Take Five: 5 Things to Know About the Jewish Holidays

Jewish worshippers pray at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, in Jerusalem’s Old City on 13 September, ahead of the Jewish new year. (photo:CNS photo/Baz Ratner, Reuters)

This week, Pope Benedict offered his “heartfelt best wishes” to the Jewish community on the occasion of three important holidays — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. So what are these holidays, exactly? Here are five things you should know:

  1. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. Just as Catholics have a special religious calendar, so do Jews — and it begins with Rosh Hashanah. The holiday is celebrated over two days with prayer services where a horn called a shofar is blown 100 times. There are also family meals with symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey. This year, Rosh Hashanah started on the evening of 16 September.
  2. Speaking of the Jewish New Year, it’s now 5773, according to the Jewish calendar. Tradition holds that year 1 began about a year before Creation. The first day of year 1 is equivalent to 7 October 3761 B.C.
  3. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. This is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. It is marked by 24 hours of fasting and repentance — no food, no drink, no nothing. Before Yom Kippur, you are supposed to seek forgiveness for your sins against God and other people. This year, the holiday started on the evening of 25 September.
  4. Sukkot is the Feast of the Tabernacles, which are a kind of hut covered in leaves. These huts are meant to bring to mind the fragile dwellings in which the Israelites lived during the 40 years in the desert. The feast lasts for seven or eight days, and holiday meals are eaten inside of the sukkot. Sometimes, very devout Jews sleep inside them, too. This year, Sukkot starts on Sunday, 30 September.
  5. “Chag sameach” is how you can greet your Jewish friends during Sukkot. It means “joyous festival” in Hebrew, and it actually works for just about any holiday.

By the way, why I am telling you this? Because CNEWA works on behalf of the Holy Father to promote understanding and friendship between all who worship the one God — Christians, Muslims and Jews. That is a very fundamental part of our mission. Chag sameach!

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