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The holidays are described in the list below. R' Donin's book To Be a Jew gives a good overview of the holidays from a traditional perspective. The following is based on a summary posted on the net by Robert Kaiser, which in turn was based on material from A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice by Rabbi Isaac Klein, published by The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Note that liberal Jews do not observe all of these holidays, nor do they all follow the practice of two-days of observance of certain holidays in the diaspora. The principal year-cycle events observed by liberal Jews are: Shabbat, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Chanukkah, Tu B'Shevat, Purim, Pesach (Passover), Lag B'Omer, Shavuot, and Tish'a B'Av.
Note also that as the Jewish day runs from sundown to sundown, holidays start the evening of the secular day before secular calendar date of the holiday.
Also known as Yom Hadin, Yom Hazikaron (Day of Remembrance) and Yom Teruah (Day of the sounding of the shofar). In traditional congregations, the shofar is not sounded when Rosh Hashanah falls on the Sabbath. This holiday celebrates the creation of the world, and as such is the new year for calculating calendar years, sabbatical and jubilee years, vegetable tithes, and tree-planting (determining the age of a tree). This holiday is characterized by the blowing of the shofar. During the afternoon of the first day, many follow the practice of tashlikh, symbolically casting away sins by throwing stones into the waters. Rosh ha-Shanah, the 1st of Tishri, never falls on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, in order that Yom Kippur should never fall on a Friday or Sunday and Hoshana Rabbath should not fall on the Sabbath.
The one practice unique to Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar, in accord with the biblical command "... it is a day when the horn is sounded" (Num. 29:1). Since it falls on the first day of the month, when new months were proclaimed by the Sanhedrin on the basis of the testimony of witnesses, there existed an uncertainty as to when exactly Rosh Hashanah would be. Even when the Temple stood, it was sometimes necessary to celebrate two days of Rosh Hashanah due to the late arrival of witnesses. As a result it was decided to celebrate two days every year. Unlike other holidays, this is unrelated to the diaspora.
Rosh Hashanah is also known as yom ha'din, "the day of judgement", when according to the Talmud, God determines who will be inscribed in the "book of life" and who will be inscribed in the "book of death" for the coming year. The decision is made on Rosh Hashanah and sealed ten days later at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. One's behavior in the interim can supposedly alter a harsh decree, thus the period from the beginning of Rosh Hashanah to the conclusion of Yom Kippur is known as the Ten Days of Repentance. During the Middle Ages, it also became common to refer to Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur as the Days of Awe.
After the service in the synagogue, it is customary for worshippers to wish one another le-Shanah tovah tehatem ve-tikatev (May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year). It is traditional to eat bread and apples dipped in honey followed by the meditation, "May it be Your will to grant us a good and sweet year."
In Ashkenazi communities, a special custom known as Tashlikh occurs; it invokes the recitation of biblical verses and a prayer near a body of water. It is performed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (unless the first day falls on the Sabbath, in which case it is deferred to the second day). The custom symbolizes purification of sin in the water.
This fast commemorates the slaying of Gedaliah Ben Akhikam, whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed governor of Judah after the first destruction of the Temple (Jeremiah 40:7, II Kings 25:22.). He was assasinated on the third of Tishri (582 BC) by Ishmael son of Nethaniah of the royal family. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had appointed Gedaliah governor of the Jews who remained in Eretz Israel after the destruction of the First Temple. After he was murdered, large numbers of the people fled to Egypt (Jer. 40 and 41), and the last vestige of Jewish autonomy in Judah came to an end. His death was the final blow to hopes that the Jewish state might survive the Babylonian domination. It is mentioned in the Torah (Zec. 8:19) as the "fast of the seventh month". The sages established the fast in "order to demonstrate that the death of the righteous is equivalent to the destruction of the Temple, which is also commemorated by the fast" (Rosh ha-Shanah 18b).
The day of repentance. The holiest and most solemn day of the year. Its central theme is atonement and reconciliation. It is described in the Torah as "It shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for you" (Lev. 23:32). Traditionally, there are prohibitions on eating, drinking, bathing, anointing the body, wearing leather shoes, and conjugal relations. Most of these prohibitions are followed across the spectrum of Judaism--such is the importance of this holy day. The fast on Yom Kippur is the only fast which can take place on the Sabbath.
Yom Kippur services begin with Kol Nidrei, which must be recited before sunset. A Talit is donned for evening prayers--the only evening service of the year in which this is done. The Ne'ilah service is a special service held only on the day of Yom Kippur, and deals with the closing of the holiday. Yom Kippur comes to an end with the blowing of the shofar, which marks the conclusion of the fast.
The Day of Atonement concludes the Ten Days of Repentance that began
on Rosh Hashanah; it is regarded as the day on which ones fate is sealed for
the coming year. At one timem the Temple ritual performed by the high priest on
the Day of Atonement was the most important event of the whole year. It was the
only time he entered the Holy of Holies in order to atone for the sins of the
children of Israel. The precise order of his activities is outlined in the
Torah in the Book of Leviticus (Ch. 16) and is described in the talmndic
After the destruction of the Temple the notion of penitence became the main feature of the Day of Atonement when the Jew confesses his sins. A main feature of the services of the day is the confession, of which two versions are read. The long confession of 44 double, alphabetically arranged lines begins: "For the sin wherein we have sinned ..." while the shorter form is made up of single words or phrases, again in alphabetical order, beginning with Ashamnu (We have trespassed).
