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A Jewish holiday or Jewish Festival is a day or series of days observed by Jews as a holy or secular commemoration of an important event in Jewish history. In Hebrew, Jewish holidays and festivals, depending on their nature, may be called yom tov ("good day") or chag ("festival") or ta'anit ("fast").

The origins of various Jewish holidays generally can be found in Biblical mitzvot (commandments), rabbinical mandate, and modern Israeli history.

Rosh Ha-Shanah The Jewish New Year

Main article: Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Ha-Shanah is the Jewish new year and day of judgement, in which God judges each person individually according to their deeds, and makes a decree for the following year. The holiday is characterized by the special mitzvah of blowing the shofar.

  • For a variable number of days before Rosh Hashana among Ashkenazim, and the entire month of Elul among Sephardim, special additional morning prayers are added known as Selichot.
  • Erev Rosh Ha-Shanah (evening of the first day) 29 Elul
  • Rosh Ha-Shanah (ראש השנה‎) 12 Tishrei

Rosh Ha-Shanah is set aside by the Mishna as the new year for calculating calendar years, shmita and jubilee years, vegetable tithes, and tree-planting (determining the age of a tree).

According to an opinion in Jewish oral tradition, the creation of the world was completed on Rosh Hashanah. The recitation of Tashlikh occurs during the afternoon of the first day. Rosh Ha-Shanah is always observed as a two-day holiday, both inside and outside the boundaries of Israel. The two days are considered together to be a yoma arichta, a single "long day".

Aseret Yemei Teshuva Ten Days of Repentance

Main article: Ten Days of Repentance

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are ten days, known as the Aseret Yemei Teshuva. During this time it is "exceedingly appropriate" for Jews to practice "Teshuvah," which is examining one's deeds and repenting for sins committed against both God and one's fellow man in anticipation of Yom Kippur. This repentance can take the form of additional supplications, confessing one's deeds before God, fasting, and self-reflection. On the third day, the Fast of Gedalia is celebrated.

Yom Kippur Day of Atonement

Main article: Yom Kippur

* Erev Yom Kippur 9 Tishrei
* Yom Kippur (יום כיפור‎) 10 Tishrei

Yom Kippur is considered by Jews to be the holiest and most solemn day of the year. Its central theme is atonement and reconciliation. Eating, drinking, bathing, anointing with oil, and marital relations are prohibited. Fasting begins at sundown, and ends after nightfall the following day. Yom Kippur services begin with the prayer known as "Kol Nidrei", which must be recited before sunset. (Kol Nidrei, Aramaic for "all vows," is a public annulment of religious vows made by Jews during the preceding year. It only concerns unfilled vows made between a person and God, and does not cancel or nullify any vows made between people.)

A Tallit (four-cornered prayer shawl) is donned for evening prayers; the only evening service of the year in which this is done. The Ne'ilah service is a special service held only on the day of Yom Kippur, and deals with the closing of the holiday. Yom Kippur comes to an end with the blowing of the shofar, which marks the conclusion of the fast. It is always observed as a one-day holiday, both inside and outside the boundaries of the land of Israel.


Main article: Sukkot

Sukkot (סוכות or סֻכּוֹת sukkōt) or Succoth is a 7-day festival, also known as the Feast of Booths, the Feast of Tabernacles, or just Tabernacles. It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals mentioned in the Bible. The word sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah, meaning booth. Jews are commanded to "dwell" in booths during the holiday. This generally means taking meals, but some sleep in the sukkah as well. There are specific rules for constructing a sukkah. The seventh day of the holiday is called Hoshanah Rabbah.

  • Erev Sukkot 14 Tishrei
  • Sukkot (חג הסוכות‎) 1521 Tishrei (22 outside Israel)

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

Main article: Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah (שמחת תורה) means "rejoicing with the Torah". It actually refers to a special ceremony which takes place on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. This holiday immediately follows the conclusion of the holiday of Sukkot. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is one day long and includes the celebration of Simchat Torah. Outside Israel, Shemini Atzeret is two days long and Simchat Torah is observed on the second day, which is often referred to by the name of the ceremony.

