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Jewish holidays

Holiday celebrated in Judaism

Top 10 Jewish holidays related articles

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Candles are lit on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath ("Shabbat") and on Jewish holidays.

Jewish holidays, also known as Jewish festivals or Yamim Tovim (Hebrew: ימים טובים‎, lit.'Good Days', or singular יום טוב Yom Tov, in transliterated Hebrew [English: /ˈjɔːm ˈtɔːv, jm ˈtv/]),[1] are holidays observed in Judaism and by Jews[Note 1] throughout the Hebrew calendar. They include religious, cultural and national elements, derived from three sources: biblical mitzvot ("commandments"), rabbinic mandates, and the history of Judaism and the State of Israel.

Jewish holidays occur on the same dates every year in the Hebrew calendar, but the dates vary in the Gregorian. This is because the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar (based on the cycles of both the sun and moon), whereas the Gregorian is a solar calendar.

Jewish holidays Intro articles: 236

General concepts


Certain terms are used very commonly for groups of holidays.

Terminology used to describe holidays

Certain terminology is used in referring to different categories of holidays, depending on their source and their nature:

Shabbat (שבת) (Ashkenazi pron. from Yiddish shabbos), or Sabbath, is referred to by that name exclusively. Similarly, Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש) is referred to by that name exclusively.

  • Yom tov (יום טוב) (Ashkenazi pron. from Yid. yontif) (lit., "good day"): See "Groupings" above.
  • Moed (מועד) ("festive season"), plural moadim (מועדים), refers to any of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. When used in comparison to Yom Tov, it refers to Chol HaMoed, the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot.
  • Ḥag or chag (חג) ("festival"), plural chagim (חגים), can be used whenever yom tov or moed is. It is also used to describe Hanukkah and Purim, as well as Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).
  • Ta'anit (תענית), or, less commonly, tzom (צום), refers to a fast. These terms are generally used to describe the rabbinic fasts, although tzom is used liturgically to refer to Yom Kippur as well.[3]

"Work" on Sabbath and biblical holidays

The most notable common feature of Shabbat and the biblical festivals is the requirement to refrain from melacha on these days.[Note 2] Melacha is most commonly translated as "work"; perhaps a better translation is "creative-constructive work". Strictly speaking, Melacha is defined in Jewish law (halacha) by 39 categories of labor that were used in constructing the Tabernacle while the Jews wandered in the desert. As understood traditionally and in Orthodox Judaism:

  • On Shabbat and Yom Kippur all melacha is prohibited.
  • On a Yom Tov (other than Yom Kippur) which falls on a weekday, not Shabbat, most melacha is prohibited. Some melacha related to preparation of food is permitted.[Note 3][Note 4]
  • On weekdays during Chol HaMoed, melacha is not prohibited per se. However, melacha should be limited to that required either to enhance the enjoyment of the remainder of the festival or to avoid great financial loss.
  • On other days, there are no restrictions on melacha.[Note 5]

In principle, Conservative Judaism understands the requirement to refrain from melacha in the same way as Orthodox Judaism. In practice, Conservative rabbis frequently rule on prohibitions around melacha differently from Orthodox authorities.[6] Still, there are a number of Conservative/Masorti communities around the world where Sabbath and Festival observance fairly closely resembles Orthodox observance.[Note 6]

However, many, if not most, lay members of Conservative congregations in North America do not consider themselves Sabbath-observant, even by Conservative standards.[7] At the same time, adherents of Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism do not accept halacha, and therefore restrictions on melacha, as binding at all.[Note 7] Jews fitting any of these descriptions refrain from melacha in practice only as they personally see fit.

Shabbat and holiday work restrictions are always put aside in cases of pikuach nefesh, which is saving a human life. At the most fundamental level, if there is any possibility whatsoever that action must be taken to save a life, Shabbat restrictions are set aside immediately, and without reservation.[Note 8] Where the danger to life is present but less immediate, there is some preference to minimize violation of Shabbat work restrictions where possible. The laws in this area are complex.[8]

Second day of biblical festivals

The Torah specifies a single date on the Jewish calendar for observance of holidays. Nevertheless, festivals of biblical origin other than Shabbat and Yom Kippur are observed for two days outside the land of Israel, and Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days even inside the land of Israel.

