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Holy Day/Holiday: Rosh Hashanah
Celebrates: New Year (Rosh Hashanah, two days), beginning of High Holy Days period
Observed by: Two-day period of worship including sounding the shofar (ram's horn trumpet); dipping apples in honey; abstaining from work; tashlich ceremony, or symbolically casting off of sins by throwing bread crumbs in the river.
Holy Day/Holiday: Yom Kippur
Celebrates: Day of Atonement, most holy of the High Holy Days; conclusion of the High Holy Days period
Observed by: Much of the day is spent in synagogue in prayer. Fasting; repentance; sounding of the shofar.
Holy Day/Holiday: Succoth
Celebrates: Harvest festival that also commemorates the forty years of wandering in the desert between leaving Egypt and reaching the Promised Land
Observed by: Building and decorating a sukkah, a temporary shelter outdoors; use of the four species (palm, willow, myrtle, and citrus branches) in worship services.
Holy Day/Holiday: Simchat Torah
Celebrates: The Torah as a tree of life for the Jewish people; affirmation of lifelong study; conclusion of the year's weekly Torah readings and starting a new cycle of reading the Torah from the beginning.
Observed by: Joyful celebration; Torah scrolls are taken from the ark and carried or danced around the synagogue seven times. During the service, the concluding section of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of Torah, is read, followed immediately by the opening section of Genesis, or B'reishit as it is called in Hebrew.
Holy Day/Holiday: Hanukkah (Festival of Lights)
Celebrates: The rededication of the Temple after it was defiled in ancient times
Observed by: Eight days of celebration include lighting candles on a hanukiah (a nine-candle menorah); playing with a dreidel (toy top); eating latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiyot (sugared donuts); some Jews living in majority Christian societies give gifts.
Holy Day/Holiday: Purim
Celebrates: Esther, a Jewish queen of Persia, saving her people from death
Observed by: Reading the Book of Esther aloud (the megillah) and sounding a noisemaker each time the story's villain (Haman) is mentioned; performing the Purim story in costume; merrymaking
Holy Day/Holiday: Passover (Pesach)
Celebrates: The story of the Exodus, the Jews' escape from slavery in Egypt; God's "passing over" Jewish households during the tenth plague of Egypt
Observed by: A seven- or eight-day period that begins the evening before the first day with a seder (ritual meal) and the reading of the Haggadah, the story of the Exodus; eating matzoh instead of leavened bread; observant Jews may clean their homes of all foods not allowed during Passover; in worship services, beginning the counting of the 49-day Omer period (in preparation for Shavuot, the holiday which marks the Jews' receiving of the Torah from God at Mount Sinai).
Holy Day/Holiday: Shavu'ot (Festival of Weeks)
Celebrates: The Jewish people's receiving of the Torah
Observed by: Reading the Torah and the Book of Ruth; all-night Torah study at a synagogue; completing the counting of the Omer; a celebration with dairy foods.
Holy Day/Holiday: Shabbat (Sabbath)
Celebrates: Doing the mitzvah (God's commandment) of rest from work on the seventh day of the week, freedom, time spiritual learning
Observed by: Abstaining from work; sharing a Friday evening meal with family and visitors which may include blessings over candles, a beverage, and food; studying Torah, attending worship services, or taking time for spiritual learning; quiet time with family.
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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.
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