The Jewish Holidays in October & November

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The Jewish calendar is lunisolar; its months follow the lunar calendar, but its seasons follow the sun. To ensure that the holidays come out during the correct season, an extra, leap month is sometimes added. The “High Holy Days,” comprising Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the intermediate ten days are considered the most introspective and spiritual holidays in the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year usually falls in September and only rarely occurs in October. Yom Kippur always follows Rosh Hashanah by ten days. October also hosts several other Jewish Holidays. Hanukkah falls at the end of November in some years.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the most sacred and solemn day of the year for the Jewish people. Since Jewish days are counted from sundown the night before, Yom Kippur begins at sunset on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei and ends twenty-five hours later. It is a day of fasting from food and drink, and the wearing of any leather items is prohibited as a sign of mourning. Yom Kippur is considered a day of reckoning, whereby Jews pray for hours for God’s mercy and absolution for sins committed during the year. It is also considered the "Sabbath of Sabbaths," a day filling people with the hope of new beginnings with God’s forgiveness and acceptance.


The Festival of Tabernacles, Sukkot, often falls in October, five days after Yom Kippur, and is considered a time of rejoicing. “Sukkot” means "booths"; in Leviticus 23:33, the Israelites are commanded to commemorate the time spent wandering the desert by living and sleeping for seven days in temporary huts. Sukkot is also a harvest festival. During the years the Temple in Jerusalem stood, the Jews would bring a portion of their produce to the high priest. Sukkot is the last of the three pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the other two being Passover and Shavuot.

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

The two days following Sukkot are considered separate holidays although they are commonly viewed as part of Sukkot. Shemini Atzeret is the eighth day of Sukkot, an extension of the holiday. It marks the beginning of the rainy season following the harvest in Israel, and the prayer for rain in Israel is recited. Simchat Torah, which means “rejoicing of the new,” celebrates the completion of the reading of the Torah and the beginning of a new cycle. During Simchat Torah, congregations remove their Torah scrolls from the synagogue's ark and dance around with them. After, congregants read a few verses from the first portion of the book of Genesis or recite a blessing. Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated on the same day in Israel, a custom also followed by Reform Jews outside of the country. Orthodox and Conservative Jews living outside of Israel celebrate two days.


Toward the end of November, but most often in mid-December, the festival of Hanukkah takes place. Known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah runs eight days. An additional candle is lit each evening, culminating in eight candles on the last night. Hanukkah commemorates the defeat of the Greeks in Jerusalem by the Jewish Maccabees. During preparations to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem, a single vial of oil was found. Instead of burning only one night, the oil burned for eight nights. In remembrance of this miracle, Jews eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot -- potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts -- during the holiday.