The month of Tishrei marks the very start of the Jewish year. It marks a time of reflection, introspection and renewal. Even though we mark this month as the first month of the New Year, according to the Torah (The Hebrew Bible), it is actually the seventh month in the Jewish year.
The month of Tishrei falls during the months of September and October on the Gregorian calendar, and is probably the busiest time of the year for Jewish holidays. Four Jewish holidays are celebrated this month. Rosh HaShanah (The Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) are set aside for reflection and soul-searching. These two holidays which occur over the course of 10 days are what are known as the High Holidays. The others, Sukkot (The Festival of Booths) and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing with the Torah) are holidays of joy and celebration. They are filled with meaningful customs, rituals and of course, delicious food.
According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the culmination of the creation of the universe and acceptance of God’s sovereignty over the world. These are also the days on which God judges people’s deeds throughout the year and decides their future for the coming year – death for the sinners, life for the pious and a repentance period until Yom Kippur for people whose status is uncertain.
The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called “The Ten Days of Repentance,” during which people have the opportunity to atone for their sins.
Prayer – Religious Jews attend lengthy synagogue services, and recite special prayers and liturgical songs written over the centuries.
Selichot (special penitential prayers) – During the week (or month, depending on the ethnic group) prior to Rosh Hashanah there are special “Selichot” prayers, requesting forgiveness and expressing remorse and repentance.
The blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) – On Rosh Hashanah, 100 shofar blasts are sounded in the synagogue, in single, triple and nine-blast groupings. The shofar blasts are intended to symbolize God’s sovereignty over the world, to remind Jews of the giving of the commandments on Mt. Sinai, of Abraham and Isaac’s devotion to God, to arouse people to repentance and to herald the Day of Judgment and the coming of the Messiah.
Apple and honey – At the evening meal on Rosh Hashanah it is customary to eat an apple dipped in honey and other sweet foods to symbolize a sweet new year.
Tashlich – On Rosh Hashanah afternoon, it is customary to walk to a river, lakeshore or other open body of water, to shake out one’s pockets and symbolically cast one’s sins into the water. If you come to Israel during this period, it is worth going to see religious Jews performing this custom.
New Year greetings – It is customary for Jews to wish everyone they meet during this New Year period a “Shana Tova” – a good new year.
Holiday meal – Even secular Jews who do not go to synagogue services have a holiday meal on the Rosh Hashanah evening, with fine wine, apple dipped in honey and other sweet dishes. It is customary to eat pomegranate, as a symbol of a plentiful year, the head of a fish, symbolizing the desire to keep ahead, and other symbolic foods.
Rosh Hashanah in Israel
If you come to Israel during this period, take into account that there are two consecutive holy days during which businesses are closed. It is worth visiting a synagogue to hear the prayers, and don’t be taken aback if you are greeted with “Shana Tova.”
The Day of Atonement — Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It is spent in prayer, meditation, and fasting in order to start the New Year with a clear conscience. A central concept for the ten days culminating in Yom Kippur is T’shuvah, an active process of returning to the ways of God.
Yom Kippur marks the end of the “Ten Days of Repentance,” and grants Jews a last opportunity to obtain forgiveness and absolution for their sins in the previous year. According to Jewish belief, on Yom Kippur judgment is passed on each person for the coming year. In order to be worthy of forgiveness from sins, this day is devoted to spiritual repentance and a commitment to start the New Year with a clean conscience, secure in the knowledge that God forgives every person who truly regrets his misdeeds.
The idea of purification is fulfilled by fasting: on Yom Kippur observant Jews fast from the evening of the holy day until the following night. Unlike all the other Jewish fast days, Yom Kippur is observed in full, even when it coincides with Shabbat. Yom Kippur is the only day on the Jewish calendar during which there are five prayer services.
Yom Kippur is not directly connected with any specific historical event, although some believe that on this day Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the second set of tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments and God forgave the Israelites for the sin of the Golden Calf. This is a holiday ordained in the Torah, where it is called a Shabbat of Solemn Rest, a day on which no productive work can be done, just like on Shabbat.
Even though most of the Jewish population in Israel is not religiously observant, Yom Kippur has and remains a special day for all and has retained its unique character. Many Jews who define themselves as secular and do not visit the synagogue all year long, go to prayer services on the special day, and many also observe the fast, completely or partially.
Fast – The Torah states that this is a day on which Jews are to “afflict their souls” – by observing a total fast, abstaining from both food and drink. There is also a prohibition against all physical pleasures, wearing leather shoes, washing any part of the body (including brushing the teeth). The fast, which lasts from sundown on the eve of the holiday until the stars come out the following night, is intended to not only cause physical discomfort, but to relieve a person of involvement in physical matters so that he can concentrate on the prayer and spiritual introspection required on this day.
