Jewish Observances and Rituals

Daily and Life-Cycle rituals



Main Symbols and Observances

Historical or Social Significance

Natural or Agricultural Significance

  • Sabbath:
    • Observed every Saturday:
      Refraining from labour;
    • prayers;
    • festive meals
    Liberation from Egyptian Slavery God ceased from the six days of creation

    The Pilgrimage Festivals

  • Passover (Pessach)
    • Refraining from leavened bread
    • Seder (symbolic ceremonial meal), Telling and reliving the story of the Exodus from Egypt
    • eating unleavened bread (matzah)
    Commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt Spring

  • Feast of Weeks (Shavu'ot):
  • Preceded by counting of the fifty days of the "'Omer"

    Commemoration of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai First fruits

    Grain harvest

  • Tabernacles (Sukkot):
    • Living in temporary booth
    • Procession with "four species": palm frond, myrtle and willow branches, citron
    Wanderings of Israelites' in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land
    • Ingathering of the crops
    • In the Oral tradition:The beginning of the rainy season

  • Sh'mini Atzeret (Eighth Day of Assembly), Rejoicing of the Law (Simhat Torah)

  • 8th-9th days of Tabernacles
    Simhat Torah is celebrated by singing and dancing with Torah scrolls
    Simhat Torah marks the conclusion and beginning of the annual cycle of reading the entire Torah

    The Penitential Season

  • New Years (Rosh Hashanah) and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur):
  • Sounding of "Shofar" (ram's horn) on Rosh Hashanah

    Judgment, repentance and forgiveness

    Click on the Shofar in the picture to hear its sound.

    to hear the sound of the Shofar

    Minor Holidays

  • Purim (Feast of Esther):
    • Reading of the Biblical Scroll of Esther
    • Feasting
    • Gifts and charity
    • Carnival atmosphere: drinking, carousing, masquerade, parodies
    Commemorates the Jews' rescue from a plot to murder them in the ancient Persian empire, as described in the Book of Esther

  • Hanukkah (feast of dedication):
  • Lighting of lamps

    Commemorates the victory of Jews over Seleucid religious persecution, and the rededication of the Temple after its defilement
  • (15th of Shevat, "Arbour Day")

  • Tree planting Celebrates trees and the fruits of the Holy Land

  • Fast Days (especially the "Ninth of Av")
    • Fasting and refraining from pleasures
    • Recitation of Book of Lamentations and poetic dirges
    Commemoration of the destructions of the Jerusalem Temples and other national disasters
  • Modern commemorations:

    • Holocaust Memorial Day;
    • Israeli Independence Day;
    • "Jerusalem Liberation Day"
  • "Civil" holidays

    Memorial and thanksgiving prayers

    Commemoration of central events in recent Jewish history

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