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FESTIVALS (Heb. חַג, hag; מוֹעֵד, mo'ed; or יוֹם טוֹב, yom tov).


The root of חַג is חָגֹג ḥagog, to celebrate, or possibly חוּג ḥug, to go round. It is related to the Arabic ḥajja which means to go on a pilgrimage from which comes ḥajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The term mo'ed means an appointed place, time, or season.

The festivals can be divided into two main categories each of which can be subdivided: (1) those commanded by the Pentateuch, and (2) those added later.

The Pentateuchal festivals are (a) the *Sabbath (not strictly a festival), (b) the three pilgrim festivals, *Passover, *Shavuot, and *Sukkot, with Shemini Aẓret which is considered in some respects a festival in its own right, (c) the New Year (*Rosh Ha-Shanah) and the Day of *Atonement, (d) *Rosh Ḥodesh, the first day of the lunar month. These divisions can however be still further divided. Rosh Ha-Shanah and the Day of Atonement, while obviously belonging to a single pattern, nevertheless differ from each other completely. The three *pilgrim festivals, too, although similar in many aspects differ in detail. There is, furthermore, a decided difference between the first and last festival days and the middle days termed ḥol ha-mo'ed (see below). The second category too can be subdivided: *Purim and *Ḥanukkah; the first being biblical (Book of Esther) and the second from the Hasmonean period; memorial days such as *Lag ba-Omer (medieval) and the 15th of *Av (mishnaic) to which may be added *Tu bi-Shevat; thirdly, certain festival days added in modern times to mark historic events of Jewish importance. Apart from the above are also festival days of individuals or communities to record salvation or a similar event.

A festival is characterized by three factors: (1) rejoicing, which mostly takes the form of ceremonial meals (with the exception of the Day of Atonement), and, on the more important biblical festivals, the prohibition of work; (2) the liturgy (or in Temple times, the special sacrificial service); and (3) special ceremonials of the festival, such as eating of maẓẓot on Passover (biblical injunction), lighting of the candles of Ḥannukah (talmudic), and the planting of saplings on Tu bi-Shevat (custom).

The liturgy is in effect dictated by the type of festival. The main changes from everyday prayer are mainly in (a) the *Amidah, (b) the addition of *Hallel, (c) the reading of the *Torah, (d) the *Musaf service representing the special sacrifices of the day (for details, see below – Liturgy). It can generally be stated that the less important the festival, the less changes are made in the liturgy. On Sabbath, the pilgrim festivals, and the high holidays, it is customary for the woman to light *candles accompanied by a special benediction, and (except Sabbath) also by the she-heḥeyanu, whereas the man makes sanctification (Kiddush) over wine (except on the Day of Atonement). It is interesting to note that the national day of mourning, Ninth of *Av, is also regarded in a sense as a festival, as it is termed "mo'ed" in Lamentations (1:15), and, according to tradition, will be the greatest festival in the time to come (with reference to Jer. 31:13).

In the Bible

The festivals mentioned in the Pentateuch as "feasts" (חַגִּים ḥaggim) are Passover (Ex. 12:14), also called "the feast of un-leavened bread"; Shavuot, otherwise "the feast of harvest" (Ex. 23:16) or the "day of the first fruits"; and *Sukkot, also known as "the feast of ingathering" (ibid.) and sometimes called simply "feast" (ḥag) in the Bible. The sages, too, mostly use the term hag by itself to refer to Sukkot. Common to all three festivals is the pilgrimage to Jerusalem from which the term (שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים "the three pilgrim festivals") is derived. The term "appointed seasons" (mo'adim) in the Pentateuch, however, includes also Rosh Ha-Shanah and the Day of Atonement, as in the verse "These are the appointed seasons of the Lord, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their appointed season" (Lev. 23:4). At times the term "appointed seasons" is used for all the days which are "holy convocations," including the Sabbath. Rosh Ḥodesh, on which work is not forbidden by biblical injunction and which is not mentioned at all with the festivals in Leviticus, is nevertheless included among "the appointed seasons" in the section on sacrifices (Num. 28:11). It seems that the prophets, too, sometimes use "appointed seasons" to refer to the Sabbath and Rosh Ḥodesh though mostly these days are not indicated. In one instance only the three pilgrim festivals are included "on the appointed seasons, three times in the year" (II Chron. 8:13). Thus the term "season" generally has a wider meaning in the Bible than "feast" because only the three pilgrim festivals are called "feast," whereas "season" usually comprises also Rosh Ha-Shanah and the Day of Atonement. A day of feasting and joy, whether fixed by individuals or established by the whole people to be observed by succeeding generations, which does not entail special sacrifices, is called yom tov (I Sam. 25:8; Esth. 8:17).

