Died in 1833, 5593 on the Jewish calendar The Jewish calendar begins at 3760 B.C., identified as the moment creation began. The date differs from the 4004 B.C. date determined by Archbishop Usher for the Christians but was attained using similar methodology. The year 2000 on the modern calendar was 5760 on the Jewish calendar. It ran from late September 1999 to late September 2000. Talmudic traditions divides history into three periods of 2,000 years each: an age of confusion (from Creation to Abraham); the age of Torah (from Abraham afterwards); and the age of redemption (the period before the coming of the Messiah).
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar in which each month begins with the appearance of a new moon and consists of twelve 29 or 30 day. Because these months add up to 354 days a year an extra month is added approximately every leap year so it is in synch with the solar year, and sometimes days are moved around to make sure that the Sabbath does not coincide with certain festivals.Traditionally Jews outside of Israel celebrated festivals one day longer to make sure the messenger that left from Jerusalem to announce the new moon arrived in time. Today, only Orthodox Jews continue the practice.
Jewish months: Nissan (March-April); Iyar (April-May); Sivan (May-June); Tammuz (June-July); Av (July-August); Elul (August-September); Tishri (September-October); Cheshvan (October-November); Kislev (November-December); Tevet (December-January); Shevat (January-February); Adar I, leap years only (February-March); Adar, called Adar Beit in leap years (February-March). [Source: BBC]
Websites and Resources: Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism; Virtual Jewish Library jewishvirtuallibrary.org/index ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research yivoinstitute.org ;
Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ; Holocaust Museum ushmm.org/research/collections/photo ; Jewish Museum London jewishmuseum.org.uk ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org
Menora from Cordoba Spain The Jewish Sabbath or Shabbat is on Saturday. It marks the day of rest taken by God after he created the earth. For Jews the first six days of the week correspond to the first days of creation, and the seventh is the day of divine rest, or the Sabbath. Since the week begins with Sunday the Jewish Sabbath falls on Saturday.
Jews believe that if God took a day of rest on the Sabbath, then they should too. The Sabbath is regarded as a symbol of the covenant between God and the Jews. In Exodus 31:12-17: "The Lord spoke unto Moses, saying...Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep; for it is a sign between men and you throughout your generations; that ye shall know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you...Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore...It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever."
“Shabbat” (the Jewish Sabbath) begins at sundown on Friday and concludes at nightfall on Saturday. In Israel, many places, including restaurants, food stores and buses, are closed or not operating although in many places shops, theaters and shopping malls remain open. There is often a shopping rush before and after the Sabbath.
According to the BBC: “The Sabbath is commanded by God. Every week religious Jews observe the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day, and keep its laws and customs. God commanded the Jewish People to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy as the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Shabbat is very much a time when families come together in the presence of God in their own home. Singles, or others with no family around may form a group to celebrate Shabbat together. [Source: BBC |::|] “In practical terms the Sabbath starts a few minutes before sunset on Friday and runs until an hour after sunset on Saturday, so it lasts about 25 hours. Jews often call the day Shabbat, which is Hebrew for Sabbath, and which comes from the Hebrew word for rest. The traditional Sabbath greetings are Shabbat Shalom (Hebrew), or Gut Shabbos (Yiddish). |::|
“The Sabbath is part of the deal between God and the Jewish People, so celebrating it is a reminder of the Covenant and an occasion to rejoice in God's kept promises. Most Jewish people look forward to Shabbat all week. They see it as God's gift to his chosen people of a day when they take time out from everyday things to feel special. Shabbat is a time with no television, no rushing to the demands of the telephone or a busy work schedule. People don't think about work or other stressful things. It's an oasis of calm, a time of stillness in life.” |::|
The Sabbath is regarded as the most important holiday or religious day because it is the only one mentioned as an actual commandment. Jews have traditionally lit candles — lit at sundown on Friday — and said special prayers over wine and bread during the main Saturday meal. Parents traditionally bless their children and the faithful are supposed to study the Torah. The Sabbath ends when the candles are doused with wine and sweet spices are smelled.
In ancient times, enemies often attacked Jews on the Sabbath because many of them refused to take up arms and defend themselves and were thus easily massacred. Most Jews began their "day" at sunset through the nineteenth century. Orthodox Muslims, who follow the Holy Script, continue to begin their day at sunset — and still set their clocks at twelve when the sun goes down.
Work and the Jewish Sabbath
The Sabbath Rest
by Sanuel Hirszenberg Orthodox Jews are not allowed to do anything on the Sabbath that can be construed as work. Jewish law, or Halakha, outlines 30 categories of work that can not be performed on the Holy Day, including driving a car, using a telephone, listening to radio, watching television, lighting fires, turning on lights,, writing, operating machinery. To satisfy fundamentalists Israel's national airline El Al does not fly on the Sabbath.*
Figuring out what is acceptable on the Sabbath and what isn’t has been described “one of the greatest complexities of Judaism. Even pushing the button of an elevator can be construed as work. Hotels in Israel have special elevators for the Sabbath which stop at every floor so no one does any work by pushing a button. The Institute of Science and Halacha has extended great effort into making even submarines Sabbath-compliant.
