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Jewish Festivals. RELIG 210: Lecture 13. Lecture Goals. Provide a basic overview of the structure of Jewish holidays and festivals Discuss the historical sources and religious significance of major festivals Illustrate key ritual objects and practices associate with festivals .

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jewish festivals

Jewish Festivals

RELIG 210: Lecture 13

lecture goals
Lecture Goals
  • Provide a basic overview of the structure of Jewish holidays and festivals
  • Discuss the historical sources and religious significance of major festivals
  • Illustrate key ritual objects and practices associate with festivals
torah reading
Torah Reading
  • Weekly cycle of reading
  • Why make Torah part of the liturgy?
shabbat and jewish time
Shabbat and Jewish Time
  • History vs. Memory
  • Prayer, Ritual and Halakhah construct Jewish time
  • Shabbat is most central time-marker
  • Major theme: Recognizing Creation
observing shabbat
Observing Shabbat
  • Actions imbued with liturgical significance
  • All acts of labor are prohibited
    • God rested, so should the Jews
    • Cannot bring anything into existence
    • Any action used in building Tent of Meeting is forbidden
  • Creating distinctions in time
  • Liturgy goes beyond communal prayer into daily life
the jewish calendar
The Jewish Calendar

29.5 Day Cycle

12 months of (29 or 30 Days)

354 Days in a year

Leap Month

Day begins at Sunset

holidays and ritual occasions
Holidays and Ritual Occasions
  • Pilgrimage Festivals
  • New Year Cycle
  • Commemorative Celebrations and Fasts
pilgrimage festivals
Pilgrimage Festivals
  • Origins of the Festivals
    • Agricultural holidays
    • Rabbis add layers
    • Tied to national/theological narrative
    • Temple sacrifice
  • Ritual Reenactment
  • Passover - Leave Egypt (8 Days)
  • Shavuot - Receive Torah (2 Days)
  • Sukkot - Enter the Promised Land (8 Days)
pesah passover
Pesah (Passover)
  • Biblical Roots: Spring harvest festival
  • Commemorates liberation from Egyptian slavery
    • “You shall observe the feast of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time.” (Exodus 12: 17-18)
the seder
The Seder
  • The Haggadah
    • Commanded to retell Exodus narrative
    • Ritual reenactment-Imagine personal deliverance from slavery
  • Symbols
    • Matzah - Unleavened bread
    • Maror - Bitter herbs
    • Haroset- Sweet mix

Roasted Egg-Festival Offering

Roasted Bone-Paschal Lamb



shavuot feast of weeks
Shavuot (“Feast of Weeks”)
  • Biblical Source: “You shall observe Shavuot, of first fruits of the wheat harvest.” (Exodus 34:21)
  • Rabbinic Reading: Commemorates giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai
  • Fewer home rituals than Passover or Sukkot
    • All night studying
sukkot biblical sources
Sukkot- Biblical Sources
  • Biblical Source:
  • Exodus: “the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the result of your work from the field.” (Exodus 23:16)
  • Leviticus:“You shall live in booths (sukkot) seven days…in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:40)
  • Sukkah- Temporary structures for harvest
sukkot rabbinic significance
Sukkot-Rabbinic Significance
  • Significance
    • Experience of wandering and exile
    • Liberation and God’s protection
    • Fragility vs. God’s presence
  • Ritual
    • Commandment to be happy
    • Live in the Sukkah (temporary structure)
    • Four Species-lulav and etrog

Lulav and Etrog

“On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees (traditionally identified as the etrog/citron tree), branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Leviticus 23:40)

shemini atzeret simhat torah
Shemini Atzeret/Simhat Torah
  • Eight Day of Assembly-last day of Sukkot
  • Simhat Torah-Rejoicing in the Torah
    • Completion of the Torah reading cycle
    • Dancing and celebration
the new year cycle
The New Year Cycle
  • High Holidays or Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe)
    • Rosh Hashannah (New Year’s Day)
    • Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
    • Sukkot (Tabernacles)
rosh hashanah jewish new year
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)
  • “You shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.” (Leviticus 23:24)
  • Anniversary of Creation-New Year
  • Theme of repentance and self-examination
  • Trial Metaphor
    • “May you be inscribed”
    • Tip the scales of divine judgment
    • 10 day period until Yom Kippur
yom kippur biblical origins
Yom Kippur-Biblical Origins
  • “Mark the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring a gift to the lord…For it is a day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:27)
  • High priest performs rite to expiate people’s sins
yom kippur day of atonement
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
  • Rabbis call it “Day of Judgment”
    • Climax of trial
    • God decides fate of individual and Israel
    • Excellent replacement for Temple
    • Clean slate every year
  • Focus on spiritual concerns
    • Abstention from food, drink, luxury, sexual activity
    • Imagery of Death
commemorative celebrations
Commemorative Celebrations
  • Mythic narrative remains central in yearly calendar
  • Commemorate great moments and tragedies through rituals
chanukah dedication
Chanukah (Dedication)
  • No reference in Hebrew Bible
  • Victory of Maccabees over Syrian domination in 135BCE
  • Rededicate the Temple
  • Miracle of jar of oil added in Talmud


Latke-Fried Potato Pancake


tu bishvat
Tu Bishvat
  • Birthday of the Trees
  • Mystical Significance
  • Zionist Symbolism
  • Environmental Holiday-Jewish Earth Day
purim lots raffle
Purim (Lots, Raffle)
  • Book of Esther
    • Jews of Persia saved from destruction
    • Draws lots to determine day to kill Jews
    • Diaspora story
    • No mention of God
  • Ritual
    • Read Scroll of Esther
    • Rowdy celebration
commemorative fasts
Commemorative Fasts
  • 4 minor fast days
    • Daylight and full-day
  • 3 connected to catastrophe of Temple’s destruction
    • Tisha B’Av-saddest day on the calendar
new holidays
New Holidays
  • Israel Independence Day
  • Holocaust Memorial Day