35. What are some of the Jewish Holidays that are celebrated throughout the year?

35.  What are some of the Jewish Holidays that are celebrated throughout the year? 

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri (Tishri falls in Sept. and Oct. on our calendar). 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 concept of New Years.

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, 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 holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25.

Lev. 23:24-25 – “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘In the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing {of trumpets}, a holy convocation.  ‘You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord.'”

During this time the shofar is sounded.  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.  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. The shofar is not blown if the holiday falls on Shabbat.

No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah.  Much of the day is spent in synagogue, where the regular daily liturgy is somewhat expanded.  In fact, there is a special prayer book called the machzor used for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because of the extensive liturgical changes for these holidays.

Another popular observance during this holiday is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of our wish for a sweet new year. 

Another popular practice of the holiday is Tashlikh (“casting off”). Jewish people 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.

Religious services for the holiday focus on the concept of God’s sovereignty.

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 women, “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi”), which means “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

You may notice that the Bible speaks of Rosh Hashanah as occurring on the first day of the seventh month. The first month of the Jewish calendar is Nissan, occurring in March and April. Why, then, does the Jewish “new year” occur in Tishri, the seventh month?

Judaism has several different “new years,” a concept which may seem strange at first, but think of it this way: the American “new year” starts in January, but the new “school year” starts in September, and many businesses have “fiscal years” that start at various times of the year.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Many Jewish people 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 (Sept.-Oct.). The holiday is instituted at Leviticus 23:26-28.

Lev. 23:26-28 – And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord.  “Neither shall you do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God.

The name “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. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

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.

Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. In Orthodox synagogues, services begin early in the morning (8 or 9 AM) and continue until about 3 PM. People then usually go home for an afternoon nap and return around 5 or 6 PM for the afternoon and evening services, which continue until nightfall. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar.

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 (Is. 1:18). Some people wear a kittel, the white robe in which the dead are buried.

Yom Kippur Liturgy

The liturgy for Yom Kippur is much more extensive than for any other day of the year. Liturgical changes are so far reaching that a separate, special prayer book for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah is used. This prayer book is called the Machzor.

The evening service that begins Yom Kippur is commonly known as Kol Nidre, named for the prayer that begins the service. “Kol nidre” means “all vows.”

Perhaps one the most important aspects of Yom Kippur is the confession of the sins of the community, which is inserted into one of the prayers. All sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasizing communal responsibility for sins.

There are two basic parts of this confession: Ashamnu, a shorter, more general list (we have been treasonable, we have been aggressive, we have been slanderous…), and Al Chet, a longer and more specific list (for the sin we sinned before you forcibly or willingly, and for the sin we sinned before you by acting callously…) Frequent petitions for forgiveness are interspersed in these prayers. There’s also a catch-all confession: “Forgive us the breach of positive commands and negative commands, whether or not they involve an act, whether or not they are known to us.”

It is interesting to note that these confessions do not specifically address the kinds of ritual sins that some people think are the be-all-and-end-all of Judaism. The vast majority of the sins enumerated involve mistreatment of other people, most of them by speech (offensive speech, scoffing, slander, talebearing, and swearing falsely, to name a few). These all come into the category of sin known as “lashon ha-ra” (lit: the evil tongue), which is considered a very serious sin in Judaism.

The concluding service of Yom Kippur, known as Ne’ilah, is one unique to the day. It usually runs about 1 hour long. The ark (a cabinet where the scrolls of the Torah are kept) is kept open throughout this service, thus you must stand throughout the service. There is a tone of desperation in the prayers of this service. The service is sometimes referred to as the closing of the gates; think of it as the “last chance” to get in a good word before the holiday ends. The service ends with a very long blast of the shofar.  After Yom Kippur, one should begin preparing for the next holiday, Sukkot, which begins five days later.

It is very unfortunate that after all of this, no Jewish person can be assured that their sins have been forgiven.  We as believers know that because there is an absence of blood in the celebrating of Yom Kippur, there is no forgiveness at all.  That is why Messiah Jesus is so necessary.  He is our Atonement.


The Festival of Sukkot begins the fifth day after Yom Kippur.  It is one of the most joyous holidays in the year.   Sukkot lasts for seven days.

The word “Sukkot” means “booths,” and refers to the temporary dwellings that Jewish people are commanded to live in during this holiday.  It is more recognizable as “The Feast of Tabernacles.”  The holiday commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, & living in temporary shelters. The festival of Sukkot is instituted in Leviticus 23:33. 

Lev. 23:33-34 – Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord.

During this holiday, Jewish people 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 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.  The roof of the sukkah must be left loose, not tied together or tied down. The roofing material must be placed sparsely enough that rain can get in, and preferably sparsely enough that the stars can be seen.

It is common practice to decorate the sukkah.  In the United States, Jewish people commonly hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it.  Building and decorating a sukkah is a fun, family project, much like decorating the Christmas tree. 