The last portion of the Torah is read, completing the annual cycle, followed by the first chapter of Genesis. Services are especially joyous, and all attendees, young and old, are involved.

Hanukkah Festival of Lights

Main article: Hanukkah

  • Erev Hanukkah 24 Kislev
  • Hanukkah (חנוכה‎) 25 Kislev 2 or 3 Tevet

The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees. These books are not part of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), they are apocryphal books instead. The miracle of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days is first described in the Talmud.

Hanukkah marks the defeat of Seleucid Empire forces that had tried to prevent the people of Israel from practicing Judaism. Judah Maccabee and his brothers destroyed overwhelming forces, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. The eight-day festival is marked by the kindling of lights one on the first night, two on the second, and so on using a special candle holder called a Chanukkiyah, or a Hanukkah menorah.

There is a custom to give children money on Chanukah to commemorate the learning of Torah in guise of Jews gathering in what was perceived as gambling at that time since Torah was forbidden. Because of this, there is also the custom to play with the dreidle / sevivon.

Tenth of Tevet

Main article: Tenth of Tevet

This minor fast day marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem as outlined in 2 Kings 25:1

And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and encamped against it; and they built forts against it round about.

As a minor fast day, fasting from dawn to dusk is required, but other laws of mourning are not observed. A Torah reading and Haftorah reading, and a special prayer in the Amidah, are added at both Shacharit and Mincha services.

Tu Bishvat-New Year of the Trees

Main article: Tu Bishvat

* Tu Bishvat (חג האילנות - ט"ו בשבט‎) 15 Shevat

Tu Bishvat is the new year for trees. According to the Mishnah, it marks the day from which fruit tithes are counted each year. In modern times, it is celebrated by eating various fruits and nuts associated with the Land of Israel. During the 1600s, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed and his disciples created a short seder, called Hemdat ha‑Yamim, reminiscent of the seder that Jews observe on Passover, that explores the holiday's Kabbalistic themes.

Purim Festival of Lots

Main article: Purim

  • Erev Purim and Fast of Esther known as "Ta'anit Ester" 13 Adar
  • Purim (פורים‎) 14 Adar
  • Shushan Purim 15 Adar
  • In leap years on the Hebrew calendar, Purim is observed in the Second Adar (Adar Sheni).

Purim commemorates the events that took place in the Book of Esther. It is celebrated by reading or acting out the story of Esther, and by making disparaging noises at every mention of Haman's name. In Purim it is a tradition to masquerade around in costumes and to give Mishloakh Manot (care packages, i.e. gifts of food and drink) to the poor and the needy. In Israel it is also a tradition to arrange festive parades, known as Ad-D'lo-Yada, in the town's main street.

New Year for Kings

* New Year for Kings 1 Nisan.

Although Rosh Hashanah marks the change of the Jewish calendar year, Nisan is considered the first month of the Hebrew calendar. The Mishnah indicates that the year of the reign of Jewish kings was counted from Nisan in Biblical times. Nisan is also considered the beginning of the calendar year in terms of the order of the holidays.

In addition to this New Year, the Mishnah sets up three other legal New Years:

* 1st of Elul, New Year for animal tithes,
* 1st of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah), the New Year for the calendar year and for vegetable tithes
* 15th of Shevat (Tu B'Shevat), the New Year for Trees/fruit

Pesach Passover

Main article: Passover

* Erev Pesach and Fast of the Firstborn known as "Ta'anit Bechorim" 14 Nisan
* Passover/Pesach (פסח) (first two days) 15 (and 16) Nisan
* The "Last days of Passover", known as Acharon shel Pesach, are also a holiday commemorating K'riat Yam Suf, the Passage of the Red Sea. 21 (and 22) Nisan
* The semi-holiday days between the "first days" and the "last days" of Passover are known as Chol Hamo'ed, referred to as the "Intermediate days".

Pesach (Passover) commemorates the liberation of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. No leavened food is eaten during the week of Pesach, in commemoration of the fact that the Jews left Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have enough time to rise.

