Next Occurs on: February 4, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775) Learn More »
Tu B'Shvat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, is a holiday also known as the New Year of the Trees. (The word "Tu" is not really a word; it is the number 15 in Hebrew.)
Judaism has several different "new years." Tu B'Shvat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. (Leviticus 19:23-25 states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year's fruit is for God and the fruit can be eaten after that.)
Tu B'Shvat is not mentioned in the Torah, and there are few observances related to this holiday. One custom is to eat a new fruit on this day. Some people plant trees on this day, and many Jewish children collect money for planting trees for Israel at this time of year.
One reason for the festive mood of the “New Year of the Trees” is that it recalls the praise of the Land of Israel, for on this day the strength of the soil of the land is renewed. With reference to the fruits of the trees and the produce of the soil, the Torah praises the Land of Israel: "A land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey" (Deuteronomy 8:8).
Another reason for the special observance of the 15th of Shvat is that the time of Rosh Hashanah for the trees is also a time of prayer and judgment concerning the trees. Whenever any of His creatures begins to grow, God surveys its entire future. So it is proper, at such a time, to pray that the new creature or being might prosper. The Torah has compared Man to a tree of the field; hence this day also recalls the Divine judgment upon man.
Tu B'Shvat will be celebrated on the following dates:
- February 4, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775)
- January 25, 2016 (Jewish Year 5776)
Next Occurs on: March 5, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775) Learn More »
Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from total destruction.
The story of Purim is told in the Book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who was like a father to her. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem. King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but he did not know that she was a Jew.
The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, evil adviser to the king. Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people in revenge. He told the king, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people's, and they do not observe the king's laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them." Esther 3:8. The king handed over the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased with them. Haman planned to kill them all.
Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for her to do, because anyone who came into the king's presence without being summoned could be put to death. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went to see the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman's plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.
The Book of Esther is the only book of the Bible that does not contain the name of God. Thus, one important message of the story is that God often works in ways that are not apparent in ways that appear to be chance, coincidence or ordinary good luck.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which usually comes in March. In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next day. The 15th is referred to as Shushan Purim.
The word "Purim" means "lots" and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.
The Purim holiday is preceded by a minor fast, the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther's three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.
The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the Book of Esther, known as the Megillah, which means scroll. Although five books of Jewish scripture are referred to as megillahs (Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations), this is the one people call “the Megillah.” It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle groggers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to "blot out the name of Haman."
On Purim, Jews are also commanded to send out gifts of food or drink and to give charity. Among Ashkenazic (European) Jews, traditional Purim treats are hamentaschen, triangular fruit-filled cookies that represent Haman's three-cornered hat.
It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. Purim is not subject to the Sabbath-like restrictions that apply to many other holiday, but some sources indicate that ordinary business should not be conducted out of respect for the holiday.
Purim will be celebrated on the following dates:
- March 5, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775)
- March 24, 2016 (Jewish Year 5776)
Next Occurs on: April 4-11, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775) Learn More »
Every spring, during the eight-day holiday of Passover (Pesach in Hebrew), Jews commemorate the exodus of their people from slavery in the land of Egypt. The holiday marks the birth of the Jewish people as a nation more than 3,000 years ago.
When the Jewish people were held in captivity in Egypt, the Pharaoh (Egyptian ruler) ordered the killing of all Jewish male babies. One couple, Yocheved and Amran, tried to save their infant son by floating him down the river in a basket. The child was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, who named him Moses and raised him as her own son.
As an adult, Moses learned that he was a Jew and tried unsuccessfully to make Pharaoh free his people. But God remembered his promise to the Jews and sent 10 plagues to convince Pharaoh to free his Jewish subjects. Nine of the plagues—Blood, Frogs, Lice, Beasts, Cattle Disease, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness had no effect.
Before God sent the tenth plague, the slaying of the firstborn, Moses told his people to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. He instructed them to mark their doors with blood so the angel of death would “pass over” their houses. Upon the death of his own son, Pharaoh relented and freed the Jews. In their haste to leave Egypt, they did not even allow time for their bread to rise, which is why matzah (unleavened bread) is eaten during Passover, and Jewish houses are cleansed of chametz (leaven) in keeping with holiday tradition.
As the Jews fled Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent out his army to bring them back. But God parted the Red Sea, allowing the Jews to cross, and then drowned the pursuing Egyptian army behind them.
Celebration of Passover focuses on a ritual meal, called the seder, at which the exodus story is recounted. Traditional and symbolic foods are served to recall the bitterness of captivity and the sweetness of freedom.
Learn more about Passover.
Passover will be observed on the following dates:
- April 4-11, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775)
- April 23-30, 2016 (Jewish Year 5776)
Holocaust Rememberance Day
Next Occurs on: April 16, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775) Learn More »
Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, occurs on the 27th of the Jewish month of Nisan. Shoah is the Hebrew word for Holocaust. This is a memorial day for those who died in the Holocaust.
