Click the buttons below to find out some interesting facts about the Jewish holidays
Rosh Hashanah - Jewish New Year Celebrates the Creation, and the Almost Sacrifice of Isaac Customs: apples dipped in honey, fish heads, pomegranates and new fruits Interesting facts: The Hebrew calendar is based both on the moon and the solar cycles - similar to the Chinese calendar. The Gregorian calendar is based only on the cycles of the sun. A day in the Gregorian calendar lasts from midnight to midnight whereas, in the Hebrew calendar, it lasts from sunset to sunset. The reason often given for this is that in the first chapter of Genesis, after each day’s creation, it says: “there was evening and there was morning”.
Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement Commemorates the day that the Children of Israel received atonement from God for the sin of the golden calf. Considered to be the holiest and most solemn days of the Jewish calendar (though Shabbat does take precedence). This is the day when Jews atone for their sins of the past year before God, and receive forgiveness. This is the only Fast day mentioned in The Five Books of Moses (the Torah). Before Yom Kippur, many Jews seek reconciliation for wrongs they have committed against other people. It is seen as a chance for a new beginning. Interesting Facts: Although fasts usually denote mourning, the Yom Kippur fast is regarded more as a means of liberating man from his everyday activities, enabling him to deal with the spiritual issues involved in repentance.
Sukkot - Feast of Tabernacles Reminds us that God protected the Children of Israel, and provided all their needs after their exodus from the Land of Egypt. Customs: sukkot (booths or tabernacles), the Four Species ( lulav , hadass , aravah , and etrog ). Interesting facts: For mankind, the Four Species are symbolic of Torah (taste) and good deeds (fragrance). The etrog (citron), which has both taste and fragrance, represents a person who studies Torah and also does good deeds. The aravah (willow), has neither taste nor fragrance, and represents the person who has neither Torah nor good deeds. The hadass (myrtle), has fragrance, represents a person who does good deeds, but does not study Torah. The lulav (date palm), whose dates have taste, represent those who study Torah, but do no good deeds. Holding these items together symbolizes the unity of mankind.
Hanukkah - Festival of Lights An 8-day festival commemorating the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, and the miraculous sacred oil, which burned in the newly dedicated Temple for eight days. Customs : Lighting candles in a special menora, dreidels, latkes and doughnuts. The Hebrew letters on the dreidel (spinning top), are usually taken as standing for "nes gadol haya sham" (or "poh") - a great miracle happened there (or here). They also represent Yiddish words that explain how the game is played and won: "nun" = nisht + nothing (i.e. either you lose or you do nothing), "gimmel" is "gut" or "gants", "hay" = halb = half, and "shin" = "stel" = put into the pot.
Tu Bishvat - New Year for Trees – Arbor Day The day originally used to calculate the age of trees for tithing, this holiday is of little religious significance today. Customs: eating fruits associated with the Torah and Israel, planting trees Interesting Facts: The tradition of eating dried fruit is rooted in the fact that dry fruit last longer, and - unlike fresh fruit - are available all year round.
Purim (“Lots”) Celebrates the deliverance of the Jews by Queen Esther from the evil Haman, vizier to the Babylonian king Ahasuerus, after the destruction of the First Temple. This festival is celebrated on two different dates: 14 Adar, and 15 Adar in Jerusalem and other walled cities. Customs: reading the Book of Esther, noisy rattles, eating “ humentaschen ”, sending food gifts, wearing masks and dressing up. Interesting Facts: This is the only festival celebrating the resourcefulness of a woman. This is also the only festival when it is almost mandatory to drink wine to excess.
Pesach - Passover - Festival of Unleavened Bread An 8-day (7 in Israel) family-oriented holiday, celebrating the exodus of the Children of Israel from the Land of Egypt, and their becoming the Jewish nation. Customs: Seder night(s), reciting the Haggada , eating matzot , seeking out and burning the chametz. Interesting facts: There is a story that the tradition of leaving the door open during Seder night may have resulted from the rumors that blood taken from Christian children was used in the preparation of matzot. An open door enabled the non-Jewish neighbors to see that these rumors were not true.
Shavuot Customs: eating dairy produce, reading the Book of Ruth, all-night Torah study. Interesting facts: This festival has four names: Shavuot - marking the completion of the seven weeks of counting the Omer Harvest Festival - marking the harvesting of the wheat, and the concluding festival of the grain harvest. Festival of the First Fruits - marking the day when the first fruits were taken to the Temple in Jerusalem. Festival of the Giving of the Torah - tradition has it that it was at Shavuot that the ten commandments were given to Moses and the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai.
Tu b’Av - A Day of Love On this day, second Temple-era unmarried women wore white clothes and went out to dance in the vineyards, and seek a husband. This is a night when there is a full moon, symbolizing love and romance. Of little religious significance today - a sort of Jewish Valentine’s Day. Interesting Facts: On this day - After wandering in the desert for 40 years, the Jewish girls without fathers or brothers were finally allowed to marry outside their own tribe. Until then, they had had to marry a member of their own tribe, in order for the land inherited not to pass to another tribe. The Tribe of Benjamin, which had not been allowed to intermarry into other tribes after they had sinned with the concubine of Gibeah (their numbers had greatly decreased as a result), were finally allowed to capture brides from other tribes.