As we have seen in other articles, the holidays and traditions for Jews are a very important in their personal development. For thousands of years, Jews have preserved very significant rituals not only to sanctify their life and God’s creation but also to remember and commemorate special dates for Jewish history. All these festivities are contained in the Hebrew calendar and have multiple influential elements from the Torah commandments, the Jewish history and the history of the State of Israel.
In this post, we will talk about some of essential dates for Jews and their meaning. Before we explain these traditions, it is important to understand what Hebrew calendar is and how it works, because here is where all these special days are enclosed.
Related: The Sabbath: Do you know what the real purpose of human life is? by Yosef Meystel
Also known as the Jewish calendar, the Hebrew calendar is basically the one that determinates and establishes the principal dates to remembrance for the Jewish people. Currently, almost the sole purpose of this calendar is to celebrate and know the principal holidays. In other words, the Jewish calendar is used practically for a religious purpose.
The Hebrew calendar has notable variances with the Gregorian calendar, which is presently the more used calendar in the world. Among its differences are the days’ length; for the Jewish calendar, the day starts in the sunset and finishes in the next sunset, so the duration of a particular day depends on the time of year and its seasons.
Another important distinction between the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar is the name for the weekdays. For Jewish, every day is named as the day number within the week, starting after the end of the Shabbat (day 1, day 2, day 3, etc.). The week for Jewish calendar has seven days, representing the amount of days used by God for the world’s creation.
Like the Gregorian calendar, a year for the Hebrew calendar has twelve months, but they are established as lunar months, which means that the duration of each one of them is determined by the time between two successive new moons. Their months are Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishrei, Marcheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat and Adar. For Jews, the beginning of a new year starts with the first day of Nisan.
Having clear how the Hebrew calendar works, then we can show some of the most important holidays for Jews.
This special date is celebrated for eight nights and days, commemorating the purification of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (an ancient temple from Jerusalem that replaced the Solomon Temple) from the pagans. This traditional festivity starts on the 25th day of Kislev month (in the Hebrew calendar). In this important tradition, Jewish light on a nine-branched candlestick or Chanukiah, representing the eight days that the candelabrum placed on the recovered temple lasted on.
Hanukkah is considered by many as the Jewish Christmas and we can see a lot of Christmas decoration and elements in this date. Moreover, this holiday is not contemplated as a religious one, since its origins are related to the Maccabee texts, which are not considered Jewish scriptures.
There are other important traditions celebrated in this holiday, like playing the Dreidel (which is a gambling game), listening Hanukkah music or eating particular food preparations, like the latkes in multiple forms or cookies.
This is considered one of the most important dates for Judaism and commemorates the Jewish new year. It is celebrated on the first day of the Tishrei month to the second day of it (Hebrew calendar). Basically, this traditional date memorializes the world’s creation by God. In the Rosh Hashanah, Jews dedicate a lot of their time in the synagogue, praying and making personal reflections for the new year. On the other hand, in this celebration, it is used the shofar, which is an ancient music instrument made with a ram’s horn.
In the Rosh Hashanah celebration is not permitted to work, due to this date must be used for reflection and self-knowledge. In addition, in these traditional days, it is common to see Jews eating bread and apples bathed in honey, symbolizing that the new year be a very sweet one.
Another traditional practice in the Rosh Hashanah celebration is to throw what is in the pockets in some river, representing the expulsion of sins for the new year.
We have mentioned just two of the most important celebrations for Jews, but there are other significant holidays and rituals, like Shavuot, which is celebrated on the 6th day of the Sivan month and represents the first harvest of the year, or the Yom Kippur, a very important date for atonement and repentance, by which Jews have ten days for expiation and penitence, praying for a period of more than 20 hours. We can also see other essential days like the Shemini Atzeret, the Tu Bishvat or the Lag Ba’omer.