The most common Hebrew word for, the moon is "yeraḥ," the root of which is probably akin to "araḥ," so that the meaning of the term would be "the wanderer." Poetically, it is called, on account of its whiteness, "lebanah," a term occurring in the Bible three times only (Cant. vi. 10; Isa. xxiv. 23, xxx. 26). The word "ḥodesh," which also occurs thrice (I Sam. xx. 5 and 18; II Kings iv. 23), as its meaning indicates, denotes the New Moon. In the narrative of the Creation, the moon is indicated, without any special name, as one of the two great luminaries. Relatively to the sun, it is "the lesser light to rule the night"; and it is to serve together with the sun for signs, seasons, days, and years (Gen. i. 14, 16). In Ps. civ. 19 it is expressly stated that the moon was created in order to indicate the seasons. Its course, like that of the sun, was stopped by the divine will (Josh. x. 13).
Like the other celestial bodies, the moon was believed to have an influence on the universe. Its injurious influence on man is referred to in Ps. cxxi. 6, which passage probably refers to the blindness which, according to Eastern belief, results from sleeping in the moonlight with uncovered face (Carne, "Letters from the East," p. 77). It was also believed that the moon caused epilepsy (comp. the Greek σεληυιαζόμευος and the Latin "lunaticus"; Matt. iv. 24). On the other hand, there are "precious things put forth by the moon" (Deut. xxxiii. 14); that is to say, the growth of certain plants is influenced by it. Steuernagel, however, thinks the allusion is to the dew.
The moon was regarded by all Oriental nations as a divinity, whose worship was forbidden to the Israelites (Deut. xvii. 3). Nevertheless, the latter practised for a long time the cult of the "queen of heaven," making sacrifices to her (Jer. vii. 18, xliv. 17). Kissing the hand on seeing the moon, an act of adoration, is referred to in Job xxxi. 26-27. The moon-shaped ornaments which adorned the necks of the Midianite camels in the time of Gideon (Judges viii. 21, 26) and the "round tires like the moon" of the Israelitish women (Isa. iii. 18) were probably results of the same idolatrous tendency. The moon is frequently used in figurative language: it is the emblem of beauty (Cant. vi. 10) and of eternity (Ps. lxxii. 5, 7; lxxxix. 37). Its eclipse (Isa. xiii. 10, xxiv. 23; Joel ii. 10) and its turning to blood (ib. ii. 31) are tokens that the day of God's wrath is near. The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun when
Referring to Gen. i. 16, where the moon and sun are first called "the two great lights" and the moon is then styled "the lesser light," R. Simeon b. Pazzi declared that at the time of the Creation the moon was of the same size as the sun. The moon then objected that it would not be decorous for two kings to use one crown, whereupon God diminished her size. In reply to the moon's question "Ought I to be punished for having spoken reasonable words?" God consoled her by promising that she also should reign in the daytime; and on her objecting that the light of a candle in the daytime was useless, God promised her that the Jews should count the years after the moon. The latter again objecting that the sun served a similar purpose, God consoled her with the idea that certain righteous men would bear the same epithet ("the smaller one"), e.g., Jacob (Amos vii. 5), David (I Sam. xvii. 14), and Samuel ha-Ḳaṭon. The moon, however, remained disconsolate, and God therefore required that a he-goat besacrificed on the first of every month as a sin-offering for His having diminished the moon's size (Ḥul. 60b). According to R. Johanan, God required that sin-offering for having caused the moon to encroach on the domain of the sun. God appeased the complaints of the moon also by surrounding her with a host of stars, like a veritable queen (Pesiḳ. R. 15; Gen. R. vi. 3-4). R. Ḥanina thinks that at first the sun alone was created to give light, and that God subsequently created the moon because He foresaw that the sun and moon would be worshiped like gods, and He said: "If when they are two, rivaling each other, they are considered as divinities, how would it be if the sun were alone?" (ib. vi. 1). The orbit of the moon is, like that of the sun, in the second heaven (ib. vi. 9; comp. Heller, "Tosafot YomṬob" to R. H. ii. 6).
There is a disagreement between R. Judah and the other rabbis as to the setting of the moon and the sun. According to the former, after setting they continue their route above the celestial vault; and it is for this reason that in summer the springs are colder than the surface of the earth. The Rabbis argued that, after setting, both moon and sun travel below the vault and consequently under the earth; and this is why in the winter the springs are not as cold as the surface of the earth (Gen. R. vi. 8). The reason why the Jews count the days of the year by the moon is that, like the moon, which reigns both in the daytime and at night, the Jews have both this world and the future one (ib. vi. 2). On this account the eclipse of the moon is considered by the Rabbis as a bad sign for the Jews. The eclipse of the moon and stars is caused by four kinds of sin: (1) forgery, (2) false witness, (3) breeding small cattle in Palestine (for they spoil the land), and (4) cutting down fruit-trees (Suk. 29a). The fact of women spinning their wool or flax by the light of the moon is mentioned several times in the Talmud (Soṭah vi. 1 [= p. 31a]; Giṭ 89a; et passim).
The moon, on account of its monthly reappearance, is considered as the emblem of Israel; the latter, like the moon, undergoing several phases through persecution without being destroyed. Therefore the reappearance of the moon is sanctified, like the entrance of the Sabbath or festivals, by the recitation of benedictions known in the liturgy as "Ḳiddush ha-Lebanah" or "Birkat ha-Lebanah." See New Moon, Blessing of.