Dates for holidays on the Jewish calendar are expressed in the Torah as "day x of month y." Accordingly, the beginning of month y needs to be determined before the proper date of the holiday on day x can be fixed. Months in the Jewish calendar are lunar, and originally were thought to have been proclaimed by the blowing of a shofar.[9] Later, the Sanhedrin received testimony of witnesses saying they saw the new crescent moon.[Note 9] Then the Sanhedrin would inform Jewish communities away from its meeting place that it had proclaimed a new moon. The practice of observing a second festival day stemmed from delays in disseminating that information.[10]

  • Rosh Hashanah. Because of holiday restrictions on travel, messengers could not even leave the seat of the Sanhedrin until the holiday was over. Inherently, there was no possible way for anyone living away from the seat of the Sanhedrin to receive news of the proclamation of the new month until messengers arrived after the fact. Accordingly, the practice emerged that Rosh Hashanah was observed on both possible days, as calculated from the previous month's start, everywhere in the world.[11][Note 10]
  • Three Pilgrimage Festivals. Sukkot and Passover fall on the 15th day of their respective months. This gave messengers two weeks to inform communities about the proclamation of the new month. Normally, they would reach most communities within the land of Israel within that time, but they might fail to reach communities farther away (such as those in Babylonia or overseas). Consequently, the practice developed that these holidays be observed for one day within Israel, but for two days (both possible days as calculated from the previous month's start) outside Israel. This practice is known as yom tov sheni shel galuyot, "second day of festivals in exile communities".[12]
For Shavuot, calculated as the fiftieth day from Passover, the above issue did not pertain directly, as the "correct" date for Passover would be known by then. Nevertheless, the Talmud applies the same rule to Shavuot, and to the Seventh Day of Passover and Shemini Atzeret, for consistency.[13]

Yom Kippur is not observed for two days anywhere because of the difficulty of maintaining a fast over two days.[Note 11]

Shabbat is not observed based on a calendar date, but simply at intervals of seven days. Accordingly, there is never a doubt of the date of Shabbat, and it need never be observed for two days.[Note 12]

Adherents of Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism generally do not observe the second day of festivals,[14] although some do observe two days of Rosh Hashanah.[15]

Jewish holidays General concepts articles: 21

Holidays of biblical and rabbinic (Talmudic) origin

Shabbat—The Sabbath

Jewish law (halacha) accords Shabbat (שבת) the status of a holiday, a day of rest celebrated on the seventh day of each week. Jewish law defines a day as ending at either sundown or nightfall, when the next day then begins. Thus,

  • Shabbat begins just before sundown Friday night. Its start is marked by the lighting of Shabbat candles and the recitation of Kiddush over a cup of wine.
  • Shabbat ends at nightfall Saturday night. Its conclusion is marked by the prayer known as Havdalah.

The fundamental rituals and observances of Shabbat include:

  • Reading of the Weekly Torah portion
  • Abbreviation of the Amidah in the three regular daily services to eliminate requests for everyday needs
  • Addition of a musaf service to the daily prayer services
  • Enjoyment of three meals, often elaborate or ritualized, through the course of the day
  • Restraint from performing melacha (see above).

In many ways, halakha (Jewish law) sees Shabbat as the most important holy day in the Jewish calendar.

  • It is the first holiday mentioned in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), and God was the first one to observe it (Genesis).
  • The Torah reading on Shabbat has more sections of parshiot (Torah readings) than on Yom Kippur or any other Jewish holiday.
  • The prescribed penalty in the Torah for a transgression of Shabbat prohibitions is death by stoning (Exodus 31), while for other holidays the penalty is (relatively) less severe.
  • Observance of Shabbat is the benchmark used in halacha to determine whether an individual is a religiously observant, religiously reliable member of the community.

