A guide to
Jewish Religious Holidays

Jewish religious holidays also known as "Yom - Tov", are celebrated in unique and special ways. The Jews are known for their rare customs surrounding their major Jewish holidays. Ever heard of a holiday where you live in a hut for seven days? Or how about not eating any bread or leaven for seven days? Well, these are only part of the special ways Jews celebrate their holidays.

Information on Jewish holidays

All major Jewish religious holidays are alike with the fact that it is forbidden to do any work or operate machinery as on Sabbath. There is a slight exception that you can cook, carry, and some more for food. All jewish holidays are very joyous and happy. They are celebrated with family and friends with its' special unique parties (Seudot) to celebrate its special meaning.

All Jewish Religious Holidays are in commemoration of a miracle that happened to the Jewish nation in its early years. The three major Jewish religious holidays, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkoth are in tribute to the Jewish nation redemption of Egypt. There are lots and lots of information on Jewish holidays that are unique to its special holiday. Before continuing let me first list Jewish holidays.

List of Jewish religious holidays
The calendar of Jewish holidays consists of the following major Jewish Holidays:

  • Rosh Hashanah
  • Yom Kippur
  • Sukkoth
  • Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
  • Hanukkah
  • Purim
  • Passover
  • Shavuot


  • Let me shortly introduce all Jewish religious holidays. For more and deeper information click on the link to each holiday for a more meaningful and detailed overview.

    Rosh Hashanah

    Rosh Hashanah ("beginning of the year") is the Jewish New Year. It is the first of the High Holidays (Yamim Noraim - Days of Awe"). It is observed on the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. In the regular calendar it will fall as follows: Jewish Year 5772: from sunset September 28, 2011 to nightfall September 30, 2011; Jewish Year 5773: from sunset September 16, 2012 till nightfall September 18, 2012.

    This Holiday is celebrated by lots of special prayers that Hashem (God) should grant a happy and healthy new year. On Rosh Hashanah there is a biblical commandment to blow or listen to the blowing of a Shofar, a horn of a ram.

    Yom Kippur
    The day of Yom Kippur is the highest day of all Jewish religious holidays. It is known as the "day of atonement". It is observed on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Yom Kippur takes place for one day only and Jews from all walks of life stay in synagogue praying during most of the day. The bible commands all Jews to fast and refrain from wearing shoes, massaging and any sexual activity. Thus, Hashem will forgive for all the sins from the previous year.

    In the regular calendar it will fall as follows: Jewish Year 5772: from sunset October 7, 2011 to nightfall October 8, 2011; Jewish Year 5773: from sunset September 25, 2012 till nightfall September 26, 2012.

    Sukkoth
    What a special holiday! It is called in the bible "Zman Simchaseinu" - the time of joy. It is observed from the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of tishrei, for seven days. The holiday is celebrated by eating and sleeping in a hut covered with branches and grass. The hut resembles the "clouds of glory" that the Jews traveled in, when they were in the dessert for forty years before entering the land of Israel. Four species, Lulov, Etrog, Hadasim and Aravot are taken by every observant Jew.

    In the regular calendar it will fall as follows: Jewish Year 5772: from sunset October 12, 2011 to nightfall October 19, 2011 (the holiday continues for another two days [one day only in Israel], see below Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah); Jewish Year 5773: from sunset September 30, 2012 till nightfall October 7, 2012 (the holiday continues for another two days [one day only in Israel], see below Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah).

    Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
    In the Torah there is one additional day that Hashem (God) added to the holiday of Sukkoth. A special day, where Hashem asks the Jewish people to celebrate with him in a special feast. There is no special commandment for this holiday, as in Sukkoth and Passover, only to sing and celebrate with Hashem. As in all biblical holidays, an extra day is added outside of Israel (see reason here), so this becomes a two day holiday. Throughout the generations, rabbinic sages added a new twist to this holiday: Simchat Torah. In this day the Jews complete their weekly Torah portion, and start again. It is therefore celebrated with great joy.

    In the regular calendar it will fall as follows: Jewish Year 5772: from sunset October 19, 2011 to nightfall October 21, 2011 (October 20 in Israel); Jewish Year 5773: from sunset October 7, 2012 till nightfall October 9, 2012 (October 8 in Israel).

    Hanukkah
    Who didn't hear of Hanukkah? What a joyous time! The festival of lights! It is observed for eight days, starting from the twenty fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kisleiv. Hanukkah marks the defeat of Seleucid Empire forces that prevented the Jewish people from observing Judaism. Yehudah HaMaccabee with his brothers and a small number of Jewish forces miraculously defeated overwhelming forces, and renewed the Temple in Jerusalem.