Many Americans, upon seeing a decorated sukkah for the first time, remark on how much the sukkah (and the holiday generally) reminds them of Thanksgiving. This is not entirely coincidental.  It is possible that the pilgrims, who originated the Thanksgiving holiday, were influenced by the Bible’s teaching on Sukkot.  When they were trying to find a way to express their thanks for their survival and for the harvest, they looked to the Bible for an appropriate way of celebrating and based their holiday in part on Sukkot. 

Another observance related to Sukkot involves what are known as The Four Species (arba minim in Hebrew). Jewish people are commanded to take four plants and use them to “rejoice before the Lord.”  The four species in question are a citrus fruit (which is native to Israel), a palm branch, two willow branches and three myrtle branches. The six branches are bound together and referred to collectively as the lulav. The citrus fruit is held separately.  With these four species in hand, one recites a blessing and waves the species in all six directions (east, south, west, north, up, and down, symbolizing the fact that God is everywhere).

The four species are also held during the Hallel prayer in religious services, and are held during processions around the bimah (the pedestal where the Torah is read) each day during the holiday. These processions commemorate similar processions around the alter of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.  The processions are known as Hoshanahs, because while the procession is made, we recite a prayer with the refrain, “Hosha na!” (please save us!).  On the seventh day of Sukkot, seven circuits are made. For this reason, the seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshanah Rabbah (the great Hoshanah).

Jesus was present in the Temple on the last day of this feast.  On the last day, water was drawn from the pool of Siloam and a ceremony was held in the Temple.  The crowds were present and were watching as the priests poured the water taken from the pool into a basin near the alter.  It was at this point that Jesus made the statement as found in John 7:37-38.

John 7:37-38  – Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'”

Shemini Atzeret and Simkhat Torah

Tishri 22, the day after the seventh day of Sukkot, is the holiday Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is also the holiday of Simkhat Torah. Outside of Israel, where extra days of holidays are held, only the second day of Shemini Atzeret is Simkhat Torah.

Shemini Atzeret literally means “the assembly of the eighth (day).” Rabbinic literature explains the holiday this way: God is like a host, who invites us as visitors for a limited time, but when the time comes for us to leave, He has enjoyed himself so much that He asks us to stay another day.

The annual cycle of weekly Torah readings is completed at this time. The last Torah portion is read, then immediately the first chapter of Genesis is read, reminding us that the Torah is a circle, and never ends. This completion of the readings is a time of great celebration. There are processions around the synagogue carrying Torahs and plenty of high-spirited singing & dancing. As many people as possible are given the honor of carrying a Torah scroll in these processions. This aspect of the holiday is known as Simkhat Torah, which means “Rejoicing in the Torah.”

In some synagogues, confirmation ceremonies or ceremonies marking the beginning of a child’s Jewish education are also held.


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 book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, 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. King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was Jewish, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her nationality.

The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to him, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. In a speech that is all too familiar to Jewish people, Haman told the king, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people’s, and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them.” Esther 3:8. The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased to them. Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jewish people.

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.

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jewish people, and the day that the Jews battled their enemies for their lives. On the day afterwards, the 14th, they celebrated their survival.

The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.

The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther.  It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle noisemakers whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service.  The purpose of this custom is to “blot out the name of Haman.”

It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies.


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. Many think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as gift giving and decoration.

The Story of Hanukkah

The story of Hanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jewish people assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks.

More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus Epiphanes was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jewish people severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jewish people, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs  on the altar. Antiochus was opposed by Mattathias and his son Judah Maccabee.  The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.

According to tradition, 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 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, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah.  This tradition is usually taught as fact, however, it tells us that eight days were simply chosen as the time of celebration.

Hanukkah Traditions

The main religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a menorah that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shammus (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shammus candle is lit and blessings are recited. After reciting the blessings, the first candle is then lit using the shammus candle, and the shammus 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. Candles are lit from left to right. Why the shammus candle? The “shammus,” or servant candle  lights all of the other candles.  They would remain in darkness without the shammus candle. We can see the significance of this, when we take into consideration what Jesus’ message was when He celebrated Hanukkah in John 10.  In John 8, 9, 11, and 12, He emphasized that He was the “Light of the World.”  Scripture tells us He is the  true “Servant.”  All of mankind needs to be lit, as it were, by Jesus the Messiah.

It is traditional to eat fried foods on Hanukkah because of the significance of oil to the holiday.  This usually includes latkes (pronounced “lot-kuhs.” 

Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a game played with a square top. Most people play for chocolate coins. A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimmel, Heh and Shin.  This stands for the Hebrew phrase “nes gadol hayah sham”, meaning a great miracle happened there.


