Tishri opens with the High Holydays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), which incorporate the Aseret Yamei Tshuva or 10 Days of Penitence. This is considered the season when God is most receptive to our entreaties for forgiveness. The process of atonement requires regret, verbal confession, making all necessary reparations and a sincere intent not to re-offend.
According to tradition, God assesses each individual on Rosh Hashana and passes sentence on Yom Kippur. Apples are dipped in honey and sweet challot are used (till the end of Succot) as we look forward to a sweet new year. The Shofar is sounded for 100 blasts on each day of Rosh Hashana (excepting Shabbat and Erev Rosh Hashana), calling us to repent. It evokes the faith of Abraham, who was prepared to devote his life and even offer up his son at God’s behest.
The Fast of Gedalya on 3 Tishri recalls the assassination of the biblical governor of Jerusalem and Judea who was killed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in the 6th Century BCE.
On Yom Kippur we stand solemnly before God, our judge. There are five restrictions of the day (beginning from dusk, the previous evening); no eating or drinking, no washing, no anointing, no wearing of leather shoes and no sexual contact.
The Yom Kippur Services begin with Kol Nidrei, a moving appeal to God to forgive all our unfulfilled resolutions and promises. Shacharit is followed by a lengthy Mussaf service, which includes details of the High Priest’s Temple services and the rite of the original Scape-Goat. The Book of Jonah is read at Mincha. The concluding service, Ne’ilah, is recited with fervour and solemnity as the sun sets and this special season of atonement draws to a close.
The end of the fast is marked by a single blast on the Shofar. It is traditional to start to build one’s Sukkah immediately.
Succot reminds us of our dependence and God’s constant support. It is a mitzvah to eat (and if possible sleep) in a Sukkah throughout the festive week. Every day one should wave the Arba Minim or Four Species (Lulav, Etrog, Hadas and Aravot) in all directions, symbolising God’s omnipresence. The Arba Minim are taken in a daily procession around the Bimah.
At the end of Succot comes Hoshana Rabba, at which we sing many hymns of praise (Hoshanot), making seven Hakafot (circuits of the Bimah) and then beat the willows.
Shemini Atzeret marks G-d’s desire not to call an abrupt end to the festive season.
Simchat Torah marks the end of the annual cycle of Torah readings. The Chatan Torah is called to read the final verses of Devarim and the Chatan Bereshit reads the opening chapter of Bereshit. In the evening and morning, we dance with the Torah scrolls and with the Chatanim (bridegrooms) and celebrate our relationship with the Torah.
Cheshvan is also known as Mar-Cheshvan or Bitter Cheshvan; after the excitement of the previous month, it is uniquely empty of festive days.
At the end of Kislev comes Channuka. This festival commemorates the rededication of the Temple at the hands of the Maccabees, after it had been defiled by Antiochus of Syria and the Hellenists (Jews who had adopted the idolatrous culture of the Greeks). When the Temple was recaptured (139 BCE), there was only sufficient oil to light the menorah for one day. By a miracle, it lasted for eight days, long enough for new oil to be refined. One additional candle is lit after nightfall on each of the eight days of the festival. It is traditional to eat latkes, doughnuts and other fried foods, to commemorate the miracle of the oil. Children gamble with the dreidel, a 4-sided spinning top. The Greeks had prohibited Torah study, so the Rabbis would instruct their students in secret, pretending to play with them when patrols passed by.
The fast of 10 Tevet marks the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in the year 425 BCE (3336) leading to the destruction of the first Temple. This was the era of Jeremiah and Daniel. Aside from Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av all the other fasts in the calendar are from dawn till dusk. The fast of 10 Tevet is the only communal fast that can fall and is observed on a Friday (not this year). When this happens, the fast continues beyond candle lighting and into Shabbat. The Friday night meal is delayed accordingly.
Tu B’Shvat (15 Shvat) is the New Year for Trees. The Jewish calendar has four official New Years. The others are Rosh Hashana, 1 Nissan (for dating kings’ reigns and documents) and 1 Elul (for tithing animals). These are comparable to the academic and financial years of the secular calendar.
On Tu B’Shvat there is a custom of eating a number of species of fruit, most particularly olives, figs, dates, grapes and pomegranates, the five species associated with Israel in the Tanach. Some make a formal Seder with Torah readings about fruit, like on Pesach.
The Jewish Calendar is a lunar calendar, its months following the cycle of the moon. To prevent the festivals from falling out of season (Pesach must fall in the spring time in Israel), a leap month is added. This used to happen at the discretion of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Today there is an established 19 year cycle.
