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10 Fast Facts About the Holidays
Leslie Effron Levin and Matt Handel - Ritual and Judaica Chairs

1. "EIGHT DAYS A WEEK" - Elul is the month before Rosh Hashanah. Every day during the month we are supposed to review our behavior over the past year. The shofar is blown each day (except for Shabbat) to remind us that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are coming. The last week of Elul Ashkenazic Jews say slichot, penitential prayers, to begin the process of repenting (Sephardic Jews recite them throughout Elul). See pages 187-189 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.
 
2. "HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU!" - On Rosh Hashanah we begin the trial of our souls. G-d begins reviewing the evidence of our behavior over the past year. We pray that we should be written in the Book of Life. We even say to our friends and family "L'shanah tovah tikatevu v'taychataymu (may you be written and sealed for a good year)." See pages 189-199 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.
 
3. "FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD" - We eat round challah and apples, which are symbols of the circle of life which begins anew on Rosh Hashanah. We dip the apples in honey to symbolize our wish for a sweet year. Other symbolic foods are traditionally eaten, including carrots, to show our wish for increases in our families and our finances. Some will also eat the head of the fish (or lamb) representing our desire to be at the "head of the class" in all of our activities. See page 194 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.
 
4. "DINA WON'T YOU BLOW" - We blow Tekiah, one long blast, representing the sound of the coronation of a king, which announces that the trial is to begin before G-d, our King. Shevarim, three broken blasts, symbolizes the sound of outcry. The Teruah, nine short blasts, represents our cries for mercy from G-d and for forgiveness.  Additionally, all of these blasts wake us up to remind us to repent and reflect on our actions. See pages 194-197 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.
 
5. "SORRY SEEMS TO BE THE HARDEST WORD" - The 10 Days of Repentance, also called Aseret Yemay Teshuvah, are the days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. These days are a time for us to continue to plead our case before G-d. During this time, we repent, say special prayers, perform extra acts of kindness, give charity, reflect and seek out those we have wronged. Daily we say the Avinu Malkenu (Our Father our King) prayer, a list of requests from G-d, and slichot.  See pages 200-205 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.
 
6. "HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF" - On Yom Kippur, the Torah commands us to afflict our souls (Leviticus 16:29 and 23:27 and Numbers 29:7). The rabbis interpret this to mean that we should deprive ourselves of food, water, washing, using lotion (“anointing ourselves”) and having sex. We also do not wear leather shoes (which is why many people wear sneakers to synagogue). We also repeatedly confess our sins to G-d.  The service concludes with Neilah (the Closing service), for which we remain standing as a last ditch effort to plead our case before G-d at the "trial." See pages 205-215 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.
 
7. "I WANT YOU TO SHOW ME THE WAY" – On Sukkot, which follows Yom Kippur, we spend time in a sukkah (booth) for seven days, which allows us to re-experience the Exodus. However, the timing does not make logical sense: it takes place six months after Pesach (to the day!) and requires us to live outdoors just as the weather is turning cooler. The timing teaches us “the way” of the Exodus, in that it did not end with the departure from Egypt, but continued as our ancestors sojourned in the desert for 14,600 days. See pages 95-103 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.
 
8. "EVERYBODY HAVE FUN TONIGHT" - Sukkot is considered the most joyous of Jewish holidays. While halacha (Jewish law) does not recognize discomfort, inconvenience or financial hardship as a reason not to keep kosher or observe Shabbat, joy is so central to the sukkah experience that negative experiences preclude observing (at least in part) elements of dwelling in the sukkah.  See pages 103-104 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.
 
9. "MATERIAL GIRL" - Sukkot, the holiday of joy, was known as Ha Chag, "The Holiday," during the Talmudic period.  As a harvest festival, "The Holiday" incorporates frank recognition and celebration of material goods. While well-being of the soul is more important, the well-being of the body comes first, for it is the context for spiritual development and the way we celebrate G-d's gifts. See pages 205-215 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.
 
10. "CELEBRATION" - Sukkot ends, but the joy continues. On Shemini Atzeret and especially Simhat Torah (the same day in Eretz Yisrael, but consecutive days for Diaspora Jews), the symbols of Sukkot (sukkah, lulav and etrog) are put away. The symbols are merely that...symbols; the core of our joy is Torah which affirms and enriches life. With songs, dances, aliyot for all (including children), and the "marriage" of "grooms" (and in egalitarian congregations, "brides") to the Torah, we end the season in celebration.  See pages 115-118 of THE JEWISH WAY by Rabbi Irving Greenberg for more information.

For a general resource guide to Jewish holidays, go to:
http://www.ujc.org/section_display.html?ID=16
For more information about Rosh Hashanah (this year on October 4th and 5th) go to:
http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday2.htm
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Rosh_Hashana/PrimerRoshHashanah.htm?GL=true
For more information about Yom Kippur (this year on October 13th) go to:
http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday4.htm
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Yom_Kippur/PrimerYomKippur.htm?GL=true
For more information about Sukkot (this year on October 18th and 19th) go to:
http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/PrimerSukkot.htm?GL=true