Written by: Allan Nadler
The one-day festival of Shavuot (Pentecost: observed in the Diaspora for two days), occurs seven weeks after Pesach, at the conclusion of the period of Omer-counting—a daily ceremony rooted in the ancient spring wheat-harvest ceremonies performed by the Israelite priests in the Jerusalem Temple. Although originally a pilgrimage celebration of the early spring harvest in the Land of Israel, after the expulsion of the Jews from Israel the rabbis associated Pentecost with the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Shavuot is therefore commonly referred to in rabbinic literature, and in the holiday's liturgy, as the "day of the Torah's presentation."
Rosh Ha-shanah is the Jewish New Year that inaugurates the Ten Days of Penitence, which conclude with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Observed for two days both in Israel and the Diaspora, Rosh Ha-shanah commemorates the world's creation, and is marked by very lengthy prayer services whose main themes are acknowledgement of God as Creator and Ruler of the Universe and implorations for forgiveness of sins. The most dramatic aspect of the services on Rosh Ha-shanah is the sounding of the shofar, a ram's horn, intended as a call for penitential return to God, and a reminder of the ram whose sacrifice replaced that of Isaac, whom his father Abraham was willing to offer to God.
Ten days after Rosh Ha-shanah, Jews observe the fast day of Yom Kippur, the most holy and austere day of the Jewish calendar. In addition to Shabbat restrictions that apply to Yom Kippur, this holy day includes a regimen of ascetic restrictions. From sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, Jews are prohibited from any eating or drinking, bathing, sexual relations, anointing in body oils and creams, and the wearing of any leather garments, including shoes.
Five days after Yom Kippur, Jews celebrate Sukkot (Tabernacles), a seven-day pilgrimage festival commemorating the fall harvest, as well as recalling the booths in which the Israelites dwelled during their forty-year sojourn in the Sinai desert. The day following the end of Sukkot is a festival called Shmini Atseret/Simchat Torah, celebrated immediately after Sukkot and sometimes called the "eighth day" of the festival (observed as two separate days in the Diaspora).