The leap month of Adar Sheni (2nd month of Adar) is added after Adar in years 3,6,8,11,14,17 & 19 of the cycle.
The current cycle began in 5758. This is year 8 of the 19 year cycle.
As well as Adar Sheni, the months of Kislev and Cheshvan may be 29 or 30 days long. They are lengthened / shortened to fix the days of festivals (eg to ensure that Yom Kippur never falls on a Friday leaving us unable to prepare for Shabbat). When both months are short and when it is not a leap year, the Jewish calendar is only 353 days long. When both are long and it is also a leap year, the calendar is 385 days. In a leap year, Purim is always in Adar Sheni. However, the corresponding 14th and 15th of Adar Rishon are called Purim Katan and are also treated as semi-festive days.
Rosh Chodesh, itself, is considered a mini-festival, particularly for women. It was given to them as a reward for not contributing to the Golden Calf. Women should avoid domestic chores on Rosh Chodesh and their husbands are encouraged to help them feel special. It is traditional to wear one’s finer clothes on Rosh Chodesh. When a month has 30 days, the 30th day of the month as well as the first day of the new month are celebrated as Rosh Chodesh.
The Gemarra states Mi she-nichnas Adar marbim be-simcha, when we enter the month of Adar we should increase our happiness. It is a joyous month containing Purim. The festival commemorates the triumph of Mordechai and Esther over the wicked vizier Haman in 367 BCE (3404) in Shushan, the Babylonian capital.
The day leading up to the reading of the Megilla is Ta’anit Esther, in which we fast, recalling the fast of the Jews in Shushan before Esther approached Achashverosh to ask for her people to be spared.
Purim is celebrated with the reading of the Megilla in the evening and morning. We give Matanot Le’Evyonim (Gifts to the poor – at least two separate donations) and also Mishloach Manot (at least one gift of two types of food). On the day of Purim there is a mitzvah of Mishteh – a party, where one should enjoy the wine a little more than normal.
Shushan Purim on Adar 15th marks the day that the battle was completed in the capital. This is the date on which Purim is celebrated in Jerusalem & ancient walled cities.
In a leap year, Purim falls in Adar Sheni, the second month of Adar. This way, it is always 30 days before Pesach.
In the Torah, Nisan is described as the First Month. The very first Mitzvah given to the whole Jewish People, who were still enslaved in Egypt, was to set their calendar around Nisan, the month of their freedom.
The mitzvah of preparing for Pesach begins thirty days before the festival – exactly the interval between Purim and Pesach. Preparations go beyond the spring cleaning, stocking up on matzah and seasonal goodies. All residents of a town are supposed to give Kimcha dePischa, charity to help the local needy finance their matzah and four cups of wine for the festival.
Bedikat Chametz is the search for leaven by candlelight on the night prior to Seder Night. This should be done with a feather to dust in the small places and traditionally a wooden spoon, which is burned with the chametz the following morning.
Chametz of value that will be wanted after Pesach can be sold to a non-Jew. Sale of Chametz forms are available through
The Great Synagogue office..
The Fast of the Firstborn (Ta’anit Bechorot) reminds the firstborn that their lives would have been forfeit too at the time of the Exodus; that each is indebted to God for his mercy on Israel. Many avoid the fast by celebrating a Siyum, the completion of a Talmudic Tractate, at Shacharit.
Chametz may not be eaten from the end of the 4th hour of the day (dividing the interval between first light and three stars by 12 gives one halachic hour). All Chametz must be sold or destroyed (Biur Chametz) by the end of the 5th hour.
The Seder must begin after nightfall (fulfilling the verse to commemorate the Exodus “on that night”).
The Seder Plate is prepared in advance with bitter herbs, parsley, charoset, a burnt egg, shankbone, lettuce and saltwater. These are consumed with the matzah or indicated according to the order of the Haggada.
Four goblets of wine are drunk, representing the four expressions of redemption in God’s promise to Moses. A fifth cup of wine is poured (for Elijah to determine when Messianic redemption is at hand).
The Seder Service is a lively interactive experience, where the idea is to stimulate questions, discussion of and to praise God’s role in our history and destiny.
The Omer is counted every evening from the second night of Pesach through till Shavuot.
The Omer is a seven week period which is counted every night from the second night of Pesach until Shavuot.
It is considered a tragic time – the Talmud records that 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague for failing to accord each other with respect. The plague abated on Lag B’Omer (The 33rd day of the Omer on 18th Iyar) making it a happy interval in the mournful period.
