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The Festivals

The Festivals

How to Celebrate


“Rejoice in your festivals!” the Torah tells us. “Just be happy!” But which festivals? The Jewish calendar contains four biblical festivals, Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret (Simchat Torah), each containing a unique message and distinct rules. What they all have in common, however, is:

  1. We honor them by wearing our finest wardrobe and baking our best challah (or matzah on Passover).
  2. We enjoy them by serving great meals—even better than on Shabbat. We dine twice a day, nighttime and daytime, following kiddush and challah, on meat (if you enjoy meat) and delicacies.
  3. We rejoice in them by giving the children treats, husbands buying their wives fine clothes and jewelry (each husband according to his means), and men drinking wine, as is written, “Wine gladdens the hearts of men.” We also try our best to have guests, especially guests who may otherwise not be so happy—like the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the impoverished or otherwise downtrodden.
  4. We give the children treats, buy our wives fine clothes and jewelry, and drink wineWomen and girls light candles to usher in each holiday eve. Special holiday prayers are recited.

Rosh Hashanah is also a holiday, but not a festival—so A, B and D apply, but not C.

Work Restrictions

Almost all activities forbidden on Shabbat are forbidden on festivals: for example, operating an electric gadget, going to work, driving, writing or handling money. There are exceptions. Here are some permitted activities:

  • Most activities necessary for food preparation, such as kneading, baking, and cooking (on a stove that has been left on since the onset of the holiday).
  • Lighting a fire from a pre-existing flame.
  • Carrying in the public domain.

Click here for more details on that which is permitted and that which is not.


All of the above applies to the first two and last two days of Passover, both days of Shavuot, the first two days of Sukkot, and the two days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Different, far more lenient rules apply to Passover’s and Sukkot’s “intermediate days.”

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Sam Leon October 28, 2014

Re: Safety First I agree. Just a few days ago, I googled "Shabbat hot plate" and came up with a story of a fire on Long Island started by a blech. Killed the homeowner. Reply

Marsha Myerowitz Monroeville, PA June 3, 2012

To Rochel Chein Thank you! I understand now. Reply

Rochel Chein for June 1, 2012

To Marsha We are specifically commended to rejoice on the holidays, and this includes serving a greater variety of foods than we do on Shabbat, as well as wearing nicer clothing. Reply

David Levant Emerson, N.J. via May 31, 2012

Safety first. Is the safest way the best way?Being a former firefighter,safety and saving lives always comes first.Why leave an appliance on when it can ignite a larger fire and possibly burn or G-D forbid kill someone. Reply

Marsha Monroeville, PA May 30, 2012

Better meals than on Shabbat? I'm confused. I thought Shabbat, being the most important of all, should have the best meals. Not that I do that, since I do so much for my seder meals. Reply