The third Pilgrimage festival, it is also known as The Feast of Booths (Tabernacles), The Feast of Ingathering, or just simply The Hag (The Festival). Sukkot is an eight day festival: the first two days are celebrated as full holidays, the following five days (Hol Hamo'ed) are weekdays that retain some aspects of the festival, the seventh day (Hoshanah Rabbah) and eighth (Shemini Atzeret) days have special observances of their own. Liberal congregations typically only celebrate the first and eighth days.
Sukkot is also called "zman simchaseinu" (the time of our rejoicing). This is because the Torah tells us that at that time when we harvest it is a time for rejoicing. We also rejoice in the coming start of a new cycle of Torah, as Simchat Torah ends the Sukkot holiday. Succot is also known as Hag ha-Asif, "The Festival of the Ingathering", due to the fact that it falls during the season when the final summer produce is gathered from the field. Another name is simply Ha-Hag, "The Holiday" par excellence (Ex. 23:16, II Chron. 7:8).
The first day of Succot is a full holiday on which work is prohibited. The next six days have their own special regulations, but work is permitted under most circumstances. Outside Eretz Israel, the second day of Succot is also observed as a full holiday and the following five days are hol ha-mo'ed.
Succot has a number of unique observances. During the entire seven days (prior to Sheini Atzeret), one is required to dwell "in the succah", a temporary structure whose roof must be made of materials that grow from the ground, e.g. palm fronds, tree branches, bamboo poles. Dwelling in the succah commemorates the temporary structures in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years wandering after the Exodus from Egypt (Lev. 23:42-43). On each of the seven days of Succot, except the Sabbath, the Four Species - the palm branch (lulav), citron (etrog), myrtle, and willow - are taken up (after the appropriate benediction) and waved. The species are held also during the recitation of Hallel, and during the recitation of Hoshanot, when the entire congregation joins in a procession encircling the bimah. One such procession is held as part of the Shaharit service on each of the seven days. The seventh day of Succot, i.e. the last day of hol ha-mo'ed, is known also by the name Hoshana Rabbah, "The Great Hoshana." On Hoshana Rabbah seven such processions are held during and after which appropriate prayers are recited. After these willow branches are beaten on the ground.
Sukkot commemorates the life of the Israelites in the desert during their journey to the promised land. During their wandering in the desert they lived in booths (Sukkot). Four species of plants are used to celebrate the holiday: the lulav (palm branch), etrog (lemon-like citron), myrtle, and willow. The etrog is handled separately, while the other three species are bound together, and are collectively referred to as the lulav.
There is a special commandment in the Torah to rejoice on Succot, "You shall hold the Feast of Booths for seven days. You shall rejoice in your festival .. and you shall have nothing but joy" (Deut. 16:13-15). In the Temple period, an observance unique to Succot was the Simhat Bet ha-Sho'evah that accompanied the special water libations of Succot, and the celebrations at that time were especially joyous. Once in every seven years, during Succot at the termination of the Sabbatical Year (Shemitah), there was a public reading of certain passages of the Book of Deuteronomy. This reading, known as hakhel, is commanded in Deuteronomy 31:10-13.
During the five intermediate days of Sukkot, it is customary to read the book of Ecclesiastes.
This day closes the period of repentance that began on Rosh Hashanah. Tradition has made this day into a sequel to the Days of Awe, lengthening the period of penitence and postponing the day when final sentence is to be rendered.
On this day the worshippers go round the bimah of the synagogue seven times while holding the four species. During the circuits, piyyutim are recited with the refrain Hoshana (Save us, we beseech thee). The name Hoshana Rabbah (the great hoshana) derives from the sevenfold circuit. The source of this custom is in Temple worship. During the festival of Succot, according to tradition, the world is judged for water, and it was the custom to take branches of the willow and go around the alter saying "O Lord, deliver us! O Lord, let us prosper!" (PS. 118:25). Each day the alter would be circled once, and on the seventh day seven times, The custom was then to beat the ground with the willow branch after saying the hoshanot prayers.
In the Talmud, Hoshana Rabbah is referred to as a day when everyone comes to the synagogue. Its special character was emphasized during the time of the geonim, who saw it as the day in which each human being receives from heaven a note on which his fate is registered. And so there are those who greet each other on this day with the Aramaic blessing a pitka tava, or in Yiddish gut kveitl. Many and varied liturgical customs have developed for Hoshana Rabbah. The most widespread are the inclusion of the additional Sabbath and festival psalms in the Shaharit (morning) service and the introduction of High Holidays melody and usage for the ritual of taking out the Torah from the ark. Another custom is to remain awake studying Torah throughout the night. This custom was already known in the thirteenth century, and its source is in the need to give additional time to those who had not yet finished reading the Torah and needed to finish by Simhat Torah.
The eighth day of Sukkot. In the Talmud it is written that "the eighth day [of Sukkot] is a separate festival", so Sukkot is really observed as seven days, and Shemini Atzeret is observed as a separate holiday. It marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel.
