"Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month [shall be] the feast of tabernacles [for] seven days unto the LORD."
~ Leviticus 23:34
The third book of the Old Testament instructs the Jewish people to observe the Feast of the Tabernacles. Commonly known as 'Sukkot', this festival is a highly joyous
occasion and is celebrated all over the world wherever there is the presence of a Jewish community. Do you know about the history of Sukkot? If not, go ahead. Read how the festival of Sukkot originated, how it evolved over the ages and what it means to the Jewish people. If you like our brief account of the history of Sukkot, please
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'Sukkot' or 'Succoth' is a Biblical pilgrimage festival that occurs in autumn on the 15th day of the month of Tishri (late September to late October), that is, 5 days after Yom Kippur. Often referred to in Jewish literature as 'Z'man Simchatein' or the "Season of our Rejoicing", Sukkot is indeed the most joyous of Jewish holidays and lasts for 7 days. In Judaism it is one of the three major holidays known collectively as the Shalosh Regalim (three pilgrim festivals celebrated in Jerusalem: Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot).
That Sukkot was originally a harvest festival is evident from the historical records as well as from the ceremonies accompanying it and the season of its celebration. The Jewish people commonly refer to it as 'Chag Ha-Asif' or the 'Feast of Ingathering'. One of the three Pilgrimage Festivals, the origin of Sukkot dates back to the ancient times. Like Pesah and Shavuot, it was celebrated as an agricultural festival long before it was associated with any specific event in Jewish history. Originally observed as a harvest festival, Sukkot was a kind of Thanksgiving when the farmers would celebrate the reaping of the seasonal fruit and the gathering of the vintage. The celebration also signified the closing of the agricultural year when the farmer had already gathered his harvest and was relaxing before the first rains. The festivities involved building and living in temporary shelters inside which were hung seasonal fruits and vegetables, including apples, grapes, corn, and pomegranates, to recall gratitude to God for the gifts of nature. The roofs were covered with foliage spaced to let in the light. The families used to eat their meals in the huts under the evening sky.
Later the holiday took on an added historical significance as a commemoration of the exodus from Egypt, when Moses and the Jewish people had to live in sukkahs in the wilderness as they wandered for 40 years to reach the Promised Land. The sukkahs were naught but makeshift dwellings or booths made of branches and twigs that served as protection against wild beasts. These were easy to assemble, dismantle, and carry as the Israelites wandered through the desert. Thereafter, the festival of Sukkot is also known as 'Chag'ha Succot', meaning the "Feast of Booths" (or Tabernacles).
The holiday is also associated with another great event. This is the consecration of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of King Solomon which also took place during the time of Sukkot. This historic event is elaborately mentioned in Kings Chronicles' I and II. Not for nothing is Sukkot one of the three major Jewish festivals.
In present day Israel (and among Reform Jews), Sukkot is observed for seven days, with the first day celebrated as a full festival with special prayer services and holiday meals. Before Sukkot, every Jew builds a Sukkah in his yard to commemorate the exodus and recall the frail shelters that the Hebrews inhabited during their sojourn in the wilderness. The Torah instructs the Jews to build these temporary structures wherein to eat their meals, entertain guests, relax, and even sleep during Sukkot. Inside these temporary quarters, all the members of the family have the Sukkot meal together. They dismantle the booth on the following day. Out of Israel however, many people continue to sit in the Sukkah on the following day, Shemini Atzeret. Outside Israel, the first two days are celebrated as full festivals. The remaining days are known as 'Chol HaMoed' ("festival weekdays"). The seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshanah Rabbah and has a special observance of its own.