The festivals, like the Sabbath, have their origin in Divine commandments. Leviticus commands not only "it is a Sabbath unto the Lord" (23:3) and "the Sabbaths of the Lord," but also "the appointed seasons of the Lord" (23:4, 44). In the Bible the common expression "feast of the Lord" (see Hos. 9:5) or "a feast to the Lord" refers to Passover as well as to Shavuot and to Sukkot. Similarly, the festival which the children of Israel were to celebrate with sacrifices to the Lord in the wilderness is termed "feast." Aaron, too, at the incident of the golden calf, proclaims "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord" (Ex. 32:5).

The Source of the Festivals

In the pagan religions of the ancient East, the festivals were established by man in order to find favor with the deity and prevent disasters. It was against this concept that the prophets militated (cf. *Sacrifices). The biblical concept, on the other hand, is the exact antithesis, for not only are the festivals commanded by God but the service on these days as well. The festival sacrifices (Musaf) are not offered for any material reward, but in obedience to the Divine command. Among the sins of *Jeroboam is mentioned his ordainment of a feast "like unto the feast that is in Judah" on the 15th of the eighth month "in the month which he had devised of his own heart," and his bringing sacrifices on it (I Kings 12:32–33). Apart from this incident, there is no mention in the Bible of alterations to the festivals as stated in the Pentateuch or the creation of new ones; "the feast of the Lord from year to year in Shiloh" (Judg. 21:19) is seemingly one of the festivals mentioned in the Pentateuch. In the Bible various reasons are given for the festivals. Some are specifically connected with the exodus from Egypt. Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, is celebrated on the anniversary of the day that God led the children of Israel out of Egypt. The paschal lamb was commanded for all generations to commemorate "that He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt" (Ex. 12:27) and the unleavened bread is in memory of the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt. Similarly, the reason for dwelling in tabernacles on Sukkot is "that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 23:43); and even for Shavuot it is said, "And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt; and thou shalt observe and do these statutes" (Deut. 16:12; cf. Nahmanides ad loc.; cf. Deut. 5:15 on Sabbath). The recital on the offering of the first fruits also testifies to the exodus from Egypt (Deut. 26:5–10). Together with their theological-historical sources, the festivals are also connected with the annual agricultural cycle. Shavuot is the festival "of the first fruits of wheat harvest" (Ex. 34:22) on which two loaves made from the new wheat crop were offered; hence its names: "the harvest feast" and "the day of the first fruits." Sukkot is "the feast of the ingathering" at the end of the agricultural year when the ingathering from the threshing floor and the winepress is completed. Even Passover, in the spring, apart from the commemoration of the exodus, has an agricultural basis. The Omer sacrifice of the new barley was offered on the second day of the festival and permitted the partaking of the new grain crop.

The festivals thus seem to be rooted in two distinct sources which, according to some scholars, are independent of each other. They claim that the agricultural festivals antedate their theological-historical source, specifically pointing to the fact that Passover and Sukkot are celebrated in seasons when night and day are roughly of equal length. Their contention, however, is unacceptable since each festival in the Pentateuch is based on two distinct types of reasons stated sometimes even in the same paragraph. In the case of Passover, the agricultural motif is added to the clearly historical aspect of the festival, while with Sukkot, the historical aspect of the festival is added to the agricultural although this historical aspect is not specifically connected with the time of the year of Sukkot. At any rate the distinction between "the ancient folk festivals" and the later "theological festivals" is doubtful. Contrary to the three pilgrim festivals which are mentioned in the Bible together with their double motifs, no reason, save it being a Divine precept, is given for the day of "memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns" (i.e., the later Rosh Ha-Shanah), celebrated on the first day of the seventh month. The Day of Atonement, however, was inaugurated for the atonement of sins.

