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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Observance, Marriage, Women in Judaism (4/12)
Section - Question 5.1: What are the different holidays?

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   The holidays are described in the list below. R' Donin's book To Be a
   Jew gives a good overview of the holidays from a traditional
   perspective. The following is based on a summary posted on the net by
   Robert Kaiser, which in turn was based on material from A Guide to
   Jewish Religious Practice by Rabbi Isaac Klein, published by The
   Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Note that liberal Jews do not
   observe all of these holidays, nor do they all follow the practice of
   two-days of observance of certain holidays in the diaspora. The
   principal year-cycle events observed by liberal Jews are: Shabbat,
   Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Chanukkah, Tu
   B'Shevat, Purim, Pesach (Passover), Lag B'Omer, Shavuot, and Tish'a
   Note also that as the Jewish day runs from sundown to sundown,
   holidays start the evening of the secular day before secular calendar
   date of the holiday.
   Rosh Hashanah (Tishri 1)
          Also known as Yom Hadin, Yom Hazikaron (Day of Remembrance) and
          Yom Teruah (Day of the sounding of the shofar). In traditional
          congregations, the shofar is not sounded when Rosh Hashanah
          falls on the Sabbath. This holiday celebrates the creation of
          the world, and as such is the new year for calculating calendar
          years, sabbatical and jubilee years, vegetable tithes, and
          tree-planting (determining the age of a tree). This holiday is
          characterized by the blowing of the shofar. During the
          afternoon of the first day, many follow the practice of
          tashlikh, symbolically casting away sins by throwing stones
          into the waters. Rosh ha-Shanah, the 1st of Tishri, never falls
          on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, in order that Yom Kippur
          should never fall on a Friday or Sunday and Hoshana Rabbath
          should not fall on the Sabbath.
          The one practice unique to Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the
          shofar, in accord with the biblical command "... it is a day
          when the horn is sounded" (Num. 29:1). Since it falls on the
          first day of the month, when new months were proclaimed by the
          Sanhedrin on the basis of the testimony of witnesses, there
          existed an uncertainty as to when exactly Rosh Hashanah would
          be. Even when the Temple stood, it was sometimes necessary to
          celebrate two days of Rosh Hashanah due to the late arrival of
          witnesses. As a result it was decided to celebrate two days
          every year. Unlike other holidays, this is unrelated to the
          Rosh Hashanah is also known as yom ha'din, "the day of
          judgement", when according to the Talmud, God determines who
          will be inscribed in the "book of life" and who will be
          inscribed in the "book of death" for the coming year. The
          decision is made on Rosh Hashanah and sealed ten days later at
          the conclusion of Yom Kippur. One's behavior in the interim can
          supposedly alter a harsh decree, thus the period from the
          beginning of Rosh Hashanah to the conclusion of Yom Kippur is
          known as the Ten Days of Repentance. During the Middle Ages, it
          also became common to refer to Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur as
          the Days of Awe.
          After the service in the synagogue, it is customary for
          worshippers to wish one another le-Shanah tovah tehatem
          ve-tikatev (May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year).
          It is traditional to eat bread and apples dipped in honey
          followed by the meditation, "May it be Your will to grant us a
          good and sweet year."
          In Ashkenazi communities, a special custom known as Tashlikh
          occurs; it invokes the recitation of biblical verses and a
          prayer near a body of water. It is performed on the first day
          of Rosh Hashanah (unless the first day falls on the Sabbath, in
          which case it is deferred to the second day). The custom
          symbolizes purification of sin in the water.
   Fast of Gedaliah (Tishri 3)
          This fast commemorates the slaying of Gedaliah Ben Akhikam,
          whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed governor of Judah after the first
          destruction of the Temple (Jeremiah 40:7, II Kings 25:22.). He
          was assasinated on the third of Tishri (582 BC) by Ishmael son
          of Nethaniah of the royal family. Nebuchadnezzar, king of
          Babylon, had appointed Gedaliah governor of the Jews who
          remained in Eretz Israel after the destruction of the First
          Temple. After he was murdered, large numbers of the people fled
          to Egypt (Jer. 40 and 41), and the last vestige of Jewish
          autonomy in Judah came to an end. His death was the final blow
          to hopes that the Jewish state might survive the Babylonian
          domination. It is mentioned in the Torah (Zec. 8:19) as the
          "fast of the seventh month". The sages established the fast in
          "order to demonstrate that the death of the righteous is
          equivalent to the destruction of the Temple, which is also
          commemorated by the fast" (Rosh ha-Shanah 18b).
   Yom Kippur (Tishri 10)
          The day of repentance. The holiest and most solemn day of the
          year. Its central theme is atonement and reconciliation. It is
          described in the Torah as "It shall be a Sabbath of complete
          rest for you" (Lev. 23:32). Traditionally, there are
          prohibitions on eating, drinking, bathing, anointing the body,
          wearing leather shoes, and conjugal relations. Most of these
          prohibitions are followed across the spectrum of Judaism--such
          is the importance of this holy day. The fast on Yom Kippur is
          the only fast which can take place on the Sabbath.
          Yom Kippur services begin with Kol Nidrei, which must be
          recited before sunset. A Talit is donned for evening
          prayers--the only evening service of the year in which this is
          done. The Ne'ilah service is a special service held only on the
          day of Yom Kippur, and deals with the closing of the holiday.
          Yom Kippur comes to an end with the blowing of the shofar,
          which marks the conclusion of the fast.
          The Day of Atonement concludes the Ten Days of Repentance that
          began on Rosh Hashanah; it is regarded as the day on which ones
          fate is sealed for the coming year. At one timem the Temple
          ritual performed by the high priest on the Day of Atonement was
          the most important event of the whole year. It was the only
          time he entered the Holy of Holies in order to atone for the
          sins of the children of Israel. The precise order of his
          activities is outlined in the Torah in the Book of Leviticus
          (Ch. 16) and is described in the talmndic tractate (Yoma).
