Rosh Hodesh (the day of the new moon in the Hebrew calendar) has long been associated with women, and modern feminists have enjoyed turning that connection into an opportunity to create ritual. This isn’t news to a lot of people.
What I didn’t know, anyway, is that in some Jewish communities, dating back to about the Middle Ages or so, Rosh Hodesh Tevet–which happens during Hanukah–has been called “Hag Habanot”, or the Festival of Daughters, with a host of special observances around it.
Rabbi Jill Hammer explains:
In North African countries, the seventh night of Chanukah, Judith’s night of triumph, was set aside as Chag haBanot, the Festival of the Daughters. Chag haBanot falls on the new moon of the Hebrew month of Tevet, which is the sixth or seventh night of Chanukah. (Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that straddles two months. Rosh Hodesh, the celebration of the new month, is classically a women’s festival.) In countries such as Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco, a variety of customs surrounded Chag haBanot. One tradition was that women would come to the synagogue, touch the Torah, and pray for the health of their daughters. Mothers would give their daughters gifts, and bridegrooms would give gifts to their brides. Girls who were fighting were expected to reconcile on Chag haBanot. Old women and young women would come together to dance. There might be a feast in honor of Judith, where participants would eat cheese to remember Judith’s subterfuge (in the story, Judith feeds the enemy general salty cheese to encourage his drinking of wine so that she can kill him once he has passed out), or women might take food from a ritual meal of Talmud scholars and give it to their daughters as protection from harm. There was also a custom of passing down inheritances on Chag haBanot.
She offers a few suggestions as to how these customs can be integrated into a contemporary observance–go here to check them out, if that’s your thang. It’s not mine personally, I confess, but I do find the whole thing interesting nonetheless–and interesting, cool Jewish factoids are some of what we offer here at Jewschool.
(HT to Margie K.)