Completing an electrical circuit is considered work and ultra-Orthodox engineers have gone through great lengths to devise milking machines, metal detectors, motorized wheelchairs, medical machines, computers and alarms that work using circuits that remained closed all the time and thus can be used on the Sabbath. To get around the restriction on writing it engineers have developed pens whose ink disappears after a few days (writing is defined as leaving a permanent mark).
There are laws on the books in Israel that prohibit teenagers from working on the Sabbath. Ultra-Orthodox Jews want to see similar rules that prevent people from going to beach, visiting shopping malls and talking on their cell phones on the Sabbath. One ultra-Orthodox rabbis went as far as saying that Sabbath violators “will be killed.”
According to the BBC: “In order to avoid work and to ensure that the Sabbath is special, all chores like shopping, cleaning, and cooking for the Sabbath must be finished before sunset on Friday. People dress up for Shabbat and go to considerable trouble to ensure that everything is organised to obey the commandment to make the Sabbath a delight. [Source: BBC |::|]
“Sabbath candles are lit at sunset on a Friday. The woman of the house usually performs this ritual. It is an integral part of Jewish custom and ceremony. The candles are placed in candlesticks. They mark the beginning of each Sabbath and represent the two commandments Zachor (to remember the Sabbath) and Shamor (to observe the Sabbath). After the candles are lit, Jewish families will drink wine. Sabbath wine is sweet and is usually drunk from a special goblet known as the Kiddush Cup. The drinking of wine on the Sabbath symbolises joy and celebration. |::|
“It is also traditional to eat challah, a soft rich eggy bread in the shape of a braid. Challah is a eaten on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays except for the Passover when leavened bread is not permitted. Under Jewish law, every Jew must eat three meals on the Sabbath. One of the meals must include bread. Observant Jews will usually eat challah at the beginning of a Sabbath meal. Before the challah is eaten, the following prayer is recited: “Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz”, meaning “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Other blessings, prayers, songs and readings may also be used.” |::|
“It is traditional, too, for parents to bless their children on Shabbat. The blessing for daughters asks that they become like the four matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, while sons are blessed to grow up like Ephraim and Menasheh, two brothers who lived in harmony. Some of the family will have been to synagogue before the Sabbath meal, and it is likely that the whole family will go on Saturday.” |::|
Most Jewish holidays are movable feasts, whose dates are defined by the Jewish lunar calendar and thus, like Easter, are on different dates every year. Work is forbidden on some Jewish holidays as it is on the Sabbath. The Jewish day begins at sunset, which means that all Jewish holidays begin the evening before their western date. Holidays begin at sunset, often with a service after sundown.
According to the BBC: “Outside Israel, Jewish festivals sometimes last one day longer. This has an historical basis in the difficulties faced accurately determining the Jewish calendar based on the lunar cycle. Jews living outside Israel being unsure of a festival's exact date would celebrate for an extra day. Although dates can be calculated accurately now, many non-Israeli Jews still follow this practice.” [Source: September 13, 2012, BBC]
According to the book of Deuteronomy in the Bible, Jews are to celebrate three pilgrimage festivals a year: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place which he will choose at the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.”
Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kippur ( Day of Atonement) are periods of fasting, forgiveness, reflection and penitence. Hanukkah and Purim commemorate the saving of Jews from desperate situations. The Feast of the Unleavened Bread is Passover (the liberation of the Jews from Egypt). The Feast of Weeks is Shavuot. The Feast of Booths is Sukkoth. During ancient times these were the great festivals in which Jews were obligated to make visits to the Temple and make sacrifices.