          After the destruction of the Temple the notion of penitence
          became the main feature of the Day of Atonement when the Jew
          confesses his sins. A main feature of the services of the day
          is the confession, of which two versions are read. The long
          confession of 44 double, alphabetically arranged lines begins:
          "For the sin wherein we have sinned ..." while the shorter form
          is made up of single words or phrases, again in alphabetical
          order, beginning with Ashamnu (We have trespassed).
   Sukkot (Tishri 15)
          The third Pilgrimage festival, it is also known as The Feast of
          Booths (Tabernacles), The Feast of Ingathering, or just simply
          The Hag (The Festival). Sukkot is an eight day festival: the
          first two days are celebrated as full holidays, the following
          five days (Hol Hamo'ed) are weekdays that retain some aspects
          of the festival, the seventh day (Hoshanah Rabbah) and eighth
          (Shemini Atzeret) days have special observances of their own.
          Liberal congregations typically only celebrate the first and
          eighth days.
          Sukkot is also called "zman simchaseinu" (the time of our
          rejoicing). This is because the Torah tells us that at that
          time when we harvest it is a time for rejoicing. We also
          rejoice in the coming start of a new cycle of Torah, as Simchat
          Torah ends the Sukkot holiday. Succot is also known as Hag
          ha-Asif, "The Festival of the Ingathering", due to the fact
          that it falls during the season when the final summer produce
          is gathered from the field. Another name is simply Ha-Hag, "The
          Holiday" par excellence (Ex. 23:16, II Chron. 7:8).
          The first day of Succot is a full holiday on which work is
          prohibited. The next six days have their own special
          regulations, but work is permitted under most circumstances.
          Outside Eretz Israel, the second day of Succot is also observed
          as a full holiday and the following five days are hol ha-mo'ed.
          Succot has a number of unique observances. During the entire
          seven days (prior to Sheini Atzeret), one is required to dwell
          "in the succah", a temporary structure whose roof must be made
          of materials that grow from the ground, e.g. palm fronds, tree
          branches, bamboo poles. Dwelling in the succah commemorates the
          temporary structures in which the Israelites dwelt during their
          40 years wandering after the Exodus from Egypt (Lev. 23:42-43).
          On each of the seven days of Succot, except the Sabbath, the
          Four Species - the palm branch (lulav), citron (etrog), myrtle,
          and willow - are taken up (after the appropriate benediction)
          and waved. The species are held also during the recitation of
          Hallel, and during the recitation of Hoshanot, when the entire
          congregation joins in a procession encircling the bimah. One
          such procession is held as part of the Shaharit service on each
          of the seven days. The seventh day of Succot, i.e. the last day
          of hol ha-mo'ed, is known also by the name Hoshana Rabbah, "The
          Great Hoshana." On Hoshana Rabbah seven such processions are
          held during and after which appropriate prayers are recited.
          After these willow branches are beaten on the ground.
          Sukkot commemorates the life of the Israelites in the desert
          during their journey to the promised land. During their
          wandering in the desert they lived in booths (Sukkot). Four
          species of plants are used to celebrate the holiday: the lulav
          (palm branch), etrog (lemon-like citron), myrtle, and willow.
          The etrog is handled separately, while the other three species
          are bound together, and are collectively referred to as the
          There is a special commandment in the Torah to rejoice on
          Succot, "You shall hold the Feast of Booths for seven days. You
          shall rejoice in your festival .. and you shall have nothing
          but joy" (Deut. 16:13-15). In the Temple period, an observance
          unique to Succot was the Simhat Bet ha-Sho'evah that
          accompanied the special water libations of Succot, and the
          celebrations at that time were especially joyous. Once in every
          seven years, during Succot at the termination of the Sabbatical
          Year (Shemitah), there was a public reading of certain passages
          of the Book of Deuteronomy. This reading, known as hakhel, is
          commanded in Deuteronomy 31:10-13.
          During the five intermediate days of Sukkot, it is customary to
          read the book of Ecclesiastes.
   Hosha'nah Rabbah (The seventh day of Sukkot).
          This day closes the period of repentance that began on Rosh
          Hashanah. Tradition has made this day into a sequel to the Days
          of Awe, lengthening the period of penitence and postponing the
          day when final sentence is to be rendered.
          On this day the worshippers go round the bimah of the synagogue
          seven times while holding the four species. During the
          circuits, piyyutim are recited with the refrain Hoshana (Save
          us, we beseech thee). The name Hoshana Rabbah (the great
          hoshana) derives from the sevenfold circuit. The source of this
          custom is in Temple worship. During the festival of Succot,
          according to tradition, the world is judged for water, and it
          was the custom to take branches of the willow and go around the
          alter saying "O Lord, deliver us! O Lord, let us prosper!" (PS.
          118:25). Each day the alter would be circled once, and on the
          seventh day seven times, The custom was then to beat the ground
          with the willow branch after saying the hoshanot prayers.
          In the Talmud, Hoshana Rabbah is referred to as a day when
          everyone comes to the synagogue. Its special character was
          emphasized during the time of the geonim, who saw it as the day
          in which each human being receives from heaven a note on which
          his fate is registered. And so there are those who greet each
          other on this day with the Aramaic blessing a pitka tava, or in
          Yiddish gut kveitl. Many and varied liturgical customs have
          developed for Hoshana Rabbah. The most widespread are the
          inclusion of the additional Sabbath and festival psalms in the
          Shaharit (morning) service and the introduction of High
          Holidays melody and usage for the ritual of taking out the
          Torah from the ark. Another custom is to remain awake studying
          Torah throughout the night. This custom was already known in
          the thirteenth century, and its source is in the need to give
          additional time to those who had not yet finished reading the
          Torah and needed to finish by Simhat Torah.
   Shemini Atzeret (Tishri 22)
          The eighth day of Sukkot. In the Talmud it is written that "the
          eighth day [of Sukkot] is a separate festival", so Sukkot is
          really observed as seven days, and Shemini Atzeret is observed
          as a separate holiday. It marks the beginning of the rainy
          season in Israel.
