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Dancing with the Moon: innovations in the Kiddush Levana in light of the first moon landing

“Kiddush Levana on the Moon” by Dov Abramov (CC-BY-SA)

The day after humankind’s first landing on the Lunar surface July 20, 1969, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on a poetic and topical innovation to the Kiddush Levana, the Blessing over the Moon, by Israeli Armed Forces’ Chief Chaplain General Shlomo Goren in the IDF Siddur.

Thoughtful Jews have speculated about the impact on Judaism’s religious outlook that would be made by man’s successful exploration of space. In a small way the answer began to emerge within hours of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing and exploration by Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Col. Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.

The word came from Israel where Gen. Shlomo Goren, the Armed Forces’ Chief Chaplain, issued instructions about a change in the prayer for the blessing of the new moon which is said each month. The old blessing was worded:

כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאֲנִי רוֹקֵד לְנֶגְדֵּךְ. וְאֵינִי יָכוֹל לִיגַּע בָּךְ.‏
כַּךְ לֹא יוּכְלוּ כָּל אוֹיְבַי לִיגַּע בִּי לְרָעָה:‏
As I dance before you and cannot touch you,
so my enemies will not be able to touch me.

It now reads:

כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאֲנִי רוֹקֵד לְנֶגְדֵּךְ. וְאֵינִי נוגע ביך
כַּךְ אם ירקדו אחרים כנגדי לא יגעו בי.‏
As I dance against you and do not touch you,
so others, if they dance against me to harm me, they will not touch me.

Rabbi Goren’s version of the prayer is actually an old one found in the Talmud in Masekhet Soffrim [מסכת סופרים], chapter 20 [section 2].[1] Hat tip, Adam Soclof for digging up the 40+ year old story from the JTA archives. Original Hebrew liturgy added by Aharon Varady. Thanks to Efraim Feinstein and Rabbi Rallis Wiesenthal for their transcriptions. 

Over in the Open Siddur Project’s Facebook group, Rabbi Arthur Waskow added:

In 1997, I circulated in Jewish-renewal circles the following emendation to Kiddush Levana. (I did not know till now of Rabbi Goren’s emendation of 1969. What I suggested takes a very different tack from his.)

The traditional Kiddush Levana ceremony says:
“As I dance toward you [the Moon], but cannot touch you, so shall none of my evil enemies be able to touch me.”

Since the first part of this statement is no longer true (for the human race in general), I wrote, and some communities have substituted, this passage:

“Just as at last the children of Adam can touch you, so can all my enemies touch me. May therefore all the children of Adam cease being enemies to each other and turn themselves and each other into friends, so that all human beings will feel their hearts touched by each other’s pain.”

(It is indeed factually true that our ability to reach the moon is consonant with our ability to fling a missile half-way around the planet — and therefore our need to make at least a rudimentary global community. The process of increasing distance of weapon-throwing that began when a fist became a rock and a rock became a spear, the process that required us to expand our community as well, has at last reached the level of the planet as a whole. Since Kiddush Levana is a Messianic ritual, you might say its traditional hope has caught up with its traditional language. )

As we say in Kiddush Levana,Shalom aleikhem!! — Aleikhem shalom!!”

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center
(read my newest book, co-authored with R. Phyllis Berman: Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus & Wilderness across Millennia (Jewish Lights)
available from our on-line bookstore, Shouk Shalom)

Download the complete Birkhat Levana from Rabbi Rallis Wiesenthal’s Siddur Bnei Ashkenaz: TXT


1 Hat tip, Adam Soclof for digging up the 40+ year old story from the JTA archives. Original Hebrew liturgy added by Aharon Varady. Thanks to Efraim Feinstein and Rabbi Rallis Wiesenthal for their transcriptions.

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