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Sukkot (Hebrew: סוכות or סֻכּוֹת, sukkōt ; "booths", also known as Succoth, Sukkos, Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles, is a Biblical pilgrimage festival that occurs in autumn on the 15th day of the month of Tishri (late September to late October). The holiday lasts 7 days. Outside the land of Israel, many people continue to sit in the Sukkah on the following day, Shemini Atzeret. In Judaism it is one of the three major holidays known collectively as the Shalosh Regalim (three pilgrim festivals), when historically the Jewish populace traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem.

The sukkah

Main article: Sukkah

The word Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah, meaning booth or hut. During this holiday, Jews are instructed to construct a temporary structure in which to eat their meals, entertain guests, relax, and even sleep. The sukkah is reminiscent of the type of huts in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt, and is intended to reflect God's benevolence in providing for all the Jews' needs in the desert.



The sukkah is a temporary building used for meals throughout the holiday. It can be built of any materials, but its roof must be of organic material and partially open to the sky. The decor of the interior of the sukkah may range from totally unornamented to lavishly decorated.

The four species

Main article: Four Species

On each of the seven days of Sukkot, the Torah requires the Jew to take Four Species of plants and to grasp and shake them in a specific manner. These species are: the lulav (date palm frond), hadass (bough of a myrtle tree), aravah (willow branch)— these three are actually bound together and collectively referred to as the lulav—and the etrog (a citron, a lemon-like citrus fruit). These plants are usually sold in religious communities during the days preceding the festival. However, in some Reform communities where these plants are not available locally, other plants such as reeds are substituted for one or more of the four species.

Some rabbinic authorities hold that the Four Species are meant to reflect four categories of plants that grow in Israel: those with a good taste and pleasant fragrance (the etrog), those with a good taste and no fragrance (the palm), those with a pleasant fragrance and no taste (the haddasim), and those with neither taste nor fragrance (the aravah). By taking all four, Jews symbolically request that God provide sufficient rain for all types of plants and crops to grow and thrive.

The Four Species are waved as follows: The first three species are held in the right hand, while the etrog is held in the left hand. The user holds his or her hands apart while saying the special blessing, "Blessed are You, God our Lord, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to take the lulav". Then the user brings his or her hands together so that the etrog touches the lulav bundle, and points and gently shakes the Four Species three times in each of the four directions, as well as up and down. Symbolically, this ceremony is a prayer for adequate rainfall for all the vegetation of the earth in the coming year.

In Orthodox circles, the mitzvah of waving the lulav and etrog is mandatory each day of Sukkot (except Shabbat) for men and boys over the age of bar mitzvah. Although women are not obligated to wave the lulav and etrog, they may do so if they choose, and traditionally, Orthodox women are considered to have taken the obligation upon themselves and perform it as their male counterparts. In Conservative and Reform circles, all Jews over the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah perform the waving ceremony.

The waving ceremony is usually done in the synagogue during the daily prayer services, although it can also be done in the privacy of one's home or sukkah. During the first six days of Sukkot, all the worshippers in the synagogue leave their seats and make a complete circuit around the sanctuary in a procession with their lulavs. The lulav and etrog are shaken during the recital of Hallel. On the seventh day of the holiday, known as Hoshanah Rabbah, the worshippers make seven circuits around the sanctuary.

Etrogim being sold in a market in Tel AvivThe mitzvah derives from the commandment in the Book of Leviticus: "And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of goodly (meaning of Hebrew uncertain, but modern Hebrew "citrus") trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook" (Lev. 23:40). The use to which these species are to be put is not indicated; this gave rise to divergent interpretations at a later time. Two breakaway sects, the Sadducees and the Karaites, maintained that they were meant for building the sukkah, as would appear from Neh. 8:14-18, while their opponents contended that they were to be carried in the synagogue procession.

Sukkot laws and customs
In modern day Israel (and among Reform Jews), Sukkot is a 7-day holiday, with the first day celebrated as a full festival with special prayer services and holiday meals. Outside the land of Israel, the first two days are celebrated as full festivals. The remaining days are known as Chol HaMoed ("festival weekdays"). The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabbah and has a special observance of its own.

Many of the laws of Muktza that apply on the Sabbath also apply on Sukkot, such as the prohibition of engaging in commerce, lighting a fire, and completing an electric circuit. Other Sabbath prohibitions, however, are relaxed. With various differences based on one's religious orientation, one is permitted to cook (so long as the fire is pre-existing), smoke (again, so long as the fire is pre-existing), and carry material things beyond the home or eruv boundaries.

