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When Holidays Begin | Work on Holidays | Extra Day of Holidays | List of All Holiday Dates

Jewish Holidays - Introduction

Level:  Basic

This is the first in a series of pages on the Jewish holidays.  Each of the pages in this series talks about the significance of a holiday, its traditional observances and related customs, the date on which each holiday will occur for five years, and in some cases recipes for traditional, Ashkenazic holiday-related foods.

Pages are available regarding the following holidays and other special days:

A few general notes about Jewish holidays:

When Holidays Begin

All Jewish holidays begin the evening before the date specified.  This is because a Jewish "day" begins and ends at sunset, rather than at midnight.  If you read the story of creation in Genesis Chapter 1, you will notice that it says, "And there was evening, and there was morning, one day" at the end of the first paragraph.  From this, we infer that a day begins with evening, that is, sunset.

For a discussion of why Jewish holidays occur on different days every year, see Jewish Calendar.

Work on Holidays

Work is not permitted on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and second days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Shavu'ot, and the first, second, seventh, and eighth days of Passover.  The "work" prohibited on those holidays is the same as that prohibited on the Sabbath, except that cooking, baking, transferring fire from another fire already lit before the holiday, and carrying outside, all of which are forbidden on Sabbaths, are permitted on holidays.  When a holiday occurs on a Sabbath, the full Sabbath restrictions are observed.

Extra Day of Holidays

You may notice that the number of days of some holidays do not accord with what the Bible specifies.  In most cases, we celebrate one more day than the Bible requires.  There is an interesting reason for this additional day.

The Jewish calendar is lunar, with each month beginning on the new moon.  The new months used to be determined by observation.  When the new moon was observed, the Sanhedrin declared the beginning of a new month and sent out messengers to tell people when the month began.  People in distant communities could not always be notified of the new moon (and, therefore, of the first day of the month), so they did not know the correct day to celebrate.  They knew that the old month would be either 29 or 30 days, so if they did not get notice of the new moon, they celebrated holidays on both possible days.  For more information about the lunar months, see Jewish Calendar.

This practice of celebrating an extra day was maintained as a custom even after we adopted a precise mathematical calendar, because it was the long-standing custom of the Jews outside Israel.  This extra day is not celebrated by Israelis, regardless of whether they are in Israel at the time of the holiday, but is celebrated by everybody else, even if they are visiting Israel at the time of the holiday.

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated as two days everywhere (in Israel and outside Israel), because it occurs on the first day of a month.  Messengers were not dispatched on the holiday, so even people in Israel did not know whether a new moon had been observed, and everybody celebrated two days.  The practice was also maintained as a custom after the mathematical calendar was adopted.

Yom Kippur is celebrated only one day everywhere, because extending the holiday's severe restrictions for a second day would cause an undue hardship.

List of All Holiday Dates

Below is a list of all major holiday dates for the years 5771 through 5775 (or fall 2010 through summer 2015).  All holidays begin at sunset on the day before the date specified here.

Holiday   5771     5772     5773     5774     5775  
Rosh Hashanah   9Sep10   29Sep11   17Sep12    5Sep13   25Sep14 
Yom Kippur  18Sep10    8Oct11   26Sep12   14Sep13    4Oct14 
Sukkot  23Sep10   13Oct11    1Oct12   19Sep13    9Oct14 
Shemini Atzeret  30Sep10   20Oct11    8Oct12   26Sep13   16Oct14 
Simchat Torah   1Oct10   21Oct11    9Oct12   27Sep13   17Oct14 
Chanukkah   2Dec10   21Dec11    9Dec12   28Nov13   17Dec14 
Tu B'Shevat  20Jan11    8Feb12   26Jan13   16Jan14    4Feb15 
Purim  20Mar11    8Mar12   24Feb13   16Mar14    5Mar15 
 Pesach (Passover)   19Apr11    7Apr12   26Mar13   15Apr14    4Apr15 
Lag B'Omer  22May11   10May12   28Apr13   18May14    7May15 
Shavu'ot   8Jun11   27May12   15May13    6Jun14   24May15 
Tisha B'Av   9Aug11   29Jul12   16Jul13    5Aug14   26Jul15 
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