          The holiday is referred to in the Bible as atzeret, which means
          assembly or closing. It is a closing in that it follows the
          seven days of Succot and closes that holiday and the Tishri
          holiday season. Thus the name Shemini Atzeret means the closing
          or assembling of the eighth day, although obligations of Succot
          are not observed.
          By rabbinic tradition, Shemini Atzeret celebrates the
          conclusion of the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah.
          This celebration is known as Simhat Torah. In the Diaspora
          (exile) Shemini Atzeret is a two-day festival, with the Torah
          reading concluded on the second day, and it is common to refer
          to the second day as Simhat Torah and only to the first day as
          Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, where the festival lasts but one
          day, the two names are used interchangeably.
          In the Diaspora, a few observances of Succot "spill over" into
          Shemini Atzeret, and according to some customs, the meals on
          that day are taken in the succah, although the benediction
          recited when eating in the succah is omitted. On the other
          hand, the benediction She-heheyann, marking the advent of a new
          holiday, is recited. In the Diaspora, the ceremony of bidding
          farewell to the succah is performed on the first day of Shemini
          Atzeret, whereas in Israel it is performed on the seventh and
          final day of Succot.
          The prayer for rain (Tefillat Geshem) is recited on Shemini
          Atzeret and from the time of its recitation, the phrase mashiv
          ha-ruah u-morid ha-geshem (He causes the wind to blow and the
          rain to fall) is inserted in the second benediction of the
          Amidah. This continues until Passover when the phrase is
          replaced with morid ha-tal (He brings dew). Among Ashkenazi
          Jews, the memorial prayer, Yizkor, is recited on Shemini
   Simhat Torah (Tishri 23)
          The celebration that marks the conclusion of the annual cycle
          of readings of the Torah (Keri'ar ha-Torah) in the synagogue.
          Simhat Torah ia a rabbinic institution timed to coincide with
          the biblical festival Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of
          Succot, and which in Eretz Israel lasts but one day.
          Consequently, in Eretz Israel, Simhat Torah and Shemini Atzeret
          are in practice one and the same holiday. In the Diaspora
          (exile), where Shemini Atzeret lasts for two days, each day is
          popularly known by a different name: the first day as Shemini
          Atzeret, and the second day, when the reading of the final
          portion of Deuteronomy is concluded, as Simhat Torah.
          The last portion of the Torah is read on this day. The
          following Shabbat the reading of the Torah starts again at the
          beginning of Bereshis (Genesis). Festivities begin in the
          evening with Ma'ariv. There are seven hakafot (processions) of
          the Torah around the Synagogue. Services are joyous, and
          humorous deviations from the standard service are allowed, and
          even expected.
          In antiquity there were actually two different traditions with
          regard to the weekly Torah readings. In Eretz Israel, the cycle
          lasted three years. In the Babylonian tradition, the cycle
          began on the first Sabbath after the holidays of the month of
          Tishri. This became the Sabbath of Genesis (Shabbath Bereshit).
          The cycle was completed a year later on the last of the Tishri
          holidays, i.e. Shemini Atzeret. In time, all Jewish communities
          adopted the Babylonian system.
          The central features of the Simhat Torah celebrations are the
          hakkafot - the perambulations around the synagogue, with the
          participants carrying the scrolls of the Torah, to the
          accompaniment of joyous singing and dancing. The hakkafot are
          held both in the Arvit and in the Shaharit services. After the
          morning hakkafot, three scrolls are taken from the holy ark for
          the Torah reading service. From the first scroll, the final
          portion of Deuteronomy is read to conclude the entire Torah;
          from the second scroll, the first chapter of Genesis with a few
          additional verses in order to indicate there is no pause in the
          cycle of the Torah readings; while from the third scroll, the
          appropriate maftir is read relating to the ancient sacrificial
          service for Shemini Atzeret. According to custom, everyone is
          called for an aliyah la-Torah, and different practices have
          developed in this connection. In some congregations, the Torah
          reading is repeated several times in order to accommodate all
          the worshippers with an aliyah in other groups of worshippers
          ascend together for the reading; while in most non-Orthodox
          synagogues women worshippers also approach the bimah for the
          aliyot. Because of the emphasis on the Torah as the heritage of
          every Jew, even young children who have not yet reached Bar
          Mitzvah age are honored with special aliyah. They come up to
          the bimah accommpanied by an adult who leads them in the
          traditional blessing, as a large tallit is held over them. The
          person honored with the last aliyah la-Torah is named Hatan
          Torah, the Bridegroom of the Law, while the one called for the
          first aliyah of the Genesis portion is named Hatan Bereshit,
          the Bridegroom of Genesis. In modern Israel, the custom had
          developed to organize a second hakkafot celebration on the
          night after the conclusion of the festival. These second
          hakkafot have become public celebrations and are frequently
          held to the accompaniment of joyous orchestral music.
   Chanukah (Kislev 25)
          Also known as Hag Ha'urim (The Festival of Lights).
          The story of Chanukah is preserved in the books of the First
          and Second Maccabees. These books are not part of the Tanakh,
          but are part of the Apocrypha (Hebrew historical and religious
          material that was not codified as part of the Bible.) The
          miracle of Chanukah is referred to in the Talmud, but not in
          the books of the Maccabees. It marks the defeat of Assyrian
          forces who had tried to prevent Israel from practicing Judaism.
          Judah Maccabee and his brothers destroyed the overwhelming
          forces, and rededicated the Temple. The eight day festival is
          marked by the kindling of lights with a special Menorah, called
          a Chanukiah.
