Jewish Holidays

Below is a list of major Jewish holidays. Click through the list to learn more about each one:

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. It is a holiday in which worshippers reflect on their past year and look forward to the year ahead. People are encouraged to step out of their mundane routines to become anew for the coming year. 

Traditional food includes pomegranate and challah and apples dipped in honey, symbolic of the sweet New Year to come. The shofar is a ram's horn that is blown like a trumpet during the month that leads up to Rosh Hashanah and during Rosh Hashanah services.

Apples and honey on a plate for Rosh Hashanah
Pomegranate, apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah
Yom Kippur
Person playing a shofar

Yom Kippur is one of the most important festivals in the Jewish calendar that falls exactly 10 days, known as the Days of Awe, after Rosh Hashanah. It is known as The Day of Atonement, with three essential paths leading the follower to this state of atonement. 

The first is prayer, in which worshippers receive atonement through prayers of forgiveness. The second is fasting, in which all refrain from eating and drinking to devote oneself to this spiritual awakening and introspection. And the last is charity, known as tzedaka, in which it is customary to give to the poor. The shofar used during Rosh Hashanah is also used at the end of Yom Kippur.


Sukkot is also known as the Feast of Booths, named after the huts that the Jewish people stayed in while wandering after the Exodus from Egypt. It lasts for 8 days. The holiday is celebrated by building a sukkah for one to use. Each sukkah must be built following certain guidelines, with the main idea being that it is open to guests.

Simchat Torah
Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah literally translates to "Rejoicing with the Torah". It is known as the celebration of finishing the annual cycle of readings of the Torah, and on the same day, beginning the new Torah. This represents the unending circle of the Torah.

Chanukah candle lighting

The name ‘Chanukah’ means ‘dedication’. The name commemorates the rededication of the Temple. An alternate explanation is that the word 'chanukah' consists of two parts: ‘Chanu’ means ‘they rested’ and ‘kah’ means ‘twenty five’. This recalls the day when the fighting stopped and the Temple was rededicated.

Chanukah is referred to as ‘The Festival of Lights’ or by another name, ‘Chag HaUrim’. This name describes the main features of Chanukah, which involves the lighting of a chanukiah (a candelabrum with nine lights). We celebrate Chanukah for eight days, from the 25th of Kislev.


Tu B'shvat

The New Year of Trees, or Jewish Arbor Day, is celebrated by planting new trees and the eating of fruits. It is one of four New Years celebrated in the Jewish year.

Tu B'shvat
Tu B'shvat

Purim commemorates the events that took place in the Book of Esther.

It is celebrated by reading or acting out the story of Esther, and by making disparaging noises at every mention of Haman's name. In Purim, it is a tradition to masquerade around in costumes and to give Mishloakh manot (care packages, i.e., gifts of food and drink) to the poor and the needy. In Israel, it is also a tradition to arrange festive parades, known as Ad-D'lo-Yada, in the town's main street. Sometimes the children dress up and act out the story of Esther for their parents.

Purim cookies

Passover commemorates the liberation of the Israelite slaves from Egypt.

No leavened food is eaten during the week of Pesach, in commemoration of the fact that the Jews left Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have enough time to rise.

The first seder begins at sundown on the 15th of Nisan, and the second seder is held on the night of the 16th of Nisan. On the second night, Jews start counting the omer. The counting of the omer is a count of the days from the time they left Egypt until the time they arrived at Mount Sinai.

Pesach food on table

In the Bible, God commands the Jewish people to count seven weeks (49 days) starting on the second day of Passover.

On the fiftieth day, which is the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, the Shavuot festival is observed. The word "shavuot" means "weeks" and is also known as the Pentecost (fiftieth day). According to rabbinic interpretation, the Ten Commandments were given to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai on the sixth day of Sivan. Thus, in addition to being a thanksgiving for the wheat harvest, Shavuot has also become a celebration of the Torah. Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People.

Tisha B'av

Tisha B'av is the 9th of the month of Av. It is a day of mourning, marking the destruction of the first and second temples.

Tisha Bav
Tu B'av
Woman wearing white dress on the beach

Tu B'Av, the fifteenth day of the month of Av, is a Day of Love in Judaism.

Tu B'Av, the 15th Day of Av, is both an ancient and modern holiday. Originally a post-biblical day of joy, it served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women in the second Temple period (before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.). Tu B'Av was almost unnoticed in the Jewish calendar for many centuries but it has been rejuvenated in recent decades, especially in the modern state of Israel. In its modern incarnation, it is gradually becoming a Hebrew-Jewish Day of Love, slightly resembling Valentine's Day in English-speaking countries.

There is no way to know exactly how early Tu B'Av began. The first mention of this date is in the Mishnah (compiled and edited in the end of the second century), where Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted saying, There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)?(Ta'anit, Chapter 4).

Origins of the Date

The Gemara (the later, interpretive layer of the Talmud) attempts to find the origin of this date as a special joyous day, and offers several explanations. One of them is that on this day the Biblical "tribes of Israel were permitted to mingle with each other," namely: to marry women from other tribes (Talmud, Ta'anit 30b). This explanation is somewhat surprising, since nowhere in the Bible is there a prohibition on "intermarriage" among the 12 tribes of Israel. This Talmudic source probably is alluding to a story in the book of Judges (chapter 21): After a civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and other Israelite tribes, the tribes vowed not to intermarry with men of the tribe of Benjamin.

It should be noted that Tu B'Av, like several Jewish holidays (Passover, Sukkot, Tu Bishvat) begins on the night between the 14th and 15th day of the Hebrew month, since this is the night of a full moon in our lunar calendar. Linking the night of a full moon with romance, love, and fertility is not uncommon in ancient cultures.

In recent decades Israeli civil culture promotes festivals of singing and dancing on the night of Tu B'Av.

Reprinted with permission. To learn more about Jewish life, visit My Jewish Learning.

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)
Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah is Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, falling on the date in the Jewish calendar (the 27th of Nissan) that reflects the day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This day is meant to remember all of those who perished during the Holocaust, those who survived it, and all those who helped save the people afflicted by the terrors of the Holocaust.

Yom HaZikaron
Yom Hazikaron

Yom HaZikaron is recognized as Israel's Day of Remembrance for the Fallen of Israel's Wars and Terror Victims. This holiday is purposely recognized the day before Yom Ha'atsma'ut so that the people of Israel go from a day of solemn remembrance to a day of celebration.

Yom Ha'atsma'ut (Israel Independence Day)
Yom Haatsmaut

Yom Ha'atsma'ut is the national holiday recognizing Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1948 with the end of the British Mandate.

Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day)

Yom Yerushalayim is the national holiday recognizing the reunification of the old and the new city of Jerusalem after the Six Day war in 1967.