The first seder begins at sundown on the 15th of Nisan, and the second seder is held on the night of the 16th of Nisan. On the second night, Jews start counting the omer. The counting of the omer is a count of the days from the time they left Egypt until the time they arrived at Mount Sinai.

Sefirah Counting of the Omer

Main article: Counting of the Omer

* Sefirah (ספירת העומר, Sefirat Ha'Omer) Counting the Omer

Sefirah is the 49 day ("seven weeks") period between Pesach and Shavuot; it is defined by the Torah as the period during which special offerings are to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. Judaism teaches that this makes physical the spiritual connection between Pesach and Shavuot.

Lag Ba'omer

Main article: Lag Ba'omer

Lag Ba'omer ( ל"ג בעומר) is the 33rd day in the Omer count (ל"ג is the number 33 in Hebrew). The mourning restrictions on joyous activities during the Omer period are lifted on Lag Ba'Omer and there are often celebrations with picnics, bonfires and bow and arrow play by children. In Israel, youth can be seen gathering materials for bonfires.

New Israeli/Jewish national holidays

Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has established four new Jewish holidays.

* Jerusalem Day
* Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance day
* Yom Hazikaron Memorial Day
* Yom Ha'atzma'ut Israel Independence Day

These four days are national holidays in the State of Israel, and have since been accepted as religious holidays in general by the following groups: The Union of Orthodox Congregations and Rabbinical Council of America; The United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth (United Kingdom); The Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel; All of Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism; The Union for Traditional Judaism and the Reconstructionist movement.

These four new days are not accepted as religious holidays by Haredi Judaism, which includes Hasidic Judaism. These groups view these new days as Israeli national holidays, and they do not celebrate these holidays.

Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance day

Main article: Yom HaShoah

* Yom HaShoah (יום הזכרון לשואה ולגבורה‎) 27 Nisan

Yom HaShoah is also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, and takes place on the 27th day of Nisan.

Yom Hazikaron Memorial Day

Main article: Yom Hazikaron

* Yom Hazikaron (יום הזכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל‎) 4 Iyar

Yom Hazikaron is the day of remembrance in honor of Israeli veterans and fallen soldiers of the Wars of Israel. The Memorial Day also commemorates fallen civilians, slain by acts of hostile terrorism. [1]

Yom Ha'atzma'ut Israel Independence Day

Main article: Yom Ha'atzmaut

* Yom Ha'atzma'ut (יום העצמאות‎) 5 Iyar

Yom Ha'atzma'ut is Israel's Independence Day. An official ceremony is held annually on the eve of Yom Ha'atzma'ut at Mount Herzl. The ceremony includes speeches by senior Israeli officials, an artistic presentation, a ritual march of flag-carrying soldiers forming elaborate structures (such as a Menorah, a Magen David and the number which represents the age of the State of Israel) and the lighting of twelve beacons (one for each of the Tribes of Israel). Dozens of Israeli citizens, who contributed significantly to the state, are selected to light these beacons.

Jerusalem Day

Main article: Jerusalem Day

* Jerusalem Day (יום ירושלים‎) 28 Iyar

Jerusalem Day marks the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem and The Temple Mount under Jewish rule during the Six-Day War almost 1900 years after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Shavuot Feast of Weeks Yom HaBikurim

Main article: Shavuot

* Erev Shavuot 5 Sivan
* Shavuot (שבועות‎) 6, 7 Sivan

Shavuot, The Feast of Weeks is one of the three pilgrim festivals (Shalosh regalim) ordained in the Torah, Shavuot marks the end of the counting of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot. According to Rabbinic tradition, the Ten Commandments were given on this day. During this holiday the Torah portion containing the Ten Commandments is read in the synagogue, and the biblical Book of Ruth is read as well. It is traditional to eat dairy meals during Shavuot.

Seventeenth of Tammuz

Main article: Seventeenth of Tammuz

The 17th of Tammuz traditionally marks the first breach in the walls of the Second Temple during the Roman occupation.

As a minor fast day, fasting from dawn to dusk is required, but other laws of mourning are not observed. A Torah reading and Haftorah reading, and a special prayer in the Amidah, are added at both Shacharit and Mincha services.

