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Home: Religion: Judaism: Jewish Holiday Calendar.

JUDAISM, JEWISH HOLIDAY CALENDAR


Orthodox Jews praying
at wailing wall in Jerusalem.

Judaism, Jewish Holiday Calendar

Jewish holiday, (or Yom Tom or chag or ta'anit in Hebrew) is a day that is holy to the Jewish people according to Judaism and is usually derived from the Hebrew Bible, specifically the Torah, and in some cases established by the rabbis in later eras.

The holidays always occur on the Jewish calendar only. There are a number of festival days, fast days and days of remembrance, collectively known as "Jewish holidays" in English, ("Yamim Tovim" or "chagim" in Hebrew).

The Hebrew calendar is the annual calendar used in Judaism. Like the Chinese calendar, it is a lunisolar calendar, based upon both lunar months and a solar cycle (which defines its years). This is in contrast to the Gregorian calendar, which is based solely upon a solar cycle, or the Islamic calendar, which is purely lunar.

The Hebrew calendar determines the Jewish holidays, which Torah portions to read, Yahrzeits, and which set of Psalms should be read each day.

Jews have been using a lunisolar calendar since Biblical times, but originally referred to the months by number rather than name. During the Babylonian exile, they adopted Babylonian names for the months. Some sects, such as the Essenes, used a solar calendar.

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In ancient times, the beginning of each lunar month was decided by two witnesses testifying to having seen the new moon. This was used in conjunction with calculations made by main Jewish court Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to establish the new month. Witnesses would be individually cross-examined to verify their testimony. If all accounts tallied with each other (there were no contradictions), were individually correct, and were in agreement with the expected new moon according to the calculations, a new month was established. If the testimonies were false, inconclusive, or no witnesses had come, the new month was established based solely on the calculations. The beginning of each Hebrew month, once decided, was transferred by torches lit on mountaintops to the main diaspora areas in Babylonia (now Iraq) and Egypt.

Rosh Hashanah - The Jewish New Year

  • For the week before Rosh Hashana among Ashkenazim, and the entire month of Elul among Sephardim, special additional morning prayers are added known as Selichot.
  • Erev Rosh Hashanah (evening of the first day) - 29 Elul
  • Rosh Hashanah - 1 Tishri
Rosh Hashanah is set aside by the Mishna as the new year for calculating calendar years, sabbatical and jubilee years, vegetable tithes, and tree-planting (determining the age of a tree). According to Jewish legend, the creation of the world was completed on Tishri 1. This holiday is characterized by the blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram's horn. The practice of Tashlikh, the symbolic casting away of sins by throwing either stones or bread crumbs into the waters, occurs during the afternoon of the first day. Rosh Hashanah is always observed as a two-day holiday, both inside and outside the boundaries of Israel. The two days are considered together to be a yoma arichta, a single "long day".

Aseret Yemei Teshuva - Ten Days of Repentance

Ten Days of Repentance. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance. The day after Rosh Hashanah is a minor fast day Tzom Gedalya the Fast of Gedalia.

Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur is considered by Jews to be the holiest and most solemn day of the year. Its central theme is atonement and reconciliation. Eating, drinking, bathing, and conjugal relations are prohibited. Fasting begins at sundown, and ends after nightfall the following day. Yom Kippur services begin with the prayer known as "Kol Nidrei", which must be recited before sunset. (Kol Nidrei, Aramaic for "all vows," is a public annullment of religious vows made by Jews during the preceding year. It only concerns unfilled vows made between a person and God, and does not cancel or nullify any vows made between people.)

A Tallit (four-cornered prayer shawl) is donned for evening prayers— the only evening service of the year in which this is done. The Ne'ilah service is a special service held only on the day of Yom Kippur, and deals with the closing of the holiday. Yom Kippur comes to an end with the blowing of the shofar, which marks the conclusion of the fast. It is always observed as a one-day holiday, both inside and outside the boundaries of the land of Israel.

Contrary to popular belief, Yom Kippur is not a sad day. Sephardic Jews (Jews of Spanish, Portuguese and North African descent) refer to this holiday as "the White Fast".

Sukkot - Festival of Booths

  • Erev Sukkot - 14 Tishri
  • Sukkot - 15 Tishri
Sukkot or Succoth is an 8-day Biblical pilgrimage festival, also known as the Feast of Booths, the Feast of Tabernacles, or Tabernacles. In Judaism it is one of the most important Jewish holidays.