Prayer – Religious Jews spend the whole of Yom Kippur day in synagogue devoting themselves to prayer. The prayers include a general admission of sins, and each person silently adds his own personal sins. One of the important prayers is Kol Nidrei – All Vows, named after the opening words of the first prayer, which cancels any vows that a person has made. It is customary to go to synagogue dressed in holiday clothing, and many people wear all white clothes, symbolizing purity.
The blowing of the shofar – At the close of Yom Kippur, the shofar – a ram’s horn – is blown to mark the end of the day of prayer and fasting.
Yom Kippur in israel
On Yom Kippur there is no traffic on the roads, and many families go for walks along the city streets. Even in Tel Aviv, a city with a clearly secular character, where there is hardly a day or an hour when businesses are not open and the street are always full of cars, car owners respect Yom Kippur and avoid driving on this day.
Children of all ages, on the other hand, take advantage of this day when the streets are empty and are out on their bicycles, roller blades and skateboards. All businesses are closed on Yom Kippur, including those that are usually open on Shabbat. All Israeli radio and TV broadcasts are also suspended.
If you are visiting Israel during this period, take advantage of Yom Kippur for a stroll through the city. It is also a good idea to visit a synagogue, to watch the congregants or to participate in this special prayer experience. In any event, take into account that in the Jewish cities everything is closed, there is no public transport (not even taxis) and the atmosphere is different than on regular days.
Sukkot, or Feast of Booths, is the third holiday in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, and is one of the most important Jewish holidays. Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, when the Jewish people would come to Jerusalem in ancient times, when the Holy Temple was there, and would offer animal and grain sacrifices. It is a particularly joyous holiday that combines religious and agricultural elements.
Sukkot originates in the Torah, and commemorates the booths in which the Israelites lived in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. A sukka is a temporary dwelling, usually with wooden or cloth walls on at least three of its four sides and a roof made of tree branches (traditionally palm fronds) through which the sky can be seen.
Sukkot is also known as the Harvest holiday, as it is celebrated in the autumn, after the summer harvest and before the planting of winter crops. A central theme in the holiday prayers is rain: the farmers thank God for this year’s harvest and pray for rain for the coming year.
Sukkot lasts seven days, from the 15th to the 21st of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. The first day and last days are particularly festive: the first is a holy day, a rest day, when no productive work is allowed, similar to Shabbat, so most businesses are closed; the eighth day from the beginning of Sukkot is called Shemini Atseret, is a separate holiday. The intermediate days are similar to weekdays.
Building a sukkah – The mitzvah of building a sukkah is to commemorate the time when our forefathers, the children of Israel after the exodus from Egypt, sat in the desert and lived in temporary structures – sleeping and eating under the open sky.
The four species – 4 types of plants (palm shoot, willow and myrtle branches and citron) that are used in ceremonial blessings on each day of the holiday, except Shabbat.. It is written in Leviticus 23:40 ” On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days”
Ushpizin – is a word in Aramaic that means visitors, one of the mitzvot used on Sukkot is to host people in the sukkah.
Succot in Israel –
Apart from the two rest days, when businesses are closed, the intermediate days are semi-holy days, and many businesses, particularly offices, operate in the mornings only. Some businesses are closed the entire week. Take into consideration that many vacation spots will be full of Israelis.
The Torah that was given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt is divided into five books called the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Every Shabbat we read the Torah portion of the week and on Simchat Torah we finish reading all the books and begin again.
Simchat Torah symbolizes the joy of ending the Torah reading and the joy that begin with everything from the beginning. In Simchat Torah, it is customary to take to the streets with Torah scrolls on their hands to sing, dance and rejoice that we are the people chosen to accept and observe the Torah.
The main celebrations of Simchat Torah take place in the synagogue during evening and morning services. In Orthodox as well as many Conservative congregations, this is the only time of year on which the Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark and read at night. In the morning, the last Torah portion of Deuteronomy and the first Torah portion of Genesis are read in the synagogue. On each occasion, when the ark is opened, the worshippers leave their seats to dance and sing with the Torah scrolls in a joyous celebration that can last for several hours.
The morning service is also uniquely characterized by the calling up of each male member (in some Orthodox, and in the majority of non-Orthodox congregations, male and female members) of the congregation for an aliyah. There is also a special aliyah for all the children (under 13 for boys and 12 for girls).