Holocaust Remembrance day will be observed on the following dates:
- April 16, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775)
- May 5, 2016 (Jewish Year 5776)
Israel Memorial Day
Next Occurs on: May 5, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774) Learn More »
Yom Ha-Zikkaron, or Israel Memorial Day, observed on the 4th of Iyar, remembers those who died in Israel’s War of Liberation and other wars in Israel.
Israel Memorial Day will be observed on the following dates:
- May 5, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774)
- April 22, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775)
Israel Independence Day
Next Occurs on: May 6, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774) Learn More »
Yom Ha-Atzmaut, or Israel Independence Day, marking the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948, is observed on the 5th of Iyar.
Israel Independence Day will be observed on the following dates:
- May 6, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774)
- April 23, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775)
Next Occurs on: May 28, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774) Learn More »
The 28th day of Iyar is Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, commemorating the reunification of the city of Jerusalem in Israeli hands after the Six Day War in 1967.
Jerusalem Day will be observed on the following dates:
- May 28, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774)
- May 17, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775)
Next Occurs on: June 3-5, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774) Learn More »
Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, is the second of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance. (The others are Passover and Sukkot.)
Shavuot commemorates the time when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In this context, it is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah, or Five Books of Moses, at Mount Sinai, and thus is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah).
Shavuot is also sometimes known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day after the beginning of Passover. This connection reminds Jewish people that Passover freed them physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed them spiritually from their bondage to idolatry and immorality.
Work is not permitted during Shavuot. It is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavuot, studying Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning.
It also is customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavuot . There are varying opinions for this. Some see it as a reminder of the biblical characterization of Israel as a land flowing with "milk and honey." Others say it is because the Jews had just received the Torah, with its very specific dietary laws, and were not prepared to handle meat in the prescribed fashion.
The book of Ruth is read on Shavuot, probably for a number of reasons. First, the events occurred during the harvest season and, as noted above, Shavuot is the harvest festival. Additionally, Ruth was a convert to Judaism, and conversion can be seen as an individual “receiving the Torah,” just as the Jewish People received the Torah from God on Shavuot. Others believe that telling the story of Ruth, which truly teaches about acts of loving-kindness, is appropriate in conjunction with the giving of the Torah. Finally, some even claim that Ruth is connected to the holiday of Shavuot because her name has the numerical value of 606 (All Hebrew letters have numerical values.) and at Mount Sinai, the Jewish People accepted 606 new laws, or mitzvoth, from God, in addition to the seven Noahide Laws.
Shavuot will be celebrated on the following dates:
- June 3-5, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774)
- May 23-25, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775)
Next Occurs on: August 4-5, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774) Learn More »
Tisha B'Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which coincidentally have occurred on the ninth of Av.
Tisha B'Av means "the ninth (day) of Av." It usually occurs during August.
Tisha B'Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE; the second by the Romans in 70 CE).
Although this holiday is primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to consider on this day the many other tragedies of the Jewish people, many of which occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
Tisha B'Av is the culmination of a three week period of increasing mourning, beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem, before the First Temple was destroyed. During this three week period, weddings and other parties are not permitted, and people refrain from cutting their hair. From the first to the ninth of Av, it is customary to refrain from eating meat or drinking wine (except on the Sabbath) and from wearing new clothing.
The restrictions on Tisha B'Av are similar to those on Yom Kippur: to refrain from eating and drinking (even water); washing, bathing, shaving or wearing cosmetics; wearing leather shoes; engaging in sexual relations; and studying Torah. Work in the ordinary sense of the word is also restricted. People who are ill need not fast on this day. Many of the traditional mourning practices are observed: people refrain from smiles, laughter and idle conversation, and sit on low stools.
In synagogue, the book of Lamentations is read and mourning prayers are recited. The ark (cabinet where the Torah is kept) is draped in black.
Tisha B'Av will be observed on the following dates:
- August 4-5, 2014 (Jewish Year 5774)
- July 25-26, 2015 (Jewish Year 5775)
Next Occurs on: September 24-26, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775) Learn More »
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. But there is little similarity between Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, and the traditional, lighthearted New Year's celebrations that take place December 31-January 1.
Still, both New Year's observances are considered appropriate times to make resolutions. The Jewish New Year invites introspection, examination of past mistakes and planning for improvement in the new year. Religious services for the holiday focus on the concept of God’s sovereignty.
The Bible refers to this holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar, or ram’s horn). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25.
No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah. Much of the day is spent in the synagogue. One practice on this holiday is Tashlikh, or "casting off." Late on the afternoon of the first day, families walk to flowing water, such as a nearby river, and empty their pockets, symbolically casting off their sins. While not discussed in the Bible, this is a long-standing custom.
The common greeting at this time is L'shanah tovah ("for a good year").
Rosh Hashanah will be observed on the following dates:
- September 24-26, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775)
- September 13-15, 2015 (Jewish Year 5776)
Next Occurs on: October 4, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775) Learn More »
“On the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; it shall be a holy gathering for you, and you shall afflict yourselves and present an offering by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on this day, for it is a day of atonement for you before the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:27-28).
