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The Feast of Booths. Five days after Yom Kippur, Jews observe Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles. This holiday is celebrated for seven days in Palestine and eight days in the Diaspora. During the festival the family gathers for meals in booths erected for the occasion. Beautifully decorated and covered with greenery which permits the stars to shine through, the booths recall the times when Israel wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. Sukkot is also the Harvest Festival, recalling the days when Israelite farmers went to the fields and lived in lean-tos until the harvest was in. Also associated with the harvest are the lulav, a palm branch flanked with sprigs of willow and myrtle and the etrog, or citron. Together, these are the biblical four species, over which a blessing is recited daily during the holiday. They are also carried during Hakafot, a ceremonial march around the synagogue.

Sukkot is one of the shalosh regalim, the three Pilgrimage festivals observed in ancient times with Pilgrimages to Jerusalem. (The other two are Passover and Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, which, like Sukkot, were also harvest festivals.) In olden days, in the Temple, the high point of the Sukkot festivities was simhat bet ha-Shoevah (the ceremony of water drawings). The importance of this ceremony was seasonal, for Sukkot comes in the fall, after the long dry summer and just before the rainy season in Israel. Therefore, prayers of thanksgiving were offered for the rains that had made the year’s crops grow.

On Shemini Atzeret, which immediately follows Sukkot, prayers for rain during the coming season are chanted. The preceding day is known as Hoshana Rabba, after the prayers beginning with Hoshana, which means “Save us.” Many such prayers are said, because it is believed that on Hoshana Rabba the Books of Judgment, sealed on Yom Kippur, are put away until the following year. During the Hoshana Rabba service, willow branches are beaten until all the leaves have< /span> fallen off. This is associated both with the rituals of penitence and the seasonal festivities. The beaten willows symbolize the suffering man inflicts upon himself in the search for forgiveness. They also represent the hope that after the trees and plants lose their greenery God will provide new warmth and moisture for the renewal of nature, as well as for man’s strength and his trust in God.

Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah are associated with Sukkot, but are not properly part of that festival. The former dates from biblical times. Because it was the occasion of the crucial prayers for rain, it was marked with great solemnity. Simhat Torah (The Rejoicing of the Law) is a joyous holiday. It arose after the Rabbis instituted the practice of reading through the entire Torah (Five Books of Moses) in the synagogue each year. On Simhat Torah the last portion of one year’s cycle is read, and a new cycle is begun with the reading of the first portion of Genesis. Hakafot, an “encircling” procession with Torah scrolls, is the special mark of the day. Special attention is paid to children, who join in the Hakafot with flags and singing.

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