The Three Weeks and the Nine Days

Main article: The Three Weeks

* The Three Weeks: Seventeenth of Tammuz, 17 Tammuz 9 Av
* The Nine Days: 19 Av
* (See also Tenth of Tevet)

The days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av are days of mourning, on account of the collapse of Jerusalem during the Roman occupation which occurred during this time framework. Weddings and other joyful occasions are traditionally not held during this period. A further element is added within the three weeks, during the nine days between the 1st and 9th day of Av the pious refrain from eating meat and drinking wine, except on Shabbat or at a Seudat Mitzvah (a Mitzvah meal, such as a Pidyon Haben the recognition of a firstborn male child or the study completion of a religious text.) In addition, one's hair is not cut during this period.

In Conservative Judaism, the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has issued several responsa (legal rulings) which hold that the prohibitions against weddings in this timeframe are deeply held traditions, but should not be construed as binding law. Thus, Conservative Jewish practice would allow weddings during this time, except on the 9th of Av itself. Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism hold that halakha (Jewish law) is no longer binding, and rabbis in those movements follow their individual consciences on such matters; some uphold the traditional prohibitions and some permit weddings on these days. Orthodox Judaism maintains the traditional prohibitions.

Tisha B'av Ninth of Av

Main article: Tisha B'Av

* Tisha B'Av (צום תשעה באב‎) 9 Av

Tisha B'Av is a fast day that commemorates two of the saddest events in Jewish history that both occurred on the ninth of Av the destruction in 586 BCE of the First Temple, originally built by King Solomon, and destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Other calamities throughout Jewish history are said to have taken place on Tisha B'Av, including King Edward I's edict compelling the Jews to leave England (1290), the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492, Germany's declaration of war against Russia during World War I, and the first killings at the Treblinka death camp (1942).

Tithe of animals

* New Year for Animal Tithes (Taxes) 1 Elul

This commemoration is no longer observed. This day was set up by the Mishna as the New Year for animal tithes, which is somewhat equivalent to a new year for taxes. (This notion is similar to the tax deadline in the United States of America on April 15.)

Rosh Chodesh the New Month

Main article: Rosh Chodesh

The first day of each month and the thirtieth day of the preceding month, if it has thirty days, is (in modern times) a minor holiday known as Rosh Chodesh (head of the month). The one exception is the month of Tishrei, whose beginning is a major holiday, Rosh Hashanah. There are also special prayers said upon observing the new Moon for the first time each month.

Shabbat The Sabbath שבת

Main article: Shabbat

Jewish law accords the Sabbath the status of a holiday. Jews celebrate a Shabbat, a day of rest, on the seventh day of each week. Jewish law defines a day as ending at nightfall, which is when the next day then begins. Thus, Shabbat begins at sundown Friday night, and ends at nightfall Saturday night.

In many ways halakha (Jewish law) gives Shabbat the status of being the most important holy day in the Jewish calendar.

* It is the first holiday mentioned in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), and God was the first one to observe it.
* The liturgy treats the Sabbath as a bride and queen.
* The Torah reading on the Sabbath has more sections of parshiot (Torah readings) than on Yom Kippur, the most of any Jewish holiday.
* There is a tradition that the Messiah will come if every Jew observes the Sabbath twice in a row.
* The Biblical penalty for violating Shabbat is greater than that for violating any other holiday.

Variances in observances

The denominations of Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism generally regard Jewish laws (halakha) relating to all these holidays as important, but no longer binding. Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism hold that the halakha relating to these days are still normative (i.e. to be accepted as binding.)

There are a number of differences in religious practices between Orthodox and Conservative Jews, because these denominations have distinct ways of understanding the process of how halakha has historically developed, and thus how it can still develop. Nonetheless, both of these groups have similar teachings about how to observe these holidays.

Reform Jews do not observe the 2nd day of Jewish holidays in the Diaspora.

See also
Holidays Portal

* Jewish holidays 2000-2050
* Ta'anit
* Religious Festivals
* Hebrew calendar
* Rosh HaShannah


Greenberg, Irving. The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays. New York: Touchstone, 1988.
Strassfeld, Michael. The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.