A concise guide to the season with a reason

Once again, the High Holiday season is about to mark its arrival, leaving all of us with much to contemplate and absorb. Jmore offers a handy-dandy guide to the holidays that make up the season.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is a period of gratitude and profound introspection, a time when the full circle of life is observed during the completion of yet another year, while we also take stock of our lives and actions.

Rosh Hashanah is observed during the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. (Some Reform congregations only observe the first day of the holiday.)

It ushers in the Ten Days of Repentance, also known as the Days of Awe, culminating in the fast day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The shofar is traditionally sounded at the conclusion of morning Rosh Hashanah services.

A ram’s horn that makes a trumpet-like sound, the shofar is intended as a wake-up call to prepare for the High Holiday season and commit oneself to teshuva, repentance.

Rosh Hashanah is known as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, on which God opens the Books of Life and Death, which are then sealed on Yom Kippur.

Besides attending services, Rosh Hashanah traditions include eating a piece of apple dipped in honey to symbolize the desire for a sweet year; offering a blessing to others with the Hebrew phrase, “L’Shana Tova tikatevu veteichateim,” may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year; and Tashlich, a special prayer to symbolically cast away sins that is recited near a body of flowing water.

At Rosh Hashanah meals, the Kiddush prayer and a blessing on the challah (which is round to symbolize the cycle of life) is recited after candlelighting and prayers.

Yom Kippur is the most solemn and sacred day on the Hebrew calendar. During the 25-hour fast, Jews are commanded to refrain from wearing leather, eating and drinking, bathing and having sexual relations.

From the Kol Nidre prayer to the Ne’ila service, Yom Kippur focuses on the theme of repentance to ensure that individuals and community are inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year. A break-fast is held at the conclusion of the holiday at which dairy and other light foods are consumed.

The agriculture-based festival of Sukkot is named after the booths (sukkot in Hebrew) in which Jews are instructed to dwell during this eight-day celebration. The sukkah — with a roof made of thatch or branches (thus allowing visibility of stars in the nighttime sky) — represents the dwellings of the Israelites during their 40 years of desert wandering after the exodus from Egypt.

Jews traditionally decorate, congregate and eat meals in the sukkah during the holiday. They also hold and shake four species of plants consisting of palm, myrtle and willow (lulav), together with citron (etrog) while reciting several prayers.

Shemini Atzeret is observed on the eighth day of Sukkot, but is considered a separate holiday of its own. Shemini Atzeret features the prayer for rain, officially commemorating the start of the Mediterranean rainy season. The Yizkor prayer remembering the souls of deceased loved ones is recited on Shemini Atzeret (along with Yom Kippur, Passover and Shavuot).

Simchat Torah marks the completion of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. The final Torah portion of the year is read in synagogue on Simchat Torah, proceeding immediately to the first chapter of Genesis, serving as a reminder of the Torah’s eternal quality.

Simchat Torah is a time of celebration, with processions around the synagogue carrying Torah scrolls and high-spirited singing and dancing. Drinking alcohol is common during this holiday, and children are given candy, Israeli flags and other treats on Simchat Torah. As many people as possible are given the honor of carrying a Torah scroll at services.

L’Shana Tova!

High Holiday season 2017:

Rosh Hashanah is observed from Wednesday night, Sept. 20, to Friday evening, Sept. 22

Yom Kippur begins Friday night, Sept. 29, and concludes the following evening, Sept. 30

Sukkot is observed from Wednesday evening, Oct. 4, to Wednesday night, Oct. 11

Shemini Atzeret is observed from Wednesday night, Oct. 11, to Thursday evening, Oct. 12

Simchat Torah is observed from Thursday night, Oct. 12, to Friday evening, Oct. 13

Information for this article was culled from several Jewish websites and sources.

Also see: High Holidays 2017: Recipes, Memories, Tips and More

Top photo: Shofar courtesy Anna Grace, Flickr

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