The holiday is referred to in the Bible as atzeret, which means assembly or closing. It is a closing in that it follows the seven days of Succot and closes that holiday and the Tishri holiday season. Thus the name Shemini Atzeret means the closing or assembling of the eighth day, although obligations of Succot are not observed.
By rabbinic tradition, Shemini Atzeret celebrates the conclusion of
the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah. This celebration is known as
Simhat Torah. In the Diaspora (exile) Shemini Atzeret is a two-day festival,
with the Torah reading concluded on the second day, and it is common to refer
to the second day as Simhat Torah and only to the first day as Shemini Atzeret.
In Israel, where the festival lasts but one day, the two names are used
In the Diaspora, a few observances of Succot "spill over" into
Shemini Atzeret, and according to some customs, the meals on that day are taken
in the succah, although the benediction recited when eating in the succah is
omitted. On the other hand, the benediction She-heheyann, marking the advent of
a new holiday, is recited. In the Diaspora, the ceremony of bidding farewell to
the succah is performed on the first day of Shemini Atzeret, whereas in Israel
it is performed on the seventh and final day of Succot.
The prayer for rain (Tefillat Geshem) is recited on Shemini Atzeret and from the time of its recitation, the phrase mashiv ha-ruah u-morid ha-geshem (He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall) is inserted in the second benediction of the Amidah. This continues until Passover when the phrase is replaced with morid ha-tal (He brings dew). Among Ashkenazi Jews, the memorial prayer, Yizkor, is recited on Shemini Atzeret.
The celebration that marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of readings of the Torah (Keri'ar ha-Torah) in the synagogue. Simhat Torah ia a rabbinic institution timed to coincide with the biblical festival Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Succot, and which in Eretz Israel lasts but one day. Consequently, in Eretz Israel, Simhat Torah and Shemini Atzeret are in practice one and the same holiday. In the Diaspora (exile), where Shemini Atzeret lasts for two days, each day is popularly known by a different name: the first day as Shemini Atzeret, and the second day, when the reading of the final portion of Deuteronomy is concluded, as Simhat Torah.
The last portion of the Torah is read on this day. The following Shabbat the reading of the Torah starts again at the beginning of Bereshis (Genesis). Festivities begin in the evening with Ma'ariv. There are seven hakafot (processions) of the Torah around the Synagogue. Services are joyous, and humorous deviations from the standard service are allowed, and even expected.
In antiquity there were actually two different traditions with regard to the weekly Torah readings. In Eretz Israel, the cycle lasted three years. In the Babylonian tradition, the cycle began on the first Sabbath after the holidays of the month of Tishri. This became the Sabbath of Genesis (Shabbath Bereshit). The cycle was completed a year later on the last of the Tishri holidays, i.e. Shemini Atzeret. In time, all Jewish communities adopted the Babylonian system.
The central features of the Simhat Torah celebrations are the hakkafot - the perambulations around the synagogue, with the participants carrying the scrolls of the Torah, to the accompaniment of joyous singing and dancing. The hakkafot are held both in the Arvit and in the Shaharit services. After the morning hakkafot, three scrolls are taken from the holy ark for the Torah reading service. From the first scroll, the final portion of Deuteronomy is read to conclude the entire Torah; from the second scroll, the first chapter of Genesis with a few additional verses in order to indicate there is no pause in the cycle of the Torah readings; while from the third scroll, the appropriate maftir is read relating to the ancient sacrificial service for Shemini Atzeret. According to custom, everyone is called for an aliyah la-Torah, and different practices have developed in this connection. In some congregations, the Torah reading is repeated several times in order to accommodate all the worshippers with an aliyah in other groups of worshippers ascend together for the reading; while in most non-Orthodox synagogues women worshippers also approach the bimah for the aliyot. Because of the emphasis on the Torah as the heritage of every Jew, even young children who have not yet reached Bar Mitzvah age are honored with special aliyah. They come up to the bimah accommpanied by an adult who leads them in the traditional blessing, as a large tallit is held over them. The person honored with the last aliyah la-Torah is named Hatan Torah, the Bridegroom of the Law, while the one called for the first aliyah of the Genesis portion is named Hatan Bereshit, the Bridegroom of Genesis. In modern Israel, the custom had developed to organize a second hakkafot celebration on the night after the conclusion of the festival. These second hakkafot have become public celebrations and are frequently held to the accompaniment of joyous orchestral music.
Also known as Hag Ha'urim (The Festival of Lights).
The story of Chanukah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees. These books are not part of the Tanakh, but are part of the Apocrypha (Hebrew historical and religious material that was not codified as part of the Bible.) The miracle of Chanukah is referred to in the Talmud, but not in the books of the Maccabees. It marks the defeat of Assyrian forces who had tried to prevent Israel from practicing Judaism. Judah Maccabee and his brothers destroyed the overwhelming forces, and rededicated the Temple. The eight day festival is marked by the kindling of lights with a special Menorah, called a Chanukiah.
The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great, who conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. During this time, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic (Greek) culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society. More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV, was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees (no connection to the modern Chasidism). They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Selucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated. According to tradition, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.
