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Clergy Column by Rabbi Jon Prosnit

Look Up, It's the Moon
September/October 2023

If you ever want to play a mean joke on one of your rabbi friends, here’s a way to do it; look up at the sky on a clear new moon summer night, turn to them and say, “Look at the beautiful moon. Doesn’t that mean it’s almost Rosh Hashanah?”

The moon holds significant importance in Judaism, woven into the fabric of our religious observances, historical events and cultural symbolism. The most prominent lunar element in Judaism is the Hebrew calendar.

We have what is called a luni-solar calendar, which means our months and festivals are based on the moon’s cycle, while the years are adjusted to align with the seasons and used to determine the dates of Jewish holidays and festivals. (This is why our holidays move each year, but are always in the same season). This is different from Islam, which uses a lunar calendar, and Christianity, which uses a solar one.

Many of our major holidays, including Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot — which we are celebrating this month — are connected to the moon. Rosh Hashanah, the start of the year, falls on a new moon and Sukkot, one of our most important harvest holidays, starts on a full moon. The beginning of each month in the Hebrew calendar is marked by the appearance of the new moon, known as Rosh Chodesh.

The connection between Sukkot and the full moon holds deep religious and agricultural symbolism. Agriculturally, Sukkot originally served as a harvest festival, marking the end of the autumn harvest when crops were gathered. Often the holiday is called “The Festival of The Ingathering.” The full moon helped farmers determine the appropriate time to gather their crops, and the festival of Sukkot provided an opportunity for thanksgiving and celebration for the bountiful harvest. There are some who believe that one of the origins of the sukkah connects to the temporary huts that farmers would erect in the fields to be closest to their crops during the harvest. One of the requirements of the sukkah is to see the full moon through the loose branches of its roof.

My favorite time of year at the farmer’s market is always around Sukkot. The abundance overflows: apples and pumpkins, kale and persimmons. This Sukkot at Beth Am, we will have an extra special way to connect our festival to the harvest. During our Erev Shabbat Sukkot service on Friday, September 29 at 6:15 PM, we will hear from Enrique Bazan, Assistant Director of Ayudando Latinos A Soñar (ALAS), an amazing non-profit organization based in Half Moon Bay that works to provide services for and build relationships with area farmworkers (and others) on the San Mateo Coast.

While not many of us work or live on farms anymore, our deep agricultural tradition continues to inspire and challenge us. The values of ethical farming, strong labor practices and responsible land stewardship remind us of our obligation to “till and tend” the earth. Our agricultural condition is central to who we are as Jews.    

All of the Beth Am clergy and staff wish you a safe and healthy 5784. 

Rabbi Jon Prosnit

P.S. Nobody writes of the moon and holidays better than Marge Piercy:

The Head of the Year
by Marge Piercy

The moon is dark tonight, a new
moon for a new year. It is
hollow and hungers to be full.
It is the black zero of beginning.

Now you must void yourself
of injuries, insults, incursions.
Go with empty hands to those
you have hurt and make amends.

It is not too late. It is early
and about to grow. Now
is the time to do what you
know you must and have feared
to begin. Your face is dark
too as you turn inward to face
yourself, the hidden twin of
all you must grow to be.

Forgive the dead year. Forgive
yourself. What will be wants
to push through your fingers.
The light you seek hides
in your belly. The light you
crave longs to stream from
your eyes. You are the moon
that will wax in new goodness.

Tue, October 3 2023 18 Tishrei 5784