    The eight-day festival is marked by the kindling of lights - one on the first night, two on the second, and so on - using a special candle holder called a Chanukkiyah, or a Hanukkah menorah. Although a rabbinical commandment it is celebrated with great joy and love.

    In the regular calendar it will fall as follows: Jewish Year 5772: December 21, 2011 at sunset the first candle, adding an additional candle each night for the following eight days; Jewish Year 5773: December 8, 2012 at sunset the first candle, adding an additional candle each night for the following eight days.

    Purim
    Purim is one of the two Jewish religious holidays that are not biblical, but still strongly practiced by all the Jews. It is a very special and unique holiday introduced to Jews by Mordechai with Esther and the great sages of that time. Purim is observed the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar, and in Jerusalem on the fifteenth day of the month. Purim is a festival that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people living throughout the ancient Persian Empire from a plot by Haman to kill all men, women and children.

    Purim is celebrated by reading the book of Esther, which describes the whole story. It is also celebrated by sending gifts of food to friends, giving money for the poor, drinking wine and dressing up.

    In the regular calendar it will fall as follows: Jewish year 5771: on March 20, 2011 (in Jerusalem March 21, 2011); Jewish Year 5772: on March 8, 2012 (in Jerusalem on March 9, 2012); Jewish Year 5773: on February 24, 2013 (in Jerusalem on February 25, 2013).

    Passover

    Passover is one of the most widely observed of all Jewish religious holidays. It commemorates the story of the Jewish people when they were freed from Egyptian slavery. Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, and is celebrated for eight days (seven in Israel). This is the time when Jews celebrate the great miracles God has brought upon the Egyptians in the form of ten plagues and later by drowning the Egyptians in the red sea.

    It is celebrated by not eating any bread or leaven. It is replaced with the special Matzo. The first two nights (one in Israel) are celebrated by the Seder. A unique meal with a special order that resembles parts of the history of the slavery in Egypt, and later the great redemption.

    In the regular calendar it will fall as follows: Jewish Year 5771: from sunset April 18, 2011 to nightfall April 26, 2011 (in Israel till April 25, 2011); Jewish Year 5772: from sunset April 6, 2012 to nightfall April 14, 2012 (in Israel till April 13, 2012); Jewish Year 5773: from sunset March 25, 2013 till nightfall April 2, 2013 (in Israel till April 1, 2013).

    Shavuot

    Shavuot is celebrated on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivaan. It marks the great Sinai revelation when Hashem gave the Torah or the bible for the Jewish people. This holiday lasts two days (only one in Israel), and has no special biblical commandments besides refraining from work.

    There are many customs by orthodox Jews on this Jewish religious holiday. For example eating special dairy meals (all other Jewish religious holidays require meat meals), or putting flowers and branches in home and synagogue.

    In the regular calendar it will fall as follows: Jewish Year 5771: from sunset June 7, 2011 to nightfall June 9, 2011 (in Israel till June 8, 2011); Jewish Year 5772: from sunset May 26, 2012 to nightfall May 28, 2012 (in Israel till May 27, 2012); Jewish Year 5773: from sunset May 13, 2013 till nightfall May 15, 2013 (in Israel till May 14, 2013).

    Additional Jewish religious holidays

    While all of the above are biblical Jewish religious holidays, with the exception of Hanukkah and Purim - that are rabbinical obligatory holidays (and work is permitted), there are a few smaller customary holidays as follows:

  • Tu Bishvat
  • Lag Be'omer
  • Rosh Chodesh
  • Tu Bishvat
    The fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat is celebrated by eating fruits. This is day is the start of blossoming of the trees.

    Lag Be'Omer
    Lag Be'Omer is celebrated on the eighteenth day of the month of Iyar, the thirty third day of the counting of the Omer. On this day the great sage R' Shimon Bar Yochai passed away and it is celebrated by lighting large bonfires, and going to his gravesite in Miron, Israel.

    Besides the above list of Jewish holidays, there are several Jewish mourning days as follows (all commemorating the destruction of the temple):

  • Tzom Gedalye
  • Asara betevet
  • Taanit Esther
  • Seventeenth of Tamuz
  • Tisha'h B'av (Ninth of Av)
  • New Israeli/Jewish national holidays (not celebrated by many haredi - Ultra-orthodox Jews)

  • Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance day
  • Yom Hazikaron - Memorial Day
  • Yom Ha'atzmaut - Israel Independence Dayli
  • Yom Yerushalaim - Jerusalem Day
  • Now that you got to know the basics of Jewish holidays, keep on reading for more and more info on the unique culture and lifestyle of orthodox Jews!

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