Jewish Festivals

The Hebrew or Jewish calendar is a lunisolar calendar used today predominantly for Jewish religious observances. It determines the dates for Jewish holidays and the appropriate public reading of Torah portions, yahrzeits (dates to commemorate the death of a relative), and daily Psalm readings, among many ceremonial uses. Observances begin at sundown on the evening before the date specified.


Purim is a festive Jewish holiday that celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from their enemies in the biblical Book of Esther.

Purim is celebrated by giving mutual gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot), giving charity to the poor (mattanot la-evyonim), a celebratory meal (se’udat Purim), and public recitation of the Scroll of Esther (keriat ha-megillah), additions to the prayers and the grace after meals (al hannisim). Other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration.

Peseh (Passover)

The Eve of Peseh (Passover) begins at sundown. Passover commemorates the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. It is celebrated for eight days; the first two and the last two are holidays for Orthodox Jews. The evenings of the first and second days begin with Seders, festive meals and the telling of the Passover story. In Israel and among Reform Jews, Pesah is celebrated for seven days; the first and the last are holidays.

Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, occurs on the 27th of Nissan. Shoah, which means catastrophe or utter destruction in Hebrew, refers to the atrocities that were committed against the Jewish people during World War II. This is a memorial day for those who died in the Shoah.


Shavuot is the Hebrew word for “weeks” and refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which occurs seven weeks after Passover. Shavuot, like many other Jewish holidays, began as an ancient agricultural festival that marked the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest.

In ancient times, Shavuot was a pilgrimage festival during which Israelites brought crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, it is a celebration of Torah, education, and actively choosing to participate in Jewish life.

Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning to commemorate the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which have occurred on the ninth of Av.

Tisha B’Av means “the ninth (day) of Av.” It occurs in July or August.

Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.).

Although this holiday is primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to consider on this day the many other tragedies of the Jewish people, many of which occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and from England in 1290.

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the autumnal festival celebrating the start of the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year” and thus the holiday is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. There is, however, little similarity between Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in the Jewish year, and the Western, secular interpretation of New Years.

One important similarity between the Jewish New Year and the secular one is that many people use New Years as a time to make “resolutions” and plan to lead a better life. Likewise, the Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year. This period of introspection does not end at the conclusion of Rosh HaShanah but actually stretches for ten days, known commonly as the Days of Awe, until Yom Kippur.

No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah. A popular observance during this holiday is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of the wish for a sweet new year. Bread is also dipped in honey (instead of the usual practice of sprinkling salt on it) at this time of year for the same reason. Round challah bread to symbolizes the circle of the life and the cycle of a new year. The challah is also in the shape of a crown because God is referred to as royalty several times throughout the holidays.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) falls ten days after Rosh Hashanah. It is the year’s holiest day and a day of fasting. To re-establish oneness with God, Jews ask forgiveness and forgive others. Then can they confess their sins and ask God’s forgiveness.

The purpose of Yom Kippur is to bring about reconciliation between people and between individuals and God. According to Jewish tradition, it is also the day when God decides the fate of each human being.

Although Yom Kippur is an intense holiday it is nevertheless viewed as a happy day, because if one has observed the holiday properly by the end of Yom Kippur they will have made peace with others and with God.


Sukkot is a pilgrimage feast and time of thanksgiving lasting seven days. Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths, celebrates God’s presence in creation and among the Jewish people.


Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication, commemorates the victory of Judah the Maccabee and religious freedom, and the rededication of the Temple in 165 BCE. It also celebrates the power of God and the faithfulness of Israel.

Tu B’Shevat

Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar, is the day that marks the beginning of a “new year” for trees. This is the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.

Legally, the “new year” for trees relates to the various tithes that are separated from produce grown in the Holy Land. These tithes differ from year to year in the seven-year shemittah cycle; the point at which a budding fruit is considered to belong to the next year of the cycle is the 15th of Shevat.

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