Judaism: Celebrations and Festivals

Jewish festivals and celebrations center around important events in the history of the Jews.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year festival which usually takes place in September or October.

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement during which Jewish people fast, pray, and atone for their sins, asking God for forgiveness. This happens ten days after Rosh Hashanah.

Passover or Pesach is in the Spring and marks the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the ten commandments and the journey to Israel. The Hagaddah, which is the story of the exodus from Egypt, is read at this celebration, which takes the form of a ritual meal. There are many ritual objects which enable the family to experience the Exodus as they sit around the dinner table.

Hanukkah is the festival of lights. It is held in late November or December. When the temple was rededicated after a period of persecution, the eternal light was rekindled but there was only enough oil for a few days. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, until more oil could be found. The Menorah, a candelabra with eight candles representing the eight days, plus an additional candle to light the others, is a central focus for prayers said during the nights of Hanukkah.

Important passages in Jewish life are marked by special observances. There are specific traditions for the birth of a child and for when someone dies.

Bar mitzvah and Bat mitzvah ceremonies mark a child's thirteenth birthday (in some traditions, a girl's twelfth birthday). The first act of adulthood is reading from the Torah scroll during services.

All Jewish holy days begin at sundown and end at sundown. The Shabbat begins at sundown each Friday and lasts until dark on Saturday. There is a special Sabbath meal which includes special foods, songs and readings and prayers. Families hold this ceremony together, beginning with the blessing of Shabbat candles, wine and bread (challah).