Rosh Chodesh—The New Month

Rosh Chodesh (ראש חודש) (lit., "head of the month") is a minor holiday or observance occurring on the first day of each month of the Jewish calendar, as well as the last day of the preceding month if it has thirty days.

  • Rosh Chodesh observance during at least a portion of the period of the prophets could be fairly elaborate.[16]
  • Over time there have been varying levels of observance of a custom that women are excused from certain types of work.[17]
  • Fasting is normally prohibited on Rosh Chodesh.

Beyond the preceding, current observance is limited to changes in liturgy.

In the month of Tishrei, this observance is superseded by the observance of Rosh Hashanah, a major holiday.

Related observances:

  • The date of the forthcoming Rosh Chodesh is announced in synagogue on the preceding Sabbath.
  • There are special prayers said upon observing the waxing moon for the first time each month.

Rosh Hashanah—The Jewish New Year


The month of Elul that precedes Rosh Hashanah is considered to be a propitious time for repentance.[18] For this reason, additional penitential prayers called Selichot are added to the daily prayers, except on Shabbat. Sephardi Jews add these prayers each weekday during Elul. Ashkenazi Jews recite them from the last Sunday (or Saturday night) preceding Rosh Hashanah that allows at least four days of recitations.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashana symbols: shofar, apples and honey, pomegranates, kiddush wine
  • Erev Rosh Hashanah (eve of the first day): 29 Elul
  • Rosh Hashanah: 1–2 Tishrei

According to oral tradition, Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) (lit., "Head of the Year") is the Day of Memorial or Remembrance (יום הזכרון, Yom HaZikaron),[19] and the day of judgment (יום הדין, Yom HaDin).[20] God appears in the role of King, remembering and judging each person individually according to his/her deeds, and making a decree for each person for the following year.[21]

The holiday is characterized by one specific mitzvah: blowing the shofar.[22] According to the Torah, this is the first day of the seventh month of the calendar year,[22] and marks the beginning of a ten-day period leading up to Yom Kippur. According to one of two Talmudic opinions, the creation of the world was completed on Rosh Hashanah.[23]

Morning prayer services are lengthy on Rosh Hashanah, and focus on the themes described above: majesty and judgment, remembrance, the birth of the world, and the blowing of the shofar. Ashkenazi Jews recite the brief Tashlikh prayer, a symbolic casting off of the previous year's sins, during the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah.

The Bible specifies Rosh Hashanah as a one-day holiday,[22] but it is traditionally celebrated for two days, even within the Land of Israel. (See Second day of biblical festivals, above.)

Four New Years

The Torah itself does not use any term like "new year" in reference to Rosh Hashanah. The Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah[24] specifies four different "New Year's Days" for different purposes:

  • 1 Tishrei (conventional "Rosh Hashanah"): "new year" for calculating calendar years, sabbatical-year (shmita) and jubilee cycles, and the age of trees for purposes of Jewish law; and for separating grain tithes.
  • 15 Shevat (Tu Bishvat): "new year" for trees–i.e., their current agricultural cycle and related tithes.
  • 1 Nisan: "new year" for counting months and major festivals and for calculating the years of the reign of a Jewish king
    • In biblical times, the day following 29 Adar, Year 1 of the reign of ___, would be followed by 1 Nisan, Year 2 of the reign of ___.
    • In modern times, although the Jewish calendar year number changes on Rosh Hashanah, the months are still numbered from Nisan.
    • The three pilgrimage festivals are always reckoned as coming in the order Passover-Shavuot-Sukkot. This can have religious law consequences even in modern times.
  • 1 Elul (Rosh Hashanah LaBehema): "new year" for animal tithes.

