Archive for October 2014
The somber High Holy Days, which ended on Oct. 4, give way tonight to Sukkot, the colorful Feast of Tabernacles. One of the three “Pilgrim Festivals” — the others are Passover and Shavuot — Sukkot recalls the Israelites’ travels in the Sinai desert after their liberation from slavery in Egypt.
The eight-day festival takes its name from the sukkah , a hut made by many Jewish families and synagogues. Loosely thatched and crudely built, the sukkah reminds Jews of their wandering ancestors’ meager shelters.
Fruits and flowers are hung from the sukkah rafters, recalling the festival’s other significance: gratitude to God for the fall harvest in the Holy Land, for which Israelis still celebrate it. Each morning of Sukkot, traditional Jews recite a blessing while holding four kinds of Israeli plants: a lulav or palm frond, an etrog or citron, and branches of myrtle and willow.
Sukkot has been called the Jewish Thanksgiving and may even have been its model. The American Pilgrims were avid students of the Hebrew Scriptures, even comparing their crossing of the Atlantic to the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea. The Pilgrims may well have adapted Sukkot to the New World as well.
The seventh day of Sukkot is Hoshana Rabba, or Great Help. In traditional synagogues on this day, the congregation takes the lulav and etrog in a procession of seven circuits, singing prayers for salvation. Some Jews call this day the “little Yom Kippur,” one more chance to gain God’s favor.
The last day of Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Solemn Assembly. It is a time to pray for rain in the Holy Land to assure good crops. It is also one of four times during the year for Yizkor memorial prayers honoring the dead.
Yet another event is sometimes celebrated on the same day in many synagogues: Simhat Torah, the jubilant Rejoicing Over the Law. On Simhat Torah, the last lines are read from the giant pulpit Torah scroll in each synagogue. Then the scroll is rewound for another annual cycle of readings — and the rabbi carries it in procession around the synagogue, amid singing and dancing.
— James D. Davis
A billion and a half Muslims today celebrate the Eid al-Adha or Festival of Sacrifice, one of the two most important days on the Islamic calendar.
The festival commemorates a story in the Quran, the Islamic holy book, in which Abraham offers his son as a sacrifice on God’s command. At the last moment God stops him and provides a sheep instead. The Hadith, the collection of sayings by the prophet Muhammad, says the boy was Ishmael, considered to be the ancestor of all Arabs.
Observances include a two-hour service starting with salat or prayer, followed by a sermon. Muslim families traditionally have been expected to sacrifice animals for the holy day. However, they may instead donate money to charitable Islamic groups overseas that slaughter livestock, then give the meat to the poor.
Eid al-Adha also marks the culmination of the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Making the Hajj at least once during a lifetime, if possible, is one of the five ‘‘pillars” or basic requirements of Islam.
— James D. Davis
The setting sun tonight ushers in Yom Kippur, the awesome Day of Atonement for Jews. Yom Kippur is the last of the High Holy Days, which began at sundown Sept. 24 with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
The holy days are a time to examine one’s life, repent of shortcomings and resolve to correct them. Tradition says that God holds people’s lives in the balance during these ‘‘10 Days of Repentance” before determining their fate for the coming year.
Tonight’s service features the Kol Nidre, a prayer set to sad medieval music. The prayer asks for release from ‘‘all vows” — the translation of Kol Nidre — to God that have not been kept.
All day tomorrow, the faithful will fast and attend a succession of synagogue services, including Yizkor memorial prayers for the dead. Traditional prayers include Al Het, a list of sins whose initials form the Hebrew alphabet. As the worshiper recites the list, he strikes his chest to emphasize repentance.
Last service of the day is Neilah, signaling the closing of heaven’s gates and the sealing of everyone’s fate for another year.
Although non-Jews might view the High Holy Days as guilt-ridden, rabbis say the observance actually shows divine mercy. They point out that het, usually translated “sin,” is an archery term that means to miss the mark. And shuva, repentance, is almost identical to teshuva, to turn — as in returning to right living.
— James D. Davis