7: Song and lyrics, Debbie Friedman, “Birkat Halevana,” 1998.

7: Song and lyrics, Debbie Friedman, “Birkat Halevana,” 1998.

Debbie Friedman (1951-2011) was a singer, songwriter, composer, professor, and educator who interpreted Jewish texts and traditions through the genres of American popular and folk music. She began her career as a song leader in Jewish summer camps, and her work is based in a commitment to making Jewish traditions accessible and enjoyable to lay American Jewish audiences. Friedmen served as cantor at the New Reform Congregation in Los Angeles and as a faculty member of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Sacred Music in New York, which was renamed in her honor after her death. Her innovations in Jewish music have been taken up by the movement for Reform Judaism as the core of its repertoire of participatory songs, and have also been adopted by other Jewish movements to varying degrees.

“Birkat Halevana,” like much of Friedman’s oeuvre, is designed for ritual use. It is composed to be sung by groups of people participating in a Rosh Chodesh gathering. The song begins with an introductory section that presents a list of Hebrew months and a feminized version of the Hebrew blessing for the new moon (Blessed is She who renews the seasons), followed by a verse and a refrain with a simple melody and rhyme.

Suggested Activity: Ask students to read the lyrics and listen to and/or sing the song and discuss the following questions: The lyrics do not explicitly mention the idea of Rosh Chodesh as a women’s ritual, but Debbie Friedman herself is considered to be a feminist writer and a ritual innovator. Where and how do you see evidence of feminism in this song? Why, according to this song, is the changing month something to be ritualized and celebrated?

Source: Debbie Friedman, "Birkat Halevana."  Debbie Friedman at Carnegie Hall, 1999.