Celebration of the Festival

The Pentateuch cites two specific commandments in connection with the "seasons of the Lord, holy convocations": work is forbidden and, as a remembrance, sacrifices are to be brought to the accompaniment of trumpet blowing before the Lord (Num. 10:10). The Bible also specifically commands rejoicing on Shavuot (Deut. 16:11) and especially on Sukkot (Lev. 23:40; Deut. 16:14–15; cf. Neh. 8:17). Such commandments, however, were common to all the festivals, as is proven for instance by

Calendar of festivals and fasts of the Jewish year (for Sephardi and Ashkenazi dates of Seliot prayer see Seliot). Calendar of festivals and fasts of the Jewish year (for Sephardi and Ashkenazi dates of Seliḥot prayer see *Seliḥot).

the great rejoicings on Passover (Ezra 6:22; II Chron. 30:21ff.) and those "on the first day of the seventh month" (Neh. 8:2, 9ff.). These celebrations, especially when the people gathered in the Temple, are testified to by Isaiah: "Ye shall have a song as in the night when a feast is hallowed; And gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord to the Rock of Israel" (30:29). The festivals are therefore referred to as days of mirth, gladness, and joy. It seems that the rejoicing of the people at the golden calf – "[they] offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings and the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to make merry" (Ex. 32:6) – was typical of all festive celebrations, in which the huge feast as well as dancing occupied a prominent place. The celebrations were, however, limited by the sanctity of the festival, and there is no hint in the Bible of the orgies, wildness, and promiscuous abandon connected with the pagan festivals in the ancient Near East. The Pentateuch even stresses the fact that the rejoicings are of the whole community, including slaves, and commands not to forget the levite, the proselyte, the orphan, or the widow (Deut. 16:11, 14). During the early Second Temple period it was customary to send presents to the needy on the festivals (Neh. 8:10–12).

In the Apocrypha and Hellenistic Jewish Literature

During the early Second Temple period the laws of the Sabbath and festivals came to be very strictly observed. The festivals were celebrated with great rejoicings and it was customary to invite the poor to the feasting (Tob. 2:1–2). Many would go up to Jerusalem on all the festivals. During the persecutions of Antiochus, observance of the Sabbath and festivals was forbidden. *Demetrius, however, declared the Sabbaths, New Moons, and festivals, including three days before and after, to be holidays for all Jews in the Seleucid kingdom (testified to in his letter to Jonathan the Maccabee; I Macc. 10:34).

In contrast to the Greek and Roman festival celebrations which were accompanied by gluttonous, drunken, and bacchanalian revelries, Hellenistic Jewish writers stressed the uniqueness of the Jewish festivals. *Philo claims that the cessation of work on the festival was a possible danger since eating and drinking arouse lust and other low instincts. Giving vent to these feelings without restriction could lead to vice and limitless evil since the festival would serve as a protective means against retribution. The lawgiver therefore did not permit his people to celebrate their festivals in the way of other nations but commanded them first to purify themselves through the restriction of their desires for pleasure at the very time of their celebrations. Then they were to gather at the Temple to participate in the hymns, prayers, and sacrifices so that the place, the sight, and the service would influence their finer senses – sight and hearing – with a spirit of piety. Last but not least, by commanding the sacrifice of a sin-offering, he warned the people to stop sinning; for it seems that a person would not transgress at the very time he asks for forgiveness. Those gathered for the festive banquet do not come to stuff themselves with meat and wine like other nations, but through prayers and psalms follow the tradition of their forefathers. Therefore the Day of Atonement is also a festival though the partaking of food is forbidden and there is no wild rejoicing, merrymaking, and dancing accompanied by song and music which arouse uncontrollable desires. Ignorance of the nature of true happiness leads people to assume that on the festivals joy is to be achieved through physical indulgences (Philo, Spec. 2:193–4). Philo further states that the true significance of the festival is to find pleasure and enjoyment through meditation about the world and the harmony existing in it (ibid., 2:52). Were man's virtue constantly to rule his desires, his whole life, from his birth to the day he dies, would be one long festival (ibid., 2:42).

