Shavuot Shavuot is a memorable holiday at Temple Emanuel. We celebrate with Confirmation, when our 10th grade students reaffirm their Jewish identity and commitment to Torah and a Jewish life. It is one of the most beloved services at Temple Emanuel. Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, is the second of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Passover and Sukkot).
Agriculturally, it commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu(the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). The period from Passover to Shavuot is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavuot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. Shavuot is also sometimes known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah; that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant. The book of Ruth is read at this time. Again, there are varying reasons given for this custom, and none seems to be definitive. It is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study Torah and then pray as early as possible in the morning. It is also customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavuot. There are varying opinions as to why this is done. Some say it is a reminder of the promise regarding the land of Israel, a land flowing with “milk and honey.” According to another view, it is because our ancestors had just received the Torah (and the dietary laws therein), and did not have both meat and dairy dishes available.
Rosh Hashanah Every year Temple Emanuel comes together to worship for the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We usher in the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) with a meaningful service in the evening (Erev Rosh Hashanah). On Rosh Hashanah morning Temple Emanuel offers, in addition to the regular service, junior congregation for children as well as a family service.
Second day Rosh Hashanah services are highly engaging and very participatory. Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. In Hebrew Rosh Hashanah means, literally, “head of the year” or “first of the year.” Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. This name is somewhat deceptive, because there is little similarity between Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, and the American midnight party. There is, however, one important similarity between the Jewish New Year and the American one: Many Americans use the New Year as a time to plan a better life, i.e. making “resolutions.” 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. The name “Rosh Hashanah” is not used in the Bible to discuss this holiday. The Bible refers to this holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25. The shofar is a ram’s horn which is blown somewhat like a trumpet. One of the most important observances of this holiday is hearing the sounding of the shofar in the synagogue. A total of 100 notes are sounded each day. There are four different types of shofar notes: tekiah, a 3 second sustained note; shevarim, three 1-second notes rising in tone, teruah, a series of short, staccato notes extending over a period of about 3 seconds; and tekiah gedolah (literally, “big tekiah”), the final blast in a set, which lasts a minimum of 10 seconds. The Bible gives no specific reason for this practice. One that has been suggested is that the shofar’s sound is a call to repentance. Typically no work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah. Another popular observance during this holiday is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of our wish for a sweet new year. We also dip bread in honey (instead of the usual practice of sprinkling salt on it) at this time of year for the same reason. In addition to dipping an apple honey, we eat round challah bread to symbolize the circle of the life and the cycle of a new year. The challah can also be found in the shape of a crown because we refer to God as royalty several times throughout the holidays. Another popular practice of the holiday is Tashlikh (“casting off”). We walk to flowing water, such as a creek or river, on the afternoon of the first day and empty our pockets into the river, symbolically casting off our sins. This practice is not discussed in the Bible, but is a long-standing custom. At Temple Emanuel we observe Tashlikh on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The common greeting at this time is L’shanah tovah (“for a good year”). This is a shortening of “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem” (or to Yom Kippur
At Temple Emanuel, Yom Kippur begins in the evening with the haunting melody of “Kol Nidre” (“All Vows”), played on the cello. This somber holy day continues with services throughout the following day. We offer an engaging family service for Yom Kippur, and conclude with a family friendly havdalah ceremony. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend synagogue services on this day.
Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri. The holiday is found in Leviticus 23:26. “Yom Kippur” means “Day of Atonement,” and that pretty much explains what the holiday is. It is a day set aside to “afflict the soul,” to atone for the sins of the past year. Yom Kippur atones only for sins between a person and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It is well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. The Talmud also specifies additional restrictions that are less well-known: washing and bathing, anointing one’s body (with cosmetics, deodorants, etc.), wearing leather shoes (Orthodox Jews routinely wear canvas sneakers under their dress clothes on Yom Kippur), and engaging in sexual relations are all prohibited on Yom Kippur. As always, any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or health is involved. In fact, children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast, even if they want to. Older children and women from the third to the seventh day after childbirth are permitted to fast, but are permitted to break the fast if they feel the need to do so. People with other illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi for advice. Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar. See Rosh Hashanah for more about the shofar and its characteristic blasts. It is customary to wear white on the holiday, which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Some people wear akittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried. women, “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi”), which means “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
Sukkot Sukkot marks a time of community and festivity at Temple Emanuel. There are plenty of Sukkot related activities: a family sukkah hop, sukkah decorating, Pizza in the Hut, and more! Please join us for these wonderful celebrations. The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in our year to one of the most joyous.