Main Jewish Holidays
According to the BBC: “Rosh Hashanah (1-2 Tishri) is the Jewish New Year, when Jews believe God decides what will happen in the year ahead. The synagogue services for this festival emphasise God's kingship and include the blowing of the shofar, a ram's horn trumpet. This is also God's time for judgement. Jews believe God balances a person's good deeds over the last year against their bad deeds and decides their fate accordingly. The 10 days beginning with Rosh Hashanah are known as the Days of Awe, during which Jews are expected to find all the people they have hurt during the previous year and apologise to them. They have until Yom Kippur to do this. [Source: September 13, 2012, BBC |::|]
“Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (10 Tishri) is regarded as a sacred and solemn occasion, on which synagogue attendance is particularly important. On Yom Kippur Jews believe God makes the final decision on who will live, die, prosper and fail during the next year, and seals his judgement in the Book of Life. It is a day of fasting. Worship includes the confession of sins and asking for forgiveness, which is done aloud by the entire congregation. |::|
Passover matzot “Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles (15-21 Tishri) commemorates these years spent wandering the desert, living in makeshift dwellings, as told in the book of Exodus, which tells the story of the Israelites' journey to the promised land. For the duration of the festival Jewish families live in temporary huts called sukkot (singular: sukkah) that they build out of branches and leaves. Each day they hold celebrations with four types of plant: branches of palm, myrtle and willow and a citrus fruit called an etrog. Sukkot is intended to be a joyful festival that lets Jews live close to nature and know that God is taking care of them. |::|
“Shemini Atzeret is an extra day after the end of Sukkot. Jews spend some time in their sukkah, but not as much, and without some of the rituals. Simchat Torah (22 Tishri; outside Israel Simchat Torah is 23 Tishri) means "Rejoicing in the Torah". Synagogues read from the Torah every week, completing one read-through each year. They reach the end on Simchat Torah and this holiday marks the completion of the cycle, to begin again the next week with Genesis. |::|
“Hanukkah, or Chanukah (25 Kislev - 2 or 3 Tevet, depending on the length of Kislev) relates to the story of the "miracle of the oil". In 164 BC a group of Jews called the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem from the occupying Syrian Greeks. When they came to rededicate the temple, they had only enough sacred oil to light the menorah (seven-branched candlestick) for one day. It is said that the candles stayed lit for eight days despite this. During the eight days of Hanukkah, Jews light one extra candle on a special nine-branched menorah, called chanukkiya, each night. They say prayers and eat fried foods to remind them of the oil. Some gifts are exchanged, including chocolate money and special spinning tops called dreidels. |::|
“Tu B'Shevat (15 Shevat) is the Jewish New Year for Trees. The Torah forbids Jews to eat the fruit of new trees for three years after they are planted. The fourth year's fruit was to be tithed to the Temple. Tu B'Shevat was counted as the birthday for all trees for tithing purposes, like the beginning of a fiscal year. On Tu B'Shevat Jews often eat fruits associated with the Holy Land, especially the seven plants mentioned in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Planting trees is another tradition. |::|
“Purim (14 Adar) celebrates the events told in the Book of Esther, in which a wicked Persian nobleman named Haman plotted to murder all the Jews in the land. The Jewish heroine Esther, wife of the king Ahasuerus, persuaded her husband to prevent the massacre and execute Haman. Because Esther fasted before going to the king, Purim is preceded by a fast. On Purim itself, however, Jews are commanded to eat, drink a lot and celebrate. Almsgiving is also a very important Purim tradition. The Book of Esther is read in the synagogue and the congregation use rattles, cymbals and boos to drown out Haman's name whenever it appears. |::|
“Passover, or Pesach (15-21 Nissan) is one of the most important Jewish festivals. During Passover, Jews remember the story of the Israelites liberation from slavery in Egypt. God unleashed ten plagues on the Egyptians, culminating in the death of every family's eldest son. God told the Israelites to sacrifice lambs and mark their doors with the blood to escape this fate. They ate the lambs with bitter herbs and unleavened bread (unrisen bread without yeast). These form three of the components of the family meal, called the seder, eaten by Jews on the first two nights of Passover. There are blessings, songs and other ingredients to symbolise parts of the story. During the meal the adults explain the symbolism to the children. |::|
“Shavuot (6 Sivan), or the festival of Weeks, is a harvest festival. Historically, at this time of year the first fruits of the harvest were brought to the temples. Shavuot also marks the time that the Jews were given the Torah on Mount Sinai. Shavuot is marked by prayers of thanks for the Holy Book and study of its scriptures. Customs include decorating synagogues with flowers and eating dairy foods. |::|
“Tisha B'Av (9 Av) is a day of commemoration for a series of tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, some of which coincidentally happened on this day, for example the destruction of the first and second temples in ancient Jerusalem. Other tragedies are commemorated on this day, such as the beginning of World War I and the Holocaust. As Tisha B'Av is a day of mourning Jews observe a strict fast and avoid laughing, joking and chatting. Synagogues are dimly lit and undecorated and the Torah draped in black cloth.” |::|
"Rosh ha-Shanah" (“Head of the Year” or "Feast of Trumpets") is the Jewish New Year. Usually falling in September, it is a two day festive occasion that begins with the blowing of a ram's horn in the synagogue during a service that is held after sundown on the eve of the holiday. Numbers 29:1 reads: ‘On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets.’It has traditionally been a time when families gathered together, attended synagogue services, sent cards and ate honeycakes and apples dipped in honey to symbolize an upcoming sweet year.
During Biblical times “Rosh ha-Shanah” apparently was not associated with the new year but rather it was a "memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns" commemorating Abraham's sacrifice of a ram instead of his son Isaac (Muslims celebrate the same event but say it was Abraham's other son Ishmael who was not sacrificed and celebrate it on a different day).