Aseret Yemei Teshuva—Ten Days of Repentance

The first ten days of Tishrei (from the beginning of Rosh Hashana until the end of Yom Kippur) are known as the Ten Days of Repentance (עשרת ימי תשובה, Aseret Yemei Teshuva). During this time, in anticipation of Yom Kippur, it is "exceedingly appropriate"[25] for Jews to practice teshuvah (literally "return"), an examination of one's deeds and repentance for sins one has committed against other people and God. This repentance can take the form of additional supplications, confessing one's deeds before God, fasting, self-reflection, and an increase of involvement with, or donations to, charity.

Tzom Gedalia—Fast of Gedalia

  • Tzom Gedalia: 3 Tishrei

The Fast of Gedalia (צום גדליה) is a minor Jewish fast day. It commemorates the assassination of the governor of Judah, Gedalia, which ended any level of Jewish rule following the destruction of the First Temple.

The assassination apparently occurred on Rosh Hashanah (1 Tishrei),[26] but the fast is postponed to 3 Tishrei in respect for the holiday. It is further postponed to 4 Tishrei if 3 Tishrei is Shabbat.

As on all minor fast days, fasting from dawn to dusk is required, but other laws of mourning are not normally observed. A Torah reading is included in both the Shacharit and Mincha prayers, and a Haftarah is also included at Mincha. There are also a number of additions to the liturgy of both services.[27]

Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement

A man in a tallit blows the shofar
  • Erev Yom Kippur: 9 Tishrei
  • Yom Kippur: 10 Tishrei (begins at sunset)

Yom Kippur (יום כיפור) is the holiest day of the year for Jews.[Note 13] Its central theme is atonement and reconciliation. This is accomplished through prayer and complete fasting—including abstinence from all food and drink (including water)—by all healthy adults.[Note 14] Bathing, wearing of perfume or cologne, wearing of leather shoes, and sexual relations are some of the other prohibitions on Yom Kippur—all them designed to ensure one's attention is completely and absolutely focused on the quest for atonement with God. Yom Kippur is also unique among holidays as having work-related restrictions identical to those of Shabbat. The fast and other prohibitions commence on 10 Tishrei at sunset—sunset being the beginning of the day in Jewish tradition.

A traditional prayer in Aramaic called Kol Nidre ("All Vows") is traditionally recited just before sunset. Although often regarded as the start of the Yom Kippur evening service—to such a degree that Erev Yom Kippur ("Yom Kippur Evening") is often called "Kol Nidre" (also spelled "Kol Nidrei")—it is technically a separate tradition. This is especially so because, being recited before sunset, it is actually recited on 9 Tishrei, which is the day before Yom Kippur; it is not recited on Yom Kippur itself (on 10 Tishrei, which begins after the sun sets).

The words of Kol Nidre differ slightly between Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions. In both, the supplicant prays to be released from all personal vows made to God during the year, so that any unfulfilled promises made to God will be annulled and, thus, forgiven. In Ashkenazi tradition, the reference is to the coming year; in Sephardic tradition, the reference is to the year just ended. Only vows between the supplicant and God are relevant. Vows made between the supplicant and other people remain perfectly valid, since they are unaffected by the prayer.

A Tallit (four-cornered prayer shawl) is donned for evening and afternoon prayers–the only day of the year in which this is done. In traditional Ashkenazi communities, men wear the kittel throughout the day's prayers. The prayers on Yom Kippur evening are lengthier than on any other night of the year. Once services reconvene in the morning, the services (in all traditions) are the longest of the year. In some traditional synagogues prayers run continuously from morning until nightfall, or nearly so. Two highlights of the morning prayers in traditional synagogues are the recitation of Yizkor, the prayer of remembrance, and of liturgical poems (piyyutim) describing the temple service of Yom Kippur.

Two other highlights happen late in the day. During the Minchah prayer, the haftarah reading features the entire Book of Jonah. Finally, the day concludes with Ne'ilah, a special service recited only on the day of Yom Kippur. Ne'ilah deals with the closing of the holiday, and contains a fervent final plea to God for forgiveness just before the conclusion of the fast. Yom Kippur comes to an end with the blowing of the shofar, which marks the conclusion of the fast. It is always observed as a one-day holiday, both inside and outside the boundaries of the Land of Israel.