          The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the
          Great, who conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed
          the lands under his control to continue observing their own
          religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. During this
          time, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic (Greek)
          culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of
          the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today
          blend into the secular American society. More than a century
          later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV, was in control
          of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a
          Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting
          the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple
          by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the
          altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic
          group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah
          Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the
          Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees (no connection to
          the modern Chasidism). They joined forces in a revolt against
          both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by
          the Selucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the
          Temple was rededicated. According to tradition, at the time of
          the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not
          been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah in
          the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night
          every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet
          miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to
          prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day
          festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that
          the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the
          military victory: Jews do not glorify war.
          Chanukkah candles should be set at the doorway, or by the
          window in a place where they can be seen from the outside. This
          is in order to "publicize the miracle" (Heb. pirsume nisa).
          Since one may not use the candles for any other pupose, not
          even to light from candle to candle, one special additional
          candle is used, called the shamash (the "serving candle"). Some
          use wicks soaked in oil, but wax candles are perfectly
          acceptable halakhically.
          There is significance to how the candles are lit. The menorah
          in the Temple was lit in two stages: the middle and rightmost
          were lit, then the incense altar was set up for the day, then
          the other five -- from right to left. We traditionally light
          the Chanukah menorah from left to right. This is because over
          the course of the holiday, we fill the menorah from right to
          left. The first day we light only the rightmost oil / candle /
          bulb, the second day the rightmost two, etc... And on each day
          you want to start lighting with the new candle (or whatever) so
          you end up starting with the leftmost one.
          After the lighting of the candles the Hanukkah hymn Ma'oz Tzur
          is sung. It is customary not to do any work during the time the
          candles are burning, for this is the hour when all the family
          may sit together and enjoy the traditional foods of the
          festival, such as potatoe pancakes (latkes) and doughnuts
          (sufganiyot) and play the traditional spinning top game
          (dreydel). It is also customary to give money to children as a
          Hanukkah present.
          In the prayer services, the Al ha-Nissim paragraph is added to
          the Amidah and to the Grace After Meals the full Hallel is
          said. After the morning Amidah, each day the Torah is read from
          Numbers (7:1-89), describing the sacrifices which were brought
          by the princes at the dedication of the Temple.
   The Fast of the Tenth of Tevet (Tevet 10)
          The fast marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the
          forces of Nebuchadnezzar, and is thus connected with the
          destruction of Jerusalem. "And in the ninth year of his reign,
          on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar moved
          against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it, and they
          built towers against it all round" (II Kg. 25:1). The prophet
          Ezekiel was commanded to "record this date, this exact day"
          (Ezek. 24:2). Asarah be-Tevet is the fast mentioned in the Book
          of Zechariah as the "fast of the tenth month" (Zech. 8:19). All
          the general regulations and customs associated with public fast
          days are observed, including the recitation of special selihot
          on the particular theme of the day. If the fast falls on
          Friday, it is not moved to Thursday or Sunday, since it is
          mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel as the "exact day." This is
          not observed by liberal Jews.
          The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has chosen Asarah be-Tevet as Yom
          ha-Kaddish ha-Klali, the memorial day for those who perished in
          the Holocaust whose day of death is unknown.
   Tu B'shevat (Shevat 15)
          The day designed as Rosh ha-Shonah la-Ilanot - the New Year for
          Trees. This day was set aside in the Mishna on which to bring
          fruit tithes. It is still celebrated in modern times. Fruit
          that began to grow after the flower stage (or to ripen,
          according to Maimonides and the geonim, before Tu bi-Shevat,
          belongs to the previous year. Fruit reaching the stage of
          development after Tu bi-Shevat belongs to the new year. The
          consequences of this determination is whether ma'aser sheni,
          the "second" tithe (first, second, fourth, and fifth years of
          the seven year cycle), or ma'aser ani, the tithe for the poor
          (third and sixth years of the seven year cycle) are to be taken
          from the fruit. The importance of this determination stems from
          the prohibition against setting aside fruit from the new year's
          crop as a tithe for the previous year's crop. To facilitate
          compliance with the commandments of orlah and fourth year's
          fruits, this date is used to determine the first four years
          that the tree bears fruit. Tu bi-Shevat also marks the
          beginning of the second year in a tree's life, so long as it
          has taken root some time before Tu bi-Shevat. This date was
          chosen "because most of the winter rains are over" (RH. 14a)
          and the fruit has begun to ripen.
          In the Diaspora (exile), Tu bi-Shevat has lost its halakhic and
          agricultural significance, yet it is still regarded as a
          festive day. Thus, no fasting or eulogizing is permitted, nor
          is the Tahanun prayer recited. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed
          and his disciples began the custom of eating fruit on this day.
          For this purpose, they composed liturgical poems (piyyutim) and
          a seder for Tu bi-Shevat eve, during which they drank four cups
          of wine. This custom was adopted first by varios Sephardi
          communities, and then by Aschkenazi Jewry who initiated the
          custom to eat on Tu bi-Shevat the fruit for which Eretz Israel
          is famous.
          In modern Israel, this is the day when children plant trees in
          the forests and in public places.
   Fast of Esther (Adar 13)
          A fast held on the 13th of Adar, the day preceding Purim. When
          the 13th of Adar falls on the Sabbath the fast is moved back to
          the preceding Thursday, the 11th. Ta'anit Ester is marked by
          the usual observances of fast days, including the recitation of
          penitential prayers (selihot) and the reading at both Shaharit
          and Minhah of Exodus 30:11-14 (Va-Yedab).
          It commemorates the fasts of Mordecai, Esther, and the Jews of
          Shushan in reaction to the decree of Haman to liquidate the
          entire Jewish people. According to the Talmud and other
          sources, the 13th of Adar was formerly a feast day celebrating
          the decisive victory of Judah Maccabee over the Syrian general
          Nicanor. Because no fasting was permitted on "Nicanor's Day",
          the Fast of Esther was held after Purim. But that usage was
          annulled and the Fast of Esther was shifted more appropriately
          to the day before Purim.
