Feasts and Fasts
(mo`edh, "an appointed day" or "an assembling," chagh, from chaghagh, "to dance" or possibly "to make a pilgrimage"; tsom, "fast," ta`anith, "a day of affliction"):
1. Passover, 15th-22d Nican
2. Pentecost, 6th Ciwan ) Pilgrimage
3. Tabernacles, 15th-22d Tishri ) Festivals
4. Shemini `Atsereth, 23d Tishri
5. New Year,, 1st Tishri
6. Atonement, 10th Tishri
1. Weekly Sabbath
2. New Moon
3. Sabbath Year
1., 25th Kiclew
2. Fast of Esther, 13th ’Adhar
3. Feast of Purim, 14th ’Adhar
4. Fast of the Fourth Month, 17th Tammuz
5. Fast of the Fifth Month, 9th ’Abh
6. Fast of the Seventh Month, 3rd Tishri
7. Fast of the Tenth Month, 10th Tebheth
8. Feast of Acra, 23d Iyar
9. Feast of Nicanor, 18th ’Adhar
10. Feast of Woodcarrying, Midsummer Day, 15th ’Abh
11. New Year for Trees, 15th ShebhaT
12. Bi-weekly Fasts, Mondays and Thursdays after Festivals
13. Second Days of Festivals Instituted
14. New Modes of Observing Old Festivals Instituted
The Nature of the Hebrew Festivals:
The Hebrews had an abundance of holidays, some based, according to their tradition, on agriculture and the natural changes of times and seasons, some on historical events connected with the national or religious life of Israel, and still others simply on immemorial custom. in most instances two or more of these bases coexist, and the emphasis on the natural, the agricultural, the national, or the religious phase will vary with different writers, different context, or different times. Any classification of these feasts and fasts on the basis of original significance must therefore be imperfect.
We should rather classify them as preexilic and post-exilic, because the period of the Babylonian captivity marks a complete change, not only in the kinds of festivals instituted from time to time, but also in the manner of celebrating the old.
The pre-exilic list includes the three pilgrimage festivals, the Passover week, Pentecost, and the, together with the Eighth Day of Assembly at the conclusion of the last of these feasts, and New Year and Atonement Days, the weekly Sabbath and the New Moon.
1. Observances Common to All:
2. Significance of the Festivals:
The three pilgrimage festivals were known by that name because on them the Israelites gathered at Jerusalem to give thanks for their doubly joyful character. They were of agricultural significance as well as commemorative of national events. Thus, the Passover is connected with the barley harvest; at the same time it is the zeman cheruth, recalling the Exodus from Egypt (
Pentecost has an agricultural phase as chagh habikkurim, the celebration of the wheat harvest; it has a religious phase as zeman mattan Thorah in the Jewish liturgy, based on the rabbinical calculation which makes it the day of the giving of the Law, and this religious side has so completely overshadowed the agricultural that among modern Jews the Pentecost has become "confirmation day" (
The Feast of Tabernacles is at once the general harvest festival, chagh he-’aciph, and the anniversary of the beginnings of the wanderings in the wilderness (
New Year (
For further details of all of these preexilic festivals see the separate articles.
The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months are based on historical incidents connected with one or more national calamities. In several instances the rabbis have by close figuring been able to connect with the dates of the fasts as well as the feasts other important national events than those for which the days were primarily instituted. Not less than four incidents are connected with the fasts of the fourth month (17th of Tammuz):
(a) on this day the Israelites made the golden calf;
(b) Moses broke the tables of law;
(c) the daily sacrifices ceased for want of cattle when the city was closely besieged prior to the destruction of Jerusalem; and
(d) on this day Jerusalem was stormed by Nebuchadnezzar.
The fast of the fifth month (9th day of ’Abh) receives its significance from the fact that the First Temple was destroyed upon this day by Nebuchadnezzar, and the Second Temple on the same day of the year by Titus. In addition it is said that on this day Yahweh decreed that those who left Egypt should not enter the land of promise; the day is also the anniversary of the capture of the city of Bether by the Emperor Hadrian. The fast of the seventh month (the 3rd day of Tishri) commemorates the murder of Gedaliah at Mizpah. That of the tenth month (10th day of Tebheth) commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
Other fasts and feasts no doubt were instituted on similar occasions and received a local or temporary observance, for example, the Feast of Acra (1 Macc 13:50-52; compare 1:33), to celebrate the recapture of Acra ("the citadel") on the 23rd of ’Iyar 141 BC, and the Feast of Nicanor, in celebration of the victory over Nicanor on the 13th day of ’Adhar 160 BC (1 Macc 7:49).
Several other festivals are mentioned in the Talmud and other post-Biblical writings which may have been of even greater antiquity. The Feast of Woodcarrying (Midsummer Day:
In post-Biblical times the Jews outside of Palestine doubled each of the following days: the opening and closing day of Passover and Tabernacles and Pentecost, because of the capheq, or doubt as to the proper day to be observed, growing out of the delays in the transmission of the official decree of the Sanhedhrin in each season. Differences in hours of sunrise and sunset between Palestine and other countries may have had something to do at least with the perpetuation of the custom. New Year’s Day seems to have been doubled from time immemorial, the forty-eight hours counting as one "long day."
Many new modes of observance appear in post-exilic times in connection with the old established festivals, especially in the high festival season of Tishri. Thus the cimchath beth ha-sho’ebhah, "water drawing festival," was celebrated during the week of Tabernacles with popular games and dances in which even the elders took part, and the streets were so brilliantly illuminated with torches that scarcely an eye was closed in Jerusalem during that week (Talmud, Chullin).
The last day of Tabernacles was known in Talmudic times as yom chibbuT `arabhoth, from the custom of beating willow branches, a custom clearly antedating the various symbolical explanations offered for it. Its festivities were connected with the dismantling of the booth. In later times the day was known as hosha`na’ rabba’, from the liturgical passages beginning with the word hosha`na’, recited throughout the feast and "gathered" on that day. The day after Tabernacles has been made cimchath Torah, the Feast of the Law, from the custom of ending on that day the cycle of fifty-two weekly portions read in the synagogues.
In general it may be said that although the actual observance has changed from time to time to meet new conditions, the synagogal calendar of today is made up of the same festivals as those observed in New Testament times.