Jewish holidays

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Rosh Hashanah

  • Erev Rosh Hashanah - Elul 29
  • Rosh Hashanah - Tishri 1

The Jewish New Year. The Mishna sets this day aside as the new year for calculating calendar years, sabbatical and jubilee years, vegetable tithes, and tree-planting (determining the age of a tree). The creation of the world was finished on Tishri 1. This holiday, the Jewish spiritual New Year, is characterized by the blowing of the shofar. During the afternoon of the first day occurs the practice of tashlikh, the symbolic casting away of sins by throwing stones into the waters.

Yom Kippur

  • Erev Yom Kippur - Tishri 9
  • Yom Kippur - Tishri 10

The day of repentance. The holiest and most solemn day of the year. Its central theme is atonement and reconciliation. Eating, drinking, bathing, and conjugal relations are prohibited. Fasting begins at sundown, and ends after nightfall the following day. 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.

Sukkot

  • Erev Sukkot - Tishri 14
  • Sukkot - Tishri 15

Sukkot is an 8 day Biblical pilgrimage festival, it is also known as The Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). The first two days are celebrated as full holidays. The following five days are known as Hol Hamo'ed - weekdays that retain some aspects of the festival. The seventh day (fifth of the intermediate days) is Hoshanah Rabbah - and has a special observance of its own. The last day, the eighth, is celebrated as separate holiday, with its own special prayers and customs (see below).

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). The Torah directs Jews to use four species of plants 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.

  • Hosha'nah Rabbah - the seventh day of Sukkot
  • Shemini Atzeret - the eighth day of Sukkot
  • Simhat Torah - the finale of Sukkot

In Israel, Sukkot is eight days long, including Shemini Atzeret. Outside Israel (the Diaspora), Sukkot is nine days long. Thus the eighth day is Shemini Atzeret, and the extra (ninth) day is Simchat Torah. In Israel, the festivities and customs associated with Simchat Torah are celebrated on Shemini Atzeret.

The last portion of the Torah is read on this day. The following Shabbat we start the Torah again at the beginning of Bereshis. Services are unconventionally joyous, and humorous deviations from the standard service are allowed, and even expected.

Chanukah

  • Erev Chanukah - Kislev 24
  • Chanukah - Kislev 25

The story of Chanukah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees. These books are not part of the Tanakh (Bible), 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. This holiday 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.

Tu B'shevat

  • Tu B'shevat - Shevat 15

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. In the 1600's, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed and his disciples created a short sedar, somewhat reminiscent of the sedar Jews observe on Pesach, that explores the holiday's Kabbalistic themes.

Purim

  • Erev Purim - Adar 13
  • Purim - Adar 14

Purim commemorates the events found in the Book of Esther.

New Year for Kings

  • New Year for Kings - Nisan 1

No longer celebrated. Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar; in Mishnaic times it was celebrated as the New Year for Kings and months. In addition to this one, 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.

Pesach

  • Erev Pesach (Passover) - Nisan 14
  • Pesach - Nisan 15

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. On that night Jews start counting the omer. The omer is a counting down of the days from the time they left Egypt, until the time they arrived at Mount Sinai.

Sefirah

  • Sefirah (The counting); also known as Sefirat Ha'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.

Yom Ha'Shoah

  • Yom Ha'Shoah - Nisan 27

Holocaust remembrance day.

Yom Hazikaron

  • Yom Hazikaron - Iyar 4

Day of remembrance. In honor of Israeli veterans of the War of Independence.

Yom Ha'atzma'ut

  • Yom Ha'atzma'ut - Iyar 5

Israel Independence Day.

Yom Yerushalayim

  • Yom Yerushalayim - Iyar 28

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.

Shavuot

  • Erev Shavuot - Sivan 5
  • Shavuot - Sivan 6, 7

The Feast of Weeks. Shavuot marks the end of the counting of the Omer. According to Rabbinic tradition, the Ten Commandments were given on this day. It is customary to read the Book of Ruth on this day.

The Three Weeks and the Nine Days

  • The Three Weeks: Tamuz 17 - Av 9
  • The Nine Days: Av 1 - Av 9

The days between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av are considered days of mourning, during this time the collapse of Jerusalem occurred. 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 of course on Shabbat or at a Seudat Mitzvah (such as a Pidyon Haben or completing the study of a religious text.) In addition, one's hair is not cut during this period.

Tisha B'av

  • Tisha B'Av - Av 9

On this day both the First and Second Temples were destroyed (587 BC and AD 70). 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.

New Year for Animal Tithes

  • New Year for Animal Tithes (Taxes) - Elul 1

No longer observed. 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.