Chanukkah candles should be set at the doorway, or by the window in a place where they can be seen from the outside. This is in order to "publicize the miracle" (Heb. pirsume nisa). Since one may not use the candles for any other pupose, not even to light from candle to candle, one special additional candle is used, called the shamash (the "serving candle"). Some use wicks soaked in oil, but wax candles are perfectly acceptable halakhically.
There is significance to how the candles are lit. The menorah in the Temple was lit in two stages: the middle and rightmost were lit, then the incense altar was set up for the day, then the other five -- from right to left. We traditionally light the Chanukah menorah from left to right. This is because over the course of the holiday, we fill the menorah from right to left. The first day we light only the rightmost oil / candle / bulb, the second day the rightmost two, etc... And on each day you want to start lighting with the new candle (or whatever) so you end up starting with the leftmost one.
After the lighting of the candles the Hanukkah hymn Ma'oz Tzur is sung. It is customary not to do any work during the time the candles are burning, for this is the hour when all the family may sit together and enjoy the traditional foods of the festival, such as potatoe pancakes (latkes) and doughnuts (sufganiyot) and play the traditional spinning top game (dreydel). It is also customary to give money to children as a Hanukkah present.
In the prayer services, the Al ha-Nissim paragraph is added to the Amidah and to the Grace After Meals the full Hallel is said. After the morning Amidah, each day the Torah is read from Numbers (7:1-89), describing the sacrifices which were brought by the princes at the dedication of the Temple.
The fast marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, and is thus connected with the destruction of Jerusalem. "And in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it, and they built towers against it all round" (II Kg. 25:1). The prophet Ezekiel was commanded to "record this date, this exact day" (Ezek. 24:2). Asarah be-Tevet is the fast mentioned in the Book of Zechariah as the "fast of the tenth month" (Zech. 8:19). All the general regulations and customs associated with public fast days are observed, including the recitation of special selihot on the particular theme of the day. If the fast falls on Friday, it is not moved to Thursday or Sunday, since it is mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel as the "exact day." This is not observed by liberal Jews.
The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has chosen Asarah be-Tevet as Yom ha-Kaddish ha-Klali, the memorial day for those who perished in the Holocaust whose day of death is unknown.
The day designed as Rosh ha-Shonah la-Ilanot - the New Year for Trees. This day was set aside in the Mishna on which to bring fruit tithes. It is still celebrated in modern times. Fruit that began to grow after the flower stage (or to ripen, according to Maimonides and the geonim, before Tu bi-Shevat, belongs to the previous year. Fruit reaching the stage of development after Tu bi-Shevat belongs to the new year. The consequences of this determination is whether ma'aser sheni, the "second" tithe (first, second, fourth, and fifth years of the seven year cycle), or ma'aser ani, the tithe for the poor (third and sixth years of the seven year cycle) are to be taken from the fruit. The importance of this determination stems from the prohibition against setting aside fruit from the new year's crop as a tithe for the previous year's crop. To facilitate compliance with the commandments of orlah and fourth year's fruits, this date is used to determine the first four years that the tree bears fruit. Tu bi-Shevat also marks the beginning of the second year in a tree's life, so long as it has taken root some time before Tu bi-Shevat. This date was chosen "because most of the winter rains are over" (RH. 14a) and the fruit has begun to ripen.
In the Diaspora (exile), Tu bi-Shevat has lost its halakhic and agricultural significance, yet it is still regarded as a festive day. Thus, no fasting or eulogizing is permitted, nor is the Tahanun prayer recited. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed and his disciples began the custom of eating fruit on this day. For this purpose, they composed liturgical poems (piyyutim) and a seder for Tu bi-Shevat eve, during which they drank four cups of wine. This custom was adopted first by varios Sephardi communities, and then by Aschkenazi Jewry who initiated the custom to eat on Tu bi-Shevat the fruit for which Eretz Israel is famous.
In modern Israel, this is the day when children plant trees in the forests and in public places.
A fast held on the 13th of Adar, the day preceding Purim. When the
13th of Adar falls on the Sabbath the fast is moved back to the preceding
Thursday, the 11th. Ta'anit Ester is marked by the usual observances of fast
days, including the recitation of penitential prayers (selihot) and the reading
at both Shaharit and Minhah of Exodus 30:11-14 (Va-Yedab).
It commemorates the fasts of Mordecai, Esther, and the Jews of Shushan in reaction to the decree of Haman to liquidate the entire Jewish people. According to the Talmud and other sources, the 13th of Adar was formerly a feast day celebrating the decisive victory of Judah Maccabee over the Syrian general Nicanor. Because no fasting was permitted on "Nicanor's Day", the Fast of Esther was held after Purim. But that usage was annulled and the Fast of Esther was shifted more appropriately to the day before Purim.
This festival commemorates the events found in the Book of Esther. The Shabbat preceding Purim is called Shabbat Zachor (the Sabbath of remembrance). The day before Purim - Adar 13 - is the Fast of Esther. The book of Esther is written in the form of a scroll - the Megillah. It is chanted on Purim in the evening, and on the next day after the Torah reading.
