Sukkot is a weeklong Jewish holiday celebrated five days after Yom Kippur. This year, the holiday is celebrated October 9-16, 2022. Sukkot celebrates harvest time and commemorates the divine protection of the Israelites as they fled Egypt. Sukkot is celebrated by living in a foliage-covered booth -known as a sukkah, and eating the "Four Kinds" - four specific types of vegetation.
Sukkot is the only holiday that doesn't appear to commemorate a historic event. The Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible - Old Testament in Christian Bibles) refers to it by two names: Chag HaAsif (“the Festival of Ingathering,” or “Harvest Festival”) and Chag HaSukkot (“Festival of Booths”), each expresses the reason for the holiday.
In Israel, crops grown in the winter are ready for harvest in late spring. Some crops remain in the fields to dry before harvest in early fall. Chag HaAsif is a time to express appreciation for a bountiful harvest.
The name Chag HaSukkot commemorates the temporary dwellings the Lord made to shelter their ancestors as they left Egypt. Some interpret the shelters to be miraculous clouds of glory which shielded them from the sun. Others believe it is a reference to the tents where they dwelled during their forty years in the Sinai Desert.
The first two days -beginning at sundown on October 9 until nightfall on October 11 in 2022- (one day in Israel) are yom tov, when work is forbidden, candles are lit in the evening, and festive meals are preceded by Kiddush (a ritual where words are spoken and wine you take a drink of wine) and a bite of challah (white leavened bread - typically braided) dipped in honey.
The intermediate days (the evening of October 12 until sunset on October 16 in 2022) are known as Chol Hamoed. These aren't formal holiday periods, so there aren't the usual restrictions, such as no work or use of electricity as seen in some holidays. During these days, Jews observing Sukkot dwell in the sukkah and take the Four Kinds every day of Sukkot (except for the Sabbath day, when they do not eat the Four Kinds of food.
The final two days begin at sundown on October 16 and end at sunset on October 18 in 2022. These are technically separate holidays (one day in Israel): Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah.
Living in the sukkah
A week is spent eating all meals in the sukkah, treating it as a temporary home. The sukkah is a shelter of at least three walls and a roof of unprocessed natural vegetation - like bamboo, pine boughs, or palm branches and fronds. The sukkah is to be located under the open sky (not inside another structure.
The purpose is to spend as much time as you can within the sukkah - eating your meals here at the very least. This is especially true for the festive meals of the first two nights where at least an olive-size piece of bread or grain-based food is taken in the sukkah. The Chabad practice is to not eat anything outside of the sukkah.
Taking the Four Kinds
A main Sukkot observance is the taking of the "Four Kinds":
- a citron
- a palm frond
- three myrtle twigs
- two willow twigs
These are taken each day of the festival except for the Sabbath. Taking the Four Kinds, reciting a blessing over them and bringing them together, and waving them in all six directions (left, right, forward, back, up, and down). The Four Kinds represent the various personalities comprising the community of Israel, emphasizing their unity on Sukkot.
For more information
The local synagogue - B'nai Shalom Congregation in Blountville, Tennessee is also a wealth of information. Check out their website or give them a call. Teaching and learning are part of the Jewish tradition.