Jewish Holidays

Monday, April 20, 2009

We will try to understand the significance of the holidays and to examine the nature of the Jewish calendar. A somewhat apocryphal story tells of a Jew who is about to be taken to a ghetto. He manages to ask the local rabbi the following question: if there might be the possibility of smuggling one book to the isolated labor camp, what book should that be?

We might imagine the rabbi suggesting a prayer book or possibly the Bible. Yet, the response was “take the Jewish calendar”. If you know that you are celebrating the various holidays and also keeping the days of communal mourning and fasting, together with the rest of the Jewish community dispersed throughout the world, you have maintained your identity.

The Jewish calendar is probably one of the best ways of studying Jewish history. The calendar itself is a reflection of ancient Jewish history and ongoing events up until modern times.

  1. The Jewish Calendar: Judaism today has a fixed calendar that determines all of its holidays. This is arguably the most important unifying factor in what is otherwise a frequently fragmented religious community. Not withstanding all the disputes, the calendar is universally accepted by all practicing Jews.

  2. The Sabbath: The only holiday in Judaism that is not determined by a particular day of a month is the Sabbath. The word in Hebrew is Shabbat, which basically means to rest.

  3. High Holy Days in Judaism. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: The most solemn of Jewish holidays are known as the “High Holy Days”. They are the New Year and the day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

  4. Seasonal Holidays. Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot: Some Jewish holidays are considered seasonal. They signify the agricultural activity of the autumn and the spring, the harvest days and the days of sowing. All these three holidays have close associations with chapters of the biblical exodus story.

  5. Post-biblical Holidays. Purim and Hanukkah: A third category of festivals was added after the Bible, in Second Temple times.

  6. Mourning Holiday. The 9th of Ab: Numerous fast days commemorate the destruction of the two Jewish temples. The are a number of days throughout the calendar that are linked with the destruction of the temples, as well as other disasters that marked the saga of Judaism. The most solemn of these days is the 9th of the lunar month of Ab.

  7. Modern Jewish Holidays: Events of the last few generations have aroused calls for an updating of the Jewish calendar. Numerous special dates have been added to the Jewish cycle of the yearly calendar.