Jewish Holidays Observance

Holidays Observed in the Jewish Religion.

Jewish star (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Jewish star
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
 In Judaism, there are some very special days in which Jews take time out to stop working and focus on God and his commandments. These Jewish Holidays are important. 
Jewish history has many incredible stories about the observance of these special holidays, which are important to remember and apply. Observing these holidays, help to keep the Jewish tradition alive, brings Jews together, and maintain regular reflection and celebration.
This article will discuss the following Jewish holidays:
  • Feast of Weeks
  • Hannuka
  • Passover
  • Purim
  • Rosh Hashanah
  • Sukkot
  • Tu B’Shevat
  • Yom Kippur
The feast of weeks is a Jewish holiday that takes place fifty days after the offering of the barley sheaf during the Passover feast. In the old testament it is known as the “Feast of Harvest” and the “Feast of Weeks.” The Feast of Week is the concluding festival of the grain harvest.
  • Feast of Weeks Observances
    • It starts with the harvesting of barley during the Passover and ends with the harvesting of the wheat at Pentecost.
    • The males bring “the first fruits of the wheat harvest” to the sanctuary. This gesture is based on Deuteronomy 16:9-12.
    • The whole community will bring a first fruit offering that consists of two first-fruit loaves of new meal, of two-tenths of an hyphae, baked with leaven.
    • Animal sacrifices are also offered.
    • No work is permitted.
Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights. The story related to this holiday is not recorded in the Torah. It commemorates the victories of the Maccabees over the Syrians of Jerusalem and the re-dedication of the temple. 
The Hanukkah festival lasts for eight days and is symbolized by the lighting of nine candles throughout the eight days. Using one candle to light another, a candle is lit on the first night, two on the second night, three on the third night, and so forth until all candles are lit on the eight nights.
Throughout Jewish history, Hanukkah was not really, of such, recognized by the Jews. But over time, it gained popularity and is now one of the biggest celebrated Jewish holidays, next to the Passover.  
  • Hanukkah Observance
    • It is celebrated in December and begins with the “feast of light”, “feast of dedication” and “feast of Maccabees.”
    • Mostly fried Jewish food is cooked during this period. For example, potato pancake fried in oil, or a jelly donut.
    • Gift giving is also a feature of the Hanukkah observance. It is believed that Jewish parents do not want their children to be jealous of non-Jewish children who are receiving gifts on Christmas, so they have started giving their children gifts during Hanukkah seeing that it is so near to Christmas.
The Passover, in Jewish Religion, is also known as the “festival of the unleavened bread” or “Pesach.” It commemorates the Exodus (when they were liberated from their oppressors) which is one of the most important events and foundation of Jewish history. The observances of the Passover are recorded in the book of Exodus chapter 12 – 15.
The name Passover came about when the Hebrews slaughtered a lamb and sprinkled the blood on their doorpost so that the last of the ten plagues could “pass over.”  It also represents the start of the harvest season, but Jews do not observe this aspect of the Passover.
  • Passover Observances
    • Date – it starts on the 15th day of Nisan (March/April) and ends on the 22nd. The month of Nisan for the Jews is a joyful month. 
    • Food – only unleavened bread (bread that does not rise) is eaten on the Passover and all leavened bread must be removed from the house. In fact, a formal security check is done throughout the house to make sure that they are no leavened bread (chametz). This is to commensurate the fact that the Israelites did not have time to make their bread rise before leaving Egypt.
    • Main Observance – the main observance of the Passover is the Passover Seder. This is a ritual meal that is shared by all Jewish family on the first and second night of the Passover. 
Purim is a spring holiday that consists of drunkenness, tasty Jewish food, gift-giving, and making noise in the synagogues. It is also nicknamed “the Jewish Mardi Gras or the Jewish Halloween.” 
In Judaism, it is believed that Purim will still be observed when all other holidays are abolished because of its joyfulness.
