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How Is Sukkot Observed?

How Is Sukkot Observed?

An Overview of Sukkot's Traditions and Customs


For forty years, as our ancestors traversed the Sinai Desert prior to their entry into the Holy Land, miraculous "clouds of glory" surrounded and hovered over them, shielding them from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. Ever since, we remember G‑d's kindness and reaffirm our trust in His providence by dwelling in a sukkah – a hut of temporary construction with a roof-covering of branches – for the duration of the autumn Sukkot festival. For seven days and nights, we eat all our meals in the sukkah – reciting a special blessing – and otherwise regard it as our home. Weather permitting, some even sleep there.

We reaffirm our trust in His providence by dwelling in a sukkahAnother mitzvah that is unique to Sukkot is the taking of the Four Kinds: an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), at least three hadassim (myrtle branches) and two aravot (willow branches). The Midrash tells us that the Four Kinds represent the various types and personalities that comprise the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity we emphasize on Sukkot.

On each day of the festival (except Shabbat), during the daytime hours, we take the Four Kinds, recite a blessing over them, bring them together in our hands and wave them in all six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and to the rear. (The Four Kinds are also an integral part of the holiday's daily morning service.)

Sukkot is also called The Time of Our Joy; indeed, a special joy pervades the festival. Nightly Water-Drawing Celebrations, reminiscent of the evening-to-dawn festivities held in the Holy Temple in preparation for the drawing of water for use in the festival service, fill the synagogues and streets with song, music, and dance until the wee hours of the morning.

Sukkot runs from the fifteenth through the twenty-first of Tishrei. The first two days of this festival (in Israel only the first day) are a major holiday, when most forms of work are prohibited. On the preceding nights, women and girls light candles, reciting the appropriate blessings, and we enjoy nightly and daily festive meals, accompanied by the Kiddush.

Celebrations fill the streets with song and dance until the wee hours of the morningThe remaining days of the festival are Chol Hamoed ("intermediate days"), when most forms of work are permitted. We try to avoid going to work, writing, and certain other activities – many families use this time to enjoy fun family outings.

Every day of Sukkot, including Chol Hamoed, we recite the complete Hallel, Hoshanot, and Musaf, and the Torah is read during the morning service.

The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabbah ("Great Salvation"). According to tradition, the verdict for the new year – which is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur – is not handed down by the Heavenly Court until Hoshanah Rabbah. On this day we encircle the bimah (synagogue reading table) seven times while holding the Four Kinds and offering special prayers for prosperity during the upcoming year. During the course of the morning prayers it is also traditional to take a bundle of five willow branches and beat them against the ground five times.

Sukkot is immediately followed by the independent holiday of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

By Staff
Artwork by Sefira Ross, a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Discussion (35)
October 25, 2016
In NYC, I witnessed groups of young hassidic men running through the streets, day one of sukkot. Any significance?
October 23, 2016
Please discuss origin of welcoming Ishpuzin in the Sukkah. Ishpuzin means guests; but when did the custom of welcoming Avrahm, Itzhak, Yaacov, Moshe, Aaron, Yosef and David begin?
Barbara J Marks
October 19, 2016
I love learning and reading about my religion I'm proud & honoured to be apart of such a beautiful religion.
Wolverhampton, UK
October 17, 2016
Happy Sukkot!!!! From Ricardo, TX
October 16, 2016
This is very helpful! Thanks for posting it! Have a joyous Sukkot!
October 15, 2016
Happy Sukkot from the Great Plains!
Lincoln, Ne
October 14, 2016
Sukkot in Montréal
On rare occasions, the weather in Montréal cooperates, and we can eat all our meals in the Sukkah. Unfortunately, especially when the holiday starts later in the year, it is cold and rainy, and it's hard to convince our family and friends to join us in the hut. I wish that it would be Kosher to add a clear glass or plastic roof so that we can still enjoy the mitzvah of being in the Sukkah without having to endure the harsh weather.
Montréal CANADA
October 14, 2015
The second days are actually a separate holiday, that of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, and yes they begin immediately as Sukkot ends. Staff
September 28, 2015
Sukkot Laws
Thank to Bill Montreal I know now that no work is permitted the first two and last two days of Sukkot. I could not find that info anywhere. Thank you Bill.
Mordechai Czellak
New York, NY
October 8, 2014
Chag Sameach Everyone!
Colorado, USA
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