According to the BBC: “Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world. It lasts 2 days. The traditional greeting between Jews is "L'shanah tovah" ... "for a good New Year". Rosh Hashanah is also a judgement day, when Jews believe that God balances a person's good deeds over the last year against their bad deeds, and decides what the next year will be like for them. God records the judgement in the Book of Life, where he sets out who is going to live, who is going to die, who will have a good time and who will have a bad time during the next year. The book and the judgement are finally sealed on Yom Kippur. That's why another traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting is "Be inscribed and sealed for a good year" . [Source: BBC, September 23, 2011 |::|]
“A lot of time is spent in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, when there are special services that emphasise God's kingship. One of the synagogue rituals for Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the Shofar, a ram's horn trumpet. A hundred notes are sounded in a special rhythm. |::|
“New Year isn't only celebrated in the synagogue, but at home too. A special meal is served, with the emphasis on sweetness. Apples are dipped in honey, as a symbol of the sweet New Year that each Jew hopes lies ahead. A sweet carrot stew called a tzimmes is often served. And at New Year the Jewish Hallah (or Challah) bread served comes as a round loaf, rather than the plaited loaf served on the Sabbath, so as to symbolise a circle of life and of the year. There's often a pomegranate on the table because of a tradition that pomegranates have 613 seeds, one for each of the commandments that a Jew is obliged to keep.” |::|
Days of Repentance (Days of Awe)
“Yamin Noraim” (“Ten Days of Awe”) commences at the beginning of the seventh Jewish month in September or October. It has traditionally been a 10-day period of penitence that begins with the “Rosh ha-Shanah” and ends with “Yom Kippur". According to the BBC: “The judgements made at Rosh Hashanah and the plans that God has in mind for a person’s next year are only provisional. God is merciful and offers people a chance to sort out all the things they’ve done wrong. That’s fortunate, as most people are likely to have quite a lot of bad deeds around. So during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur everyone gets a chance to repent (teshuvah). [Source: BBC, July 9, 2009 |::|]
“This involves a person admitting that they’ve done wrong and making a firm commitment not to do that wrong again. But there’s more to it - Judaism does not accept forgiveness on behalf of other people, and God can only forgive a person for sins they committed against God. So Jews are expected to find all the people they have hurt during the previous year and apologise to them. And it must be a sincere and an effective apology. As you can imagine, a lot of making-up for hurts and insults goes on in the Jewish world during this period. It is very healing time for both individual and community. |::|
Yom Kippur poster “Yom Kippur” “Jews can also make up for the wrongs of the past year by doing good deeds - so this is a time for charitable acts (tzedakah). Jews will also spend much time in prayer (tefilah), seeking to put themselves into a good relationship with God. There’s a ceremony in which Jews symbolically cast away their sins. It’s called tashlich. A Jewish person goes to a river or a stream and, with appropriate prayers, throws some bread into the water. Nobody believes that they’re actually getting rid of their sins in this way, but they are acknowledging their desire to rid themselves of their sins. “|::|
(Day of Atonement) is the most sacred and solemn Jewish holiday. According to Leviticus 23:26-28: ‘The Lord said to Moses, "The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God."’
Usually falling in October, it is a day of fasting, which begins at sundown on the previous day and lasts until sundown on Yom Kippur. Services are held featuring the reading of The Book of Jonah and the asking rabbi to atone the entire community, a ritual that dates back to biblical times. The purpose is similar to Catholic confession. The evening Yom Kippur services are brought to end with blowing of the ceremonial ram's horn. Yom Kippur has traditionally been viewed as the quietest day of the year. Many Jews observe the fast by completely abstaining from food, drink, sex, smoking, washing, using cosmetics, soap or toothpaste and animal products or wearing leather shoes. Time is spent quietly praying, reading the Torah, meditating and confessing one’s sins.
According to the BBC: "On Yom Kippur, God makes the final decision on what the next year will be like for each person. The Book of Life is closed and sealed, and those who have properly repented for their sins will be granted a happy New Year. The most important part of Yom Kippur is the time spent in the synagogue. Even Jews who are not particularly religious will want to attend synagogue on Yom Kippur, the only day of the year with five services. The first service, in the evening, begins with the Kol Nidre prayer. Kol Nidre's words and music have a transforming effect on every Jew—it's probably the most powerful single item in the Jewish liturgy. The actual words of the prayer are very pedestrian when written down - it's like something a lawyer might have drafted asking God to render null and void any promises that a person might make and then break in the year to come - but when sung by a cantor it shakes the soul. [Source: BBC, October 6, 2011 |::|] “To emphasise the special nature of the service the men in the synagogue will put on their prayer shawls, which are not normally used in an evening service. Another element in the liturgy for Yom Kippur is the confession of sins (vidui). Sins are confessed aloud by the congregation and in the plural. The fifth service is "Neilah", and brings the day to a close as God's judgement is finally sealed. The service beseeches God to hear the prayers of the community. For this service the whole congregation stands throughout, as the doors of the Ark are open. At the end of the service the shofar is blown for the final time.” |::|
Israel Shun Yom Kippur Clock Change
In 2010, Yom Kippur coincided with the clock change for daylight, when darkness comes an hour earlier. Joel Greenberg wrote in the Washington Post, “In Tel Aviv, Gil Leibowitz was heading down to the beach on a recent evening to "clear his head," as he put it, with a walk, a run and a sunset swim - the software engineer's after-work summer ritual. It was about 6:30 p.m., in the last hour of light before the sun dropped into the Mediterranean. On Sunday, Leibowitz's routine, and those of many Israelis, will be disrupted when Israel abruptly goes off daylight saving time well before summer weather ends, bringing darkness before 6 p.m. even as temperatures linger in the 80s. "This is going to kill off my fun," Leibowitz said. "There's no point in coming here in the dark." [Source: Joel Greenberg, Washington Post, September 7, 2010 ]
“The earlier plunge into darkness this year is linked to the early onset of the Jewish High Holidays and the approach of the Yom Kippur fast next week. According to a five-year-old law negotiated with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Israelis must turn back their clocks one hour on the Sunday before Yom Kippur. That way, the 25-hour fast, from sundown to sundown, ends shortly before 6 p.m. instead of 7 p.m., creating the impression of an earlier end to a trying day.
