The Festival of Sukkot Israel 2013

Filed in Culture, Judaism by on 29/08/2013 2 Comments
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The Festival of Sukkot Israel: Live in Booths and Rejoice

sukkah roofs

City of Sukkahs (Photo: Effi B., CC BY-SA 3.0)

One of the most joyful of the Jewish festivals that comes on the heels of the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the Festival of Tabernacles called Sukkot/Succot in Hebrew. A sukkah is a booth, a temporary shelter. Jews build these in response to the Biblical commandment to remember the 40 years the Israelites lived in temporary shelters when G-d led them out of Egypt through the wilderness to the promised land.

The seven-day festival (8 days outside of the land of Israel) falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, usually September or October. This year it begins after sundown on Wednesday, September 18. This is a great time to visit Israel and the weather also begins to cool off and often the first rains fall during Sukkot after the long hot dry summer!

No sooner does the Yom Kippur fast end then the sound of hammers is heard all over the country, as people build a sukkah or put up a custom-made one. No matter whether one has one of wood or a metal frame with fabric or plastic curtains, the roof must be made only of organic material like branches and boughs of a tree, bamboo or other plant materials. Meals are eaten in the sukkah and many men and boys over the age of 13 sleep in the sukkah. Many families build their sukkah on a balcony or roof attached to their apartment. While this is very convenient, one may get more of a feeling of what life was like in the wilderness by building a sukkah on the ground.

The Four Species – arba minim

Four Species

Four Species (Photo: Gilabrand, CC BY-SA 3.0)

After the Yom Kippur fast people flock to special markets temporarily set up to sell the Four Species called the arba minim in Hebrew.

There is a Biblical commandment to take:

  1. an unopened palm branch, lulav,
  2. fruit from a goodly tree – this is the citron called an etrog in Hebrew;
  3. leafy tree boughs –3 sprigs of myrtle called hadass in Hebrew and
  4. 2 sprigs of willows by the brook, the arava.

The lulav is put in a special holder usually made of plant material, and the willows are placed on the left side of this holder and the myrtle is placed on the right side slightly higher than the willows. While holding the etrog and the lulav together the lulav is waved in six directions including up and down while reciting a special blessing, and this is done every day of the Sukkot holiday except on the Sabbath and on Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your G-d seven days. (Levviticus, Vayikra 23:40)

Rejoice for Seven Days – Moadim B’simcha

Sukkah in Jerusalem

Sukkah in Jerusalem (Photo: Gilabrand, CC BY-SA 3.0)

There is a biblical commandment to rejoice on all the days of the Sukkot festival including the intermediate days called Chol Hamoed. These times for rejoicing are called moadim b’simcha. Some people flock to nature to National Parks and Reserves. Others take in urban delights. All over the country are special events and festivals like the Mayyanot Festival near Bet Shean and the Story Telling Festival in Givatayim.

Sukkot is one of the three festivals where all Jewish males are commanded in the Torah to come up to Jerusalem, aliyat haregel. The other two are: Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). When the Temple stood they made their way there to offer sacrifices and prayers. Today they make their way to the Western Wall, especially at the time of the Priestly Blessing, Birkat Hacohanim. Most restaurants and eateries erect sukkot on their premises so that people can eat out and still keep the mitzvah of eating in a sukkah.

Hosanna / Hoshana Raba – The Great Salvation

On the seventh day of Sukkot is Hoshana Raba when Jews call out to G-d to save them, (Hoshanot prayers for salvation), and make a circle seven times around a Torah Scroll, a custiom recalling the Kohnaim’s circling of the altar in the Bet HaMikdash during this holiday. Finally the willow branches are beaten into the ground to symbolize beating sins into the dust. This is when the judgment handed down at the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashana is sealed. This is also the last day for sitting in the sukkah and waving the lulav in Israel.

The Rejoicing over the Law – Simchat Torah/Simchas Torah and Shemini Atzeret

Flags for Simchat Torah

Flags for Simchat Torah (Photo: Ron Almog, CC BY 2.0)

The joyful holidays of Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret are celebrated on the same day in Israel (but two days outside in the Diaspora) and this holiday begins on Wednesday, September 25 after sundown. Rejoicing over completing the yearly cycle of reading the Torah portions is celebrated by men and boys who sing and dance while carrying the Torah scrolls in the synagogues. Sometimes this spills out into the street and joyous singing is heard all over neighborhoods.

Jerusalem March

The annual Jerusalem March attracts thousands of people from all over the world, especially Christians from more than 80 countries who come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles and to participate in the Jerusalem March.

Did You Know?

Here is a free “Building a Sukkah coloring page” and you can also download free Sukkot coloring pages.

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