The relaxed rules derive from the specific tasks and duties that were permitted to be done on Sukkot in the Beit HaMikdash(Holy Temple) that were otherwise forbidden on the Sabbath.

Sukkah in HerzliyaThe applicable rules of Muktza only apply on the first day of Sukkot for those in Israel, and the first two days outside of Israel. For the remaining five days, known as Chol HaMoed (see below) other rituals are practiced, but Muktza does not apply.

When the first day or Sukkot falls on the Sabbath (or one of the first two days outside of Israel), the greater restrictions of the Sabbath take effect. As a practical matter, on the Sabbath, the rituals and blessings over the four species are not performed (see below).

While customs vary greatly between different Jewish groups, some commonalities of prayers during Sukkot include the reading of the Torah every day, saying the Mussaf (additional) service during morning prayers, reading the Hallel, and adding special supplications into the Amidah and grace after meals.

On the first day of Sukkot (the first two days, outside of Israel), the prayer services are extended and very similar to those of the Sabbath.

Chol HaMo'ed

Main article: Chol HaMoed

The second through seventh days of Sukkot (third through seventh days outside the land of Israel) are called Chol HaMo'ed (חול המועד - lit. "festival weekdays"). These days are considered by Halakha to be more than regular weekdays but less than festival days. In practice, this means that all activities that are needed for the holiday—such as buying and preparing food, cleaning the house in honor of the holiday, or traveling to visit other people's sukkahs or on family outings—are permitted by Jewish law. Activities that will interfere with relaxation and enjoyment of the holiday—such as laundering, mending clothes, engaging in labor-intensive activities—are not permitted. Observant Jews typically treat Chol HaMo'ed as a vacation period, eating nicer than usual meals in their sukkah, entertaining guests, visiting other families in their sukkahs, and taking family outings.

On the Shabbat which falls during the week of Sukkot (in the event when the first day of Sukkot is on Shabbat, Ecclesiastes is read in Israel while diaspora communities read it the following Shabbat which is Shemini Azeret)( or during Chol HaMo'ed), the Book of Ecclesiastes is read during morning synagogue services. This Book's emphasis on the ephemeralness of life ("Vanity of vanities, all is vanity...") echoes the theme of the sukkah, while its emphasis on death reflects the time of year in which Sukkot occurs (the "autumn" of life). The second to last verse reinforces the message that adherence to God and His Torah is the only worthwhile pursuit.

In the synagogue, each day of Sukkot, the worshippers parade around the synagogue carrying their lulavim and etrogim and reciting Psalm 118:25 (Anna, Adonay, hoshi'a na..", "We beseech you, O Lord, save us..." followed by special prayers.)

This ceremony commemorates the Aravah (willow) ceremony in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, in which willow branches were piled beside the altar, with their tops branching over it, and worshipers paraded around the altar reciting the same verse.

Sukkot in the Bible

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Sukkot is called:

  • “The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths)” (Lev. 23:34; Deut. 16:13-16; 31:10; Zech. 14:16-19; Ezra 3:4; 2 Chron. 8:13)
  • “The Feast of Ingathering” (Ex. 23:16, 34:22)
  • “The Feast” or “the festival” (1 Kings 8:2, 8:65; 12:32; 2 Chron. 5:3; 7:8)
  • “The Feast of the Lord” (Lev. 23:39; Judges 21:19)
  • “The festival of the seventh month” (Ezek. 45:25; Neh. 8:14)
  • “A holy convocation” or “a sacred occasion” (Num. 29:12)
  • In later Hebrew literature it is called “chag,” or "[the] festival."

Sukkot was agricultural in origin. This is evident from the name "The Feast of Ingathering," from the ceremonies accompanying it, and from the season and occasion of its celebration: "At the end of the year when you gather in your labors out of the field" (Ex. 23:16); "after you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress" (Deut. 16:13). It was a thanksgiving for the fruit harvest (compare Judges 9:27). And in what may explain the festival’s name, Isaiah reports that grape harvesters kept booths in their vineyards (Isa. 1:8). Coming as it did at the completion of the harvest, Sukkot was regarded as a general thanksgiving for the bounty of nature in the year that had passed.

Sukkot became one of the most important feasts in Judaism, as indicated by its designation as “the Feast of the Lord” (Lev.

23:39; Judges 21:19) or simply “the Feast” (1 Kings 8:2, 65; 12:32; 2 Chron. 5:3; 7:8). Perhaps because of its wide attendance, Sukkot became the appropriate time for important state ceremonies. Moses instructed the children of Israel to gather for a reading of the Law during Sukkot every seventh year (Deut. 31:10-11). King Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem on Sukkot (1 Kings 8; 2 Chron. 7). And Sukkot was the first sacred occasion observed after the resumption of sacrifices in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity (Ezra 3:2-4).