The holiday commemorates the Jewish people's escape from extermination at the hands of Haman, minister to the Persian king Ahasuerus. The word Purim means "lots", and the holiday is so named as a reminder of the lots cast by Haman to determine on what date the slaughter of the Jews would commence. The 13th of Adar was the day marked for the Jews' destruction until a royal decree rescinded the order, enabling the Jews to rout their enemies within the Persian empire. On the 14th, the Jews rested and celebrated their victory; thereafter it became the day on which Purim was observed in most locales.
In leap years, Purim is celebrated during Adar II. In such years, the 14th of Adar I is called Purim Katan (Little Purim) and is marked by the omission of certain penitential prayers normally recited on weekdays.
The following rabbinic commandments are observed on Purim:
The reading of the Megillah (the Book of Esther, which narrates the story of Purim; it must be handwritten on a scroll of parchment) twice; once during the evening and once on the day of Purim. When the reader mentions the name of Haman, it is customary for the assembled to make loud noises in order to "blot out" the name of the oppressor.
Mishloah Manot, the sending of gifts of prepared food to friends and neighbours. At least two types of food must be sent to at least one person.
Se'udat Purim, a festive meal (se'udat mitzvah). The meal is usually held in the afternoon, although it may be held in the morning.
The historicity of the story as recorded in the Book of Esther, as
well as its apparent lack of a deep spiritual lesson, has been questioned by
some critical scholars. However, it would seem that the main character of the
festival is of a carnival celebration. Since the Middle Ages, custom developed
to masquerade on Purim. Amongst Aschkenazim, a popular amusement became the
commical plays known as Purim Shpiel. In modern Israel, carnival parades
(Adloyada) are organized in the streets.
In the course of Jewish history, it often occured that individuals and communities who had been saved in a miraculous fashion established a special "Purim" each year to commemorate the date. The best known of such "private Purims" is that of the Jews of Frankfurt-am-Main, commemorating the community's deliverance in 1616. Frankfurt's notorius anti-Semite, Vincent Fettmilch, who called himself the new Haman, was hanged, and the Jews whom he had expelled returned to their homes. As a result of the events of that period, the Jews of Frankfurt proclaimed the 27th of Elul as a day of fasting and repentance, and the 20th of Adar as Purim Winz - the Purim of Vincent.
In the Book of Esther, the rejoicing in the walled city of Shushan took place one day later (Adar 15) than elsewhere (Adar 14). Therefore, this day has come to be known as Shushan Purim. This is because the Jews of Shushan, capital of Persia, were granted a one-day extension to eliminate their enemies; hence, their celebrations began on the 15th. Since Shushan itself was a walled city, it was decreed that in deference to the cities of the Land of Israel, which lay in ruin at the time, cities walled at the time of the Israelite conquest would celebrate on the same date as the Jews of Shushan. The 15th is, therefore known as Shushan Purim.
To the present day, Purim is observed on Adar 15 in such cities --- most notably Jerusalem --- as were walled cities at the time of the events described in the Book of Esther.
Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar; in Mishnaic times it was celebrated as the New Year for Kings and months. In biblical times, kings reckoned the years of their reign from the first of Nisan. If a king mounted the throne on the previous day, then the Ist of Nisan marked the beginning of the "second year" of his reign. In addition to this "new year", the Mishna sets up three other New Year's: Elul 1, for animal tithes, Tishrei 1 (Rosh HaShanah), and Shevat 15, the New Year for Trees/fruit tithes. Ever since the Babylonian diaspora, only the Rosh HaShanah and Tu B'Shevat are still celebrated.
In commemoration of the slaying of the first-born sons of the Egyptians as the Tenth Plague visited on Pharaoh, while their Hebrew counterparts were "passed over" (i.e. spared, hence the English name Passover for Pesach), first-born sons are required to observe a minor fast on the day before Passover. However, if they attend a simcha (joyous occasion) such as a wedding or a siyum (a celebration marking the completion of the study of a tractate of the Talmud), they are allowed to break the fast. Therefore most Orthodox synagogues arrange for a siyum on that day.
The first Pilgrimage Festival (recall that Nisan, not Tishri, is the first month of the Hebrew calendar). Pesach commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. The first seder is on the 14th. On the night of the 15th, the second seder is held, and the counting of the Omer starts. The Omer is a counting down of the days from the time of the departure from Egypt, until the time the Torah was received at Mount Sinai. Pesach is also called "zman cheruteinu" (the time of our freedom), because it is the time when the Jewish people were freed from Egyptian slavery.
The holiday is called the "Passover" because God "passed over" the
Israelite houses when smiting the Egyptians with the tenth plague (Ex. 12:23,
12:27). It is also called the Festival of Unleavened Bread since the only bread
that may be eaten during the festival is unleavened (matzah), and the Festival
of Spring because of the command to "observe the month of Abib(spring) and
offer a passover sacrifice" (Deut. 16:1). Because the Jewish lunar year is 11
days shorter than the solar year, the Jewish calendar was adjusted so Passover
should always fall in the spring.
Passover's first and last days ( in the Diaspora, the first two and
last two) are holy days on which most work is forbidden, and the days in
between are known as hol ha'mo'ed ("the festival's weekdays") or "the
intermediate days." The principal observance of the festival is the eating of
matzah and the removal of all hametz (leaven or any products containing it)
from one's abode prior to the festival.