Simchat Torah - Rejoicing of Torah

Simchat Torah is a Hebrew term which means "rejoicing with the Torah". It is a Jewish holiday that takes place at the conclusion of Sukkot, a Biblical pilgrimage festival, also known as The Feast of Booths (Tabernacles).

According to Jewish law, the first two days of Sukkot are celebrated as full holidays, and the next five are weekdays that retain some aspects of the festival. The seventh day is called Hoshanah Rabbah and has a special observance of its own.

The last day of Sukkot, the eighth, is celebrated as separate holiday, with its own special prayers and customs. In the State of Israel, Sukkot is eight days long, including Shemini Atzeret. Outside Israel (the Diaspora), Sukkot is nine days long. Thus outside Israel the eighth day of Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, and the ninth day is Simchat Torah. In Israel, the festivities and customs associated with Simchat Torah are celebrated on Shemini Atzeret.

Chanukah - Festival of Lights

  • Erev Chanukah - 24 Kislev
  • Chanukah - 25 Kislev
The story of Chanukah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees. These books are not part of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), they are deuterocanonical books instead. The miracle of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days is first described in the Talmud.

This holiday marks the defeat of Seleucid Empire forces that had tried to prevent the people of Israel from practicing Judaism. Judah Maccabee and his brothers destroyed overwhelming forces, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. The eight-day festival is marked by the kindling of lights with a special Menorah also called a Chanukiah in Israel.

Among secular Jews, prior to the 20th century, this holiday was considered be a relatively minor one. However, with the commercialization of Christmas as a time for buying gifts adding to its position as the biggest holiday in the Western world, as well as the establishment of the modern state of Israel, this holiday began to increasingly serve both as a celebration of Israel's struggle for survival and as a December family gift-giving holiday which could function as a Jewish alternative to Christmas.

Tu Bishvat - New year of the Trees

  • Tu Bishvat - 15 Shevat

Tu Bishvat is the new year for trees. This day was set aside in the Mishnah as the day on which to bring fruit tithes. It is still celebrated in modern times. In the Land of Israel during the 1600s Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed (also: Tzefat) and his disciples created a short seder, reminiscent of the seder that Jews observe on Passover, that explores the holiday's Kabbalistic themes.

Purim - Festival of Lots

  • Erev Purim and Fast of Esther known as "Ta'anit Ester"- 13 Adar
  • Purim - 14 Adar
  • Shushan Purim follows Purim.
Purim commemorates the events that took place in the Book of Esther. It is celebrated by reading or acting out the story of Esther, and by making disparaging noises at every mention of Haman's name. In Purim it is a tradition to masquarade around in custumes and to give Mishloah Manot (care packages, i.e. gifts of food and drink) to the poor and the needy. In Israel it is also a tradition to arrange festive parades, known as Ad-Lo-Yada, in the town's main street.

New Year for Kings

New Year for Kings - 1 Nisan. This holiday is no longer celebrated. Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar. In Mishnaic times this holiday was celebrated as the New Year for Kings and months. In addition to this new year, the Mishna sets up three other New Year's:
  • 1st of Elul , New Year for animal tithes,
  • 1st of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah) New Year, and
  • 15th of Shevat Tu B'shevat, the New Year for Trees/fruit tithes.

Ever since the Babylonian diaspora (as a result of the Babylonian captivity of Judah), only the Rosh Hashanah and Tu B'shevat are still celebrated.

Pesach - Passover

  • Erev Pesach and Fast of the First Born known as "Ta'anit Bechorim" - 14 Nisan
  • Passover/Pesach (first two days) - 15 and 16 Nisan
  • The "Last days of Passover", known as Acharon shel Pesach, are also a holiday commemorating K'riat Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea.
The semi-holiday days between the "first days" and the "last days" of Passover are known as Chol Hamo'ed, referred to as the "Intermediate days".

Pesach (Passover) commemorates the liberation of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. The first seder is after the 14th of Nisan since in Judaism, a day begins at nightfall, so the first seder is thus on the night of the 15th, the second seder is held on the night of the 16th of Nisan. On that night Jews start counting the omer. The counting of the omer is a counting down of the days from the time they left Egypt. until the time they arrived at Mount Sinai. No leavened food is eaten during the week of Pesach.

