Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
For information about our annual High Holiday services, click here.
For one month before Rosh HaShanah (Elul) Jews prepare for God’s judgment. We do this by visiting cemeteries, study, and participate in Selichot, a service of penitential prayers held on the night of the last Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah.
On the two days of Rosh HaShanah, Jews believe that there are three books open before God: one for the righteous, one for the wicked and one for those who are neither wicked nor righteous.
On the first day of Rosh HaShanah we go to a body of water to symbolically cast away our sins. This custom is echoed in the words of the prophet Micah: “you will cast your sins into the depths of the sea.”
For ten days (Days of Awe) Jews put their spiritual house in order.
Each person’s fate is determined on Rosh HaShanah and sealed on Yom Kippur.
Special foods play a role in ensuring a sweet year:
The round challah symbolizes the continuous cycle of the year; Pomegranates with their many seeds, bring fruitfulness;
Apples represent the shechinah, dipped in honey for a sweet year; carrots, cut into small circles resemble pennies and represent good income.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, in the home, candles are lit for the dead, kiddush is recited over wine, the challah is not braided but shaped in the form of a ladder or in the shape of wings. Food is served that has no salt or spice so as not to produce a thirst allowing for the required Fast.
Kol Nidre is sung three times before sunset. White is worn as a sign of purity and also to remind us to not be vain or proud. Kol Nidre originated in the 8th Century and set to music hundreds of years later. We ask God to nullify all vows made rashly or unwittingly.
Yom Kippur is the final judgment day when each person’s fate is sealed in the Book of Life for the coming year. We are reminded of our partnership with God: God will protect us and bless us, confessions and atonement remove the obstacles that keep us from our covenant with God.
The closing prayer, Ne’ilah, means to lock. As the sun sets, we stand before the open Ark and pray for the last time: “Seal us unto life” and then the long blast of the Shofar is heard.
The fast is broken and a new mitzvah must be performed, usually driving the first nail into the Sukkah.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
For information about our annual Sukkot services, click here.
The Feast of Booths
Sukkot is the time to remember God’s nurturing. In biblical times, Sukkot was the primary festival of the year, celebrating the gathering of crops. Farmers flocked to Jerusalem to offer thanks to God in Solomon’s Temple, which was actually dedicated on Sukkot. When Jews returned to Jerusalem in the Fifth century BCE (after the Babylonian exile) the new Temple was the only place to celebrate.
The festival changed from an agricultural celebration to a historical one when the Israelites lived in temporary structures as they wandered the desert.
Celebrations were filled with golden candelabras, cymbals, harps, women dancing, men walking by with lulavim, willows and fruit (palm, myrtle and willow and the etrog.) On the seventh day, the celebrants marched around the altar seven times, beat willow branches as a symbolic effort to bring forth water.
After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the ceremonies ended as well as the water pouring on the altar. Sukkot remained a time to live in the booths, shake the lulav, pray and read Torah.
Today, we still build the booths: it must be outdoors, 2 walls, and a part of a 3rd wall, and the walls no more than 10 feet high. It is covered with leafy branches, and must remain open enough to see the stars. It also must be decorated, usually with paper chains, popcorn, fruits (which can only be eaten after the holiday.) In the sukkah we have the lulav (palm), 3 branches of myrtle, 2 branches of willow and the citron (etrog) these make up the 4 species specified in the Bible. The etrog’s stem is called a pitam and it must be intact, also it is good if the etrog is bumpy. Each morning one shakes the lulav (the spine facing the person) hold the etrog stem down, and recites the blessing. Then the tip of the strof is turned up and the etrog and lulav is shaken once in each direction: North, Sout, East and West, Up and Down. This is not done on Shabbat. On Shabbat we recite Ecclesiates: we are here temporarily and so we sit in the booths for a short time.
The 7th day of Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabbah, believed to be the end of the period of judgment. The synagogue is circled 7 times, the willow branches are tied together and beaten until all the leaves fall off, perhaps meaning that one’s sins from the previous year are gone. On Hoshanah Rabbah we eat challah that is round, shaped like a ladder and kreplach (dough in which meat is hidden) to remind us that God’s decree for the coming year is hidden from us.