This festival is sometimes referred to as Zeman Simkhateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing. Sukkot lasts for seven days. The two days following the festival are separate holidays,Shemini Atzeret and Simkhat Torah, but are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot. The word “Sukkot” means “booths,” and refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to live in during this holiday. The name of the holiday is frequently translated “The Feast of Tabernacles,” which, like many translations of technical Jewish terms, isn’t terribly useful unless you already know what the term is referring to. Like Passover and Shavu’ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural. The holiday commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Sukkot is also a harvest festival, and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif, the Festival of Ingathering. The festival of Sukkot is instituted in Leviticus 23:33. Traditionally, no work is permitted on the first and second days of the holiday. Work is permitted on the remaining days. These intermediate days on which work is permitted are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo’ed, as are the intermediate days of Passover. In honor of the holiday’s historical significance, we are commanded to dwell in temporary shelters, as our ancestors did in the wilderness. The commandment to “dwell” in a sukkah can be fulfilled by simply eating all of one’s meals there; however, if the weather, climate, and one’s health permit, one should live in the sukkah as much as possible, including sleeping in it. A sukkah must have at least three walls covered with a material that will not blow away in the wind. Canvas covering tied or nailed down is acceptable and quite common in the United States. A sukkah may be any size, so long as it is large enough for you to fulfill the commandment of dwelling in it. The roof of the sukkah must be made of material referred to assekhakh (literally, covering). To fulfill the commandment, sekhakh must be something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, sticks, or two-by-fours. Sekhakh must be left loose, not tied together or tied down. Sekhakhmust be placed sparsely enough that rain can get in, and preferably sparsely enough that the stars can be seen, but not so sparsely that more than ten inches is open at any point or that there is more light than shade. The sekhakh must be put on last. It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah. In the northeastern United States, Jews commonly hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it, because these vegetables are readily available at that time for the American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Building and decorating a sukkah is a fun, family project.
Simchat Torah At Temple Emanuel, Simchat Torah is a time of musical celebration. We dance down the aisles with our Torah scrolls to the uplifting melodies of a klezmer band. Simchat Torah is a Hebrew term which means “rejoicing with/of the Torah”. The annual cycle of reading the Torah is completed and begun anew, with the last section of Deuteronomy and the first section of Genesis read in succession after a festival parade of the Torah scrolls amidst singing, dancing and (typically) a moderate consumption of alcohol. It is one of the happiest days in the Jewish calendar.
Simchat Torah takes place on the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, or Eighth (day) of Assembly, which falls immediately after the seven-day holiday of Sukkot in the autumn (mid to late October). In Israel and among Reform Jews, Shemini Atzeret is one day long and the festivities and customs associated with Simchat Torah are celebrated on that day. Outside Israel (the Diaspora), Shemini Atzeret is two days long, with the Simchat Torah festivities observed on the second day. The first day is sometimes referred to as Shemini Atzeret and the second day as Simchat Torah, though both days are officially Shemini Atzeret according to Halakha, and this is reflected in the liturgy. Simchat Torah festivities begin with the evening service. All the synagogue’s Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and carried around the sanctuary in a series of seven hakafot (circuits). Although each hakafah need only encompass one circuit around the synagogue, the dancing and singing with the Torah often continues much longer. After the processions and the dancing three scrolls of the Torah are read. The last Parshah(section) of the Torah, called V’Zot HaBerachah at the end of Deuteronomy (33:1-34:12), is read from the first scroll, followed immediately by the first chapter (and part of the second) of the Book of Genesis (1:1-2:3), read from the second. The name Simchat Torah was not used until a relatively late time. In the Talmud (Meg. 31b) it is called simply the second day of Shemini Atzeret.
Tu B’Shevat Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, is a holiday also known as the New Year for Trees. The word “Tu” is not really a word; it is the number 15 in Hebrew, as if you were to call the Fourth of July “IV July” (IV being 4 in Roman numerals). As mentioned in Rosh Hashanah, Judaism has several different “new years.” This is not as strange a concept as it sounds at first blush; in America, we have the calendar year (January-December), the school year (September-June), and many businesses have fiscal years.
It’s basically the same idea with the various Jewish new years. Tu B’Shevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. SeeLev. 19:23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year’s fruit is for God, and after that, you can eat the fruit. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B’Shevat, so if you planted a tree on Shevat 14, it begins it second year the next day, but if you plant a tree two days later, on Shevat 16, it does not reach its second year until the next Tu B’Shevat. Tu B’Shevat is not mentioned in the Bible. There is a reference to it in the Mishnah, but the only thing said there is that it is the new year for trees, and there is a dispute as to the proper date for the holiday (Beit Shammai said the proper day was the first of Shevat; Beit Hillel said the proper day was the 15th of Shevat. As usual, we follow Beit Hillel. There are few customs or observances related to this holiday. One custom is to eat a new fruit on this day. Some people plant trees on The Story of Purim