In the time of Nehemiah, after the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites celebrated Sukkot by making and dwelling in booths, a practice of which Nehemiah reports: “the Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua” (Neh. 8:13-17). In a practice related to that of the Four Species, Nehemiah also reports that the Israelites found in the Law the commandment that they “go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms and [other] leafy trees to make booths” (Neh. 8:14-15). In Leviticus, God told Moses to command the people: “On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook” (Lev. 23:40), and “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42-43). Numbers, however, indicates that while in the wilderness, the Israelites dwelt in tents (Num. 11:10; 16:27). Some secular scholars consider Leviticus 23:39-43 (the commandments regarding booths and the four species) to be an insertion by a late redactor. (E.g., Richard Elliott Friedman. The Bible with Sources Revealed, 228-29. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.)

Jeroboam son of Nebat, King of the northern Kingdom of Israel, whom Kings describes as practicing “his evil way” (1 Kings 13:33), celebrated a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, one month after Sukkot, “in imitation of the festival in Judah” (1 Kings 12:32-33). “While Jeroboam was standing on the altar to present the offering, the man of God, at the command of the Lord, cried out against the altar” in disapproval (1 Kings 13:1).

According to Zechariah (Zech. 14:16-19), Sukkot in the messianic era will become a universal festival, and all nations will make pilgrimages annually to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast there. (A modern interpretation of this resulted in a recent holiday celebrated in Jerusalem by non-Jews, "The Feast of Tabernacles".) Sukkot is here associated with the granting of rain, an idea further developed in later Jewish literature.

Observance of Sukkot is detailed in Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud in tractate Sukkah, part of the order Moed (Festivals). (Mishnah Sukkah 1:1–5:8; Tosefta Sukkah 1:1–4:28; Jerusalem Talmud Sukkah 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 2a–56b.)

Simchat Beit HaShoeivah

In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, a unique service was performed every morning throughout the Sukkot holiday: the Nisuch HaMayim (נסוך המים—lit. "pouring of the water") or Water Libation Ceremony. According to the Talmud, Sukkot is the time of year in which God judges the world for rainfall; therefore this ceremony, like the taking of the Four Species, invokes God's blessing for rain in its proper time. The water for the libation ceremony was drawn from the pool of Shiloah in the City of David, and the joy that accompanied this procedure was palpable. (This is the source for the verse in Isaiah: "And you shall draw waters with joy from the wells of salvation" (Isa. 12:3).

Afterwards, every night in the outer Temple courtyard, tens of thousands of spectators would gather to watch the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah (Rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing), as the most pious members of the community danced and sang songs of praise to God. The dancers would carry lighted torches, and were accompanied by the harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets of the Levites. According to the Mishnah tractate Sukkah, "He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life." Throughout Sukkot, the city of Jerusalem teemed with Jewish families who came on the holiday pilgrimage and joined together for feasting and Torah study. A mechitza (partition separating men and women) was erected for this occasion.

Nowadays, this event is recalled via a Simchat Beit HaShoeivah gathering of music, dance, and refreshments. This event takes place in a central location such as a synagogue, yeshiva, or place of study. Refreshments are served in the adjoining sukkah. Live bands often accompany the dancers. The festivities usually begin late in the evening, and can last long into the night.

Hoshanah Rabbah

Main article: Hoshanah Rabbah

The seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshanah Rabbah (הושענא רבא, Great Supplication). This day is marked by a special synagogue service, the Hoshanah Rabbah (Great Hoshanah), in which seven circuits are made by the worshippers with their lulav and etrog, while the congregation recites Psalm 118:25 and additional prayers. It is customary in some communities for all the scrolls of the Torah to be removed from the ark and lead this procession. In addition, a bundle of five aravah branches is taken and beaten against the ground, accompanied by a series of liturgical verses ending with, "Kol mevasser, mevasser ve-omer" (A voice brings news, brings news and says)—expressing hope for the speedy coming of the Messiah. The reasons for the latter custom are rooted in Kabbalah.

Abudarham speaks of the custom of reading the Torah on the night of Hoshanah Rabbah, out of which has grown the modern custom of meeting socially on that night and reading from Deuteronomy, Psalms, and passages from the Zohar; reciting Kabbalistic prayers; and eating refreshments. In Orthodox Jewish circles, men will stay up all night learning Torah.