The only fast day decreed in the Bible, Yom Kippur is a time to enumerate one's misdeeds and contemplate one's faults. Jews are expected, on this day, to pray for forgiveness for sins between man and God and to correct their wrongful actions against other people.
The days from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur are called the 10 days of penance, when through good deeds, prayer and repentance, we can soften a bad fate. The major precepts of Yom Kippur—lengthy devotional services and a 25-hour fast—are observed even by much of the otherwise secular population.
The level of public solemnity on Yom Kippur surpasses that of any other festival, including Rosh Hashanah. The pre-fast meal is eaten in the early evening and should end one hour before sundown. After a day of prayer and introspection, the end of the fast is marked with the blowing of the shofar at the Neila (closing) prayer service in the synagogue. This is when Heaven’s gate is considered closed, sealing our fate for the new year.
In Israel, the country comes to a complete halt for 25 hours. Places of entertainment are closed, there are no television and radio broadcasts (not even the news), public transport is suspended, and even the roads are completely closed. Its solemnity is reinforced by memories of the 1973 war, a surprise attack launched by Egypt and Syria against Israel on Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is observed on the following dates:
- October 4, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775)
- September 23, 2015 (Jewish Year 5776)
Next Occurs on: October 8-15, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775) Learn More »
Sukkot, the “Festival of Booths,” is described in the Bible (Leviticus 23:34) as the "Feast of Tabernacles." Sukkot is one of the three festivals that were celebrated (until 70 CE) with mass pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt (13th century BCE) and giving thanks for a bountiful harvest.
In the five days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, Jews erect Sukkot, booths for temporary dwelling, resembling the booths in which the Israelites lived in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. The booth consists of four walls made of wood, canvas or other material. The roof is made of branches or leaves thatched loosely so that one may glimpse the stars in the sky above. It is decorated with flowers, fruit and paper chains. Meals are eaten in the sukkah, which becomes a colorful gathering place for family and friends.
Sukkot is also the harvest festival. In Israel, the harvest of grapes, olives and other crops ends at this time of year. It is also time that one waits in hope for the first rain and the start of a new and fertile planting year.
A special combination of four different plant species the palm branch, myrtle sprigs, willow branches and citron is used in a special prayer of thanksgiving said each day. The three plant cuttings and the lemon-like citron are held and shaken in the direction of the four corners of the earth. One explanation for combining these four plants is that the different qualities of each remind us that people are also different, yet must come together for a healthy society to function.
In Israel, the "holy day" portion of Sukkot (and the other two pilgrimage festivals, Passover and Shavuot) is celebrated for one day. Diaspora communities (those outside of the Holy Land) celebrate it for two days, commemorating the time in antiquity when the beginning of each holiday was less exact, initially determined in Jerusalem and then signaled by fires and by couriers running from town to town.
Sukkot will be celebrated on the following dates:
- October 8-15, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775)
- September 27-October 4, 2015 (Jewish Year 5776)
Next Occurs on: October 17, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775) Learn More »
Simchat Torah (literally, “rejoicing in the Torah”), marks completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings in synagogue. Immediately after reading the last portion of the Torah scroll, the reader begins the first chapter of Genesis.
Every year, this public reading from God’s word reminds us that the Torah is ongoing—a constant in our lives, even as the world about us changes. The Psalmist said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). On Simchat Torah we celebrate the Torah as the font of our wisdom and the source of the strength of the Jewish people. It is a time of great rejoicing, highlighted by Torah processions around the synagogue and high-spirited dancing and singing.
Simchat Torah will be celebrated on the following dates:
- October 17, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775)
- October 6, 2015 (Jewish Year 5776)
Next Occurs on: December 16-24, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775) Learn More »
The joyous festival of Hanukkah begins on 25 Kislev of the Jewish calendar. It celebrates two miracles — a great Jewish military victory and a miraculous supply of oil for the Temple.
Hanukkah marks the Macabees' long-ago defeat of the much-larger Greek-Syrian army that had invaded Israel. The Macabees were just a small group of Jews led by Mattathias and his five sons, including Judah Macabee. But they organized themselves into a guerrilla army and, with God's help, proved stronger than their powerful enemy.
Following the Macabees' victory, the Jews rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and, once again, were able to worship freely.
Although Hanukkah celebrates a military victory, its major symbol — the Hanukkah menorah, or hanukkiah — reminds us of the miracle of the oil. As the Jews purified the Holy Temple, they found only one flask of the oil for the eternal lamp — enough to keep it burning for just one day. But a miracle occurred, and the oil lasted eight days and nights until more oil could be brought from afar. That miracle explains why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days and also why Hanukkah is called the Festival of Lights.
The Hanukkah menorah holds nine candles, one for each of the eight nights and an additional candle that’s used to light the others. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second night, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night.
Hanukkah is a time to celebrate with family and friends, to eat yummy holiday treats, to give gifts (especially to children) and to play the dreidel game.
Hanukkah will be celebrated on the following dates:
- December 16-24, 2014 (Jewish Year 5775)
- December 6-14, 2015 (Jewish Year 5776)