   Purim (Adar 14)
          This festival commemorates the events found in the Book of
          Esther. The Shabbat preceding Purim is called Shabbat Zachor
          (the Sabbath of remembrance). The day before Purim - Adar 13 -
          is the Fast of Esther. The book of Esther is written in the
          form of a scroll - the Megillah. It is chanted on Purim in the
          evening, and on the next day after the Torah reading.
          The holiday commemorates the Jewish people's escape from
          extermination at the hands of Haman, minister to the Persian
          king Ahasuerus. The word Purim means "lots", and the holiday is
          so named as a reminder of the lots cast by Haman to determine
          on what date the slaughter of the Jews would commence. The 13th
          of Adar was the day marked for the Jews' destruction until a
          royal decree rescinded the order, enabling the Jews to rout
          their enemies within the Persian empire. On the 14th, the Jews
          rested and celebrated their victory; thereafter it became the
          day on which Purim was observed in most locales.
          In leap years, Purim is celebrated during Adar II. In such
          years, the 14th of Adar I is called Purim Katan (Little Purim)
          and is marked by the omission of certain penitential prayers
          normally recited on weekdays.
          The following rabbinic commandments are observed on Purim:
         1. The reading of the Megillah (the Book of Esther, which
            narrates the story of Purim; it must be handwritten on a
            scroll of parchment) twice; once during the evening and once
            on the day of Purim. When the reader mentions the name of
            Haman, it is customary for the assembled to make loud noises
            in order to "blot out" the name of the oppressor.
         2. Mishloah Manot, the sending of gifts of prepared food to
            friends and neighbours. At least two types of food must be
            sent to at least one person.
         3. Se'udat Purim, a festive meal (se'udat mitzvah). The meal is
            usually held in the afternoon, although it may be held in the
          The historicity of the story as recorded in the Book of Esther,
          as well as its apparent lack of a deep spiritual lesson, has
          been questioned by some critical scholars. However, it would
          seem that the main character of the festival is of a carnival
          celebration. Since the Middle Ages, custom developed to
          masquerade on Purim. Amongst Aschkenazim, a popular amusement
          became the commical plays known as Purim Shpiel. In modern
          Israel, carnival parades (Adloyada) are organized in the
          In the course of Jewish history, it often occured that
          individuals and communities who had been saved in a miraculous
          fashion established a special "Purim" each year to commemorate
          the date. The best known of such "private Purims" is that of
          the Jews of Frankfurt-am-Main, commemorating the community's
          deliverance in 1616. Frankfurt's notorius anti-Semite, Vincent
          Fettmilch, who called himself the new Haman, was hanged, and
          the Jews whom he had expelled returned to their homes. As a
          result of the events of that period, the Jews of Frankfurt
          proclaimed the 27th of Elul as a day of fasting and repentance,
          and the 20th of Adar as Purim Winz - the Purim of Vincent.
   Shushan Purim (Adar 15)
          In the Book of Esther, the rejoicing in the walled city of
          Shushan took place one day later (Adar 15) than elsewhere (Adar
          14). Therefore, this day has come to be known as Shushan Purim.
          This is because the Jews of Shushan, capital of Persia, were
          granted a one-day extension to eliminate their enemies; hence,
          their celebrations began on the 15th. Since Shushan itself was
          a walled city, it was decreed that in deference to the cities
          of the Land of Israel, which lay in ruin at the time, cities
          walled at the time of the Israelite conquest would celebrate on
          the same date as the Jews of Shushan. The 15th is, therefore
          known as Shushan Purim.
          To the present day, Purim is observed on Adar 15 in such cities
          --- most notably Jerusalem --- as were walled cities at the
          time of the events described in the Book of Esther.
   New Year for Kings (Nisan 1)
          Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar; in Mishnaic
          times it was celebrated as the New Year for Kings and months.
          In biblical times, kings reckoned the years of their reign from
          the first of Nisan. If a king mounted the throne on the
          previous day, then the Ist of Nisan marked the beginning of the
          "second year" of his reign. In addition to this "new year", the
          Mishna sets up three other New Year's: Elul 1, for animal
          tithes, Tishrei 1 (Rosh HaShanah), and Shevat 15, the New Year
          for Trees/fruit tithes. Ever since the Babylonian diaspora,
          only the Rosh HaShanah and Tu B'Shevat are still celebrated.
   Tzom Bechorot: The Fast of the First Born (Nisan 14)
          In commemoration of the slaying of the first-born sons of the
          Egyptians as the Tenth Plague visited on Pharaoh, while their
          Hebrew counterparts were "passed over" (i.e. spared, hence the
          English name Passover for Pesach), first-born sons are required
          to observe a minor fast on the day before Passover. However, if
          they attend a simcha (joyous occasion) such as a wedding or a
          siyum (a celebration marking the completion of the study of a
          tractate of the Talmud), they are allowed to break the fast.
          Therefore most Orthodox synagogues arrange for a siyum on that
   Pesach (Nisan 15)
          The first Pilgrimage Festival (recall that Nisan, not Tishri,
          is the first month of the Hebrew calendar). Pesach commemorates
          the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. The first seder is
          on the 14th. On the night of the 15th, the second seder is
          held, and the counting of the Omer starts. The Omer is a
          counting down of the days from the time of the departure from
          Egypt, until the time the Torah was received at Mount Sinai.
          Pesach is also called "zman cheruteinu" (the time of our
          freedom), because it is the time when the Jewish people were
          freed from Egyptian slavery.
          The holiday is called the "Passover" because God "passed over"
          the Israelite houses when smiting the Egyptians with the tenth
          plague (Ex. 12:23, 12:27). It is also called the Festival of
          Unleavened Bread since the only bread that may be eaten during
          the festival is unleavened (matzah), and the Festival of Spring
          because of the command to "observe the month of Abib(spring)
          and offer a passover sacrifice" (Deut. 16:1). Because the
          Jewish lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year, the
          Jewish calendar was adjusted so Passover should always fall in
          the spring.