In antiquity, the central Passover rite was the sacrifice of the
paschal offering - ofter called simply "the Pesah" - on the 14th of Nisan, and
the eating of it that evening together with matzah and maror (bitter herbs).
The Samaritans continue to perform this rite on Mount Gerizim, but for other
Jews the Seder became the central rite after the destruction of the Second
The Passover prayer services are essentially the same as those of
other pilgrim festivals. The first days Musaf service includes the prayer of
dew , the petition for rain (Heb. Tefillat Geshem) , is no longer recited. In
the Arvit (evening) service for the second day, the counting of the Omer
The laws of Passover are discussed in Pesahim, the third tractate in the Order Mo'ed. It contains ten chapters with Gemara in both Talmuds and Tosefta.
Also known simply as The Omer, this 49 day period between Pesach and Shavuot is defined by the Torah as the period to bring special offerings to the temple in Jerusalem; This makes physical the spiritual connection between Pesach and Shavuot. Pesach marks the liberation from Egypt, and Shavuot marks the receiving of the Torah. The counting begins the second night of Pesach.
Traditionally, the Sefirah is a time of sadness. During this period, 12,000 of Rabbi Akiva's disciples died. This occurred during the Hadrianic persecution that followed the Bar Kokhba revolt, in which Rabbi Akiva was involved. During this period (with one exception), customarily no weddings take place, no hair is cut, and no activities occur involving dancing and music. The period is more culturally-dependant than the ban itself. In some cultures, the period is from Pesach to Lag B'Omer. Others go from Rosh Chodesh Iyyar to Shavuot. Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalaim are days on which people who celebrate them take haircuts or take haircuts the day before.
Holocaust remembrance day, which is dedicated to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. It was on that day in 1943 that the Nazis finally suppressed the Warsaw ghetto revolt. On this day the people unite in remembering the six million victims, the ghetto fighters, and the partisans.
All places of entertainment and restaurants are closed for the 24 hours commencing on the eve of Memorial Day. Candles are lit on public buildings and in synagogues, flags are lowered to half-mast and Yad Vashem conducts a state memorial service. The president of the State of Israel, former members of the underground and partisans, survivors and members of the public participate.
See also: Yom Yerushalayim.
Day of remembrance. A memorial day to those who fell in active service in Israel's wars. Observed on the 4th of Iyyar, the eve of Independance Day. This date was determined by the Israel government in 1949. On this day all places of entertainment throughout the country are closed by law, flags are flown at half mast and memorial candles burn on public buildings and in synagogues. People visit military cemeteries and official memorial services are held. Since 1968 an official service is held at the Western Wall to mark the beginning of Yom ha-Zikkaron . At both Arvit (evening) and Shaharit (morning) services in many synagogues a special memorial prayer is recited. A siren is sounded during the morning and all activity is halted as citizens observe a two-minute silence. After the closing ceremony of Remembrance Day, the festivities of Independence Day begin.
See also: Yom Yerushalayim.
Israel Independence Day, which commemorates the establishment of the State of Israel on the 5th of Iyyar (14 May 1948). National celebrations begin with a ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, near Herzl's grave, presided over by the chairman of the Knesset. National flags are hoisted in the streets and on the buildings, and people celebrate the holiday with dancing in the street, parties, day trips and outings. For many years the central event of the day was the Israel Defence Forces military parade. In recent years the central event is the Bible Quiz for Jewish youth. Each year on the day of the Israel Prize is awarded to outstanding figures in their particular field. In many synagogues a special service, which includes Hallel, is recited. Many people celebrate with a festive meal on the eve of the holiday.
See also: Yom Yerushalayim.
Thirty-third day of Omer counting, as indicated by the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters lamed (30) and gimmel (3), hence the word lag. . Lag Ba'Omer takes place during the Sefirah. During this day there was a break in the Hadrianic persecution. Weddings and joyful occasions are permitted.
Lag Ba'Omer is considered a joyous day on which the semi-mourning
observed during the seven-week Omer period is suspended. It is commemorated as
the day of the cessation of the plague in which 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiba
were said to have died during the Bar Kokhba revolt (TB. Yev. 62b). It also
marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. Lag ba-Omer has been
traditionally celebrated with the lighting of bonfires on the eve and during
the day, and with hiking excursions in the countryside. Sporting events and
games with bows and arrows are held, as a symbolic remembrance of the Bar
Kokhba revolt and the physical prowess and courage required of his soldiers. In
Israel, it is customary to light bonfires at the tombs of Simeon bar Yohai and
his son Eliezer at Meron, near Safed, and at the tomb of Simeon the Just in
Jerusalem. Throngs congregate to sing and dance, and to honor the memories of
Simeon bar Yohai and Rabbi Akiba, who were among the main rabbinic supporters
of anti-Roman resistance
In hasidic circles, three-year-old boys are traditionally given their first haircut at these festivals. Older Torah students and adults celebrate the day as the "Scholars' Holiday". Lag ba-Omer is also a traditional day for wedding ceremonies to be held because of the general halakhic injunction against weddings during the period of the Omer counting.
Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) marks the reunification of Jerusalem and The Temple Mount under Jewish rule almost 1900 years after the destruction of the Second Temple. This reunification occured during the Six Day War (June 1967). On this day East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, was captured by the Israeli Defence Forces. Many events take place in Jerusalem to mark Jerusalem Day. A memorial service is held on Ammunition Hill, where many paratroopers fell during the battles. Large numbers of Israelis pay a visit to Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall and tour the city. The Chief Rabbinate has composed a service of special prayers, including the recital of Hallel, for the occasion.
The Hallel [a series of prayers of praise] is recited by most Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform congregations. Israel's Chief Rabbis advocate reciting Hallel with a blessing.
The new holidays of Yom Yerushalayim, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha'atzma'ut and Yom HaShoah are still too new for any consensus to have developed in the Jewish community as to the appropriate liturgy. Many liberal Jews observe them (and create new liturgies for them). Traditional Jews vary in the observance of these days. Some observe them. Some prefer to commemorate Churban Europa on Tisha B'Av along with the other catastrophes which have befallen the Jewish people. Some celebrate the Israel-related days, but don't assign them religious significance, and others ignore all three.
The second Pilgrimage Festival, it is also known as The Feast of Weeks, Hag Haqatsir (The harvest festival), Hag HaShavuot, or just 'Atseret (The conclusion of Pesach). [Literally, the Hebrew word 'atseret' means conclusion.] Shavuot marks the end of the counting of the Omer; it occurs on the day after the conclusion of the counting of the 49 days of the Omer, in accordance with the biblical command to count seven complete weeks from the morrow of Passover (Lev. 23:15-16). According to Rabbinic tradition, the Ten Commandments were given on this day. It is customary to read the Book of Ruth on this day.
Shavuot is also called "zman matan toratanu" (the time of the giving of the Torah).
The interpretation of the counting of the Omer was the subject of a bitter dispute between two parties within the Jewish people during the Second Temple period. The Pharisses, the party that accepted the Oral Law and claimed that it was the only authoritative interpretation of the Bible, took the words "day of rest" to refer to the opening holiday of Passover, on which no work could be performed. The Sadducees, who repudiated the Oral Law, took the phrase literally (in Hebrew the text reads "Sabbath") as the first Sabbath of Passover. Accordingly, the date of the holiday came out differently for each of these groups, with the Sadducees sometimes celebrating Shavuot as many as six days later than the Pharisses.
Shavuot has an agricultural character and is known in the sources as the "Feast of the Harvest" (Hag ha-Katzir, Ex. 23:16) and "the day of the first fruits" (Yom ha-Bikkurim, Num. 28:26). The main theme of the holiday, however is the commemoration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, which by tradition (as inferred from verses in Exodus 19) occured on the 6th of Sivan. When the Temple stood. the most salient aspect of the holiday, aside from its various sacrifices, was the bringing of the special "twin loaves" (lehem ha-bikkurim) made from the newly cut wheat. From Shavuot throughout the summer the first fruits of the seven species (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates).
Among certain Jewish communities, the mourning rites of the Omer period end with the advent of the month of Sivan, and it becomes permissible, among other things, to hold weddings. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th of Sivan are known as Sheloshet Yemei Hagbalah the Three Days of Restriction. These are the days when the children of Israel were restricted from approaching Mount Sinai prior to revelation, and certain holiday customs are observed at this time. Thus the propitiatory prayers called Tahanun are not recited and eulogies may not be delivered. The 2nd of Sivan is known as the yom ha-meyuhas, the day of importance, coming as it does between the first of the month (Rosh Hodesh), a semi-holiday, and the Three Days of Restriction. In some communities, the Sabbath prior to Shavuot is known as the Sabbath of the Bride (Shabbat Kallah), since the Torah, given on Shavuot, is metaphorically described as Israel's bride. These communities maintain the custom of reading a ketubbah (marriage contract) between the Torah and the Jewish people, at the time when the Torah is removed for reading from the holy ark.
On the evening of Shavuot Arvit is recited with the festival Amidah. It is customary to take care to recite the Arvit after dark in order to make certain that the holiday is begun after the completion of the seven full weeks of the Omer period. The Torah reading consists of the account of the giving of the Torah in Exodus (19-20) and is preceded by the recitation of Akdamut, a special hymn written in Aramaic. Akdamut has 90 lines and details a debate between the Jewish people and the nations and tells of the reward that awaits the righteous in the next world. The Torah reading is followed by the festival Musaf. In some congregations, liturgical poems known as Azharot are recited as part of the Musaf. These are concerned with the 613 commandments. Certain Sephardi congregations recite the azharot as well as the Book of Ruth during the Minah service instead.
In the sixteenth century, the kabbalists instituted the custom of remaining awake the entire night of Shavuot and complied a lectionary known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot (Tikkun for Shavuot Eve), which comprises the first chapters of the sacred books and which is studied at the time. In time the custom of studying any subject of Jewish religious interest developed, but the observance is still known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot. Those who remain awake for the entire night recite the morning prayer service, Shaharit, at dawn. In Jerusalem, it has become customary to walk to the Western Wall for the entire morning service or at least for the Musaf, and since 1967, when Jerusalem was reunited, many thousands can be seen streaming into the Western Wall compound from all over the city. A very ancient custom is to eat dishes of milk and honey on Shavuot in keeping with the verse in Song of songs (4:11) that describes the Torah as "Honey and milk under your tongue."