Weddings, festivities, parties live music and dancing should not take place in the period up to Lag B’Omer. (Other communities observe the mourning from Rosh Chodesh Iyar till Rosh Chodesh Sivan)
The Torah instructs to count “seven complete weeks”. Accordingly, each day is counted as a number of days and weeks.
Today is the __ day of the Omer, making __ weeks and __ days of the Omer.
Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Memorial day. It commemorates both the victims and the resistance heroes and 27 Nisan was chosen to mark the final struggle of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Yom HaZikaron is Remembrance Day for Israel’s fallen. It leads into Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day commemorating the establishment of the State in 1948.
Yom Yerushalayim marks the anniversary of the liberation and re-unification of Jerusalem in the 1967 (Six Day) War
Shavuot is known as Atzeret and Z'man Matan Toratenu – the season of the giving of our Law. Its date is not given in the Torah directly; rather, as the completion of the counting of seven complete weeks of the Omer.
The festival is associated with dairy foods such as cheesecake. According to one tradition, the Children of Israel were gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai in 1313 BCE (2448); they knew that there would be dietary laws and consequently they restricted themselves to milk products until they found out what was in store.
We now prepare ourselves fully to receive the Torah through the Tikkun Leyl - by studying through the night and davvening as early as possible.
Shavuot is also known as Chag HaBikkurim - the festival of the first fruits. In Temple times, the farmers used to present their first fruits in the Temple in Jerusalem with a special declaration or “confession”. In this, they remembered that though their ancestors were idolaters, they had accepted the way of Hashem and that He had guided them out of Egypt and promised to guide them into Israel.
While Pesach commemorates the Exodus, the Bikkurim are a symbol of God’s fulfilment of His undertaking. On Shavuot, it is customary to decorate the shul with flowers and baskets of fruit.
On the first day of Shavuot the Ten Commandments are read in shul.
The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. It is appropriate for many reasons. It tells of Ruth’s willing acceptance of the Torah; it is set in the harvest festival and it establishes Ruth as the great grandmother of King David, who was born and died on the festival.
The fast of 17 Tammuz (dawn till dusk) commemorates the breach of Jerusalem’s walls by the Romans prior to the destruction of the Second Temple 70 CE (3828). It is also the anniversary of Moses shattering the first set of the 10 Commandments.
17 Tammuz begins the Three Weeks of mourning or Bayn HaM'tzarim, during which there are no festivities, live music, buying new clothes or cutting one’s hair (very much the same as the Sheloshim after a close relative dies).
The end of the Three Weeks is marked with intensified mourning. The Ashkenazi world starts this at Rosh Chodesh Av. The Sefardi world from the Sunday preceding Tisha B’Av itself.
The month of Av begins with sorrow as we approach Tisha B’Av (9 Av), which is the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples and our exile from the land of Israel. Fittingly, it is also the anniversary of the 12 Spies returning to Moses in the Wilderness with the report that the Promised Land would be impossible for the Israelites to take; for this God condemned them to 40 years more wandering.
The days leading up to the fast see the measure of mourning intensified. From Rosh Chodesh, one should not eat meat or drink wine, except on Shabbat. One does not launder clothes, swim or bathe for pleasure. It is considered an inauspicious time for court cases and business ventures.
There is no mourning on Shabbat; one can wear clean clothes, eat meat and drink wine - even when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat. When this happens, the fast is postponed to Saturday night/Sunday, beginning at the appropriate time, even before Shabbat has gone out.
The Fast is preceded by the Seudat Hamafseket, a simple meal, normally a roll and a boiled egg dipped in ash. The fast is from dusk the night before through the entirety of the day.
The Book of Lamentations (Eicha) is read in the evening together with Kinnot or liturgical dirges. The same prohibitions as Yom Kippur apply (the Shabbat/Yom Tov prohibitions on cooking, electricity, riding etc do not). Even the pleasure of Torah study is denied. Tallit and Tefilin are worn at Mincha in place of Shacharit.
The fast ends at nightfall but as the Temple burned through the following day, the prohibitions on wine, meat and haircuts remain in force till 10th Av.
Tu B’Av is the Jewish Sweethearts’ Day. In Temple times, the day was devoted to dances in Jerusalem and matching young couples.
Elul is considered a happy month, an auspicious one for weddings. It is the acronym of Ani LeDodi veDodi Li (I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me) from the Song of Songs. During Elul the Shofar is sounded every morning (excepting Shabbat and the eve of Rosh Hashana) as a call to repentance.
The Sefardi communities begin their recitation of midnight Selichot (the penitential prayers) from the beginning of Elul. Ashkenazi communities begin the Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashana (or the week before that, to guarantee at least four nights of Selichot).