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First day of Sukkot

The first day of Sukkot (Succot, Succoth, Sukkoth) is the start of a period that is known as the Feast of Tabernacles. The Sukkot festival is observed during the week starting on 15th day of Tishri (or Tishrei), which is the first month of the year in the Jewish calendar.

This period marks a traditional time for many Jewish people to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Some or all of the holiday is spent in a temporary structure known as a sukkah.

Rabbi holding lulav

Sukkot is celebrated among many Jewish people worldwide.

©iStockphoto.com/Tova Teitelbaum

What do people do?

The first day of Sukkot is a day when many people of Jewish faith do not carry out many forms of work. Many people celebrate the first two days as full holidays. This is because it is a sacred occasion that is observed like Shabbat (the Sabbath). Work is permitted on the remaining days of Sukkot.

Many Jewish families build a temporary structure known as the sukkah, usually in a garden or on a balcony, prior to the first day of Sukkot. Some people spend some or all of Sukkot in the sukkah and may even sleep in it, although this is less likely in cooler climates. Some people construct a sukkah each year, while others have a foldable one, which is stored carefully for future years.

The "four species" (four plants with symbolic meanings) are waved in proscribed directions after a blessing is recited during Sukkot, except on Shabbat (the Sabbath). People may do this at a synagogue, in the sukkah or at home.

Public life

The first day of Sukkot is a public holiday in Israel. It is not a nationwide public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom or the United States. However, many Jewish businesses, schools and organizations may be closed or offer a reduced level of service.

Background

In the time of the Temple, many Jewish people made a pilgrimage (Hakhel) to the Temple in Jerusalem at Sukkot once every seven years. There they would listen to readings from the Torah by the king of Israel. This custom stopped after the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE, but has been revived in recent times. Some sources claim that Sukkot lasts for about seven days while others state that it is an eight-day festival. The seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshana Rabbah while the eighth day is known as Shemini (or Shmini) Atzeret and the day after that is called Simhat (or Simchat) Torah.

Symbols

An important Sukkot symbol is the sukkah. This is a temporary structure with a roof made of sechach or s'chach, which is raw, unfinished plant material, such as palm branches, bamboo poles, reeds or even corn stalks. Most or all of its roof should be directly under the sky and the inside may be decorated with extracts from the Torah, real or imitation fruit and shiny decorations. Portable sukkahs are available for travelers.

The “four species” are also important symbols of Sukkot and represent the blessings of nature. These are lulav (a green, closed frond of a date palm tree), hadass (twigs and leaves from a myrtle tree), aravah (twigs and leaves from a willow tree) and etrog (a lemon-like fruit of the citron tree).

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