          Passover's first and last days ( in the Diaspora, the first two
          and last two) are holy days on which most work is forbidden,
          and the days in between are known as hol ha'mo'ed ("the
          festival's weekdays") or "the intermediate days." The principal
          observance of the festival is the eating of matzah and the
          removal of all hametz (leaven or any products containing it)
          from one's abode prior to the festival.
          In antiquity, the central Passover rite was the sacrifice of
          the paschal offering - ofter called simply "the Pesah" - on the
          14th of Nisan, and the eating of it that evening together with
          matzah and maror (bitter herbs). The Samaritans continue to
          perform this rite on Mount Gerizim, but for other Jews the
          Seder became the central rite after the destruction of the
          Second Temple.
          The Passover prayer services are essentially the same as those
          of other pilgrim festivals. The first days Musaf service
          includes the prayer of dew , the petition for rain (Heb.
          Tefillat Geshem) , is no longer recited. In the Arvit (evening)
          service for the second day, the counting of the Omer begins.
          The laws of Passover are discussed in Pesahim, the third
          tractate in the Order Mo'ed. It contains ten chapters with
          Gemara in both Talmuds and Tosefta.
   Sefirah (The counting)
   Sefirat Ha'Omer
          Also known simply as The Omer, this 49 day period between
          Pesach and Shavuot is defined by the Torah as the period to
          bring special offerings to the temple in Jerusalem; This makes
          physical the spiritual connection between Pesach and Shavuot.
          Pesach marks the liberation from Egypt, and Shavuot marks the
          receiving of the Torah. The counting begins the second night of
          Traditionally, the Sefirah is a time of sadness. During this
          period, 12,000 of Rabbi Akiva's disciples died. This occurred
          during the Hadrianic persecution that followed the Bar Kokhba
          revolt, in which Rabbi Akiva was involved. During this period
          (with one exception), customarily no weddings take place, no
          hair is cut, and no activities occur involving dancing and
          music. The period is more culturally-dependant than the ban
          itself. In some cultures, the period is from Pesach to Lag
          B'Omer. Others go from Rosh Chodesh Iyyar to Shavuot. Yom
          Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalaim are days on which people who
          celebrate them take haircuts or take haircuts the day before.
   Yom Ha'Shoah (Nisan 27)
          Holocaust remembrance day, which is dedicated to the memory of
          those who perished in the Holocaust. It was on that day in 1943
          that the Nazis finally suppressed the Warsaw ghetto revolt. On
          this day the people unite in remembering the six million
          victims, the ghetto fighters, and the partisans.
          All places of entertainment and restaurants are closed for the
          24 hours commencing on the eve of Memorial Day. Candles are lit
          on public buildings and in synagogues, flags are lowered to
          half-mast and Yad Vashem conducts a state memorial service. The
          president of the State of Israel, former members of the
          underground and partisans, survivors and members of the public
          See also: Yom Yerushalayim.
   Yom Hazikaron (Iyar 4)
          Day of remembrance. A memorial day to those who fell in active
          service in Israel's wars. Observed on the 4th of Iyyar, the eve
          of Independance Day. This date was determined by the Israel
          government in 1949. On this day all places of entertainment
          throughout the country are closed by law, flags are flown at
          half mast and memorial candles burn on public buildings and in
          synagogues. People visit military cemeteries and official
          memorial services are held. Since 1968 an official service is
          held at the Western Wall to mark the beginning of Yom
          ha-Zikkaron . At both Arvit (evening) and Shaharit (morning)
          services in many synagogues a special memorial prayer is
          recited. A siren is sounded during the morning and all activity
          is halted as citizens observe a two-minute silence. After the
          closing ceremony of Remembrance Day, the festivities of
          Independence Day begin.
          See also: Yom Yerushalayim.
   Yom Ha'atzma'ut (Iyar 5)
          Israel Independence Day, which commemorates the establishment
          of the State of Israel on the 5th of Iyyar (14 May 1948).
          National celebrations begin with a ceremony on Mount Herzl in
          Jerusalem, near Herzl's grave, presided over by the chairman of
          the Knesset. National flags are hoisted in the streets and on
          the buildings, and people celebrate the holiday with dancing in
          the street, parties, day trips and outings. For many years the
          central event of the day was the Israel Defence Forces military
          parade. In recent years the central event is the Bible Quiz for
          Jewish youth. Each year on the day of the Israel Prize is
          awarded to outstanding figures in their particular field. In
          many synagogues a special service, which includes Hallel, is
          recited. Many people celebrate with a festive meal on the eve
          of the holiday.
          See also: Yom Yerushalayim.
   Lag Ba'Omer (Iyar 18--The 33rd day of the Omer)
          Thirty-third day of Omer counting, as indicated by the
          numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters lamed (30) and
          gimmel (3), hence the word lag. . Lag Ba'Omer takes place
          during the Sefirah. During this day there was a break in the
          Hadrianic persecution. Weddings and joyful occasions are
          Lag Ba'Omer is considered a joyous day on which the
          semi-mourning observed during the seven-week Omer period is
          suspended. It is commemorated as the day of the cessation of
          the plague in which 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiba were said
          to have died during the Bar Kokhba revolt (TB. Yev. 62b). It
          also marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. Lag ba-Omer
          has been traditionally celebrated with the lighting of bonfires
          on the eve and during the day, and with hiking excursions in
          the countryside. Sporting events and games with bows and arrows
          are held, as a symbolic remembrance of the Bar Kokhba revolt
          and the physical prowess and courage required of his soldiers.
          In Israel, it is customary to light bonfires at the tombs of
          Simeon bar Yohai and his son Eliezer at Meron, near Safed, and
          at the tomb of Simeon the Just in Jerusalem. Throngs congregate
          to sing and dance, and to honor the memories of Simeon bar
          Yohai and Rabbi Akiba, who were among the main rabbinic
          supporters of anti-Roman resistance
          In hasidic circles, three-year-old boys are traditionally given
          their first haircut at these festivals. Older Torah students
          and adults celebrate the day as the "Scholars' Holiday". Lag
          ba-Omer is also a traditional day for wedding ceremonies to be
          held because of the general halakhic injunction against
          weddings during the period of the Omer counting.
