Jewish Holiday Celebrations

Figure 1.--Here Jewish boys and youths are celebrating Rosh Hashonah in New York City during 1910. American in general and New York in particular over the space of two decades went from a country with only a small Jewish population to one of the countries with the largest Jewish populations.

All relgions have special selebrations which underscore basic tennants of the faith. The two best known Jewish holiday celebrations are Passover and Hannuka. These two traditional holidays perhaps represent the essential Jewish spirit. Passover is especially important as one of the most critical cultural vehicles that assisted the the Jewish people in the Diaspora to maintain their national identity over more than 2,000 years. A phenomenal record living as a minority among other religions, mostly Christianity and Islam. The Jewish imprint on Christianity can be seen with the similarities between Easter and Passover as well as Christmas and Hanukkah.

Passover (April)

Passover is widely celebrated by Jews around the world, both religious and secular Jews. Almost all Israeli Jews celebrate the Seder each year. The celebration is so widespread because Passover is both a religious and national holiday. The basic theme is liberation from slavery and formation of a nation through divine intervention. And is a perfect examole of how religious, national and social issues are closely interwoven in Judaism regardless of how Jewish relgious precepts have changed over time. Modern historians debate whether or not the Exodus from Egypt as described in the Bible actually occurred. Some also question whether or not Moses actually existed. And they debate precisely which Paroah may have been involved. It will probably be impossible to ever settle this debate with any degree of certainty. There certainly are many historical myths that never have occurred. Others such as the Trojan War have actually been confirmed by archeologists. And other archeologists have found many sites in the Levant that seem to correspond to locations described in the Bible. Whether are not the events ever actually occurred, there is an essential truth in the Pessah holiday. Every country has their national myths and they are often fashioned to conform to the image that they want for themselves. The Roman foundation myths depicted themselves as descended from gods or Greek heros of the Trojan war. More modern countries can point to actual events, but those evebnts are often highly altered from the actual occurances. The basic Jewish "myth" is that they were made slaves in Egypt and that they achieved nationhood with God's support through a struggle against seemingly undefeatable forces. The theme of the just few against the unjust many is repeated again and again in Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. It appears in the Jewish-inspired teachings of Jesus and thus passed into Western Civilization. And is an element in the ideals of democracy and social justice that eventuall emerged in the West. The story of Passover in Exodus was not lost upon the enslaved Africans brought to the New World. For nearly 2000 years since the Roman conquest, the Jewish people have swore, "Next Year in Jerusalem".

Yom Kippur

Rosh Hashonah (Usually September)

Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri which makes it the Jewish New Yer. Rosh Hashanah means 'head of the year' in Hebrew. There is, however, virtually no similarity between the Western New Year and Jewish Rosh Hashanah. It is one of the hliest days in the , one of the holiest days of the year, in sharp contrast to the Western celebration of excessive eating, drining and making merry. The one similarity is the New Year resolution tradition. Jews use Rosh Hashonah as a time of introspection, thinking over the past year and attempting to avoid any repetitions of mistake made. The holiday celebration is described in the Torah (Leviticus 23:24-25). The name "Rosh Hashanah" is a modern term. Leviticus refers to Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The shofar is a ram's horn which can be equated to the modern trumpet. Thus perhaps the most notable rituals connected with Rosh Hashonah is the sounding of the shofar in the synagogue. This involves precisely 100 notes each day. There are four different types of shofar notes. Leviticus does not explain the reason behind tghis rituial. Some Jewish scholars believe that the shofar's sound is a call to repentance. The shofar is not blown if the Rosh Hashonah holiday falls on Shabbat. As with Shabbat, no work is allowed on Rosh Hashanah. Jews spend much of the day celebrating in the synagogue and for the day, the normal liturgy is expanded. A special prayerbook (the machzor) is used for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a result of the many liturgical changes needed for the holidays.

Hanukkah (December)

After Alexander's defeat of the Persian Empire, Palestine became part of the Helenistic world. The Seleucid Empoeror was accepting of relgious diversity. Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV for unknown reasons decided to supress Judaism (167 BC). The Maccabees victory saved the Judaism. The Macabees created a new festival to commemorate their victory. . Ironically it can be seen as part of Greek, not traditional Jewish, culture). Rabbis ecentually added the lamp miracle to give God a more important role. Hanukkah (Chanukah, Hanukah, or Hannuka). is known as the Festival of Lights. It is an 8-day Jewish holiday that usually celebrated between late-November and late-December. It is held to commemorate the victory of the Maccabees victory over the Seleucid Empire, often described as the Syrians. The Seleucid Empire was actually a Helenisdtic (Greek) empire centered on modern Syria. Hanukkah also celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews celebrate with 8 nights of traditional ativities. This celebration has continued with Jews in the Diaspora around the world. Traditions include lighting the menorah, exchanging gifts, and enjoying foods treats cooked in oil.


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Created: 12:07 AM 5/15/2007
Last updated: 2:15 AM 4/17/2013