Yom Kippur is considered, along with 15th of Av, as the happiest days of the year (Talmud Bavli—Tractate Ta'anit).[28]

Sukkot—Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles)

A sukkah booth
  • Erev Sukkot: 14 Tishrei
  • Sukkot: 15–21 Tishrei (22 outside Israel)
  • The first day of Sukkot is (outside Israel, first two days are) full yom tov, while the remainder of Sukkot has the status of Chol Hamoed, "intermediate days".

Sukkot (סוכות or סֻכּוֹת, sukkōt) or Succoth is a seven-day festival, also known as the Feast of Booths, the Feast of Tabernacles, or just Tabernacles. It is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals (shalosh regalim) mentioned in the Bible. 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. The word sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah, meaning booth. Jews are commanded to "dwell" in booths during the holiday.[29] This generally means taking meals, but some sleep in the sukkah as well, particularly in Israel. There are specific rules for constructing a sukkah.

Along with dwelling in a sukkah, the principal ritual unique to this holiday is use of the Four Species: lulav (palm), hadass (myrtle), aravah (willow) and etrog (citron).[30] On each day of the holiday other than Shabbat, these are waved in association with the recitation of Hallel in the synagogue, then walked in a procession around the synagogue called the Hoshanot.

The seventh day of the Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabbah, the "Great Hoshanah" (singular of Hoshanot and the source of the English word hosanna). The climax of the day's prayers includes seven processions of Hoshanot around the synagogue. This tradition mimics practices from the Temple in Jerusalem. Many aspects of the day's customs also resemble those of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Hoshanah Rabbah is traditionally taken to be the day of the "delivery" of the final judgment of Yom Kippur, and offers a last opportunity for pleas of repentance before the holiday season closes.

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

Dancing with the Torah
  • Shemini Atzeret: 22 Tishrei (combined with Simchat Torah in Israel)
  • Simchat Torah outside Israel: 23 Tishrei

The holiday of Shemini Atzeret (שמיני עצרת) immediately follows the conclusion of the holiday of Sukkot. The Hebrew word shemini means "eighth”, and refers to its position on "the eighth day" of Sukkot, actually a seven-day holiday. This name reflects the fact that while in many respects Shemini Atzeret is a separate holiday in its own right, in certain respects its celebration is linked to that of Sukkot. Outside Israel, meals are still taken in the Sukkah on this day.

The main notable custom of this holiday is the celebration of Simchat Torah (שמחת תורה), meaning "rejoicing with the Torah". This name originally referred to a special "ceremony": the last weekly Torah portion is read from Deuteronomy, completing the annual cycle, and is followed immediately by the reading of the first chapter of Genesis, beginning the new annual cycle. Services are especially joyous, and all attendees, young and old, are involved.

This ceremony so dominates the holiday that in Israel, where the holiday is one day long, the whole holiday is often referred to as Simchat Torah. Outside Israel, the holiday is two days long; the name Shemini Atzeret is used for the first day, while the second is normally called Simchat Torah.

Hanukkah—Festival of Lights

  • Erev Hanukkah: 24 Kislev
  • Hanukkah: 25 Kislev – 2 or 3 Tevet

The story of Hanukkah (חנוכה) is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees. These books are not part of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), they are apocryphal books instead. The miracle of the one-day supply of olive oil miraculously lasting eight days is first described in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), written about 600 years after the events described in the books of Maccabees.[31]

Hanukkah marks the defeat of Seleucid Empire forces that had tried to prevent the people of Israel from practicing Judaism. Judah Maccabee and his brothers destroyed overwhelming forces, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. The eight-day festival is marked by the kindling of lights—one on the first night, two on the second, and so on—using a special candle holder called a Hanukkiah, or a Hanukkah menorah.