   Yom Yerushalayim (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. This
          reunification occured during the Six Day War (June 1967). On
          this day East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, was
          captured by the Israeli Defence Forces. Many events take place
          in Jerusalem to mark Jerusalem Day. A memorial service is held
          on Ammunition Hill, where many paratroopers fell during the
          battles. Large numbers of Israelis pay a visit to Jerusalem to
          pray at the Western Wall and tour the city. The Chief Rabbinate
          has composed a service of special prayers, including the
          recital of Hallel, for the occasion.
          The Hallel [a series of prayers of praise] is recited by most
          Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform congregations. Israel's
          Chief Rabbis advocate reciting Hallel with a blessing.
          The new holidays of Yom Yerushalayim, Yom Hazikaron, Yom
          Ha'atzma'ut and Yom HaShoah are still too new for any consensus
          to have developed in the Jewish community as to the appropriate
          liturgy. Many liberal Jews observe them (and create new
          liturgies for them). Traditional Jews vary in the observance of
          these days. Some observe them. Some prefer to commemorate
          Churban Europa on Tisha B'Av along with the other catastrophes
          which have befallen the Jewish people. Some celebrate the
          Israel-related days, but don't assign them religious
          significance, and others ignore all three.
   Shavuot (Sivan 6, 7)
          The second Pilgrimage Festival, it is also known as The Feast
          of Weeks, Hag Haqatsir (The harvest festival), Hag HaShavuot,
          or just 'Atseret (The conclusion of Pesach). [Literally, the
          Hebrew word 'atseret' means conclusion.] Shavuot marks the end
          of the counting of the Omer; it occurs on the day after the
          conclusion of the counting of the 49 days of the Omer, in
          accordance with the biblical command to count seven complete
          weeks from the morrow of Passover (Lev. 23:15-16). According to
          Rabbinic tradition, the Ten Commandments were given on this
          day. It is customary to read the Book of Ruth on this day.
          Shavuot is also called "zman matan toratanu" (the time of the
          giving of the Torah).
          The interpretation of the counting of the Omer was the subject
          of a bitter dispute between two parties within the Jewish
          people during the Second Temple period. The Pharisses, the
          party that accepted the Oral Law and claimed that it was the
          only authoritative interpretation of the Bible, took the words
          "day of rest" to refer to the opening holiday of Passover, on
          which no work could be performed. The Sadducees, who repudiated
          the Oral Law, took the phrase literally (in Hebrew the text
          reads "Sabbath") as the first Sabbath of Passover. Accordingly,
          the date of the holiday came out differently for each of these
          groups, with the Sadducees sometimes celebrating Shavuot as
          many as six days later than the Pharisses.
          Shavuot has an agricultural character and is known in the
          sources as the "Feast of the Harvest" (Hag ha-Katzir, Ex.
          23:16) and "the day of the first fruits" (Yom ha-Bikkurim, Num.
          28:26). The main theme of the holiday, however is the
          commemoration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, which
          by tradition (as inferred from verses in Exodus 19) occured on
          the 6th of Sivan. When the Temple stood. the most salient
          aspect of the holiday, aside from its various sacrifices, was
          the bringing of the special "twin loaves" (lehem ha-bikkurim)
          made from the newly cut wheat. From Shavuot throughout the
          summer the first fruits of the seven species (wheat, barley,
          grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates).
          Among certain Jewish communities, the mourning rites of the
          Omer period end with the advent of the month of Sivan, and it
          becomes permissible, among other things, to hold weddings. The
          3rd, 4th, and 5th of Sivan are known as Sheloshet Yemei
          Hagbalah the Three Days of Restriction. These are the days when
          the children of Israel were restricted from approaching Mount
          Sinai prior to revelation, and certain holiday customs are
          observed at this time. Thus the propitiatory prayers called
          Tahanun are not recited and eulogies may not be delivered. The
          2nd of Sivan is known as the yom ha-meyuhas, the day of
          importance, coming as it does between the first of the month
          (Rosh Hodesh), a semi-holiday, and the Three Days of
          Restriction. In some communities, the Sabbath prior to Shavuot
          is known as the Sabbath of the Bride (Shabbat Kallah), since
          the Torah, given on Shavuot, is metaphorically described as
          Israel's bride. These communities maintain the custom of
          reading a ketubbah (marriage contract) between the Torah and
          the Jewish people, at the time when the Torah is removed for
          reading from the holy ark.
          On the evening of Shavuot Arvit is recited with the festival
          Amidah. It is customary to take care to recite the Arvit after
          dark in order to make certain that the holiday is begun after
          the completion of the seven full weeks of the Omer period. The
          Torah reading consists of the account of the giving of the
          Torah in Exodus (19-20) and is preceded by the recitation of
          Akdamut, a special hymn written in Aramaic. Akdamut has 90
          lines and details a debate between the Jewish people and the
          nations and tells of the reward that awaits the righteous in
          the next world. The Torah reading is followed by the festival
          Musaf. In some congregations, liturgical poems known as Azharot
          are recited as part of the Musaf. These are concerned with the
          613 commandments. Certain Sephardi congregations recite the
          azharot as well as the Book of Ruth during the Minah service
          In the sixteenth century, the kabbalists instituted the custom
          of remaining awake the entire night of Shavuot and complied a
          lectionary known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot (Tikkun for Shavuot
          Eve), which comprises the first chapters of the sacred books
          and which is studied at the time. In time the custom of
          studying any subject of Jewish religious interest developed,
          but the observance is still known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot. Those
          who remain awake for the entire night recite the morning prayer
          service, Shaharit, at dawn. In Jerusalem, it has become
          customary to walk to the Western Wall for the entire morning
          service or at least for the Musaf, and since 1967, when
          Jerusalem was reunited, many thousands can be seen streaming
          into the Western Wall compound from all over the city. A very
          ancient custom is to eat dishes of milk and honey on Shavuot in
          keeping with the verse in Song of songs (4:11) that describes
          the Torah as "Honey and milk under your tongue."
