Major Jewish Holidays

Learn more about the major Jewish holidays, including Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Purim.

Rosh Hashanah: The Jewish New Year
A High Holy Day, Rosh Hashanah is not a party, but a time for self-reflection, seeking forgiveness and aspiring to be a better person in the coming year. Apples and honey are eaten for a sweet year.

Yom Kippur: The Day of Repentance
Ten days following Rosh Hashanah is the last possible day to ask for forgiveness from anyone you may have wronged in the past year. Jewish adults fast from sundown to sundown, in order to spend the day focused on repentance and prayer. At sundown, the new year is begun with a "clean slate."

Sukkot: The Harvest Festival
An eight-day holiday commemorating when Jews lived in fragile structures as they crossed the desert, and, during the harvest, when workers stayed in huts to spend their time busy harvesting the crops. Sukkot is observed by building wooden shelters with branches for a roof and eating meals inside. Some people sleep inside. The themes are the fragility of life, returning to nature, thankfulness and connecting with our ancestors. Symbols are a lulav (made of 3 small branches) and etrog (a citron, a lemon-like fruit).

Simchat Torah: Celebrating the Torah
This holiday celebrates the cyclical reading of the Bible, or Torah, and it marks the week when the last and first chapters of the Torah are read at the same service. It commemorates receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai, and Torah study.

Chanukah: Festival of Lights
Eight-day holiday celebrating the miracle of Jewish survival against odds. Nine-branched candelabras (menorahs or chanukias) are lit each night. Games of dreidel, chocolate gelt and latkes (potato pancakes) are symbols of the holiday.

Tu B'Shevat: Birthday of the Trees
This holiday is Jewish Arbor Day. Trees are planted in Israel, and fruits of spring are eaten. Environmental action is stressed as a Jewish value.

Purim: Feast of Lots
Purim celebrates the bravery of Queen Esther, who took action, even when faced with possible peril, to save her people from an evil plot to kill them. It's a costume party, with commandments to hear the Purim story, feast on a great meal, give food gifts to friends, money to the poor, and drink wine until drunk.

Passover: Pesach
Passover is an eight-day holiday commemorating the Hebrew slaves' Exodus from Egypt after 500 years of slavery under Pharaoh. Two Seder meals are held, and no leavened food is eaten for the eight day period. Instead, matzo, which is unleavened bread, is eaten.

Shavuot
This holiday commemorates receiving the 10 Commandments and is celebrated by all-night study sessions, reading the 10 Commandments from the Torah and eating a dairy meal.

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The significance of Yom Kippur is that it means "Day of Atonement," and it refers to asking forgiveness for ways in which we have missed the mark in the past year.

The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is one of the most ancient Jewish holidays on the Hebrew calendar. It is mentioned in the Torah, in Leviticus 23:27, specifically described as a day abstaining from work and atoning for misdeeds.

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In contrast to Rosh Hashanah, a festive and generally upbeat holiday, Yom Kippur is solemn and somber. Jews refer to it as the "Day of Atonement," occuring on the final day of the Ten Days of Repentance.

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What is Yom Kippur? Yom Kippur translates to "Day of Atonement" and is the most significant holiday of the Jewish calendar.

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