The second of the three Pilgrim festivals is celebrated for two days outside Israel (and in Israel one day). The name derives from Shavuot (weeks) because it occurs seven weeks after the second day of Pesach. It falls on the 6th day of Sivan. The festival commemorates Zeman Matan Torateinu (The acceptance of the Torah at Sinai). The agricultural aspect of this festival is apparent by one of its other names – Yom Habikkurim. (The festival of the first fruit). In Temple times, Jewish people came from all over the country to offer up their first fruits. In modern times, synagogues are decorated with greenery and flowers. Tradition has it that King David was born and died on Shavuot. The Book of Ruth, telling the story of Ruth, the ancestor of King David is recited because the story took place during the wheat harvest.
THE THREE WEEKS
Commemorating the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem, these three weeks of semi-mourning begin with the 17th of Tammuz when the walls of Jerusalem were penetrated (c.70CE). Restrictions until 1st of Av resemble those of the Omer period with the addition that one refrains from making the shehecheyanu blessing over a new item of clothing or (except Shabbat) fruit. From the 1st of Av to 10th Av at midday, additional restrictions apply including avoidance of meat and wine (except Shabbat) and bathing or swimming for pleasure. (Sephardi customs vary). The period culminates in the mournful 25 hour fast of Tisha b’Av commemorating the destruction of the Temple.
ROSH HASHANAH New Year
Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at the beginning of Tishrei, the seventh month, since this is traditionally considered to be the day on which man was created. On it we renew our commitment to the Creator. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated everywhere (including Israel) for two days. The Shofar (Ram’s Horn) is blown each day of the festival, except on Shabbat. In the afternoon of the first day – unless this falls on Shabbat – it is customary to assemble on the sea-shore, on the banks of a river or near water springs to say Tashlich. Should the first day fall on Shabbat, Tashlich is said on the second
day. Tashlich is symbolic of cleansing oneself of sin.
YOM KIPPUR Day of Atonement
This is the holiest day of the year. It begins in the evening of the ninth day of Tishrei with the Kol Nidrei service. This prayer, composed before the ninth century asks for release of vows or promises made to God that cannot be kept. On this day we do not eat or drink. We spend the day praying for atonement from sin. Some wear white garments as a symbol of purity. It is also customary to light candles in memory of departed relatives. Yizkor (Prayer for the Departed) is recited. A single blast of
the Shofar and the words “Next Year in Jerusalem” ends the fast.
On 15th Tishrei, four days after Yom Kippur ends, we celebrate the third of the Pilgrim Festivals, Succot. Called “The Feast of the Ingathering”, it also commemorates the faith and trust shown by our people in dwelling in Sukot (temprorary dwellings) made for them by G-D in the desert.
It is a mitzvah to live in the Succah. The Lulav (palm branch) is bound up with three Hadassim (myrtles) and two Aravot (willows) and held together with the Etrog (citron) symbolising our gratitude to G-D for all our material bounty.
The final day of Succot, Simchat Torah, marks the end of the annual cycle of the Torah reading, and the new cycle starts with the reading of the first chapter of Genesis. Hakafot – processions with the Torah scrolls, are a feature of the day. Special attention is given to children, who join the celebrations with flags and singing.
Chanukah is the Eight Day Festival (in Israel and the Diaspora) which commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165 B.C.E. by Judah Maccabee, three years after its desecration by the Syrians. Tradition relates that Judah could only find sufficient pure oil to relight the Menora for one day. However, a miracle happened and the oil burned for eight days. Hence, during the eight day holiday, candles are lit each night. On the first night one is lit, on the second night two are lit, and so on until eight are lit on the last night. Chanuk is one of the most joyous festivals in the Jewish calendar and gifts, traditionally of money, are given to children at candlelighting time.