Purim is adopted from the book of Esther and not from the Torah. The word itself means “lots” and refers to Haman’s casting of lots in the book of Esther.
  • Purim Observances - On Purim, all Jews are required to fulfill the four Purim mitzvot, which are:
  1. Two readings of the Megillah (scroll of Esther) – the first reading before sunset and sunrise on the night of Purim and the second reading between sunrise and sunset. The reading must be clear and on the mention of Haman’s name the congregation must make a loud noise to blots out the “memory of his name on the earth.”
  2. Festive Meal (Seudah Purim)
  3. Gifts of food to friends (Mishloach Manot)
  4. Charity to the poor (Matanot l’Evyonim)
  • One special feature of the Purim celebration is that an adult must be drunk to the extent that he/she cannot distinguish between “Cursed be Haman" and "Blessed be Mordecai."
  • Charity must be given to the poor.
  • Two types of food or drink must be given to a friend.
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year. It means, in Judaism “head of the year.” Unlike secular new year celebration, Rosh Hashanah is a very solemn and holy celebration. It is inspired by the book of Leviticus 23:23-25 and is celebrated on the second day of the Jewish “Tishri,” which is around September or October.
In Jewish history, Rosh Hashanah is also a day of Judgement. On this day God judges all his people and decide on their fate for the coming year. Therefore, it is a time to review one’s relationship with God and try to repair it. It is also believed that this Jewish holiday marks the completion of the creation of the world.
  • Rosh Hashanah Observances:
    • 100 horns are blown in four different tones each day in the synagogue.
    • Work is prohibited and most of the day is spent in the synagogue.
    • Special Jewish foods are prepared. The most popular Jewish foods during Rosh Hashanah are apples and bread dipped in honey.
    • Another observance is casting off. Worshippers visit the river and cast bread into it as a symbol of casting off their sins.
In Judaism, Sukkot is called by several different names, such as:
  • The festival of booths
  • The festival of the ingathering
  • Season of rejoicing
Sukkot is one of the longest Jewish holidays and takes place on the fifteenth day of the seventh month – the fifth day of Yom Kippur. 
  •  Sukkot Observances
    • Temporary staying in tents or booths – this is to remember the time the Hebrew spent in the wilderness (Leviticus 23).
    • Collection of the four species. This is done by collecting one palm branch, two willow branches, and three myrtle branches.   Again, this represents the commandment at Leviticus 23:40. 
Tu B’Shevat is a Jewish holiday that takes place on the 15th  day of the Jewish month of Shevat. In Hebrew, its name means “15 Shevat.” This is a fixed date for counting the age of trees. For example, if a tree is planted on the 12 Shevat it will be three days old on the 15th of Tu B’Shevat but if it was planted on the 16t Shevat it would a year old on the next Tu B’Shevat.
In Jewish history, the 15th of Shevat is not from the Torah but rather teachings of the rabbis before the 1st Century BC as a way of following the law of the Torah concerning fruits. Therefore, it is not really a religious holiday and is not significant.
  • Tu B’Shevat Observances
    • Consuming plenty of fruits that grow in Israel.
    • Planting new trees and raising money to plant new trees in Israel.
    • Drinking wine and eating fruits with readings and blessing the earth.
In Judaism, Yom Kippur is a very important holiday. It is considered a day of atonement and is  celebrated on the 10th day of Tishri. It is an occasion when Jews and non-observant Jews will attend synagogue, refrain from work, and fast.
Forty days before Yom Kippur is observed, the blowing of the ram’s horn (shofar) and reciting of Psalms 27 is done before and after the morning prayers. This is done to bring about an atmosphere of reverence before the actual day of atonement begins.
  • Yom Kippur Observances
Yom Kippur runs from sundown to nightfall of the next day, on that day there is no work.  In addition, washing or bathing, eating or drinking, wearing leather shoes, or engaging in marital relations are prohibited.