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Seder Plate

Seder plate

The High Holy Days, which are celebrated in the fall, include the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the Jewish year and the beginning of a ten-day period that focuses on personal reflection and setting self-improvement goals for the next year. Yom Kippur concludes this ten-day period and is filled with continual prayer and fasting to cleanse the soul. The day concludes with a reconciliation with God and others and atonement for transgressions.

The three pilgrimage festivals include Passover (Pesach), a springtime holiday commemorating the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt; the Festival of Booths (Sukkot), a fall festival that celebrates the harvest and recalls the huts (sukkot) that the Jews built during their journey in the desert after their exodus from Egypt; and the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot), a summer holiday that celebrates the early harvest and the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai. They are called the pilgrimage festivals because historically communities would bring portions of their harvest to Jerusalem as offerings to God.

In contrast to the major Jewish holidays, which focus mainly on the theme of agriculture, the minor Jewish holidays recall important events in the history of the Jewish people. These holidays have expanded the Jewish calendar and mirror the historical and spiritual evolution of the Jewish people. Some of these minor holidays include the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah), Feast of Lots (Purim), and the New Year for Trees (Tu b’Shevat). The Jewish calendar continues to evolve. Two new holidays have been instituted to reflect historical events that have profoundly affected the Jewish people in the twentieth century. They are Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom ha-Shoah) and Israel Independence Day (Yom ha-Atzma’ut).

Each of these holidays, festivals, and rituals incorporates the use of specific ritual objects. According to one of the commandments in the Torah, all ceremonial objects must be made as beautiful as possible to glorify and further enhance the celebration.

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