Holy Days and Celebrations

Judaism is a religion of many festivals.

The weekly celebration of Shabbat (Sabbath) is sometimes seen as the most important. It takes place both in the home and the synagogue and the major requirement is that no work should be undertaken from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday.

This has its origins in the book of Genesis:

On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done (Genesis 2:2-3).

And its observation is repeated in the book of Exodus:

Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work-you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements (Exodus 20:8-10).

Probably the next most important events are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah – Head of the Year – the first and second days of the seventh month, Tishri is the Jewish New Year festival.

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded (Numbers 29:1).

The preceding month of Elul is a time of repentance.

Rosh Hashanah has several meanings:

– Tradition says that it is the anniversary of the Creation.
– The Rabbis named it Yom Hadin – the day of judgement.
– Tradition also says that on Rosh Hashanah G-d forgave Adam his sins.

The ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are known as the High Holy Days. In Hebrew they are Yamim Noraim the days of awe or the ten days of penitence Aseret Yemai Teshuvah.

Yom Kippur: Yom Kippur ends the ten days of repentance on 10 Tishri. On this day the decision which G-d makes about a person’s behaviour during the past year is said to be sealed in the Book of Life. The final sealing is believed to take place ten days later on Hoshanah Rabbah. Yom Kippur is also called Shabbat Shabbaton – the ultimate Sabbath.

Yom Kippur was the one day of the year on which the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple and begged forgiveness for the people’s sins.

The festivals instructed to be observed in the Torah are generally seen as the most important. In addition to those above, they include the three Pilgrim Festivals of Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot:

– Pesach – barley harvest
– Sukkot – the ingathering of the crops
– Shavuot – wheat harvest

Then there are the rabbinic festivals of Hanukkah and Purim and later observances such as Yom HaShoah.

All these days serve to bring the Jewish community together in worship and to remind people of their history, heritage and tradition.

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