In Talmudic Literature

The term ḥaggim, as referring to Jewish festivals, hardly occurs in rabbinical literature (except in prayers which are in an archaic language). Instead, the festivals mentioned in the Bible are called mo'adot. Mo'ed (though not ha-mo'ed) in the singular is mostly applied to the intermediate days, especially to distinguish them from festival days on which no work at all is allowed. These are usually called yom tov. As in the Bible, yom tov was also applied in rabbinic literature to days of rejoicing (general or private) not mentioned in the Pentateuch, andon which work was allowed. These were either new festivals ordained for all times or days of rejoicing for certain events. It is doubtful whether the Day of Atonement was included in the term yom tov (but see Ta'an. 4:8).

The commandment concerning the feast of unleavened bread, that "… no manner of work shall be done in them…, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done by you" (Ex. 12:16), was interpreted by the sages to mean that work, for purposes of eating, is allowed on all those festivals (Sif. Num. 147) on which "servile work" is prohibited by the Pentateuch. (In contrast to the Sabbath and the Day of Atonement where it is ordained "ye shall do no work.") The types of work forbidden on the Sabbath but allowed on yom tov for the purpose of eating (Beẓah 5:2) are kneading, baking, slaughtering, skinning, salting, cutting, burning, and carrying (the last two are also permitted for purposes other than eating; Beẓah 12a–b). Hunting, reaping, sheaf binding, threshing, winnowing, selecting, and grinding are forbidden (as to sifting, opinion is divided). Types of work for the indirect preparation of food (מכשירי אוכל נפש) are permitted. The differentiation between the types of work allowed and those forbidden is apparently based on customs prevalent at the time. Except for the work permitted for the sake of food and some other minor allowances made (see Beẓah 5:1), everything forbidden on the Sabbath is also forbidden on the festivals. Moreover, the prohibition of handling *mukẓeh (non-usable) objects is stricter on the festivals than on the Sabbath so that the festival prohibitions should not be taken lightly (Beẓah 2a–b).

The festivals are also similar to the Sabbath in rejoicing and in honoring the day. All halakhic Midrashim interpret the term "holy convocation" to mean that the festivals are to be sanctified "with food and drink and clean clothes" and "the Day of Atonement, on which there is no food or drink, the Torah states that one must honor it with clean clothes" (Shab. 119a). It was usual to cut one's hair before the festivals. Similarly, it was the custom, later incorporated in the halakhah, not to work or eat in the late afternoon preceding the festival. In the Middle Ages, it became customary to light a candle on the eve of the festival and to recite a blessing, as on the Sabbath. Rejoicing on the festival involved eating and drinking (concerning the prohibition of fasting see Judith 8:6; TJ, Ta'an. 2:12) and giving presents to the women and children. During the tannaitic period the sages disputed the question as to how a person should spend the festival: "R. Eliezer says that a person should either eat and drink or sit and study on the festival; R. Joshua declares that a person's time should be divided between eating and drinking and the house of learning." R. Johanan, the amora, found support in the Scriptures for both opinions (Pes. 68b; cf. Beẓah 15b; Sif. Deut. 135, is similar to R. Joshua's opinion). The amoraim also disagreed on the similar question as to whether the festivals were meant for the study of Torah, or whether eating and drinking was the main reason and permission to study the Torah on them but a secondary consideration (TJ, Shab. 15:3). According to the sources, it seems that it was customary to go to the bet hamidrash both on the eve of the festival as well as in the morning. Prayers, however, were shortened because of the festive meal. The sages, while stating that "the festivals were given to Israel only for their own pleasure" (S. Buber (ed.), Midrash Tanḥuma (1885), Mid. Tanḥuma Gen. 4), nevertheless noted the difference between Israel and the nations: "You grant the nations many festivals and they eat, drink, and are wanton, they go to the theater, the circus, and anger You by word and deed; but Israel is not so. You grant them festivals and they eat, drink, and rejoice, and go to the synagogues and battei midrash ("houses of learning") and multiply their prayers, their festival offerings, and their sacrifices" (PdRK 340–1). It seems that R. Joshua's opinion ("half to the Lord and half for yourselves") was practiced and became halakhah. However, practices of drunkenness and licentiousness are also mentioned (Beẓah 4a; Kid. 81a); R. Abba bar Memel, a Palestinian amora, states, "Did they not forbid work on the intermediate days only in order that people should eat, drink, and diligently study the Torah? But they eat, drink, and are wanton" (TJ, MK 2:3) – exactly as the Midrash describes the gentile nations.