Religiously, Hanukkah is a minor holiday. Except on Shabbat, restrictions on work do not apply.[Note 15] Aside from the kindling of lights, formal religious observance is restricted to changes in liturgy. Hanukkah celebration tends to be informal and based on custom rather than law. Three widely practiced customs include:

  • Consumption of foods prepared in oil, such as potato pancakes or sufganiyot, commemorating the miracle of oil
  • Playing the game of dreidel (called a sevivon in Hebrew), symbolizing Jews' disguising of illegal Torah study sessions as gambling meetings during the period leading to the Maccabees' revolt[Note 16]
  • Giving children money, especially coins, called Hanukkah gelt. However, the custom of giving presents is of far more recent, North American, origin, and is connected to the gift economy prevalent around North American Christmas celebrations.[Note 17]

Tenth of Tevet

  • Asarah B'Tevet: 10 Tevet

The Tenth of Tevet (עשרה בטבת, Asarah B'Tevet) is a minor fast day, marking the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem as outlined in 2 Kings 25:1

And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and encamped against it; and they built forts against it round about.

This fast's commemoration also includes other events occurring on 8, 9 and 10 Tevet.

This fast is observed like other minor fasts (see Tzom Gedalia, above). This is the only minor fast that can fall on a Friday under the current fixed Jewish calendar.

Tu Bishvat—New Year of the Trees

Nuts and dried fruits, traditionally eaten on Tu Bishvat

Tu Bishvat (ט"ו בשבט) (lit., "fifteenth of Shevat”, as ט״ו is the number "15" in Hebrew letters), is the new year for trees. It is also known as חג האילנות (Ḥag ha-Ilanot, Festival of Trees), or ראש השנה לאילנות (Rosh ha-Shanah la-Ilanot, New Year for Trees). According to the Mishnah, it marks the day from which fruit tithes are counted each year. Starting on this date, the biblical prohibition on eating the first three years of fruit (orlah) and the requirement to bring the fourth year fruit (neta revai) to the Temple in Jerusalem were counted.[32]

During the 17th century, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed and his disciples created a short seder, called Hemdat ha‑Yamim, reminiscent of the seder that Jews observe on Passover, that explores the holiday's Kabbalistic themes. This Tu Bishvat seder has witnessed a revival in recent years. More generally, Tu Bishvat is celebrated in modern times by eating various fruits and nuts associated with the Land of Israel.

Traditionally, trees are planted on this day.[33] Many children collect funds leading up to this day to plant trees in Israel. Trees are usually planted locally as well.

Purim—Festival of Lots

  • Fast of Esther: normally 13 Adar
  • Purim: 14 Adar
  • Shushan Purim: 15 Adar
  • In leap years on the Hebrew calendar, the above dates are observed in the Second Adar (Adar Sheni). The 14th and 15th of First Adar (Adar Rishon) are known as Purim Katan

Purim Katan

Purim Katan (פורים קטן) (lit., "small Purim") is observed on the 14th and 15th of First Adar in leap years. These days are marked by a small increase in festivity, including a prohibition on fasting, and slight changes in the liturgy.

Ta'anit Esther–Fast of Esther

The opening chapter of a hand-written scroll of the Book of Esther, with reader's pointer

Ta'anit Esther (תענית אסתר), or "Fast of Esther", is named in honor of the fast of Esther and her court as Esther prepared to approach the king unbidden to invite him and Haman to a banquet.[34] It commemorates that fast, as well as one alluded to later in the Book of Esther,[35] undertaken as the Jews prepared to battle their enemies.

This fast is observed like other minor fasts (see Tzom Gedalia, above). While normally observed on 13 Adar, the eve of Purim, this fast is advanced to Thursday, 11 Adar, when 13 Adar falls on Shabbat.

Purim and Shushan Purim

Purim (פורים) commemorates the events that took place in the Book of Esther. The principal celebrations or commemorations include:[36]

  • The reading of the Megillah. Traditionally, this is read from a scroll twice during Purim–once in the evening and again in the morning. Ashkenazim have a custom of making disparaging noises at every mention of Haman's name during the reading.
  • The giving of Mishloakh Manot, gifts of food and drink to friends and neighbors.
  • The giving of