Written by: Allan Nadler
In addition to Shabbat and these five biblical Festivals, the Jewish calendar also includes a host of minor, "post-biblical" holidays. Purim, a late-winter festivity, commemorates the salvation of the Jews of ancient Persia from annihilation, based on the account in the biblical Book of Esther. Aside from the ceremonial recitation in synagogue of the entire Book of Esther both during the evening and morning Purim services, the holiday is celebrated as a carnival, featuring masquerading (to commemorate Queen Esther's hiding her true Jewish identity from the Persian King), feasting and drinking of alcoholic beverages, and a festive late afternoon meal. Jews are expected to exchange gifts of food with one other, and give alms to the poor on Purim. On account of its carnivalesque nature, Purim is often compared to the Catholic celebration of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, before Lent.
Hanukkah is the eight-day winter-solstice holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabee warriors against the Seleucid Greek rulers of Israel during the rebellion of 168-165 B.C.E. This culminated in the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple, which had been defiled with Hellenistic idols, for the service of the God of Israel and the establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty. This was the last autonomous Jewish commonwealth before the Roman destruction in 70 C.E. It is commemorated with the ceremonial lighting of one additional candle in the Hanukiah, an eight-pronged version of the Menorah on each of the eight evenings of the holiday, to memorialize the re-kindling of the Temple Menorah by the Hasmonean Priests after the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees. Neither Purim nor Hanukkah are considered Shabbat-like holydays, and thus do not involve any of the prohibitions of labor mandated on Shabbat and biblical festivals.
Three Jewish fast days, in addition to Yom Kippur, commemorate the various political and military setbacks that ultimately led to the destruction of both Jerusalem Temples—in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. The most important and austere of these is Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, on which both Temples were destroyed according to the Talmud. In addition to all of the aforementioned ascetic regulations of Yom Kippur, on Tisha B'Av, a broad day of mourning for the manifold tragedies of Diaspora Jewish history since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, Jews recite the biblical Book of Lamentations in synagogue, as well as a rich liturgy of medieval Hebrew dirges that commemorate the many calamities of post-exilic Jewish history, from the Crusades, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the Inquisition, to the Holocaust.
Two recently instituted Jewish holidays, commemorating the dramatic events of Jewish history in the 20th century, are widely observed by most contemporary Jews: Yom ha-Shoah, in mournful commemoration of the Holocaust, and Yom ha-Atsmaut, in celebration of Israel Independence Day. Most ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, who are reluctant to add new observances and additionally do not attribute any religious significance to the creation of the modern, secular Jewish State, do not recognize these most recent Jewish holidays.
1. What is Shabbat? What rituals are associated with it?
2. What is prohibited during Shabbat? Why?
3. What is Pesach? How does the Pesach seder transform time?
4. Describe two holidays of importance to Judaism.
5. What is meant by “post-biblical” holidays? Provide some examples.