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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Kiddush Levana on Shabbos and Yom Tov

By Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

The custom in many communities is to recite Kiddush Levana (bless the New Moon) on the first possible Saturday night. Halachically it must be three days after the ‘birth’ of the new moon, but before the apex of the moon. (The exact calculations needed to determine the apex will hopefully be addressed in a later article).

This year (5776), as well as last year, Shavuos falls on Sunday and Monday. Being that Rosh Chodesh was Tuesday (and the Molad Sunday Night) it is quite probable that one will have not yet said Kiddush Levana when the first possible Saturday night comes around, however that Saturday Night is Shavuos. May one say Kiddush Levana on Yom Tov?

Similarly, if one was unable to say Kiddush Levana, and the last possible night to do so is Friday Night (as it was last month, Iyar 5776) may they say Kiddush Levana on Friday Night?

The Sugya begins with a letter written by the Rashba (Shut Harashba 4:48). The questioner had quoted Rabbi Moshe of Coucy (one of the Tosafists, and author of the SMaG ) as saying that just as there is a concept of ‘techumin’ or boundaries which may not be traversed on Shabbos, on the ground, so too there are techumin in the air. Therefore one may not say Kiddush Levana on Shabbos, which is akin to traveling through the air to go greet your Rabbi (in this case Hashem), due to the limitations of the techum.

The Rashba responds: whether there are techumin in the air is subject to debate (indeed, there is a dispute among the Rishonim if one may jump from post to post beyond the limits of the techum). However, he fails to see the relevance to Kiddush Levana.

Firstly, he retorts – if one was only able to greet their Rebbe from a great distance, then they would be required to do at least that! Even during the week we don’t travel to the moon or even jump as high as we can to get closer to the moon! More importantly, we aren’t making a beracha on the moon, rather we are blessing its Creator, who is well above the universe, and the Shechina, which is everywhere. The moon reminds us of the Shechina, in its consistency and renewal (he doesn’t explain what exactly he means by that). He concludes by saying that he looked in the SMaG and didn’t see this halacha that was quoted in the name of its author.

Clearly it would seem the Rashba didn’t have a problem with saying Kiddush Levana on Shabbos or Yom Tov.
The Maharil, who was the great codifier of Ashkenazi custom, quotes the Mahari Segal (Minhagim – Shavuos) as not having said Kiddush Levana on Yom Tov that fell on Motzai Shabbos due to the techumin issue quoted above. He adds an additional rationale; Kiddush Levana has the appearance of a ‘techina’, or plea, which is prohibited on Shabbos.

However Mahari Segal himself conceded that his Rebbe, the Maharash, was not concerned with this issue and would say Kiddush Levana on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Before we take this to the next step, we need to explain – why is Motzai Shabbos the preferred night? The Tur, quoting Meseches Sofrim, tells us that the reason is because then we are already dressed nicely and are happy, having just completed Shabbos. This is codified in Shulchan Aruch.

Based on this, the Radvaz (Shut Ravaz 4:1203) was asked: why don’t we say Kiddush Levana specifically on Friday night when one is also dressed nicely and happy and would seem a more appropriate time to greet the shechinah?

The Radvaz replied that he had seen the explanation given that there is a techum issue above ten tefachim, however he thinks that is weak reasoning. He therefore offers a different reason – Friday night we already greet the King with Kiddush. On Saturday Night when our neshama yeseira (special Shabbos soul) is leaving, we can console ourselves by greeting the Shechinah with Kiddush Levana.

The Ramo Mipano explains the techum issue a little differently; he writes (78) that if one imagines himself in front of the moon so as to bless its Creator, he will appear to have traveled many, many miles.

He adds another reason; there is a halachic principle that one should not combine two distinct joyous occasions, and therefore the joy of Shabbos or Yom Tov should not be mixed with the joy of blessing the moon, on the contrary the honor and holiness due to Shabbos and Yom Tov surpass the honor to Hashem of Kiddush Levana.

In Shulchan Aruch (OC 426:2) this halacha is codified: one should say Kiddush Levana on Motzai Sahbbos. The Rema, quoting the Maharil, adds that one should not say it on Motzai Shabbos that falls on Yom Tov. The Be’er Heitiv explains that one should definitely not say it on Shabbos, and cites the issue with techumin above ten tefachim as the reasoning.

The Magen Avraham quotes the Bach, who recalled that one year in Cracow the moon was not visible until the first night of Sukkos, which was the last possible night to say Kiddush Levana, and they said Kiddush Levana on Yom Tov. However he cautions that unless it’s the last chance one should not say Kiddush Levana, due to the various reasons given (he cites the Radvaz quoted above) as well as various Kabbalistic reasons.

This is also the conclusion of the Mishna Berura, and he quotes this as being the bottom line of the poskim. In the Shaar Hatzion he brings an additional reason – often there is dancing at Kiddush Levana, and it is halachically questionable if one may dance on Shabbos (he differentiates between Simchas Torah and Kiddush Levana).

[The Taz cryptically comments that he understood the Rema as not taking issue with Kiddush Levana on Shabbos and Yom Tov, see Taz and Maamar Mordechai].

In conclusion, although the Rashba, Maharash and Radvaz all seem to feel that the reasoning offered, that one is considered to have traveled outside the techum by saying Kiddush Levana, is weak, the recommended practice is to avoid saying Kiddush Levana on Shabbos and Yom Tov, unless one has no choice.

The Aruch Hashulchan writes that although the halachic arguments given not to say Kiddush Levana on Shabbos and Yom Tov are not satisfactory, there are additional Kabbalistic reasons. Therefore, unless there is no choice one should refrain from saying Kiddush Levana on Shabbos or Yom Tov. If it’s the last possible night, or even if it’s the penultimate night and there is concern that Motzai Shabbos may be cloudy, you should say Kiddush Levana, but only the beracha itself and not the additional prayers before and after.

With thanks to Reb MY Lebnar

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