Hoshanah Rabbah, the last day of the festival of Sukkot, is considered a day of judgment. According to the Zohar, although one is judged on the Day of Atonement, that verdict is not delivered until the last day of Sukkot, and until then a person may still repent (Zohar, Va-Yehi 120a; Terumah 142a). However, according to the Zohar the day on which the verdict is delivered is actually Shemini Atzeret, the final day of the festival, and not Hoshanah Rabbah (the day before). — the last chance to change one’s judgment is actually Hoshanah Rabbah; whoever has not yet repented by then has his verdict handed down on Shemini Atzeret
It is customary to march around 7 times(Hoshanot) with the 4 species (lulav, etrog, hadas, aravot) The entire ceremony is to demonstrate rejoicing and gratitude for a blessed and fruitful year. The seven circuits correspond to the seven words in the verse Erhatz benikayon kappay, va’asovevah et mizbahakha Hashem – “I wash my hands in purity and circle around Your altar, O Lord” (Psalms 26:6).
Each “hoshana” is done in honor of a patriarch.
Moses (the most important Hebrew prophet)
Aaron (Moses’s brother, the first Kohen Gadol, or High Priest)
Joseph (the three Patriarchs and Jacob’s most famous son)
David (the most important king of Israe
5 willow branches are then beaten on the ground or other surface to symbolize the elimination of sin.This is also symbolic as a prayer for rain and success in agriculture.
It is written that Jews are to tarry one more day after the last day of Sukkot (Numbers 29:35). Some consider Shemini Atzeret the eighth day and others consider it a separate festival.
On Shemini Atzeret we pray for rain, the clergy wear white and we all are reminded of our ties to Israel.
This day marks the completion of a year of Torah readings and the beginning of a new cycle. Some consider this day to be either the ninth day of Sukkot or the second day of Shemini Atzeret.
The custom is to circle the synaogogue seven times (hakafot), dancing and singing, holding the Torah, and waving flags (Pirke Avot 5:26; 2:8). There are more than 800 liturgical songs of praise written in Yiddish, Ladino, Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic.
After the seven circlings all Torahs are returned but one. Then, as in a wedding, the groom/bride has the final blessing and the bride/groom the first blessing so that the Torah readings never end.
In December, on the 25th day of Kislev, Jews celebrate Chanukah. Chanukah celebrates the victory of a small band of Jews (Maccabees) over the large army of Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BCE. On the 25th day of Kislev, Judah and his band emerged victorious and they rededicated the Temple.
The word Chanukah means rededication.
Did you know that the army marched with lulav?
Some think that since they were at war and had no time to celebrate Sukkot, that this was really their Sukkot- an 8 day festival(ending in Shemini Atzeret).
The more popular explanation for the 8 days is the miracle of a jar of oil that was to last one day lasted for 8, making Chanukah a tribute to God and not to the Maccabees.
Lighting the Chanukiah
The candles are always lit after sunset and should burn for 30 minutes, no work or reading is to be done during this time. The candles may not be extinguished. There is an extra candle called the Shammos used to light the other candles. All Chanukiah consist of 8 candles and one Shammos.
To light the candles- use the Shammos to light the others starting on the right side of the chanukiah but light from left to right. When using an electric chanukiah, it should be lit opposite so that the lights facing the outside are in the correct order. Three blessings are recited on the first night and two on the others. The extra blessing on the first night is the Shehecheyanu.
Did you know that in Sephardi and Eastern communities, boys born during Kislev are named Nissim (miracle)?
Did you know that all the variations on the spelling of Chanukah (Hanukkah, Khanukah) all have 8 letters?
Chanukah is the time for playing the dreidel game. The letters on the dreidel are nun, gimmel, hay and shin, the first letters of the phrase: “a great miracle happened there.” Those letters add up to 158 (gematria) which is also the same number assigned to the word mashiach. Spinning is thought by some to be a call to the Messiah to come.
If you live in Israel the letters are nun, gimmel, hay, pei equaling 138 the same as for the word lekach the start of the phrase “I will give you a good doctrine” giving the spinning a sense of the sacred.
Chanukah is a time for parties, gifts, eating latkes. Ashkenazi Jews eat their latkes with either sour cream or applesauce; Sephardi and Eastern European Jews eat vegetable latkes; Libyan Jews eat heart shaped latkes. Sufganiyot (donuts) are eaten in Israel and deep fried sweets dipped in honey are eaten in Greece and Iran. Enjoy!
The fifteenth of Shevat falls out on Shabbat, January 20, 2011. “Tu” is not a word but the number 15 in Hebrew. The New Year of Trees and the connection to the Land of Israel with the number fifteen: Pslams 120-134.
Tu B’Shevat has become a time to plant trees and to restore the land, especially in Israel. The Jewish National Fund was established in the early 1900’s for this purpose.
It is time for sharing and eating fruits, especially those from Israel: figs, dates, carob and nuts.
It is also customary to donate money to the poor or to MAZON, the organization which distributes food throughout the world to the hungry.
Tu B’Shevat seders are held: four cups of wine and four fruits were introduced by the 16th Century mystics. On this holiday, Jews pray for a sweet etrog next Sukkot.