Karaites start the omer count on the Sunday of Passover week.

Sefirah - Counting of the Omer

  • Sefirah (The counting); also known as Sefirat Ha'Omer
  • Lag Ba'Omer the "33rd day of the Omer" commemorations and celebrations
Sefirah is the 49 day ("seven weeks") period between Pesach and Shavuot; it is defined by the Torah as the period during which special offerings are to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. Judaism teaches that this makes physical the spiritual connection between Pesach and Shavuot.

New Israeli/Jewish national holidays

Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has established four new Jewish holidays.
  • Yom Ha'Shoah - Holocaust Remembrance day
  • Yom Hazikaron - Memorial Day
  • Yom Ha'atzma'ut - Israel Independence Day
  • Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day
These four days are national holidays in the State of Israel, and have since been accepted as religious holidays in general by the following groups: The Union of Orthodox Congregations and Rabbinical Council of America; The United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth (United Kingdom); The Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel; All of Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism; The Union for Traditional Judaism and the Reconstructionist movement.

These four new days are not accepted as religious holidays by Hasidic Judaism and Haredi Judaism. These groups view these new days as Israeli national holidays.

Yom Ha'Shoah - Holocaust Remembrance day

  • Yom Ha'Shoah - 27 Nisan
  • Yom Ha'Shoah is also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, and takes place on the 27th day of Nisan.

Yom Hazikaron - Memorial Day

  • Yom Hazikaron - 4 Iyar
  • Yom Hazikaron is the day of remembrance in honor of Israeli veterans and fallen soldiers of the Wars of Israel. The Memorial Day also commemorates fallen civilians, slain by acts of hostile terrorism.
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Yom Ha'atzma'ut - Israel Independence Day

  • Yom Ha'atzma'ut - 5 Iyar
Yom Ha'atzma'ut is Israel's Independence Day. An official ceremony is held annually on the eve of Yom Ha'atzma'ut at Mount Herzl. The ceremony includes speeches by senior Israeli officials, an artistic presentation, a ritual march of flag-carrying soldiers forming elaborate structures (such as a Menorah, a Magen David and the number which represents the age of the State of Israel) and the lighting of twelve beacons (one for each of the Tribes of Israel). Dozens of Israeli citizens, who contributed significantly to the state, are selected to light these beacons.

When the 5th of Iyar , as in 2005, falls on a Friday or Saturday (i.e. in conflict with the Jewish Sabbath), the official celebration may be moved to the nearest Thursday.

Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day

  • Yom Yerushalayim - 28 Iyar
Yom Yerushalayim marks the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem and The Temple Mount under Jewish rule during the Six Day War almost 1900 years after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Shavuot - Pentecost

  • Erev Shavuot - 5 Sivan
  • Shavuot - 6, 7 Sivan
Shavuot, The Feast of Weeks, is sometimes known by the Greek name "Pentecost." One of the three pilgrimage festivals (Shalosh regalim) ordained in the Torah, Shavuot marks the end of the counting of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot. According to Rabbinic tradition, the Ten Commandments were given on this day. During this holiday the Torah portion containing the Ten Commandments is read in the synagogue, and the biblical Book of Ruth is read as well. It is traditional to eat dairy meals during Shavuot.

Karaites always celebrate Shavuot on a Sunday.

The Three Weeks and the Nine Days

  • The Three Weeks: Seventeenth of Tammuz, 17 Tammuz - 9 Av
  • The Nine Days: 1 Av - 9 Av
The days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av are days of mourning, on account of the collapse of Jerusalem during the Roman occupation which occurred during this time framework. Weddings and other joyful occasions are traditionally not held during this period. A further element is added within the three weeks, during the nine days between the 1st and 9th day of Av— the pious refrain from eating meat and drinking wine, except on Shabbat or at a Seudat Mitzvah (a Mitzvah meal, such as a Pidyon Haben— the recognition of a firstborn male child— or the study completion of a religious text.) In addition, one's hair is not cut during this period.

In Conservative Judaism, the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has issued several responsa (legal rulings) which hold that the prohibitions against weddings in this timeframe are deeply held traditions, but should not be construed as binding law. Thus, Conservative Jewish practice would allow weddings during this time, except on the 9th of Av itself. Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism hold that halakha (Jewish law) is no longer binding, so weddings may be held on any of these days. Orthodox Judaism maintains the traditional prohibitions.

Tisha B'av - Ninth of Av

  • Tisha B'Av - 9 Av
Tisha B'Av is a fast day, that commemotates two of the saddest days in Jewish history— the destruction of both the first Temple (587 BC) originally built by King Solomon,(see Solomon's Temple), and the Second Temple in 70 on this same date. Also on this date in 1290, King Edward I signed the edict compelling the Jews to leave England. The Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492 also occurred on this day. World War I also began on this date.

Tithe of animals

New Year for Animal Tithes (Taxes) - 1 Elul This commemoration is no longer observed. This day was set up by the Mishna as the New Year for animal tithes, which is somewhat equivalent to a new year for taxes. (This notion is similar to the tax deadline in the United States of America on April 15.)

Shabbat - The Sabbath

While the Sabbath is not considered a holiday as such by some other cultures and religions, Jewish law accords Shabbat the status of a holiday. Jews celebrate a Shabbat, a day of rest, on the seventh day of each week. Jewish law defines a day as ending at nightfall, which is when the next day then begins. Thus, Shabbat begins at sundown Friday night, and ends at nightfall Saturday night.

In many ways halakha (Jewish law) gives Shabbat the status of being the most important holy day in the Jewish calendar.

  • It is the first holiday mentioned in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), and God was the first one to observe it.
  • The liturgy treats the Sabbath as a bride and queen.
  • The Torah reading for the Sabbath has more parshiot (Torah readings) than Yom Kippur, the most of any Jewish
  • holiday.
  • There is a tradition that the Messiah will come if every Jew observes the Sabbath twice in a row.
  • The Biblical penalty for violating Shabbat is greater than that for violating any other holiday.

Variances in observances

The denominations of Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism generally regard Jewish laws (halakha) relating to all these holidays as important, but no longer binding. Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism hold that the halakha relating to these days are still normative (i.e. to be accepted as binding.)

There are a number of differences in religious practices between Orthodox and Conservative Jews, because these denominations have distinct ways of understanding the process of how halakha has historically developed, and thus how it can still develop. Nonetheless, both of these groups have nearly identical teachings about how to observe these holidays.

Jewish Calendar Links

  • The Abib Calendar - The Ancient Hebrew Calendar with the original Sabbath placement according to Almighty God's instructions given to Moses for the Israelite Nation, around the year 1500 BCE, commencing at the Exodus from Egypt.
  • BAYT Hebrew Calendar - Monthly calendar generated as a web page, including Hebrew dates, Jewish holidays, and parsha readings. Also includes C++ source code (open source).
  • Calendar Maven - Complete information about "Hebrew Calendar" software products, including "Hebrew Calendar for Windows" and "Hebrew Calendar Date Converter ActiveX Control." Evaluation copies available for download.
  • Hebcal Interactive Jewish Calendar - Interactive web interface for generating a list of Jewish dates and times customized to zip codes, converting between Hebrew and Gregorian dates.
  • Hebcal Jewish Calendar - Complete Hebrew calendar program for Unix and Windows. Candlelighting times, holidays, Omer counts, and Torah readings. C and Perl source code available, as well as a Windows executable and links to Web versions of the software.
  • Hebrew Calendar Science and Myths - A collection of resources concerning the calculation of the Hebrew calendar.
  • Hebrew/English Calendar with Candle Lighting Times - Perpetual calendar for thousands of locations world-wide.
  • Jewish Calendar - Hebrew Calendar - Explains the relationship between the Hebrew civil calendar and Hebrew religious calendar and describes the history of the Hebrew month names.
  • Jewish Calendar on the Web - Converts dates between Jewish and civil calendars; displays monthly calendars and candlelighting times for different geographical location.
  • Jewish Holidays - Dates of all major and minor Jewish holidays and fast days, with explanations, observances, and links to other articles of interest. From the OU.
  • Jewish/Civil Calendar Program - Interactive Web program that prints out Jewish and Civil calendars side-by-side. Does not list holidays in either calendar. Source code available.
  • Kaluach - Hebrew and english calendar for Windows. Displays a Hebrew or civil month with holidays, Shabbat portions, and halachic times. User data can be added.
  • Kaluach.net - Online Hebrew civil calendar portal. Also receive email reminders of holidays and personal events.
  • This Month in Jewish History - List of notable events in Jewish history, organized according to Gregorian calendar dates.

 

 
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