Sukkot is an eight-day harvest holiday that starts four days after the fast of Yom Kippur; it is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.
In ancient Israel Jews would build huts (Sukkah = hut) near the end of their fields during the harvest season, so that they could spend more time in the fields and harvest more efficiently. But Sukkot is also a reminder of how our ancestors lived while wandering in the desert for 40 years (Leviticus 23:42-43), moving from one place to another and using tents or (sukkot) for temporary shelter.
Associated with these two meanings are the three Sukkot traditions:
1 – Building a sukkah.
2 – Eating inside the sukkah.
3 – Waving the lulav and etrog.
(in the picture, the holiday of Sukkot as seen by Italian artist Emanuele Luzzatti)
Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot , observant Jews construct a sukkah in their backyards or on their deck when possible (in absence of space, people will use their synagogue’s sukkah).
In ancient times most people would just “move” to their sukkahs for the whole holiday and sleep there: nowadays very few people do, but it’s customary to eat meals in it reciting a special blessing. Luckily we are exempt in case of rain! Since Sukkot celebrates the harvest, there is a custom of waving the lulav and etrog: (a kind of citron, similar to a big lemon/lime, and a bunch of myrtle,willow and palm twigs). The lulav and etrog are waved in all directions representing God’s dominion over the whole creation. All kids love decorating the sukkah with drawings, and mine are no exception!
The seventh day of Sukkot is also known as Hoshana Rabbah. In the traditional synagogue service, Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark and worshippers make seven circuits while holding the Lulav (branches of four plants with symbolic meanings) and reciting Hoshanot (Psalm 118:25).
Right after Hoshana Rabba comes Shemini Atzeret, the day for prayers and celebrations for rain and harvest. One would think that a prayer for rain should be recited at the beginning of the New Year (Rosh HaShana) but it would be hypocritical to do so when everybody is really hoping for nice weather for the week of Sukkot…so it’s postponed to Shemini Atzeret. After Shemini Atzeret comes Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing with the Torah.”): on this holiday, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and paraded around the synagogue while people dance and sing around them. Every Shabbat during the year, a different portion of the Torah is chanted in synagogue, and it takes a year to complete the whole thing. On Simchat Torah, the end of Deuteronomy is finally reached, and we start again from Bereshit (Genesis).
See how the Jewish Community of Rome celebrates Hoshana Rabbah in this video:
Picture: Solomon Alexander Hart
The Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law at the Synagogue in Leghorn, Italy, 1850