Paul opposed the observance of the Sabbath and the festivals (Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16). Traces of the Jewish-Christian dispute concerning the festivals are found in the Midrash (S. Buber (ed.), Midrash Tanḥuma (1885), Pinḥas, para. 17). The sharp condemnation by the sages of "he who despises the festivals" (Avot 3:12; Pes. 118a) is probably directed against the Christian heretics, and probably because of them the observance of the Sabbath and the festivals was stressed so strongly in Ereẓ Israel. Later, in the Middle Ages, Judah Halevi states that the festivals were the main factor which upheld Israel in its exile (Kuzari 3:10).

The Intermediate Days

Apart from the laws governing the musaf sacrifices on the festivals, nothing is stated about the festival days following the first day of Passover and Sukkot, respectively, which the sages called ḥolo shel mo'ed or just mo'ed. They taught that these days are also to be considered as days of "holy convocation." Only partial work is permitted on them for "the Torah gave the sages the power of determining on which day it is forbidden to do work and on which day it is allowed; which work is forbidden and which allowed" (Sif. Deut. 135). Generally, work which prevents deterioration or loss is permitted on the intermediate days; where this is not the case, work is forbidden. It is forbidden to delay work in order to do it on the intermediate days except for public works. In Ereẓ Israel stringent laws were imposed whereby no work at all was done, even if it was required for the festival itself. The halakhah, however, conformed to the Babylonian practice which allowed some work (as mentioned above). All must rejoice on the intermediate days; thus marriage is not permitted on these days as rejoicing should not be mixed, ein me'arevim simḥah be-simḥah (MK 8b).


G.F. Moore, Judaism, 2 (1927), 40–54; E. Rackman, Sabbath and Festivals in the Modern Age (1961); Y. Vain-stein, Cycle of the Jewish Year (19612); H. Schauss, Guide to Jewish Holy Days (1962); S.Y. Zevin, Ha-Mo'adim ba-Halakhah (196310); Y.L. Barukh and Y.T. Levinsky (eds.), Sefer ha-Mo'adim, 8 vols. (1963–65ḥ); S. Goren, Torat ha-Mo'adim (1964); E. Kitov, Book of Our Heritage, 1 (1968). See also the bibliographies attached to the articles on the individual festivals. ON SECOND DAYS OF FESTIVALS: Conservative Judaism, 24:2 (Winter 1970), 21–59. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: P.V. Adelman, Miriam's Well: Rituals for Jewish Women Around the Year (1986); S. Cohen Anisfeld, T. Mohr, and C. Spector (eds.), The Women's Passover Companion: Women's Reflections on the Festival of Freedom (2003); ibid., The Women's Seder Sourcebook: Rituals and Readings for Use at the Passover Seder (2003; R. Biale, Women in Jewish Law: An Exploration of Women's Issues in Halakhic Sources (1995); E.M. Broner, Bringing Home the Light: A Jewish Woman's Handbook of Rituals (1999); M. Kaufman, The Woman in Jewish Law and Tradition (1993); G. Twersky Reimer and J.A. Kates (eds.), Beginning Anew: A Woman's Companion to the High Holy Days (1997).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.