TRADITIONS & HOLIDAYS
Rosh Hashanah - The Jewish New Year
In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means "head of the year" or "first of the year." Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year, day of memorial and the day of judgment, in which God judges each person individually according to their deeds, and makes a decree for the following year. According to the Torah, this is the first day of the seventh month of the calendar year that marks the beginning of a ten day count to Yom Kippur. According to an opinion in Jewish oral tradition, the creation of the world was finished on Rosh Hashanah. It is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve , the first man and woman , and their first actions tow ard the realization of a role of the human in the world.
Additional Rosh Hashanah observances include: eating a piece of apple dipped in honey , to symbolize a request for a sweetyear; blessing one another with the words “Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim,” “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”; tashlich , a special prayer said near a body of water (an ocean, sea, river, etc.), in evocation of the verse, “And You shall cast their sins into the depths of the sea.”
Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement is the holiest day of the year - the day on which people are closest to God and to the quintessence of their own souls. It is a day set aside to "afflict the soul," to atone for the sins of the past year. Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be done on that day. It is needed to abstain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions that are less well-known: washing and bathing, anointing one's body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes.
Sukkot - Feast of Tabernacles
Sukkot is the first harvest holiday of the Jewish year, an eight-day festival that celebrates an possibility to reap the benefits of the seeds we planted a season before. It is a time to move outward from the introspection of the High Holy Days and enjoy the world around us. As a showing of thanks for the earth’s generosity, it is a holiday that people should celebrate outdoors. Tradition demands that Jews build a Sukkah (a temporary structure with a minimum of three walls), in which they will sleep and eat celebratory meals with family, friends and guests in need. This ritual helps us remember our post-exodus nomadic ancestors who wandered the desert, living and farming out of similar dwellings.
Pesach - The Story of The Exodus
Pesach begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. This festival has both historical and agricultural significance. Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel, but it is the lesser aspect of the holiday. The primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus, in which the ancient people of Israel was freed from Egypt after generations of slavery. The name "Pesach" means to pass through, to exempt or to spare. In English, the holiday is known as Passover. Probably the most significant rite related to Pesach involves avoiding chametz throughout the holiday. Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) that has not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after first coming into contact with water. This reminds the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. The highlight of Passover is the Seder, observed on each of the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a fifteen-step family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast. On a Seder plate, placed above the three matzot, are placed the following items: the shankbone, the egg, the bitter herbs, the mixtre, the vegetable.
Chanukah - Festival of Lights
Chanukah, meaning "dedication" in Hebrew, refers to the joyful eight-day celebration during which Jews commemorate the victory of the Macabees over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the following liberation and "re-dedication" of the Temple in Jerusalem. The modern home celebration of Chanukah characterized of the lighting of the chanukiah, unique foods fried or baked in oil (preferably olive oil) to commemorate the miracle of a small flask of oil keeping the flame in the Temple alight for eight days, latkes (potato pancakes) and jam-filled doughnuts; and special songs and dreidel (four-sided spinning top) games. The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a Hanukia. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.
Shavuot - Pentecost
Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, is a festival with both historical and agricultural significance. Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the day God gave the Torah at Mount Sinai to the entire Israelite more than 3300 years ago, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). Shavuot occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (late May or early June). The word Shavuot means “weeks.” It marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot.
Shabbat - The Jewish Day of Rest.
Shabbat is the most important ritual observance in Judaism. The main aim of Shabbat is primarily rest and spiritual enrichment. It runs from sundown of Friday night to sundown on Saturday night. The word`s "Shabbat" meaning is to cease, to end, or to rest. It is a festive day when Jews are freed from the regular labors of everyday life. Shabbat is delicious food, a richly-set table, the glow of candlelight, lively singing, sweet sleep. Shabbat observance demands refraining from a range of activities prohibited on Shabbat, such as lighting a fire and cooking. On Shabbat, Jews think of the Biblical Creation in which God creates the Heavens and the Earth in six days and rests on the seventh. According to Jewish law, Shabbat starts a few minutes before sunset. Candles are lit at this time. Before Friday night dinner, it is customary to sing two songs, one "greeting" the Shabbat angels into the house and the other thanking the woman of the house for all the work she has done over the past week. After blessings over the wine and challah, a festive meal is served.
Public Holidays in Israel
Public Holidays in Israel follow the Jewish calendar and as such vary from year to year although tend to fall within the same few-week period. Different levels of activity stop in Israel depending on the festival or holiday. The public transportation, for example, tends to completely stop its activity in many holidays. In the Jewish tradition, a new day begins with the appearance of three stars in the sky, which means that Jewish holidays begin in the afternoon hours a day before the official date. In general, Israel is a secular country, so most festivals won't see big changes in the levels of activity. Official national holidays are bolded.
- Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), Falls between Sept 5 & Oct 5
- Fast Day of Gedaliah (Tsom Gedalyah ben Ahikam), Falls two days after the first day of Rosh Hashanah (New Year)
- Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Falls between Sept 14 & Oct 14. The holiest day of the year - this is the day 'when everything stops', including all shopping, traffic, etc.
- Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) (Sukkot*), Falls between Sept 19 & Oct 19 (Only the first and last days are national holidays, however there may be some disruption during the intermediate days)
- Assembly of the Eighth Day (Simchat Torah/Shemini Atzeret), Falls between Sept 26 & Oct 26. Street festivals and dancing are common in most cities and towns on the preceding evening.
- Yitzhak Rabin's Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron le Yitzhak Rabin)
- Feast of Rededication (First Day) (Hanukkah), Falls between Nov 27 & Dec 27. Celebrated much less than in the US.
- Tenth of Tevet Fast (Tsom Asarah b-Tevet)
- Fifteenth of Shvat (Tu Bishvat). New Year of the Trees (similar to an Arbor Day)
- Fast of Esther (Ta`anit Ester)
- Memorial Feast for the Triumph of Esther (Purim*), Falls between February 24 & March 26. Street parades are common on this day.
- Passover (Pesach), Between March 26 & April 25 (Only the first and last days are national holidays, however there may be some disruption during the intermediate days). No bread or grain products are sold or served in most places during this week.
- Seventh day of Passover (Shvi'i shel Pesach), Falls between April 1 & May 1
- Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaZikaron LaShoah VeLaGevurah), Falls between April 7 & May 7. At 10 AM, air raid sirens sound and the entire country comes to an eerie standstill for two minutes. Places of entertainment are closed on this day and its eve.
- Fallen Soldiers Remembrance Day (Yom Hazikaron), Falls between April 14 & May 14. Air raid sirens sound and the entire country observes a minute of silence in the morning and preceding evening.
- Independence Day (Yom Ha-Atzmaut), Falls between April 15 & May 15. Large street festivals, city-wide parties and fireworks are common on the preceding night.
- 33rd day of the `Omer (Lag Ba'omer), Bonfires are common on the preceding night.
- Jerusalem Day (Yom Herut Yerushalayim), Large parades and festivals occur in Jerusalem.
- Pentecost (Shavuot), Falls between May 15 & June 14
- Seventeenth of Tammuz fast (Tsom Shiva` Asar b-Tammuz)
- Ninth of Av fast (Tisha B'Av). Destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples
- Fifteenth of Av (Tu B'Av). Festival of Love
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