Holidays in the Jewish Year

Five holidays are mentioned in the Bible (i.e. in the Torah), these are the Shalosh Regalim/Pilgrimage Festivals (Pessach, Shavuoth, Sukkot) and the Yamim Nora’im/High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur). Three of them are in the month of Tishrei (1st & 2nd day of Rosh HaShanah – also two holidays in Israel! – and Yom Kippur and Sukkot) => Biblical holidays, with a ban on working like on Shabbat on the main holidays and a restricted ban on working on Chol ha-Mo ‘ed (= days between the first and last day of Passover or the first and last day of Sukkot; = “intermediate holidays”).

Two festivals are post-biblical = rabbinic (talmudic) holidays: Purim and Hanukkah; there is no ban on working on them (less “spiritual”, more “physical” festivals in which the bodily, physical salvation of the Jewish people is celebrated with eating and drinking). They date from the Talmudic period. [….]

All holidays, like every day in the Jewish calendar, begin on the evening before. As already mentioned, they often have an agricultural connection in addition to the religious one, relating to the agricultural or climatic conditions in the Land of Israel. The modern political holidays have no agricultural reference to the State of Israel, but they do have a political reference. Viewed in this way, all festivals relate to the Jewish people as a nation – with one religion, i.e. one G‑d, and one (home)land, namely Israel (and one language, namely Hebrew).

While the national political holidays are now mainly celebrated in Israel itself (except for ~ Yom Ha-Azma’ut), the other holidays and fasts are equally valid both in Israel and in all countries of the Galut (Diaspora). An important difference is the celebration of 2 days on the 1st & 2nd day Passover (with 2nd Seder evening), 7th & 8th day Passover, 1st & 2nd day Shavuoth in all countries of the world outside of Israel, which refers to the former uncertainties in the determination of the New Year’s Day after the destruction of the II Temple in the Diaspora; Even after the final definition of the holidays, this peculiarity was retained – whereby Israelis who are in the Galut only celebrate the 1st of the two holidays, Jews from the Galut who are (temporarily) staying in Erez Israel still celebrate the 2nd Holidays instead of one. Rosh Hashanah is also celebrated in Israel on two days, Yom Kippur in the Galut on just one day.

(taken from “The Holiday Cycle in the Jewish Year” by Dr. A.Y. Deusel with the kind permission of the UPJ from the app “Union Progressive Jews in Germany”)

public holidays
Rosh Ha-Shanah: New Year, on the 1st and 2nd of Tishrei; this day is a reminder of the work of creation (Mishnah: the first man was created on 1 Tishrei). It is also called Jom ha-Sikaron (Day of Remembrance) or Jom Truah (Day of the Trumpet Sound). From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the shofar is blown daily (except on Shabbat). The 1st of Tishrei begins a ten-day period of self-reflection and repentance, i.e. it is the beginning of the Jamim Nora’im (Days of Reverence, in English: High Holidays). With the first blowing of the shofar, G‑d opens the Book of Life and Death (Mishnah).

Zom Gedaliah: 3. Tishrei; Fast day to commemorate the assassination of the Jewish governor Gedaliah, appointed by Nebuchadnezzar after the destruction of the 1st Temple, and thus the final end of the 1st Reich.

Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement, on the 10th of Tishrei; this is the highest Jewish holiday, it is observed as a strict day of fasting (i.e. no eating or drinking for about 25 hours) and as a day of prayer. Nonetheless, it is considered a “happy day” dedicated to reconciliation with G‑d (and fellow human beings). At the last sound of the shofar (at the end of the Ne’ilage prayer, before the fast is broken), G‑d closes the Book of Life and Death (Mishnah).

Sukkot: Feast of Tabernacles, 15th to 21st Tishrei. This is the festival that commemorates the trek through the desert. The spiritual motive is bitachon, man’s trust in G‑d’s protection as he wanders through life. The 8th day of the festival, on the 22nd of Tishrei, is the final festival, Shemini Atzeret. This is followed by Simchat Torah (see below), which is a separate festival. The agricultural aspect is the time of the last harvest of the year (“when you gather from your barn and your winepress”), hence the name Chag ha-Assif, festival of gathering. The day of Shemini Atzeret marks the beginning of the winter half-year.

Simchat Torah: Feast of the Joy of the Law, on the 23rd of Tishrei. On this day the annual cycle of reading the Torah ends with the last section of Deuteronomy and the new cycle begins with the reading of the first section of Genesis.

Hanukkah: Festival of the Temple Dedication/Festival of Lights; an eight-day festival beginning on 25 Kislew. With this festival we commemorate the victorious Maccabees rebellion.