrasts this with the Kiddush Levana which, in regard to constellation size, returns to the same position twice a month but Kiddush Levana cannot be recited at the end of the month. Hence, it is Zman Grama. Rav Weiss noted that he didn't fully accept the Maharil Diskin's position because the position of the moon at the beginning versus the end of the month is not based on time but rather on the visibility of the moon. (also, the part of the moon that is visible at the end of the month is different from the part visible at the beginning – hence the issue IS actually based upon the moon – not time)
Elsewhere (Shut HaElef Lecha Shlomo,193) Rav Shlomo Kluger elucidates a strange gemara that might impact our issue here. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 42a) notes that Rav Acha told Rav Ashi that in Eretz Yisrael the people recite the Beracha Baruch Michadesh Chodoshim. Rav Ashi retorted that our women do the same. How can that be, if they are exempt from the Mitzva of Kiddush Levana? Rav Shlomo Kluger notes that there are 2 aspects to Kiddush Levana: the first is on Chiddush HaLevana which is not time-based and women would recite and the second of Asher B'Ma'amaro Bara Shechakim which is time bound specific. Had we only recited Michadesh Chodoshim, women could recite it. Now that we combine the 2, they can opt for the exemption. This is the position of the Meiori in Sanhedrin who requires women to recite the shortened version Michadesh Chodoshim monthly.
But bottom line, the Mogen Avraham has turned an exemption into a prohibition. Women today do not recite Kiddush Levana at all. Why? Why not make it like all other Mitzvos Aseh SheHaZman Grama where women are allowed to obligate themselves in the blessing?
Some argue that when a Mitzva is only the recitation of a Beracha then perhaps those not obligated should not take it on as a chumra lest the Blessing be recited without proper Kavana and Hashem's name recited in vain (See Mogen Avraham to O.C. 296). Others cite the Shelah who cryptically notes that women caused the shrinking of the moon. Geonei Basraii note that women don't recite Kiddush Levana because it must be recited outside and Kol Kevoda Bas Melech Penimah. Any way you cut it, the exception has become the norm.