“Setting back the national clock to accommodate the faithful on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar has generated controversy in the past, but this year the argument is raging with greater intensity because of the early date of the shift, weeks ahead of Europe and the United States. Nearly 200,000 Israelis have signed an online petition urging people to resist the change and not turn back their clocks. The debate has drawn battle lines in the ongoing struggle in Israel over the role of religion in public life, highlighting the power of ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel's governing coalitions.
“Critics of the early time shift argue that because of the demands of a religious minority, Israelis will rise when the sun is higher and hotter, come home from work in the dark, and spend more time with their lights turned on, costing the national economy millions of dollars. According to the Manufacturers Association of Israel, the 170 days of daylight saving time this year saved more than 26 million dollars.
The early time shift in Israel has a parallel only in the West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where the clock was turned back last month to help people fasting from dawn to sundown during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. "At the height of summer, winter will begin here," Nehemia Shtrasler, economic editor of the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, lamented in his annual screed against the time change. "It won't happen in any other state in the world, not even Iran. Only here has the religious, ultra-Orthodox minority succeeded in imposing its will on the majority."
“Shtrasler argued that daylight saving time, which matches current daylight hours in Israel more closely than does standard time, has brought lower energy consumption and higher work productivity and lowered the risk of road accidents. On the beach with his wife and children after a day's work, Eyal Gal agreed. "This hour of light is precisely what they're about to take away from me," he said as the sun sank over the sea. Gal said that although he is not observant, he fasts on Yom Kippur, like many Israelis, but that the time change was "coercion" of an entire population.
“The uproar over the time change led Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the leader of Shas, to suggest this week that he might consider a temporary departure from daylight saving time during Yom Kippur, restoring it afterward. "The public at large, religious and nonreligious, fasts on Yom Kippur, thank God," he said. But Yishai's office later clarified that no change is contemplated for this year. Nitzan Horowitz, a lawmaker from the leftist Meretz party, said he would submit a measure to parliament after its summer recess calling for daylight saving time to last until the end of October. But Menachem Eliezer Moses, a legislator from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said the economic cost of turning the clock back to ease the Yom Kippur fast was a price worth paying to preserve Israel's Jewish character. "This is a Jewish state, and values come at a price," Moses said in a telephone interview. "The prime minister wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. If we won't recognize that ourselves, how can we demand it of them?"”
Sukkot at the Western Wall in Jerusalem “Sukkot” (Feast of Booths) is a nine day festival (emphasis on first two days) that begins four days after Yom Kippur on the 15th day of the seventh Jewish lunar month (in October). It commemorates the Israelites wandering in the desert with the building of a small roofless shelters called a “sukkahs” . The last day is celebrated with a procession of the scrolls and a reading of “Genesis “ and “Deuteronomy” .
According to the BBC: “Sukkot commemorates the years that the Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, and celebrates the way in which God protected them under difficult desert conditions. Sukkot is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths. Leviticus 23:42 reads: ‘You shall dwell in sukkot seven days...in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.’ [Source: BBC, October 12, 2011 |::|]
“Sukkot” (also spelled Succot or Sukkoth) also commemorates the bringing of the first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. Some families hang fruits on their sukkahs and eat rolled cabbage, which stays warm while it is transferred from a house to a booth. Other foods associated with Sukkot include figs and pomegranates and etrogs.
Etrogs are a kind of citron. They are eaten by Jews who follow the command to recite prayers over “the fruit of goodly trees.” Thought to have been one of the fruits in the Garden of Eden, etrogs have thick skins, look like large lemons and taste like bitter lemons. According to Jewish law, the fruit has to be peeled or not have any scars or it cannot be used. Sometimes magnifying glasses are used to find fruits that are unblemished. During a special Sukkoth blessing etrogs are held in the left hand and a date palm branch entwined with myrtle and a willow branch is held in the right hand and carried through a synagogue to symbolize the presence of God throughout the world.
