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Sukkot: Hoshana Rabba

Hoshana Raba (Heb. הוֹשַׁעְנָא רַבָּא; “the great hoshana”) is a name for the seventh and last day of the Sukkot festival .

In Temple times, the day was distinguished by the fact that seven circuits (hakkafot) were made around the altar with the lulav (instead of the single circuit made on the other days of the festival), and that willow branches, which on this day were specially cut at Moẓa near Jerusalem, were stood around the side of the altar with their leaves overlapping the top (Suk. 4:5–6; Maim. Yad, Sukkah, 7:22–23). In the Mishnah the day is therefore known as yom ha-shevi’i shel aravah (“the seventh day of the willow”; Suk. 4:3). According to R. Johanan b. Beroka palm twigs were beaten on the ground and thus the day is known as yom ḥibbut ḥarayot (“the day of the beating of the palm twigs”; ibid. 4:6). It is generally known as Hoshana Rabba because of the numerous hoshanot which are recited and is thus referred to already in the Midrashim (Mid. Ps. to 17:5; Lev. R. 37:2). The ceremony of the willow took place even if this day occurred on the Sabbath (according to Maimonides, loc. cit. 7:21, in order to publicize the obligatory nature of the practice). In Second Temple times this was a source of controversy between the Boethusians and the Pharisees who gave the ceremony biblical authority even though it is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. They considered it to be halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai, i.e., as having been instructed verbally to Moses during his stay on Mt. Sinai. According to the tradition of many of the rishonim (e.g., Tos. to Suk. 43b, Abraham b. David to Maim. Yad, Kiddush ha-Ḥodesh, 7:7; R. Nissim, to Alfasi, Suk. 21b S.V. u-farkhinan), the calendar was fixed in such a way that the New Year would not occur on a Sunday so that Hoshana Rabba should not fall on the Sabbath, which would cause the taking of the willow to be canceled (see Calendar ). Today, the obligation of taking the willow on the seventh day of Sukkot remains and it is the “custom of the prophets” or the “principle of the prophets” to beat it on the ground or on some object (Suk. 43b; cf. Maim. Yad, Lulav, 7:22). The custom of circling the interior of the synagogue seven times while reciting prayers and supplications is known from the period of the geonim (see Hoshanot ). Already in the Talmud (TJ, RH 4:8, 59c) Hoshana Rabba is mentioned as one of the two days (“the day of blowing of the shofar and the day of the willow”) on which all attend the synagogue service.

In the period of the geonim, the celebration of Hoshana Rabba acquired considerable solemnity and religious-mystic significance. In Jerusalem a large gathering took place on the Mount of Olives which was circled seven times; official announcements (such as fixing the coming year) were proclaimed; philanthropists and communities received blessings; and public excommunications were issued. The piyyut of Hoshana Rabba which opens with the words, “the power [or, the truth] of Thy salvation cometh,” which deals with the splitting open of The Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4) and the resurrection of the dead, probably has its origin in this ceremony. From the 13th century onward, there is evidence regarding special popular beliefs connected with Hoshana Rabba. There was a very widespread belief that he who did not see the shadow of his head on the night of Hoshana Rabba would die during that year, for Hoshana Rabba was the day of the “seal,” wherein the verdict of man (passed on the Day of Atonement ) is “sealed,” or the day on which the “notices” of the verdict were sent out (Sefer Ḥasidim, ed. by R. Margoliot (1957), nos. 452–3; Naḥmanides on Num. 14:9; Zohar, Ex., 142a–b). It is probable that the view of Hoshana Rabba as a day of judgment was originally connected with the ancient belief that “during the festival [i.e., Sukkot], the world is judged for the water to be received” (RH 1:2), i.e., whether the coming year would be blessed with rain or be one of drought and Hoshana Rabba is the conclusion of Sukkot. This would explain the numerous hoshanot of Hoshana Rabba in which the motif is water. There is also an allusion to a Prayer for Rain on Hoshana Rabba (Sefer Ḥasidim, no. 248).

Over the generations, the conception of Hoshana Rabba as a day of judgment has been expressed by a series of distinct customs, all or some of which have been included in the prayer service of the day in the various rites (see Sh. Ar., OḤ 664:1): numerous candles are kindled in the synagogue, as on the Day of Atonement; in some rites the Ḥazzan wears a white robe; the Pesukei de-Zimra of the Sabbath and the Nishmat prayer are added to the service; the sentences (of the Ten Days of Penitence), “Remember us unto life,” and “Who is as Thou,” are included in the Amidah; Avinu Malkenu , the Great Kedushah , and U-Netanneh Tokef are said in the Musaf prayer; and the shofar is blown during the processions. In some rites seliḥot are recited. The Amidah and the Reading of the Law, however, remain the same as on the other intermediate days of the festival. There is a widespread custom to stay up during the night of Hoshana Rabba and to read the whole of the Pentateuch or the books of Deuteronomy and Psalms, and the like. This custom does not go back further than the 13th century. Its original intention was probably to ensure that even those who were not particular concerning the reading of the Pentateuch during the whole of the year would complete it together with the public on Simchat Torah (Shibbolei ha-Leket, ed. by S. Buber (1886), 334). This custom later assumed the character (probably through the kabbalists of Safed) of a tikkun (“purification”; Tikkun Leil Hoshana Rabba, “Tikkun of the night of Hoshana Rabba”).


Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 138f.; ET, 8 (1957), 527–35; Y.T. Lewinsky, Sefer ha-Mo'adim, 4 (19522), 180–207; Wilhelm in: Alei AyinS. Schocken Jubilee Volume (1948–52), 130–43.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.