You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths.
TO INTRODUCE our coverage of Sukkot, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes back author and Jewish scholar Joe Lewis as well as our regular Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton. In addition to this column, you’ll enjoy these other stories:
- ROSH HASHANAH 5775—If you’re just catching up with our holiday stories, you may want to go back and read about the start of the Jewish High Holidays.
- YOM KIPPUR—Joe Lewis and Stephanie Fenton also teamed up on this column about the Day of Atonement.
- FEED THE SPIRIT—For the holidays, Bobbie Lewis has published several columns: She wrote about a Rosh Hashanah seder—and about foods to eat around a fasting time. And, no, her latest column on “Pavlova wars” (between New Zealand and Australia) isn’t specific to the Jewish holidays—but it’s a delicious dessert to serve to friends if you’re entertaining this week in your sukkah.
- MARCIA FALK—The poet and translator talks about inspiring readings for this season.
By JOE LEWIS
SUNSET WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 8
And SUNSET WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 15
And SUNSET THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16
No festival in the Jewish calendar requires more gear than this seven-eight-nine-day shackfest. We need an etrog (which looks like a lumpy lemon); the romantic lore praising the fragrance and beauty of this fruit, and the religious obligation to enjoy this festival, raise the price of an etrog to heavenly heights. We also need palm, myrtle and willow branches. Gathering these four types of plants is the easy part. Daily synagogue services include processions with our plants.
At home, parents suddenly become d-i-yers, and ramshackle huts roofed with greenery sprout in the back yard or on the patio. It’s a “sukkah” (shelter) designed as a substitute for our regular house, a place to take meals and relax on the holiday; in warmer climes the family can camp overnight. Detailed rules govern the shacks, huts or “tabernacles,” but there’s still freedom for creativity in size, shape and materials.
Temporary dwellings remind us of our 40-year trek through the wilderness, protected and sustained by our compassionate God. In ancient times, harvest workers slept outside by their work, as we read in the Book of Ruth (3:6-15). Our huts remind us that our own existence is fragile; that the protections we build for ourselves can be swept away in a storm; and that too many people in our society lack a home of their own. Gazing at stars through chinks in the roof promotes awe and humility, for we are but momentary specks in a universe of untold extent in time and space.
SHEMINI ATZERET & SIMCHAT TORAH
The first part of the holiday is “Sukkot,” shelters, and lasts for seven days. On the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret, “the concluding eighth day” (Num 29:35), we no longer need our four types of plants or our temporary shelter.
The ninth day is the final day of our festival season. It’s called Simchat Torah, a party to celebrate the Five Books of Moses, our manual for effective living. We finish the annual cycle of readings and begin anew, reading the final portion of Deuteronomy and then the first chapters of Genesis, accompanied by all the “disorder, laughing, sporting, and … confusion” that disturbed the famous diarist Samuel Pepys when he visited a London synagogue on October 14 1663. Dancing in the synagogue sometimes spills on to the streets, as we share our joy with the community in which we live.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HOLIDAY
By STEPHANIE FENTON
As Joe Lewis has described, most Jewish families try to take part in the construction of a sukkah—a temporary booth, or structure—in honor of Sukkot, spending as much time as possible inside the dwelling during the festival. The commandment to “dwell” in the sukkah can mean simply eating meals inside of it or fully residing. (Wikipedia has details.)
Each day of Sukkot, a waving ceremony is performed with the four species, or the lulav and etrog. An etrog—a citrus fruit native to Israel—is placed in one hand, while the other hand contains a bound bundle (lulav) of one palm branch, two willow branches and three myrtle branches. A blessing is recited and the species are waved in all directions, to symbolize that G_d is everywhere. The four species are also transported to the synagogue, where they are held, waved and beaten against the floor, during religious services. The four species are also held while forming processions around the bimah (pedestal where the Torah is read), in synagogue.
ONE EXTRA DAY FOR JOY
Immediately following Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, on which Jews leave their sukkah and dine inside the home. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is combined with Simchat Torah; in the diaspora, Simchat Torah falls on the day immediately following Shemini Atzeret. (Learn more from Judaism 101.)
RESTARTING THE CYCLE OF TORAH
On Simchat Torah, literally, “Rejoicing in the Torah,” the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings is complete. On Simchat Torah, the final Torah portion is read and, in a cyclical manner, the first chapter of Genesis is then immediately read. The completion of the cycle is met with great celebration, singing, dancing and the carrying of Torah scrolls.
IN THE NEWS:
For many Jews, Sukkot arrives just in time. After the solemn experience of Yom Kippur, the happy gathering of family and friends is a welcome event. Read more about the unity of Sukkot and more from the Jerusalem Post.
A $50,000 penthouse sukkah? Rates are high for a luxury Sukkot at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, but the price tag for the 12 private sukkahs comes with everything needed for a four-star holiday: three cooked meals per day for four people for eight days; a personally designed sukkah and plenty of room for entertaining guests. (Read more in the JTA.) For those wishing to spend a little less, the Inbal constructs two enormous sukkahs that can hold up to 600 guests at mealtime.