Halacha Date: 30 Shevat 5778 February 15 2018
Question: Is it correct that women may not perform work on Rosh Chodesh?
Answer: Our Sages teach us in Pirkei De’Rabbi Eliezer that during the sin of the Golden Calf, Aharon told the entire Jewish nation, “Remove the golden rings from the ears of your wives, sons, and daughters” in order to melt down this gold and use it to form the Golden Calf. When the women heard this, they refused to give their golden jewelry to their husbands and told them, “We shall not allow you to form an idol repulsive to Hashem which cannot save you at all!” Hashem rewarded them in this world by having them observe Rosh Chodesh more than men. Their reward in the World to Come is that their youthfulness shall be rejuvenated like an eagle similar to the “rebirth” of the moon on Rosh Chodesh. It is therefore customary for women not to perform work on Rosh Chodesh. There are several other reasons offered for this custom. The Tur adds in the name of his brother, Rabbeinu Yehuda (author of Responsa Zichron Yehuda), that the festivals correspond to our Patriarchs (as there are three festivals in the Torah: Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) and the twelve Rashei Chodashim correspond to the twelve tribes. When the Jewish nation sinned in the incident regarding the Golden Calf, Rosh Chodesh was taken away from the men and given to the Jewish women as a commemoration that they were not involved in this sin.
Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that women did not customarily prohibit themselves from performing any kind of work and this only applies to spinning and weaving (threads, which is an intricate and difficult craft) and the like. Indeed, Hagaon Ya’abetz writes in his Sefer Mor Uktzia that any works that are lighter and easier than women’s crafts are certainly permissible on Rosh Chodesh. It is therefore permissible for women to launder clothing in a washing machine, for this is not such a hassle. They are likewise permitted to knit and sew when this is necessary for the members of their household; however, they should not do so for others in order to earn a profit. Those women who work in order to earn a living and will lose money by not working on Rosh Chodesh may indeed work on Rosh Chodesh.
In the times of the Rishonim, there were also many men who abstained from performing work on Rosh Chodesh for several reasons. It is for this reason that Maran Ha’Chida writes that a man who wishes to act stringently and abstain from performing work on Rosh Chodesh is considered especially meritorious. Maran Harav zt”l adds that if a man abstains from performing work on Rosh Chodesh and dedicates the entire day to Torah study is indeed very praiseworthy. (If one wishes to annul this custom and did not say “Bli Neder” before beginning to observe it, one must perform the order of “Annulment of Vows.”)