Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish year. This is the day G-d
completed His creation by creating Adam and Eve. On the very first day
of his creation, Adam acknowledged G-d's Kingship over the entire
universe. We, too, continue ot do so every Rosh Hashana, as we reaffirm
our commitment to following G-d's commandments. An important Rosh
Hashanah observance is the sounding of the Shofar.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day in the Jewish
calendar. On this day G-d promises to forgive all our sins, as long as we
regret our past and resolve to do better in the future.
During this day, we refrain from work as we do on Shabbat. In adition,
we refrain from any food or drink, washing, anointing ourselves with
oils or lotions, marital relations, and the wearing of leather shoes.
Sukkot is a joyous holiday. It means the "season of happiness". We
rejoice in the knowledge that G-d has inscribed us for a good and
healthy new year.
During Sukkot, we observe the special mitzvah of shaking the Lulav
(palm branch) and the Etrog (citron). Together with the Hadas
(myrtle) and the Arava (willow), these plants represent the various
types of Jews who together form the Jewish nation.
Shemini Atzeret occurs on the day after the seven day festival of Sukkot. It
falls on Tishri 22 in the Hebrew Calendar beginning at sunset the night
before and is generally translated as "the eighth day of assembly". The
Talmud declares the eighth day as a separate holiday and one dedicated to
the love of God.
In ancient Israel, Shemini Atzeret coincided with the beginning of the rainy
season. Accordingly, prayers for rain (Tefillat geshem) and good crops were
recited. Shemini Atzeret is celebrated concurrently with Simhat Torah by
most Reform Jews. Orthodox and Conservative Jews celebrate the holidays
Simchat Torah marks the day we complete the reading of the Torah in its
annual cycle. On the evening of Simchat Torah, (in some communities, on
the previous evening of Shmini Atzeret as well we make seven Kakafot
(circles) around the Bimah (table) on which the Torah is read, dancing and
rejoicing with the Torah scrolls. During morning services on Simaht Torah,
the Torah is officially completed by reading the last Torah portion. We
immediately start reading from the beginning of the Torah again, for the
Torah's teachings are endless, and we shall always seek to delve deeper
and deeper into its meanings.
Many years ago, when the Syrian-Greeks ruled Ancient Israel they put
statues of Greek gods in every town. The Jewish people were told that if
they didn't pray to the Greek gods they would be punished. The Greeks, led
by Antiochus IV, prohibited practice of the Jewish religion and destroyed
the Temple in Jerusalem.
Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan,
and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Judah
Maccabee ("Judah the Hammer"). When Mattathias had died, Judah took his
place as leader. The Jewish revolt was successful. The Temple was liberated
According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, 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 (candelabrum) 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.
Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, 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.
Passover is the 8 day observance commemorating the freedom and exodus
of the Israelites (Jewish slaves) from Egypt during the reign of the Pharaoh
Ramses II. A time of family gatherings and lavish meals called Seders, the
story of Passover is retold through the reading of the Haggadah. With its
special foods, songs, and customs, the Seder is the focal point of the
Shavuot, the Feast of the Weeks, is the Jewish holiday celebrating the
harvest season in Israel. Shavuot, which means "weeks", refers to the timing
of the festival which is held exactly 7 weeks after Passover.
Shavuot also commemorates the anniversary of the giving of the Ten
Commandments to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai.