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Want to learn more about the Jewish holidays? Click below for more information about dates, special mitzvahs and customs, and lessons for the Jewish holidays.


Rosh Hashanah    Yom Kippur    Sukkot    Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah    Chanukah    Purim    Passover    Shavuot    Lag BaOmer    Tu Beshvat    Tisha Ba'Av


Rosh Hashanah

Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Blowing the Shofar

Eating special foods (like apples dipped in honey) that inspire us to pray for a sweet, new year 

Translation: The Beginning Of The Year or The Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah is referred to by the Talmud as “the Day of Judgement.”  The Talmud explains that all of the Almighty’s creations are judged annually on this day.  For that reason it is customary to examine one’s ways and work on self-growth in preparation for Rosh Hashanah.  Why does the Almighty judge the world and why is it important that we know about it?  Imagine what your finances (business, personal, or both) would look like if you didn’t have annual accounting responsibilities.  Our spiritual balance sheet would be similarly imbalanced without an annual accounting and spiritual inventory to be sure that we are on, or that we switch to, the right track.


Yom Kippur

Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Fasting (no food or water from right before sunset on Yom Kippur eve until 60 minutes after sunset on Yom Kippur)


Translation: The Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur can be the most meaningful day of the year.  It is a day that true self-improvement and self-growth is most easily achieved.  Think of it as a 25 hour total spiritual detox!  The Torah teaches that when we make positive choices and do mitzvahs we improve spiritually.  We are elevated and we elevate the world around us.  When we make poor choices, we experience a spiritual decline that hinders our ability to perform and feel spiritually positive things.  G-d did not create us as perfect beings and understands that we will slip. Therefore, the Almighty gives us a gift of Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement.  A day where we confront our errors, feel remorse, and resolve to improve.  



Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Eating (and sometimes sleeping!) in the Sukkah hut 

Lulav and Etrog

Translation: The Holiday of Tabernacles (If that translation didn’t help much, you are in the strong majority of readers! Not to worry, keep reading and we will explain!)

The Holiday of Sukkot commemorates the miraculous existence that the Jews experienced during the 40 years of wandering in the desert before entering Israel.  To commemorate this miracle, we live in a temporary hut - a Sukkah - on the holiday.  There is a dispute in the Talmud what miracle the the desert the Sukkah corresponds to.  One opinion is that the Sukkah directly commemorates the temporary huts that the Jews lived in while living in the desert (think Native American teepees!). A second opinion maintains that it reminds us of the miraculous “Clouds of Glory” that surrounded and protected the Jews during that time.  In either case, leaving the comforts of our home nowadays and exposing ourselves to the elements tangibly reminds us that no matter how strong our homes are we still need divine protection.


Shmini Atzeret / Simchat Torah 

Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Rejoicing in the completion of the Torah

Translation: The 8th Day Holiday / Celebration of The Torah 

Sometimes confused with Sukkot (see above), Shmini Atzeret / Simchat Torah is a holiday that comes on the heels of Sukkot and has an added dimension of being the final segment of the High Holidays.  The Medrash teaches us that Shmini Atzeret is like to a King inviting his closest subjects to one final party. 

The second day of Shimini Atzeret is also called Simchat Torah.  On Simchat Torah we celebrate the end of the annual cycle of Torah reading.  The Torah is the guidebook to finding success and happiness in every area of our lives. We choose this day each year to sing, dance, and reflect on the gift of meaning that we have received.



Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Lighting the Menorah

Eating foods fried with oil (like latkes and sufganiyut) to commemorate the miracle that took place with oil

Translation: Dedication

Chanukah is a rabbinic holiday that celebrates the Jewish victory over the Seleucid Empire around the year 165 BCE.  Although the Jews won the war without overt miracles, when taken in historical context, the chances of defeating the Seleucid army was a statistical impossibility.  After the war, the priests of the Chashminai family rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem that had been defiled by the Greeks.  When the priests seized control of the Temple, they lit the menorah in the Temple with the one flask of pure (tahor) olive oil that they recovered.  Through natural means it was only enough oil to burn for one day.  Miraculously, the oil in that one small flask burned for 8 days.  We light the menorah (or chanukia) to commemorate these miracles.



Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Hear the Megillah read on Purim eve and on Purim day

Have a special meal on Purim day in honor of the holiday

Give extra charity to the poor 

Give gifts of food to your friends

Translation: Lottery

Purim is a rabbinic holiday that commemorates the Jewish salvation from the threat of Haman and his cohorts in the Persian Kingdom between the two Temple eras.  Using un-aging antisemitic rhetoric, Haman characterized the Jews as unwilling to assimilate and being “different.”  In a miraculous turn of events, Esther (whose Judaism was initially hidden from the King) became ancient Persia’s queen and was able to turn the King against Haman. Ultimately, Haman was hanged on the gallows the he prepared with his Jewish archenemy Mordechai.



Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Eating Matzah

Not eating bread or any other leavened grain product

The Seder

Translation: Passover

Pesach/Passover commemorates the Jewish People's Exodus from Egypt after decades of brutal slavery and genocide.  For eight days (or seven days in Israel), we are commanded to refrain from eating, owning, or getting any benefit any leavened grain product (like bread, cake, cookies, and scotch). The Torah teaches us that the Jews left Egypt so quickly that they did not have time to let their dough rise.  They put the dough on their backs and it baked into crackers in the desert sun.  To commemorate and relive the miracle of the Exodus, we eat matzah for all the days of Passover and do not eat leavened grain products.  Practically, therefore, there is an entirely separate set of guidelines for kosher on Passover.  Pesach/Passover is perhaps best known for the Seder. The Seder is observed on the first two nights of Pesach and is designed to relive the miracles of the Exodus.   



Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Staying awake all night studying Torah

Eating cheesecake

Translation: Weeks

50 days after the Jews left Egypt, they received the Torah on Mount Sinai, the moment when the Jews became a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”  The Exodus from Egypt represented the Jews physical freedom, but that alone would not have been sufficient to elevate the Jews spiritually.  The receiving of the Torah was that spiritual boost for the Jews, and therefore we count 49 days - seven weeks (that’s how the holiday gets its name) - of the connecting days from Passover to Shavuot.  The Torah is our manual to connecting to the Divine, and the holiday of Shavuot commemorates that sacred connection.


Lag BaOmer

Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Lag Baomer does not have any special mitzvot but many have a custom to make a bonfire and sing classic songs

Translation: 33rd day in the Omer Count

The name “Lag Baomer” name can be quite misleading. There is a Biblical commandment to count a total of 49 days beginning the second day of Passover and culminating on Shavuot (see below).  The concept is that we count the days between the commemoration of the Exodus and the Jewish People receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai.  Receiving the Torah was what transformed the Jewish People and we count the days in anticipation of that event.  This counting is called the “counting of the omer.”  In an unrelated event, in Mishnaic times,  there was a great sage named Rebbi Akiva who had tens of thousands of students.  Tragically, his students suffered from a devastating plague during this time period.  The plague ended on 33rd Day of the Omer and we commemorate the end of the plague with celebration.  Additionally, Lag Baomer is also the traditional anniversary of the death (yahrzeit) of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the great sage who wrote the Zohar (classic Kabbalistic text) as well as issued many important halachic opinions.


Tu BiShvat

Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

There are no special mitzvot on Tu Beshvat, although in recent years some plant trees in honor of the occasion.

Translation: 15th day of Shvat (a Jewish month)

Tu Beshvat is not mentioned in the Bible, but interestingly it has biblical legal ramifications.  The Talmud teaches that it is the “Rosh Hashona” for trees.  For the first four years of a tree’s life there is a biblical prohibition against consuming the fruit of the tree.  The cut-off point for those four years is Tu Beshvat.  Additionally, the cutoff for annual Fruit tithes is Tu Beshvat.  


Tisha B’Av 

Special Mitzvahs and Customs: 

Fasting and mourning

Reading the book of Lamentations and reciting Kinot

Translation: 9th Day of the Jewish month of Av

Tisha Ba’av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem.  The loss of the Temple means that there is a great schism in our relationship with G-d.  Tisha Bav represents that broken relationship with G-d.  

rosh hashanah
yom kippur
shmini atzeret
lag baomer
tu bishvat
tisha bav
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