The sukkahs represents the Israelites sleeping under the stars. They are usually cobbled together from scraps of plywood and have only loose branches for a roof. The are set up in backyards, balconies, gardens, hotels and restaurants.
According to the BBC: “The word sukkot means huts (some translations of the bible use the word booths), and building a hut is the most obvious way in which Jews celebrate the festival.’ Every Jewish family will build an open air structure in which to live during the holiday. The essential thing about the hut is that it should have a roof of branches and leaves, through which those inside can see the sky, and that it should be a temporary and flimsy thing. The Sukkot ritual is to take four types of plant material: an etrog (a citron fruit), a palm branch, a myrtle branch, and a willow branch, and rejoice with them. (Leviticus 23: 39-40.) People rejoice with them by waving them or shaking them about. |::| [Source: BBC, October 12, 2011 |::|]
“Most people nowadays live in houses or apartments with strong walls and a decent roof. Spending time in a fragile hut in the garden, or under a roof of leaves rigged up on a balcony gives them the experience of living exposed to the world, without a nice comfy shell around them. It reminds them that there is only one real source of security and protection, and that is God. Similarly, the holes in the roof reveal the sky, and metaphorically, God's heaven, the only source of security. Another meaning goes along with this: a Jew can be in God's presence anywhere. The idea here is that the person, having abandoned all the non-natural protections from the elements has only God to protect them - and since God does protect them this shows that God is there. A sukkah must also have at least two walls and part of a third wall. The roof must be made of plant materials (but they must have been cut from the plant, so you can't use a tree as the roof). |::|
“Jews don't live in these huts too completely; it depends on the climate where they live. People in cold countries can satisfy the obligation by simply taking their meals in the huts, but in warmer countries, Jewish people will often sleep out in their huts. What Jewish law requires is that the hut should be a person's principal residence. The festival is set down in the Hebrew Bible book of Leviticus: ‘You shall dwell in booths seven days, that your generation shall know I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.’” |::|
Sukkot Message from a Rabbi
On Sukkot, Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks told the BBC: “It's a simple festival. We take a palm branch, a citron, and some leaves of myrtle and willow, to remind ourselves of nature's powers of survival during the coming dark days of winter. And we sit in a sukkah, the tabernacle itself, which is just a shed, a shack, open to the sky, with just a covering of leaves for a roof. It's our annual reminder of how vulnerable life is, how exposed to the elements. [Source: Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, BBC |::|
“And yet we call Sukkot our festival of joy, because sitting there in the cold and the wind, we remember that above us and around us are the sheltering arms of the divine presence. If I were to summarise the message of Sukkot I'd say it's a tutorial in how to live with insecurity and still celebrate life. And living with insecurity is where we're at right now. In these uncertain days, people have been cancelling flights, delaying holidays, deciding not to go to theatres and public places. The physical damage of September 11th may be over; but the emotional damage will continue for months, maybe years, to come. |::|
“Yesterday a newspaper columnist wrote that looking back, future historians will call ours "the age of anxiety." How do you live with the fear terror creates? For our family, it's brought back memories of just over ten years ago. We'd gone to live in Israel for a while before I became Chief Rabbi, to breathe in the inspiration of the holy land and find peace. Instead we found ourselves in the middle of the Gulf War. Thirty-nine times we had to put on our gas masks and take shelter in a sealed room as SCUD missiles rained down. And as the sirens sounded we never knew whether the next missile would contain chemical or biological warheads or whether it would hit us. |::|
“It should have been a terrifying time, and it was. But my goodness, it taught me something. I never knew before just how much I loved my wife, and our children. I stopped living for the future and started thanking God for each day. And that's when I learned the meaning of Tabernacles and its message for our time. Life can be full of risk and yet still be a blessing. Faith doesn't mean living with certainty. Faith is the courage to live with uncertainty, knowing that God is with us on that tough but necessary journey to a world that honours life and treasures peace.” |::|
"Shavuot" ("Weeks”) is a two day festival that takes place in late May or early June, six weeks after Passover ends. It celebrates the offering of the first fruits and the revealing of the Ten Commandments to Moses. Most of the foods eaten in this day are cheese products. Most businesses are closed.
