Tishrei: Month of Festivals

The Jewish month of Tishrei (coinciding with September or October) is laden with religious significance, filled with major holidays. The month begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which is celebrated for two days. Some of the best known Rosh Hashanah customs include the sounding of the shofar (a ram’s horn) and eating symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year. Pomegranates, one of the seven species identified with the Land of Israel since biblical times and a fruit that comes into season around Rosh Hashanah, is also eaten, with Jews around the world wishing that their good deeds in the coming year be as plentiful as the seeds of the pomegranate. In the run up to the holiday and during the holiday itself, Jews worldwide wish each other, Shana tova u’metukah – a good sweet year.

Ten days after Rosh Hashanah is Yom Kippur, known as the Jewish Day of Atonement. This 10-day period is a time of introspection and reflection known as Aseret Yemei Teshuva (Ten Days of Repentance). During this time, people ask for forgiveness from anyone they may have wronged. Yom Kippur itself is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and it is believed that is the day on which God decides the fate of each human being in the coming year. Many spend the day in synagogue immersed in prayer. Religious law mandates that Jews afflict their souls and for 26 hours no food or liquid may be consumed (Leviticus 23:27). It says in the Bible, “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:30). The traditional greeting during the Ten Days of Repentance and on Yom Kippur is G'mar Hatimah Tovah - May You Be Sealed for a Good Year (in the Book of Life).

Shortly after Yom Kippur comes Sukkot, known in English as Feast of Booths/Tabernacles. It is celebrated on the 15th of Tishrei and is one of the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals, when Jews were commanded in the Torah to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Sukkot lasts for seven days (eight in the diaspora). Families build sukkot (booths covered with palm fronds), designed to recall the dwellings the Israelites dwelt in during their 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. Throughout Sukkot, meals are eaten in the sukkah, and some people even sleep inside. During the holiday special blessings are said over the Four Species – citron, palm branch, willow branches and myrtle branches. As stated in the Bible, “On the first day, you will take for yourselves a fruit of a beautiful tree, palm branches, twigs of a braided tree and brook willows, and you will rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).

The month of Tishrei is definitely the Jewish holiday season, and when making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, there’s no better time of the year to gain insight into many ancient traditions.