   The Fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz (Tamuz 17)
          Mentioned by the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 8:19) as "the fast of
          the fourth month", the 17th of Tamuz marks the beginning of the
          destruction of Jerusalem. On this day in 70 C.E. the Romans
          breached the walls encircling Jerusalem, which led to the
          destruction of the second Temple. (During the siege preceding
          the first destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C.E., the
          Babylonians breached the walls on the ninth of Tamuz (Jeremiah
          39:2), but both events are commemorated on the same date. The
          actual destruction of the Temple itself took place on the 9th
          of Av--both in 587 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. See Tisha B'Av.)
          "Five catastrophies befell our fathers on the 17th of Tammuz:
          the tablets (of the Covenant) were broken, the daily Temple
          sacrifices were suspended, the walls to the city were breached,
          Apostamus burned a Torah scroll, and an idol was erected in the
          Temple" (Ta'an. 26a). The tablets were broken because Moses
          ascended Mount Sinai on the 7th of Sivan, remained there for 40
          days, and descended to find the people worshipping the Golden
          Calf on the 17th of Tammuz. The daily sacrifices were suspended
          during the civil of the Hasmoneans John Hyrcanus and
          Aristobulus because the Greeks at that time laid seige to
          Jerusalem and there was no access to sacrificial animals. The
          inhabitants of Jerusalem would lower money over the city wall
          in a basket, and the enemy would send up lambs in return. "On
          one occasion, a pig was sent up instead, and it dug its hooves
          into the wall, and the earth shook over an area of 500
          parasangs ... Apostamus burned the Torah scroll." It is not
          known precisely to what this refers. However, some identify it
          with the incident in which the Roman procurator discovered a
          Torah scroll, desecrated, and burned it.
          For the traditional, this day is observed by fasting. The fast
          begins at sunrise and concludes at sunset of the same day. this
          applies to all fasts, with the exception of Yom Kippur and
          Tisha B'Av, both of which begin on the preceding night. Fasting
          is the only restriction imposed; Working and bathing as usual
          are permitted.
          The fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz extends only from dawn
          until dark. During the Shaharit service, special penitential
          prayers (selihots) are recited. The Torah is read at both
          Shaharit and Minhah services, and a haftarah (prophetic
          reading) is chanted as on other fast days. The Seventeenth of
          Tammuz initiates a period of mourning, known as bein
          ha-metzarim, "between the straits", which concludes three weeks
          later with the fast of Tishah be-Av.
   The Three Weeks (Tamuz 17-Av 9) and The Nine Days (Av 1-Av 9)
          For the traditional, the days between the 17th of Tamuz and the
          9th of Av are considered days of mourning, for they witnessed
          the collapse of Jerusalem. In the Ashkenazi Jewish minhag
          (custom), weddings and other joyful occasions are traditionally
          not held in this period.
          A further element is added within the three weeks, during the
          nine days between the 1st and 9th day of Av. During this
          period, the pious refrain from eating meat and drinking wine,
          except on Shabbat or at a Seudat Mitzvah (such as a Pidyon
          Haben or completing the study of a religious text.) Many
          minhags observe a ban on cutting one's hair during this period.
          However, the length of time varies: some refrain only during
          the week in which Tisha B'Av falls.
   Tisha B'Av (Av 9)
          The saddest day of the Jewish calendar. On this day both the
          First and Second Temples were destroyed. (587 b.c.e. and 70
          c.e.) On this day in 1290, King Edward I signed the edict
          compelling the Jews to leave England. The Jewish expulsion from
          Spain in 1492 also occurred on this day. Tisha B'av also marked
          the outbreak of World War I. The date is also associated with
          the final collapse of the abortive Bar Kokhba revolt (135 CE).
          The Tishah be-Av fast begins at sundown and lasts 24 hours
          (like Yom Kippur), differentiating it from the other minor
          fasts that begin at sunrise. The rules for observing the fast
          day are similar to those of Yom Kippur. If Tishah be-Av falls
          on a Sabbath, it is deferred to the following day, Sunday. Like
          Yom Kippur, the Minhah service is held early in the day and a
          last meal is eaten prior to sunset.
          On Tishah be-Av, Torah study, with the exception of those
          portions concerning mourning or the destruction of the Temple,
          is forbidden. Before the Arvit service all leather shoes are
          removed, the curtain is removed from the holy ark, and prayers
          are recited in a subdued tone. after the service worshippers
          sit on a low stool or on the floor as the Book of Lamentations
          is read and a few kinot (elegies) are recited.
          Neither the tallit nor the tefillin are worn during the
          Shaharit service (Yemenite Jews do wear the tallit. The service
          includes the reading of the Torah, "When you have begotten
          children and children's children" (Deut. 4:25) and a prophetic
          reading (haftarah), "I will make an end to them - declares the
          Lord" (Jer. 8:13). After the Torah is returned to the holy ark,
          a larger number of kinot are recited. In some communities,
          lamentations is recited again.
          It is the custom not to exchange normal greetings and to
          refrain from work, until midday. At the Minhah service, the
          tallit and tefillin are worn and their respective blessings
          recited. The Torah reading and prophetic reading at this
          service are the same as on minor fast days.
          A special prayer is added to the blessing of Boneh Yerushalayim
          (Builder of Jerusalem) during the Amidah.
   New Year for Animal Tithes (Taxes) (Elul 1)
          This day is set up by the Mishna as the New Year for animal
          tithes, which roughly corresponds to a new year for taxes. This
          is similar to the tax deadline in the United States of America,
          on April 15. The date is disputed; Some authorities claim that
          it was observed on Tishrei 1 (Rosh HaShanah). The actual date
          is now merely academic; This holiday has not been observed
          since the Babylonian diaspora.

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