Mentioned by the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 8:19) as "the fast of the fourth month", the 17th of Tamuz marks the beginning of the destruction of Jerusalem. On this day in 70 C.E. the Romans breached the walls encircling Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of the second Temple. (During the siege preceding the first destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C.E., the Babylonians breached the walls on the ninth of Tamuz (Jeremiah 39:2), but both events are commemorated on the same date. The actual destruction of the Temple itself took place on the 9th of Av--both in 587 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. See Tisha B'Av.)
"Five catastrophies befell our fathers on the 17th of Tammuz: the tablets (of the Covenant) were broken, the daily Temple sacrifices were suspended, the walls to the city were breached, Apostamus burned a Torah scroll, and an idol was erected in the Temple" (Ta'an. 26a). The tablets were broken because Moses ascended Mount Sinai on the 7th of Sivan, remained there for 40 days, and descended to find the people worshipping the Golden Calf on the 17th of Tammuz. The daily sacrifices were suspended during the civil of the Hasmoneans John Hyrcanus and Aristobulus because the Greeks at that time laid seige to Jerusalem and there was no access to sacrificial animals. The inhabitants of Jerusalem would lower money over the city wall in a basket, and the enemy would send up lambs in return. "On one occasion, a pig was sent up instead, and it dug its hooves into the wall, and the earth shook over an area of 500 parasangs ... Apostamus burned the Torah scroll." It is not known precisely to what this refers. However, some identify it with the incident in which the Roman procurator discovered a Torah scroll, desecrated, and burned it.
For the traditional, this day is observed by fasting. The fast begins at sunrise and concludes at sunset of the same day. this applies to all fasts, with the exception of Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av, both of which begin on the preceding night. Fasting is the only restriction imposed; Working and bathing as usual are permitted.
The fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz extends only from dawn until dark. During the Shaharit service, special penitential prayers (selihots) are recited. The Torah is read at both Shaharit and Minhah services, and a haftarah (prophetic reading) is chanted as on other fast days. The Seventeenth of Tammuz initiates a period of mourning, known as bein ha-metzarim, "between the straits", which concludes three weeks later with the fast of Tishah be-Av.
For the traditional, the days between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av are considered days of mourning, for they witnessed the collapse of Jerusalem. In the Ashkenazi Jewish minhag (custom), weddings and other joyful occasions are traditionally not held in this period.
A further element is added within the three weeks, during the nine days between the 1st and 9th day of Av. During this period, the pious refrain from eating meat and drinking wine, except on Shabbat or at a Seudat Mitzvah (such as a Pidyon Haben or completing the study of a religious text.) Many minhags observe a ban on cutting one's hair during this period. However, the length of time varies: some refrain only during the week in which Tisha B'Av falls.
The saddest day of the Jewish calendar. On this day both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. (587 b.c.e. and 70 c.e.) On this day in 1290, King Edward I signed the edict compelling the Jews to leave England. The Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492 also occurred on this day. Tisha B'av also marked the outbreak of World War I. The date is also associated with the final collapse of the abortive Bar Kokhba revolt (135 CE).
The Tishah be-Av fast begins at sundown and lasts 24 hours (like Yom Kippur), differentiating it from the other minor fasts that begin at sunrise. The rules for observing the fast day are similar to those of Yom Kippur. If Tishah be-Av falls on a Sabbath, it is deferred to the following day, Sunday. Like Yom Kippur, the Minhah service is held early in the day and a last meal is eaten prior to sunset.
On Tishah be-Av, Torah study, with the exception of those portions concerning mourning or the destruction of the Temple, is forbidden. Before the Arvit service all leather shoes are removed, the curtain is removed from the holy ark, and prayers are recited in a subdued tone. after the service worshippers sit on a low stool or on the floor as the Book of Lamentations is read and a few kinot (elegies) are recited.
Neither the tallit nor the tefillin are worn during the Shaharit service (Yemenite Jews do wear the tallit. The service includes the reading of the Torah, "When you have begotten children and children's children" (Deut. 4:25) and a prophetic reading (haftarah), "I will make an end to them - declares the Lord" (Jer. 8:13). After the Torah is returned to the holy ark, a larger number of kinot are recited. In some communities, lamentations is recited again.
It is the custom not to exchange normal greetings and to refrain from work, until midday. At the Minhah service, the tallit and tefillin are worn and their respective blessings recited. The Torah reading and prophetic reading at this service are the same as on minor fast days.
A special prayer is added to the blessing of Boneh Yerushalayim (Builder of Jerusalem) during the Amidah.
This day is set up by the Mishna as the New Year for animal tithes, which roughly corresponds to a new year for taxes. This is similar to the tax deadline in the United States of America, on April 15. The date is disputed; Some authorities claim that it was observed on Tishrei 1 (Rosh HaShanah). The actual date is now merely academic; This holiday has not been observed since the Babylonian diaspora.
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