What is Sukkot?
In Judaism, Sukkot is known by several names: the "Festival of Booths." the "Festival of the Ingathering," the "Festival," and the "Season of Rejoicing." The Hebrew pronunciation of Sukkot is "sue-COAT" but it is more commonly pronounced in the Yiddish way: "SOOK-ut."
Sukkot is a harvest holiday, comparable in some ways to the American Thanksgiving. It also one of the "Pilgrim Festivals" (the others are Pesach and Shavuot) on which Jews used to make pilgrimages to the Temple with offerings for God from the harvest.
At nine days (eight days for Jews in Israel and Reform Diaspora Jews), Sukkot is the longest Jewish holiday. Judging by its length, its extensive treatment in the Tanakh and the fact that it is sometimes called "The Festival," Sukkot may at one time have been the most important holiday in Judaism.
The Festival Booth
"On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot. ... You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths." -- Leviticus 23:34,42 The festival of Sukkot begins on 15 Tishri, the fifth day of Yom Kippur. Sukkot is thus a transition from the solemnity of the most important high holy day to the joy of a historical festival. Work is forbidden on the first and second days of the festival only.
The primary observance associated with Sukkot is the building and dwelling in a temporary shelter, or "booth" (Hebrew sukka). This practice is instituted in Leviticus 23 as a way of remembering the time the Hebrew people spent wandering in the wilderness. Many modern Jews set up these makeshift shelters in their yards and invite friends over to join them.
Another Sukkot observance is the collection of the four species, which is based on the command of Leviticus 23:40: "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 L-RD your G-d for seven days."
Today, the command of the four species is observed by first collecting and binding together six branches: one palm branch (Hebrew lulav), two willow branches and three myrtle branches (hadassim). This bundle, called the lulav because the palm branch is the most prominent part, is held in one hand and an etrog (a citrus fruit similar to a lemon, native to Israel) is held in the other hand. The four species are then waved in the six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down) to symbolize that God is everywhere while blessings are recited. On the seventh day of the festival, the plants are taken around the synagogue seven times.
Upcoming dates for Sukkot:
- Oct. 8-15, 2014
- Sept. 27-Oct. 4, 2015
- Oct. 16-23, 2016
- - "Sukkot." Judaism 101. <http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm>
- "Sukkoth." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=9070215>.
- Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy (William Morrow, 2001), pp. 629-31.
- Ted Falcon and David Blatner, Judaism for Dummies (Hungry Minds, 2001), pp. 245-54.