Among Sephardic Jews, prayers known as "Selihot" (forgiveness) are recited before the regular morning service (these are the same prayers recited before Rosh Hashanah). In Amsterdam and in a few places in England, America, and elsewhere, the shofar is also sounded in connection with the processions. The latter practice reflects the idea that Hoshanah Rabbah is the end of the high holiday season, when the world is judged for the coming year.

everybody dance now!!!

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

Main articles: Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

The day immediately following Sukkot is known as Shemini Atzeret, "the Eighth (Day) of Assembly." Shemini Atzeret is a separate holiday.[1] In Israel, the celebration of Shemini Atzeret includes Simchat Torah. Outside the land of Israel, Shemini Atzeret is celebrated on the day after Sukkot and Simchat Torah is celebrated on the day after that, bringing the total days of festivities to eight in Israel and nine outside Israel.

The holiday of Shemini Atzeret (שמיני עצרת - lit. "the Eighth [day] of Assembly") is a separate festival that follows immediately after Sukkot, on the eighth day (eighth and ninth days outside the land of Israel). The family returns indoors to eat and sleep in their house, special synagogue services are held, and holiday meals are served. However, outside of Israel many have the custom to still eat in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, but not on Simchat Torah.

Shemini Atzeret is a separate holiday in respect to six specific issues. However, it is considered part of an eight-day holiday regarding a seventh issue. These issues are explained in the Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah 4b. There is a dispute amongst the commentaries regarding what those six issues are. Two of the main opinions are Rashi and Tosafot.

In Israel, Shemini Atzeret lasts for one day and the festivities of Simchat Torah (שמחת תורה) coincide with it. Outside of Israel, Shemini Atzeret lasts for two days and the festivities of Simchat Torah fall on the second day. Simchat Torah (lit. "the joy of the Torah") is an especially happy day on which the very last portion of the Torah is read in the synagogue during morning services and, in order to convey the idea that Torah study never ends, the very first portion of the Torah (the beginning of Genesis) is read immediately after. All the men and boys, and in more liberal congregations all the women and girls, over the age of bar mitzvah are called up to the Torah for an aliyah, and all the children under the age of bar mitzvah are also given an "aliyah" called Kol HaNa'arim (all the children)—the youngsters crowd around the reader's table while men hold up a large tallit to include them all in the aliyah.

Both during the night service and the morning service in Orthodox synagogues, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and all the worshippers engage in rounds of spirited dancing. Seven official circuits around the reader's table (called "hakafot") are made, although the dancing can go on for hours.

In the Former Soviet Union, Simchat Torah was the day on which Jews gathered in the street outside the synagogue to dance and proclaim their Jewishness openly. Refuseniks were often inspired by that Simchat Torah celebration to pursue other Jewish religious practices in secret, despite Communist oppression.

Sukkot as a place name
The name Sukkot appears in a number of places in the Hebrew Bible as a location:

Sukkot is Egyptian for the place of entering into the darkness. It's the place where the Sons of Israel went to retrieve the bones of Joseph from his tomb at Karnak before leaving Egypt. It is the first encampment of the Israelites after leaving the Temple of Ramesses at Medinet Habu (Exodus 12:37).
Succoth is a city east of the Jordan River, identified with Tell Deir Άlla, a high mound, a mass of debris, in the plain north of Jabbok and about one mile from it (Josh. 13:27). This is where Jacob, on his return from Padan-aram after his interview with Esau, built a house for himself and made sukkot (booths) for his cattle (Gen. 32:17, 30; 33:17).
The princes of Succoth (Sukkot) refused to provide help to Gideon and his men when they followed one of the bands of the fugitive Midianites after the great victory at Gilboa. After routing this band, Gideon on his return visited the rulers of the city with severe punishment. "He took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth" (Judg. 8:13-16). Wright identifies this with Deir Άlla.
At this place were erected the foundries for casting the metal-work for the temple (1 Kings 7:46).

See also
Jewish holidays
Jewish holidays 2000-2050
Four Species
Ushpizin, (The Guests), a 2004 film directed by Giddi Dar about a hasidic couple's adventures during Sukkot.
Feast of Tabernacles, Christian
List of Harvest Festivals

^ Cf Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah 4b, for rare cases where it is viewed as one
Sarna, Nahum M. “Exploring Exodus: The Oppression,” Biblical Archaeologist, Volume 49: 1986 (2001 electronic ed.)
Wright, G. Ernest. “Fresh Evidence for the Philistine Story,” Biblical Archaeologist, Volume 29: 1966 (2001 electronic ed.)
Kitov, Eliyahu (1978). The Book of Our Heritage. Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers. ISBN 0-87306-152-7.

External links