Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.
Hanukkah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews!) think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar.
The story of Hanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria,Egypt and Judea, but allowed the people under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated, adopting much of Hellenistic culture, including the language, customs, dress, etc., in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.
More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of thePharisees (no direct connection to the modern movement known as Chasidism). They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Selucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.
According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah(candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.
Hanukkah is not a very important religious holiday. The holiday’s religious significance is far less than that of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavu’ot. Hanukkah is not mentioned in Jewish scripture; the story is related in the book of the Maccabbees, which Jews do not accept as scripture.
The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a Hanukkiah. (The name menorah is used only to describe the seven-branched candelabrum that was housed in the Jewish Temple.) The Chanukiah holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shamash (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shamash candle is lit and three berakhot (blessings) are recited: l’hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekh-ianu (a general prayer thanking God for allowing us to reach this time of year). The first candle is then lit using the shamash candle, and the shamash candle is placed in its holder. The candles are allowed to burn out on their own after a minimum of 1/2 hour. Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit from left to right (because you pay honor to the newer thing first)
What is Passover?
Pesach is a special time at Temple Emanuel. We share a beautiful second night seder, second day Passover service, and hold a meaningful Yizkor on the last night. Please join us for these truly memorable worship experiences.
Did you know that Passover is the most celebrated of the Jewish holidays? This is true for both observant as well as secular and totally unaffiliated Jews.
Passover begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. It is the first of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavu’otand Sukkot). Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel, but little attention is paid to this aspect of the holiday.
The primary observances of Passover are related to the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery. This story is told in Exodus, Chapter 1-15. Many of the Passover observances are instituted in Chapters 12-15.
The name “Passover” refers to the fact that God “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. In Hebrew, it is known as Pesach which is based on the Hebrew root meaning “pass over”. The holiday is also referred to as Chag he-Aviv (the Spring Festival), Chag ha-Matzot (the Festival of Matzahs), and Zeman Herutenu (the Time of Our Freedom).
Probably the most significant observance related to Passover involves the removal of chametz(leavened foods) from our homes. This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the “puffiness” (arrogance, pride) from our souls.
Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) that have not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after coming into contact with water. Traditional Jews of Ashkenazic background also avoid rice, corn, peanuts, and legumes (beans) as if they were chametz. All of these items have been used to make bread, thus use of them was prohibited to avoid any confusion. Such additional items are referred to as “kitniyos.” We may not eat chametz during Passover; we are not supposed to even own it or derive benefit from it. All chametz, including utensils used to cook chametz, must either be disposed of or sold to a non-Jew.
The process of cleaning the home of all chametz in preparation for Passover can be an enormous task. Some people spend several days scrubbing everything down, even going over the edges of the stove and fridge with a toothpick and a Q-Tip.
The grain product we eat during Passover is called matzah. Matzah is unleavened bread, made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly. This is the bread that the Jews made for their flight from Egypt. We have come up with many inventive ways to use matzah; it is available in a variety of textures for cooking: matzah flour (finely ground), matzah meal (coarsely ground), matzah farfel (little chunks, used as a noodle substitute), and full-sized matzahs (about 10 inches square, a bread substitute).
The day before Passover is the fast of the firstborn, a minor fast for all firstborn males, commemorating the fact that the firstborn Jewish males in Egypt were not killed during the final plague.
On the first night of Passover (first two nights for traditional Jews outside Israel), we have a special family meal filled with ritual to remind us of the significance of the holiday. This meal is called a seder, from a Hebrew root word meaning “order.” (It is the same root from which we derive the word “siddur”- prayer book). This means there is a specific set of information that must be covered in a specific order.
Passover lasts for seven days in Israel and for Reform Jews; others living in the Diaspora celebrate for eight days. The first and last days of the holiday (first two and last two outside of Israel) are days on which no work is permitted. Work is permitted on the intermediate days. These intermediate days on which work is permitted are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo’ed, as are the intermediate days of Sukkot.
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.
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 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.
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, 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
Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination.
The story of Purim is told in the Biblical book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem, and he loved her more than his other women and made her queen. But the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her nationality.
The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. In a speech that is all too familiar to Jews, Haman told the king, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king’s laws; therefore it does not profit the king to suffer them” (Esther 3:8). The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased to them, and so Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jews.
Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king’s presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman’s plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.
The book of Esther is unusual in that it is the only book of the bible that does not contain the name of God. In fact, it includes virtually no reference to God. Mordecai makes a vague reference to the fact that the Jews will be saved by someone else, if not by Esther, but that it the closest the book comes to mentioning God. Thus, one important message that can be gained from the story is that God often works in ways that are not apparent, in ways that appear to be chance, coincidence or ordinary good luck.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March. The 14th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews. In a Jewish leap year, when there are two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it is always one month before Passover. In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next day.
The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.
The Purim holiday traditionally is preceded by a minor fast, the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.
The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. Thebook of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll. Although there are five books of Jewish scripture that are properly referred to as a megillah (Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes,Song of Songs, and Lamentations), this is the one people usually mean when the speak of The Megillah. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle groggers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to “blot out the name of Haman.”
We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as shalach manos (lit. sending out portions). Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (lit. Haman’s pockets). It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests.Work is permitted as usual on Purim, unless of course it falls on a Saturday.
this day. A lot of Jewish children go around collecting money for trees for Israel at this time of year.