According to the BBC: “Shavuot marks the time that the Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai. This article looks at some of the activites that take place during this festival. Shavuot is one of the Jewish harvest festivals, also known as the festival or feast of 'Weeks'. (The other two Jewish agricultural festivals are Passover and Sukkot.) There is no set date for the two-day festival, but it takes place seven weeks (fifty days) after the first day of the spring festival of Passover. [Source: BBC May 18, 2010 |::|]
“This time of year marks the start of the wheat harvest and the end of the barley harvest. Shavuot also marks the time that the Jews were given the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is considered a highly important historical event. Shavuot is sometimes called the Jewish Pentecost. The word Pentecost here refers to the count of fifty days after Passover. The Christian festival of Pentecost also has its origins in Shavuot. |::|
“Prayers are said on Shavuot (especially at dawn) to thank God for the five books of Moses (collectively known as the Torah) and for his law. Some people also spend the first night of Shavuot studying the Torah. Synagogues are decorated with flowers and plants on this joyous occasion to remember the flowers of Mount Sinai. |::|
“Dairy products are eaten during Shavuot. There are many interpretations about why this custom is observed. It is believed that once the rules about the preparation of meat were revealed in the Torah, the people of Sinai were reluctant to eat meat until they fully understood the rules.” |::|
Tisha B'av (Ninth of Av)
"Tisha B’Av" in July or August is a midsummer day of fasting and mourning held on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. It recalls the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and is marked by pilgrimages to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Other fast days on the Jewish calendar include the Fast of the 9th Day of Ac in late July or early July; the Fast of Gedalya in September; Shmini Atzeret in late September or early October; and the Fast of the 10th of Tevet in Late December to early January.
According to the BBC: “ It is a solemn occasion because it commemorates a series of tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the years, many of which have coincidentally happened on this day. These include the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar when 100,000 Jews were believed to have perished, and the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 CE. World War I and the beginning of the Holocaust are also associated with this day. [Source: BBC, July 13, 2011 |::|]
“Tisha B'av is observed with prayers and fasting. Shaving and the wearing of cosmetics and leather are banned, and people are also expected to refrain from smiles, laughter and idle conversation. All ornaments are removed from synagogues and lights are dimmed. The ark (where the Torah is kept) is draped in black. The Book of Lamentations, written by the prophet Jeremiah after the destruction of the First Temple, is read at evening services. In Israel it is traditional for mourners to congregate at the Western Wall - the last ruins of the Second Temple - to recite kinot or laments for the dead.” |::|
Shmuel Herzfeld wrote in the New York Times, “The month of Av, a period of increasingly intense mourning that culminates with a total fast on the Ninth of Av... One of the customary practices in these nine days is the avoidance of meat: it’s the way we commemorate the destruction of the Temple, where daily animal sacrifices were once brought. Refraining from food is symbolic, of course. The idea is not just to avoid meat but to limit ourselves so that we can better focus on the spiritual.” [Source: Shmuel Herzfeld, New York Times, August 5, 2008]
Tu B'Shevat (Tu Bishvat)
According to the BBC: “Tu B'Shevat is the Jewish 'New Year for Trees'. It is one of the four Jewish new years (Rosh Hashanahs). Deuteronomy 8:7-8 reads: ‘For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey’ On Tu B'Shevat Jews often eat fruits associated with the Holy Land, especially the ones mentioned in the Torah. [Source: BBC, July 15, 2009 |::|]
“Tu B'Shevat is a transliteration of 'the fifteenth of Shevat', the Hebrew date specified as the new year for trees. The Torah forbids Jews to eat the fruit of new trees for three years after they are planted. The fourth year's fruit was to be tithed to the Temple. According to Leviticus 19:23-25: ‘And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as forbidden; three years shall it be as forbidden unto you; it shall not be eaten. And in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy, for giving praise unto the LORD. But in the fifth year may ye eat of the fruit thereof...’ Tu B'Shevat was counted as the birthday for all trees for tithing purposes: like the beginning of a fiscal year. It gradually gained religious significance, with a Kabbalistic fruit-eating ceremony (like the Passover seder) being introduced during the 1600s. |::|
“Jews eat plenty of fruit on Tu B'Shevat, particularly the kinds associated with Israel. The Torah praises seven 'fruits' in particular: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. A short blessing is recited after eating any fruit. A special, longer blessing is recited for the fruits mentioned in the Torah. Jews also try to eat a new fruit, which can be any seasonal fruit that they have not tasted this year, followed by another blessing. Hassidic Jews may also pray for a perfect etrog, a type of citrus fruit, to use for Sukkot. Some Jews plant trees on this day, or collect money towards planting trees in Israel.” |::|
Other Jewish Holidays
“Lag B’Omer” (“33rd day of the Counting of the Omer”) in late May or early June is the one-day lifting of a seven week period of semi morning. It is traditionally a time when bonfires are set and people get married and eat roast potatoes. Children run and around shoot bows and arrows, as their ancestors did, when they were supposed to be studying. Most businesses remain open.
Sephardic Jews celebrate Mainmuna, a festive post-Passover holiday honoring Maimon Ben Joseph, the father of the great 12th century Jewish philosopher Moses Mainmonides. Some American Jews celebrate Christmas. This is considered somewhat sacrilegious by many Jews.
