The Jewish Holiday of Sukkot

Sukkot 2012: Sunday September 30

With the final blowing of the Shofar, The Jewish High Holy Days draw to a close and the focus of the Jewish community shifts from the solemnness of Yom Kippur to the jubilant celebration of the festival of Sukkot. Sukkoth begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, which is 5 days after Yom Kippur.

The festival of Sukkot, also known as Chag’ha Succot, the “Feast of Booths” (or Tabernacles), is named for the huts (sukkah) that Moses and the Israelites lived in as they wandered the desert for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land. These huts were made of branches and were easy to assemble, take apart, and carry as the Israelites wandered through the desert.

Depending where you live determines the length and celebration of Sukkot. Most the of world observes the festival for 9 days. The first two and the last two days being the most important. In Israel the festival is only celebrated for 8 days and the first and last days being the most important.

Sukkot completes the biblical trilogy began withPassover and Shavuot. This cycle begins with the fleeing of the people of Israel from Egypt (Passover), continues with Moses receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai (Shavuot), and concludes as the Israelites wander the desert living in huts and awaiting their entrance into the Promised Land (Sukkot). Sukkot is the third and final celebration in this Exodus from Egypt.

The focal point of the festival is the sukkah. Sukkot is the plural form of sukkah, which means “covering” or “shelter”. Those who observe Sukkot build and live in a sukkah for seven days. These huts are constructed as temporary shelters and the roof is covered with foliage which is spaced to let the light in. Inside the hut are hung fruits and vegetables, including apples, grapes, corn, and pomegranates. The families eat their meals in the huts under the evening sky. Though most people limit their activities in the sukkah to eating; some, depending on climate and location, sleep in the sukkah as well.

Another important part of the Sukkot observation is hospitality. It is important to share your meals with others. In fact this sharing is so important that the holiday is also know as Chag Ha’asif, Festival of the Ingathering.

The ninth day of Sukkot is know as Simchat Torah. Throughout the year, a portion of the Torah is read every week. On Simchat Torah the final passages from Deuteronomy are read. The reading of the Torah is concluded and is started again.