In the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on its thirteenth day … on the day that the enemies of the Jews were expected to prevail over them, it was turned about: the Jews prevailed over their adversaries. – Esther 9:1
And they gained relief on the fourteenth, making it a day of feasting and gladness. – Esther 9:17
[Mordecai instructed them] to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, and sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to the poor. – Esther 9:22
This year we read Megillah Esther on March 19, 13 Adar (and at morning minyan MArch 20, 2011.) On that night, when we hear the megillah- we make noise (usually with groggers) to drown out the name ‘Haman’.
The Book of Esther is the only book that never mentions God.,although Mordechai makes a comment to the fact that someone else will save the Jews.
Purim means lots and refers to Haman’s lottery which is how he selected the date for the destruction of the Jews.
The holiday is preceded by a day of Fast, which marks the 3 days Esther fasted before her meeting with the king.
We are commanded to hear the Book of Esther. We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry as well as to make gifts for charity (shalach manot). We eat hamentaschen, triangular filled cookies, representing Haman’s tri cornered hat.
Carnivals are held and parodies performed (and even beauty contests).
And so the story:
Esther, a beautiful Jewish woman, raised by her cousin Mordechai, is taken to the house of the King of Persia, Ahasuerus to join his harem, but instead he made her his Queen. The king had no idea that Esther was Jewish. Haman, an advisor to the king hated Mordechai because he refused to bow down to Haman so Haman plotted to destroy the Jews.
There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy 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 Torah prohibits the ownership of hametz, or leaven, during the festival of Pesah. Because of this restriction, Pesah is the Jewish festival that requires the most preparation. With signiﬁcant changes in the nature and manufacture of kitchen products and foodstuffs, new policies are required to maintain a kosher-for-Pesah kitchen. As well, there are many signiﬁcant differences of opinion among rabbis regarding the laws of Pesah.
It is customary (and easiest) to remove the utensils and dishes that are used during the year, replacing them with either new utensils or utensils reserved for exclusive use on Pesah. This is clearly not feasible for major kitchen appliances and may not even be possible for dishes and utensils. There is a process for kashering a variety of utensils and appliances. The general principle used in kashering is that the way the utensil absorbs food is the way it can be purged of that food (ke-volo kach pol-to).
This principle operates on the basis of the quality or intensity of how the particular item absorbs food. Kitchen items used for cold food can be kashered by rinsing, since no substance has been absorbed by the dish or glass. Items used on a stove absorb the food and thus need a stronger level of action, namely expelling the food into boiling water through a process called hag’alah. The most intense form of kashering applies to items used directly on a ﬁre or in an oven and these utensils require a process of kashering called libbun, which burns away absorbed food.
Then you shall observe the Feast of Weeks for the Lord your God, offering your free will contribution according as the Lord your God has blessed you.
…For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.
Shavuot is celebrated on the sixth of Sivan and is sometimes called the Holiday of Fruits. It is a festival for farmers. In Temple days people brought baskets of the first harvest of wheat, barley, olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates.
Shavuot has become the anniversary of the day when the LAW was first revealed. (Written and Oral) the covenant between God and the people of Israel. (Deuteronomy 4:2;13:1) This covenant was not a one time thing, but forever. Each person on Mt. Sinai heard the voice of God, were all given the Torah and from that moment, every Jew became a mutually dependent partner with God in making the world perfect.
On Shavuot, Jews light two candles, symbolizing the two tablets, the two challah touch as well. The holiday begins with a tikkun (night of repairing the world with God)- in study.
On Shavuot we read Megillah Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite woman who embraced the faith of her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth accepted the Laws of the Jewish people and made them her own.
Shavuot is also a time for remembering the deceased. King David is said to have been born and died on Shavuot.
Shavuot is the 50th day of the counting of the Omer (Pentacost) which began on the second night of Passover and ends on Shavuot. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot. Passover freed us physically from bondage, the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality.
Why do Jews eat Dairy on Shavuot?
Some say it’s a reminder of the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, others say it is because after having just received the Torah and having to follow dietary laws, they did not have meat and dairy dishes available.
Fast of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av
For information about our annual Tisha B’Av services, click here.
The Fast of Tammuz is a minor fast in daylight hours only. It marks the day the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple.
During the three weeks between the Fast of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, there are no public celebrations (except for a seudah mitzvah) and many do not have their hair cut during this time.
During the first 9 days of Av (August 1- Tisha B’Av, August 9) some refrain from eating meat, drinking wine and haircuts.
The Fast of Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other tragedies. We read Megillat Eicha, sit low, lights are dim and read kinot (mournful readings/poetry)