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How is Sukkot celebrated?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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Two Periods 

The holiday of Sukkot is divided into two periods (the second period is immediately followed by another holiday: Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah).

In Israel the first period is one day and the second period six days. In the Diaspora the first period is two days and the second five days. The mandate for the first and second periods are slightly different.

The first period is known as Yom Tov. It is observed as a period of rest much like Shabbat. Work that is prohibited on Shabbat is prohibited during this period as well; with a couple of exceptions. We spend the time in prayer and celebration. We light candles. And we eat a traditional holiday meal - complete with holiday Kiddush and two Challahs1- at night and during the day.

The second period is known as Chol Hamoed. There are work restrictions during this period, but they are considerably less than those of the first period. Driving and the use of electricity (for example) are permitted.

The last day of the second period is known as Hoshanah Rabbah. It is a day of added festivities, including additional circling of the Bimah with the Lulav and Etrog2.

Celebrations Common To Both Periods

Sukkah: We eat all our meals in the Sukkah and recite a special blessing before each one. We try to do as many of our activities, as well as spend our leisure moments, therein. 

The Four Species: We recite a special blessing and shake the Lulav and Etrog every day (except for Shabbat). It is preferable to do it first thing in the morning and in the Sukkah, but it can be done all day and anywhere.

Prayers: We say the complete Hallel, and Musaf prayers every day3. We also shake the Lulav and Etrog during the prayers, and we circle the Bimah, in a ceremony called Hoshanos4, once every day, and seven times on the seventh day.

Rejoicing: We try to live up to the spirit of the holiday. As the official "Holiday of our Rejoicing"5 we celebrate with much dancing, many parties, and numerous enjoyable activities, in and out of the Sukkah.

See also "What is Sukkot?" and "When is Sukkot?".

Footnotes

  • 1. It is customary to continue dipping the Challah in honey (rather than salt) throughout the holiday of Sukkot, in the spirit of a sweet new year.
  • 2. Even though this day has its own name and observences, it is still part of Chol Hamoed and all the activities that are permitted on Chol Hamoed are also permitted on Hoshanah Rabbah.
  • 3. The Musaf prayer is slightly different every day. Follow the instructions in your prayer book.
  • 4. Special prayers for prosperity in the upcoming year.
  • 5. From the liturgy of the Sukkot prayers, based on the Torah's command in Deuteronomy 16:13-15

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Sukkah
The temporary structure in which we are required to dwell for the duration of the holiday of Sukkot. The Sukkah must have at least three walls and its roof consists of unsecured branches, twigs or wooden slats.
Hallel
Hebrew word meaning "praise." Normally is a reference to Psalms 113-118-- Psalms of jubilation which are recited during the morning prayers of all joyous holidays.
Etrog
A citron; a greenish-yellow citrus fruit. We are required to take an Etrog on the holiday of Sukkot and shake it together with a palm branch, a myrtle and a willow.
Kiddush
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
Musaf
The additional prayer service added (after the morning prayers) on Sabbath, Biblically mandated holidays and the first day of the Jewish month.
Lulav
A palm branch. One of the Four Species we are required to take on the holiday of Sukkot. We shake it together with a citron, myrtle, and willow.
Yom Tov
Jewish Holiday.
Four Species
There is a Biblical command to take "Four Species" on the autumn holiday of Sukkot. These species are: palm branch, citron, myrtle and willow. It is customary to shake these species to all directions.
Bimah
Table at the center of the synagogue upon which the Torah is placed when it is being read.