Jewish Holidays

in a Zionist Context

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Jewish Holidays

in a Zionist Context

Jewish national life and Jewish religion are inextricably interwoven. During the long exile of the Jewish people, holidays and prayers became the vehicle for preserving Jewish national culture, traditions and ties with the land. The holiday cycle was keyed to the harvest season of ancient Palestine. Each year at Passover Jews prayed "Next Year in Jerusalem" and each day we prayed for restoration of the Jews to our ancient national home. Use of Hebrew as the language of prayer and of holiday observances preserved our ancient language. Continual readings from the Torah and the Tanach (the Old Testament)  the books that embody the laws and ancient history of the Jewish people kept alive our ties with our ancient land. Indeed, all of the notions of national redemption and restoration of the Jewish people, love of the land of Israel, the Hebrew language,  and love of freedom that characterize Zionism are  thoroughly embedded in virtually every aspect of Jewish religious observance. Therefore, the claims of small sects of anti-Zionist Jews that Zionism is "heresy," like the claims of certain non-Jews that Jews had thoroughly forgotten about the land of Israel, seem to be utterly absurd.

Jews celebrate several holidays and commemorative days  that are really more national holidays rather than religious ones, because they celebrate events of national importance rather than religious events. At least four of these holidays have been with us for a long time: Hannuka, Passover, Purim and Tu Bishvat. The fast of the 9th of Av, Tisha Be'av, mourns the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Romans in 73 A.D. According to Jewish tradition in fact, the first temple fell on the same day to the Babylonian conquerors.  In modern times, Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence day, was added when Israel became independent in 1948, as well as days honoring the victims of the Holocaust and the casualties of Israel's wars.

Following is a summary of Jewish holidays, with links to more detailed descriptions: The Jewish holy days, including modern holidays and commemorative days like Independence day,  begin at dusk in the evening and end at dusk in the evening of the following day. Calendar dates are approximate, according to the Jewish lunar calendar, which is corrected by addition of a leap month every year. 

Jewish Holidays

Tu Bishvat. The new year of the trees, in which new trees are planted. [February]. More about Tu'Bishvat.

Purim .- Celebrates the rescue of Persian Jews 2,300 years ago by Queen Esther with a carnival and noisemakers [March].

Passover (Pesach) -Passover signals the birth of the Jewish nation, and recalls the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It celebrates early spring harvest, and has become a vehicle for giving children and families the elements of Jewish identity, as well as perpetuation of the Jewish national spirit which is inseparable from the value of freedom that is embodied in this holiday. [April]  

Maimuna - The day following the end of Passover is the holiday of Maimuna, in honor of Moses Ben Maimon (Maimonides) the renowned Sephardic Jewish scholar of the middle ages.

Lag B'omer -  The Omer period of 49 days ( seven weeks) from Pesach to Shavuot is a period of sadness, relieved by this 33rd day on which a plague suffered in Roman times supposedly terminated. It is frequently celebrated by outdoor celebrations for children and a disproportionate number of weddings, which cannot take place during the rest of Omer. [April-May]

Holocaust day - Yom Hashoah Vehagvura -  A day of remembrance for the victims of the Nazi Holocaust and for resistance fighters. Memorial candles are lit and special services are held. [May]

Yom Hazikaron - Memorial Day for all those fallen in the battles of Israel.

Independence Day - The Jewish calendar continues interpreting events of significance in the history of the Jewish Nation, as religious occasions with special prayer. Thus Yom Ha'atzma'ut, a modern festival celebrating Israel's independence is celebrated with prayers in the synagogues. [May]

Shavuot - (Feast of Weeks- Pentecost) One of the three pilgrim festivals when the Temple still stood in Jerusalem. It celebrates the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai and the wheat harvest. Synagogues are decorated with flowers and dairy foods are eaten. [May/Jun]

Tisha B'av - A full day fast mourning the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies in Jewish history. The Book of Lamentation is read. [August]

The Jewish "High Holy Days"

Rosh Hashana . - New Year's Day, commemorates the creation of the world. The blowing of the ram's horn reminds Jews of Abraham's sacrifice of a ram in place of his son. This festival begins ten days of repentance and self-examination ("Yamim Hanoraim" - the days of awe) during which God sits in judgment on each individual. Apples and pastry dipped in honey are eaten in the hope of a 'sweet' year. During the ten days of awe, some orthodox Jews sacrifice chickens who are supposed to take on themselves the sins of the people. According to tradition, during this time, the names of the righteous are inscribed in the book of life, while those who have not repented are recorded for doom. The books are sealed are the holidays by tradition, making the judgment irrevocable.  The traditional greeting for Rosh Hashana is "leshana tova tikhatevu vetichatemu" - may you be registered and sealed for a good year. During the days of awe, the traditional greeting used by most observant Jews is gmar chatima tova - may you finish with a good seal..  [September]

Yom Kippur  - The Day of Atonement climaxes the ten days of repentance. It is the holiest day of the year. Observant Jews neither eat nor drink for a full day. They spend a large part of the day in prayer asking for forgiveness for past wrong doing and resolving to improve in the following year. Yom Kippur is an extremely solemn holiday. In Israel automobile travel, TV and radio are stopped and only essential services are maintained. [September]

Sukkot ("Tabernacles") -  A harvest festival that also commemorates the forty years the children of Israel spent in the Sinai desert on the way from Egypt to Israel.  Temporary huts (singular "suka," plural "Sukkoth") are built and used during this festival for meals and other family activities. The open roof is covered with branches and decorated with fruits. Religious Jews must have a lulav and an etrog to bless for Sukkot. The etrog is a citron. The lulav is a sort of wand made up of  a palm branch, myrtle and willow (arava), which together make up the "four species" of plants that must be represented.

Sukkoth,  Passover and Shavuoth ("Weeks') were the three most important holidays in ancient Israel, since a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was mandatory on these holidays.  The last day of Sukkoth is Hoshanah Rabba. It is a Sabbath day on which no work is done, in honor of the willow, the hoshana. According to some traditions, the book of life is sealed on Hoshanah Rabba. The day after Sukkot (two days abroad) is Shmini Atsereth, which coincides with Simchat Torah, described below. [September/October]

Simkhat Torah. - The rejoicing of the Torah immediately follows Sukkot and celebrates the end of the annual cycle reading the Torah and its immediate re-commencement. All the scrolls of Torah, followed by the children singing and dancing, are paraded seven times around the synagogues. [October]

Hannukah-  Hannukah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabees in 164 BCE won it back from the Syrian Greeks. For the eight evenings of the festival, candles are lit on a special eight-branched candlestick, one on the first evening, two on the second and so on. [December]. More about Hannuka

Read about Jewish holidays at  ajudaica

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