According to the BBC: “Yom Hashoah is a day set aside for Jews to remember the Holocaust. The name comes from the Hebrew word 'shoah', which means 'whirlwind'. Yom Hashoah was established in Israel in 1959 by law. It falls on the 27th of the Jewish month of Nissan, a date chosen because it is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.Yom Hashoah ceremonies include the lighting of candles for Holocaust victims, and listening to the stories of survivors. Religious ceremonies include prayers such as Kaddish for the dead and the El Maleh Rahamim, a memorial prayer. [Source: BBC, April 27, 2011 |::|]
“In Israel Yom Hashoah is one of the most solemn days of the year. It begins at sunset on 26th Nissan and ends, like all traditional Jewish special days, the following evening. During Yom Hashoah memorial events are held throughout the country, with national ceremonies being held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. (Yad Vashem is the Jewish people’s memorial to the murdered Six Million.) On the morning of Yom Hashoah a siren is sounded for 2 minutes throughout Israel and all work and other activity stops while people remember those killed in the Holocaust.” |::|
Shmita, Israel’s Agricultural Sabbath
Shmita is a year-long Torah-mandated agriculture prohibition that takes place every seven years and has wide ranging effects on Israel’s farms, supermarkets and, politics. Ben Sales of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wrote: “The genesis of Shmita is Exodus, which commands the Israelites, “Plant your land and gather its produce for six years. But on the seventh let it lie fallow and it will rest …” Other biblical mandates prohibit planting, trimming or harvesting crops during Shmita, amounting to a total prohibition on farming. [Source: Ben Sales, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 9, 2014]
“According to the Torah mandates, the Shmita year is something like an agricultural Shabbat. Just like everyone is commanded to rest for a day at the end of every week, Shmita is a chance to let the land rest for a year after six years of work. It’s easy to calculate when Shmita comes around: Start from year zero in the Jewish calendar — that would be 5,775 years ago — and count off every seven years; this is Israel’s 466th Shmita. The concept of the sabbatical year has spread to academics and clergy, many of whom receive sabbaticals to travel and study. And the root of the word “shmita” has found contemporary usage in Hebrew. Israelis use the word “mishtamet” to refer to someone who dodged mandatory military conscription.
“Because the commandment applies only in the biblical land of Israel, it became largely theoretical once the Jews were exiled by the Roman Empire after the Bar Kochba revolt in 136 C.E. Generations of Jewish farmers in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere had no religious imperative to let the land rest. But once Jews started returning to Palestine in the 1880s and founding kibbutzim, Shmita again became relevant — and problematic. At a time when Jewish farmers were struggling just to keep their farms viable, a year of no production would have been a deathblow. To skirt that problem, rabbis in Israel created something called the “heter mechirah,” or sale permit — similar to the sale of leavened food before Passover. The permit allowed Jewish farmers to “sell” their land to local non-Jews for a token amount, then hire non-Jews to do the forbidden labor. That way, because it wasn’t “their” land, Jews could keep their farms going without sin.
“As Israel’s population and agricultural sector expanded, so too has the hand-wringing over Shmita. Here are some of the Jewish legal acrobatics they use to get around it. 1) The sale permit: Israel’s Chief Rabbinate allows every farm to register for a sale permit like those allowed in the 1880s, and the Rabbinate “sells” all the land to a non-Jew for about $5,000 total, according to Rabbi Haggai Bar Giora, who oversaw Shmita for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate seven years ago. At the end of the year, the Rabbinate buys back the land on the farmers’ behalf for a similar amount. Bar Giora chose a non-Jewish buyer who observes the seven Noahide laws — the Torah’s commandments for non-Jews. 2) Greenhouses: Shmita only applies if the crops are grown in the land itself. Therefore, growing vegetables on tables disconnected from the land steers clear of violating the commandment.
3) Religious courts: Farmers aren’t allowed to sell their crops, but if crops began growing before Shmita started, people are allowed to take them for free. So through another legal mechanism, a Jewish religious court will hire farmers to harvest the produce and the religious court will sell it. But you won’t be paying for the produce itself; you’re only paying for the farmer’s labor. You get the produce for “free.” Wink. Nudge. Not observing Shmita: Most large-scale Israeli farmers use a sale permit in order to obtain rabbinic certification for their crops, Bar Giora says. But some small, nonreligious farmers who sell their produce independently ignore the sabbatical year completely and do not receive kosher certification. When Shmita is first mentioned in Exodus, the Torah says the crops should be for “the poor of your nation, and the rest for wild animals.” But given that almost all farmers in Israel get around Shmita in one way or another, walking onto a farm looking for a free lunch is ill advised.”
“Because all kosher-certified produce cannot violate Shmita, Israelis shopping in major grocery stores and outdoor markets don’t have to worry about Shmita. But religious Jews — and businesses — that don’t trust the legal loopholes just buy their produce from non-Jewish farmers in Israel. An organization called Otzar Haaretz, or Fruit of the Land, seeks to support Jewish farmers specifically and is organizing farmers who use religious courts and the greenhouse method to sell to supermarkets in Israel. Customers who wish to buy from Otzar Haaretz can pay a monthly fee to get a discount on its produce.
Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons
Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018