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Archive for September 2013

Holiday Almanac: Jews celebrate Sukkot, Festival of Tabernacles

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Graphic: Kriss Szkurlatowsk via sxc.hu

Graphic: Kriss Szkurlatowsk via sxc.hu

Five days after the solemn High Holy Days, Jews bounce back with Sukkot, the Festival of Tabernacles. The nine-day festival starts at sundown tonight (Sept. 18).

Sukkot is one of the three Pilgrim Festivals in Judaism, recapping the deliverance the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The other two are Passover, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, starting sundown April 14 next year; and Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, which will fall on sundown June 3.

For Sukkot, whose name is Hebrew for “Shelters,” the festival recalls the wanderings of the Israelites en route to the Promised Land. Each family builds a sukkah and eats meals there. Crudely built and thinly thatched — even letting sunlight or starlight through — the sukkah reminds Jews of the fragile existence of their forebears in the wilderness.

But a festive air still tinges the holiday as the family hangs fruits, flowers and vegetables from the rafters of the sukkah, reminding them that Sukkot falls during the harvest in the Holy Land. Some scholars believe that the 17th century American Pilgrims, who were avid readers of the Bible, modeled Thanksgiving after Sukkot.

Traditional Jews recite a blessing while holding four plants from the Holy Land: a palm frond, willow and myrtle branches, and an etrog, a citric fruit that looks like a large lemon. Traditional synagogues hold extra services with chanting processions.

The eighth day of Sukkot is known as Shemini Atzeret, or The Solemn Assembly, which includes prayers for rain in the Holy Land. Jews also pray for deceased loved ones in a public prayer known as Yizkor, as they did during Yom Kippur.

Sukkot ends with a mini-festival known as Simhat Torah, the Rejoicing Over the Law. On Simhat Torah, the last chapter of Deuteronomy is read, and the first chapter of Genesis is read, starting another cycle of readings. Synagogue members also take the sacred scroll around the synagogue, with children carrying flags in a singing, dancing procession.

James D. Davis


Written by Jim Davis

September 18, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Holidays Almanac: Yom Kippur ends High Holy Days

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A Sefer Torah, a handwritten scroll on parchment, about 400 years old. The holy book was written in Poland and survived the Nazi Holocaust there during World War II. (Photo: Bejinhan, via Wikimedia.org)

Jews worldwide end their observance of the High Holy Days tonight (Sept. 13) and tomorrow (Sept. 14) with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Ten Days of Repentance, as they are also called, began at sundown Sept. 4 with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

The days are an interim period during which the faithful examine their lives not only for sins committed but for good deeds undone. Traditional Jews call the period Yamim Noraim, or the Days of Awe, believing that God judges each soul to determine what kind of year each will have, and even if they live or die. Less traditional Jews use the time for introspection and resolving to live as better persons for the coming year.

Observant Jews fast from sundown through the following sundown. Yom Kippur Eve has its own distinct service: Kol Nidre, meaning All Vows. The prayer, set to sad, medieval music, is a plea to be released from promises left unkept during the year. Anti-Semites used to point to Kol Nidre as proof that the word of a Jew could not be trusted; however, rabbinic authorities have said the prayer refers only to vows made to God.

Congregants say other prayers in all-dayservices on Yom Kippur. They include:

Al Het, an alphabetical list of sins to recite — including cruelty, dishonesty and direspect for parents — in case the worshiper may have forgotten some or committed them unknowingly. Each time a sin is mentioned, the worshiper strikes a fist on his or her chest.

Yizkor, a memorial prayer for the dead. Yizkor prayers are said also during three other holy days: Passover, Shavuot and Shemini Azteret.

Neilah, a chant at the end of Yom Kippur to hold open the gates of mercy for the last repentant souls.

At the end of the Yom Kippur service, the shofar, or ram’s horn, is sounded in a long, steady note, as long as the blower’s breath holds out. For, according to Jewish belief, the judgment is complete, and the fate of each person has been sealed for the coming year.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

September 13, 2013 at 8:42 pm

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