In looking back over the history of the Jewish nation, it’s possible to think of several instances where God miraculously delivered His people.  Many come to mind, but one stands out in a particular way.  This event was so special that God never wanted the Jewish people to ever forget it.  In fact, God declared that every year a remembrance feast should be held so as to keep it before their minds.  I’m referring to Passover.

What is it about the Passover that makes it such a special celebration?  The great message of Passover is one of deliverance of the first-born from death.  The Torah tells us in Exodus 12  that the only way for the first-born to escape death was for there to be some blood from a lamb applied to the two doorposts and lintel.  As the death angel passed over the land of Egypt, all the first-born who were in a house that did not have the blood applied properly would die.  There was nothing else that the death angel was looking for besides the blood.  He was not looking for the first-born’s good works or good life, but the lamb’s blood.  This occasion was certainly an unforgettable event.

However, as momentous as this event was, it pales when compared to another deliverance that the Passover was foreshadowing.  I’m speaking of the deliverance from the consequences of sin.  It’s true, we are not slaves in Egypt who are in need of deliverance, but every single one of us is in need of being forgiven of our sins.  Whether we know it or not, we are born slaves of sin and will suffer the eternal consequences if our sins are not forgiven.  What is it that makes forgiveness possible?  Just as blood from a lamb brought deliverance for the first-born in Egypt, it is blood from a lamb that forgives all sin.  But, this is not blood from just any lamb.  It’s the blood of the Lamb of God, the Messiah Jesus.  All through the Old Testament, He is foreshadowed as the one who would one day shed His blood and make forgiveness possible.  Just as God was looking for blood on the doorposts and lintel, He is looking to see if the blood of the Messiah Jesus has been applied to your heart by faith and trust in Him.  The first-born had to totally trust in the lamb’s blood for deliverance from physical death. People need to totally trust in the blood of the Messiah Jesus for deliverance from spiritual death.  Why blood?  Leviticus 17:11 of the Old Covenant tells us that the only atonement for sin is in the blood. 

Another important item in the Passover is matzo.  Matzo, or unleavened bread, is used during Passover for seven days, because God instructed Moses to do so in the Torah, in Exodus 12:15.  The Jewish people had to leave Egypt quickly, and because of that, there was no time for making leavened bread.

The matzo is used at different times during Passover.  The most important time it’s used is when three pieces of matzo are put into a unity pouch which has three compartments.

The middle piece of matzo is broken and wrapped in a napkin, or cloth.  It is then hidden and searched for, and then ransomed from the child who finds it.  The three pieces  represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Son, the middle piece was broken.

The middle piece of matzo is called the Afikomen, which means “I come” in Greek.  We know the Messiah did come.  The Rabbis say that the Afikomen represents dessert, since it’s the last solid food eaten at the Passover.  Psalms tell us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who trusts in Him.”  That is the real spiritual food – – trusting in the Messiah Jesus.

To reiterate, the middle piece of matzo is removed from the unity pouch, broken, wrapped up, hidden, found, and ransomed from a child after the meal.  This part of the ceremony illustrates how the Son came to the earth as the Messiah.  He was broken (died), wrapped up, hidden away (buried), and brought back to life (resurrected).  He was broken for you and me.

Isaiah 53:5 tells us “He was pierced for our transgressions,… and by His stripes, we are healed.”  This is pictured in the matzo by its holes and stripes.

By the way, if you have not personally partaken of this Bread of Life, take the Messiah Jesus as a free gift.  He will give you eternal life and forgive you of all of your sin.

The Counting of the Omer

According to the Torah (Lev. 23:15), Jewish people were obligated to count the days from the second night of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, seven full weeks. This period is known as the Counting of the Omer. An omer is a unit of measure.  On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering.

Every night, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavu’ot, Jewish people recite a blessing and state the count of the omer in both weeks and days.  So on the 16th day, one would say “Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer.”

The counting is intended to remind Jewish people of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, and Shavu’ot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah.  It reminds them that the redemption from slavery was not complete until they received the Torah.

This period is a time of partial mourning, during which weddings, parties, and dinners with dancing are not conducted.  The 33rd day of the Omer (the eighteenth of Iyar) is a minor holiday commemorating a break in the plague. The holiday is known as Lag b’Omer. The mourning practices of the omer period are lifted on that date. The word “Lag” is not really a word; it is the number 33 in Hebrew, as if you were to call the Fourth of July “Iv July” (IV being 4 in Roman numerals).


Shavu’ot, 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, and is known as the Festival of the First Fruits. Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah.

The period from Passover to Shavu’ot is a time of great anticipation. Jewish people count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. Shavu’ot is also sometimes known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day. 

Shavu’ot is always on the 6th of Sivan (the 6th and 7th) outside of Israel.  Work is not permitted during Shavu’ot.  It is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavu’ot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning.

It is customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavu’ot. 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. The book of Ruth is read at this time. Again, there are varying reasons given for this custom, and none seems to be definitive.