The Moon’s Jewish Face

How was the moon drawn by Jews throughout the generations?


Sefer I​bronot | Hebrew Union College Library, Cincinnati, OH, USA, 1779; Ms. 902, page 37

​Many eons ago in the ancient world, the Jews adopted the moon as the basis of the Hebrew calendar. Only isolated groups, such as members of the Judean desert cults, attempted to build the Jewish calendar according to the sun but all such attempts ended with the destruction of the Second Temple, and the lunar calendar was universally accepted as the Jewish calendar. ​

 
Birkat HaLevana | The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, NY, USA, Unkown Date; Ms. 8740, page 50​

The moon emerged as the undisputed victor in the battle for the Jewish perspective of time. While the days are determined by the sun, beginning at sunrise and ending at sunset, the calculation of the days into months depends on the “birth” of the moon.
While the pagans regarded the moon as god in its own right, the moon’s central function in Judaism is expressed not only in the calculation of the months, but also in the blessing recited at the beginning of each Jewish month – ‘Birkat HaLevana’ [the ‘Blessing of the Moon’]. The blessing praises the one God, the Holy One Blessed Be He, creator of all natural phenomena.

This also seems to be the reason that, throughout the generations, Jews drew the moon with human features, as it is a natural phenomenon created by God and therefore not a transgression of the prohibition against making idols or graven images.

 
Sefer Ibr​onot | The National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, Israel, 1716; Ms. Heb. 8°2380, page 188​

We discovered several beautiful illustrations of the moon in the Hebrew manuscripts in the Library. Some of them adorn scientific and astronomic books and manuscripts, and others embellish ‘the Blessing of the Moon’.

 
Seder Kriyat Shema U’Birkat Halevana | Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1738; Ms. Rosenthaliana 407, page 23

 
Seder Birkat Halevana | Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1743; Ms. Rosenthaliana 698, page 7​