Jewish Learning

Shabbat Guide

Shabbat Guide

JUF is pleased to provide this basic guide to celebrating Shabbat.

The Holocaust Project

Encyclopedia Britannica Holocaust Project

JUF partners with Encyclopedia Britannica to bring you their collection of Britannica's Holocaust Project resources.


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Jewish Holidays

Every month of the Jewish year except one is marked by holidays, festivals, and observances. Jewish holidays take place in the unique context of the Jewish calendar, which, though mainly lunar, is in fact a hybrid using aspects of both the solar and lunar calendars. In addition to the following list detailing the important elements of the Jewish holidays, JUF has developed a guide to help Jews observe the weekly Shabbat traditions (PDF).

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah

On Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the new year, the shofar is sounded to announce the judgment day, when humanity's deeds are remembered and assessed. Rosh Hashanah is also known as Yom Teruah (Day of Shofar Sounding), Yom Hadin (Day of Judgment), or Yom Hazikaron (Day of Remembrance).

Tzom (the Fast of) Gedaliah

Taking place on the day after Rosh Hashanah, the fast of Gedaliah marks the assassination of the governor of Israel after the destruction of the first Temple, and sets the tone of penance in preparation for Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is devoted to the acknowledgement of personal and communal sin and wrongdoing. During a fast that takes place from sundown to sundown, worshippers resolve, through prayer, reflection and good deeds, to renew themselves in the coming year.



Sukkot celebrates the bounty harvest of Israel's produce: grapes, olives, pomegranates, dates, figs and their various juices. Sitting in the sukkah is commemorative of Israel's 40-year wandering in the desert after the liberation from Egypt. Sukkot is also known as Zman Simkhateinu (Season of Our Joy), or Hag Ha'asif (Bounty Harvest Time).

Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah

Shemni Atseret 22-23 Tishrei. A holiday at the end of Sukkot that has no special ritual attached to it, commemorates no historical event, celebrates no agricultural accomplishment. It is a holiday of celebration for the mere purpose of God and Israel delighting in each other (Note: in the Reform movement, Simchat Torah and Shemini Atseret are celebrated on one day).

Simchat Torah (The Rejoicing of the Torah) 23 Tishrei. Celebrates the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle with the death of Moshe on the shores of the Jordan River and the beginning of the Torah reading cycle with the Creation of Genesis.


Chanukah About 150 years before the Common Era, a seven-branched candelabrum -- menorah -- was kept lit in the Temple in Jerusalem as part of its daily services. Olive oil was used to light the menorah; menorah olive oil was prepared in ritual purity and placed in vials, each holding only a day's worth.

Enter the Maccabees, a group of Jewish priests turned warriors, who managed to vanquish the Greek armies. The Greeks, as their final act of revenge against the Jews, destroyed all the pure oil, leaving only the impure. They expected the Maccabees to use this impure oil, thereby defiling the Temple and profaning the Divine service.

Fortunately, the Greeks didn't quite finish the job. The Maccabees found one vial of purified oil, enough to kindle the menorah for only a day. But seven days were required to create more oil in purity.

The menorah was lit anyway, and it was here that the miracle occurred. The menorah burned for eight days, allowing the Maccabees enough time to prepare more pure oil.

Today, Jews light the Chanukah candles for eight days, one for each day of the great miracle. Traditional foods made with oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes), are eaten. Gifts are exchanged and games of dreidel are played, to commemorate how Jewish children deceived the Greeks, who had forbidden Torah study. Children had a lookout who announced when a Greek approached. Children hid their books and pulled out dreidels to make the Greeks believe they were gambling rather than learning Torah.

Fast of Asarah B'Tevet (the Tenth of Tevet)

Mourns the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E.

Tu B'Shevat

Tu B'Shevat

Tu B'Shevat, one of the four Jewish new years, is also known as Jewish Arbor Day. The Lord judges the world on each of the four new years, and on Tu B'Shevat, judgment is made on the abundance of the produce of fruit trees. In Israel, children take field trips to nature reserves and plant trees. In the Diaspora, Jews stress their connection to Israel and the unity of the Jewish people.

Fast of Esther

The Fast of Esther, conducted the day before Purim, commemorates the three-day fast by Queen Esther as she sought to overturn Haman's decree that all the Jews of Shushan be killed.



The story of Purim is told in the biblical text of Megillat Esther. As the Megillah teaches, the Jews of Shushan were slated for destruction, but because of trust in G-d and sincere acts of repentance -- not to mention the courage of the wily Queen Esther -- Jews were saved from the evil plot of Haman. Purim has since evolved into a fun holiday with parties and carnivals. It is traditional for children -- and the young at heart -- to dress in costumes and reenact the Megillah.


PassoverDuring Pesach (Passover), which always occurs in spring -- the season of growth and renewal -- Jews celebrate the conclusion of 210 years of slavery under the Egyptians. For the Jewish people, freedom was not a result of their own intervention, but the culmination of G-d's revelation, through the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea.

The 10 plagues convinced the Egyptians of G-d's strength. The 10th plague-the slaying of the firstborn of all Egyptian households including Pharaoh's -- was the most powerful. The Almighty literally "passed over" Jewish homes, sparing Jewish children. Defeated, Pharaoh let the Jewish people go. Because the Jewish people left in such great haste, the yeast in their dough did not have a chance to ferment; the bread could not rise, and it was this unleavened bread, called matzah, that Jews ate during the Exodus from Egypt. Pesach lasts for eight days.

Yom Hashoah

On Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) we mourn the destruction of more than a millennium of European Jewish civilization and the murder of six million Jews at the hands of the Germans and their collaborators in every country in Europe, with the silent complicity of those who neither protested nor rescued.

Yom Hazikaron

Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) is a national day of mourning in Israel and in Jewish communities throughout the world for the more than 25,000 men and women who have given their lives for the establishment of the State of Israel and its defense.

Yom Ha'atzmaut

Yom Ha'atzmaut

Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) commemorates the establishment of the State of Israel, the return of the exiles to the ancient homeland, and the renewal of Jewish sovereignty after 2,000 years of powerlessness.

Lag B'omer

In the second century, during the counting of the days between Passover and Shavuot, Rabbi Akiva, the rabbinic leader of world Jewry, lost 24,000 students to plague. Only five students survived. On the 33rd day of the counting, the plague stopped, and Jews proclaimed a celebration called Lag B'omer. Today, young people in the Diaspora celebrate Lag B'omer with outings and other festivities. Many Israelis build bonfires and visit the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the father of Jewish mysticism.

Yom Yerushalayim-Jerusalem Day

Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War (June 7, 1967)



Shavout commemorates the revelation of God and the giving and receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It also celebrates the first fruits and wheat of the harvest.

Fast of Shiva Asar B'Tamuz

The Fast of Shiva Asar B'Tamuz reminds us of when Nebuchadnezzar breached the walls of the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. It marks the time when the three-week period of mourning for the destruction of the first and second Temples begins.

Tisha B'Av

On Tisha B'Av we mourn the destruction of the first and second Temples in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., as well as the Hadrianic persecutions of the second century, medieval crusades, and other Jewish tragedies.