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Jewish History of Feast of Tabernacles

From Moses to the present among Jews

                JEWISH HISTORY AND THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES


From the book "The Jewish Festivals" by Hayyim Schauss, published
in 1938.

Some customs and traditions cited may not, in the 21st century,
be observed any more - Keith Hunt


THROUGH THE AGES


Introduction

     Sukkos, the Feast of Tabernacles, is the Jewish autumn
festival. It begins on the eve of the fifteenth day of the Jewish
month Tishri and is observed by Orthodox and Conservative Jews
for nine days, of which the first two and last two are full
holidays, the intervening five days being semi-holidays. In
Palestine and amongst Reform Jews it is observed for only eight
days. The first and eighth days are full holidays, with cessation
from work, as originally prescribed.
     It is the most joyous and the longest of the Jewish
festivals, and was at one time considered the greatest Jewish
festival. The seventh day of the holiday is known as Hosbano
Rabbob, the eighth as Sb'mini Atseres, and the ninth as Simcbas
Torab. Each of these three days has its own special observance.


In Ancient Days

     Sukkos is the joyous festival that the Jews of old observed
in the Palestinian autumn, when they had finished the
agricultural toil of the year.
     When we observe Sukkos we go back to ancient days, when the
Jews were peasants in their own land. At the autumn season after
they had finished gathering all their crops from the fields and
orchards, especially the grapes from the vineyards, they observed
a great festival and were joyous before God. They thanked Him and
praised Him for the abundance stored in barn and bin and offered
prayers to Him that He send new rains for the coming year. For
Sukkos, as stated before, was the festival of the beginning of
the year in those days. 

     This festival had, at one time, many names and titles. It
was called Chag ho-Osif, the Festival of the Ingathering; also
Chag ha-Sukkos, the Festival of the Booths. Its name was
shortened, too, to He-chog, the Festival, and it was even called
Chag Adonoy, God's Festival. We can thus see that though Sukkos,
officially, had the same status as Pesach and Shovuos, it played
a much greater role in the life of the people than did the other
two agricultural festivals; and when people said, "The Festival,"
without any other specifications, the great autumn festival,
Sukkos, was meant.
     In the older books of the Bible which tell of the life of
the people in the time of the independent Jewish kingdom, the
only festival given considerable attention is Sukkos. Sukkos,
then, was apparently the main festival of the Jews of those
times.
     We learn, from these old biblical books, that this festival
was celebrated by the Canaanites, the older inhabitants of
Palestine. We are told in the Book of Judges that the Canaanites
of the town of Shechem observed a joyous festival after they had
gathered the grapes from their vineyards, and that they ate,
drank, and reveled in the temple of their god, Baal.
     When the Jews were settled in Palestine and lived on the
fruits of the earth they also began the observance of this autumn
festival. But, of course, they observed it in honor of their God,
the God of Israel.

(Israel observed this festivals from the beginning of the days of
Moses - they observed it during the 40 years of wandering in the
wilderness. Yes, the pagans had "harvest festivals" such as the
modern "Thanksgiving Day" but God instituted His thanksgiving
feast within His calendar in a specific month and on specific
days. The world, without God or the Bible, has ignored God's
thanksgiving feast and set up its own. It is God who tells us how
to worship Him, not unconverted mankind - Keith Hunt)

     We do not know the exact day of the month and with what
rites the Jews of very old times observed this autumn festival.

(Yes, we do. It is written in Leviticus 23 - Keith Hunt)

     We do know, however, that it was the merriest time of the
year, and that there was song and rejoicing throughout the land.
The Jews of that time were, on the whole, a joyous and festive
people, and were very fond of wine and song. But at no season of
the year did they drink and sing as much as they did during the
autumn festival. Along the trails of Palestine resounded the
songs of the festive pilgrims who, together with all their
household, entire caravans of Jewish peasants, wended their way
to a sanctuary to observe the great festival and to rejoice
before God. One led an ox, a second a sheep, and a third a goat
to offer to God at the sanctuary, where they would recite prayers
and sing hymns and dance in religious processions about the
altar. If the peasant were poor, and could afford neither an ox
nor a sheep, he presented a jar of flour as a meal-offering, or a
bottle of wine for a libation on the altar.
     According to the prescribed regulation, every male had to
make the pilgrimage to a great sanctuary at all three great
festivals. It was difficult for the Jewish peasant to leave his
village at Pesach and Shovuos, since they were the seasons for
cutting and threshing the grain. He was able to leave only at the
autumn festival, when the crops had been gathered from field and
orchard. He could then travel with an easy conscience to rejoice
before God at a great sanctuary.


     In the days of the Jewish kingdom it was not necessary to go
to Jerusalem when one wanted to make a pilgrimage to a great
sanctuary. In many other cities temples were erected, perhaps not
as gorgeous but much older than the Temple in Jerusalem, and the
autumn festival was observed with grandeur at all of these
temples.

     In the very old days, before the founding of the Jewish
kingdom, the most noted sanctuary was at Shiloh on Mount Ephraim,
and we are told in the Book of Judges that the daughters of
Shiloh would hold a dance procession in the vineyards in honor of
the Festival of God. In another part of the Bible we are told of
pilgrims from the hills of Ephraim who came to the sanctuary at
Shiloh with their wives and children to observe the festival.
They would slaughter their sacrificial animals there, and, in
families, would dine on the meat of the sacrifices, and drink and
revel. Elkanah, the father of Samuel, is presented to us as such
a pilgrim, who made the journey to Shiloh yearly with all his
household.

     When the Temple of Solomon was erected in Jerusalem Sukkos
was the first festival observed there. The Bible tells us that
all the heads of the tribes and the elders of Israel came to
Jerusalem for the dedication of the Temple, and they came at "The
Festival," the holiday of the fall. The observance of the
festival is further mentioned in the time of the prophet Isaiah,
about two hundred years after the reign of Solomon. On the eve of
the holiday a great, festive crowd marched in a sacred
procession. They sang hymns and played on pipes; with gay hearts
they ascended the Mount of the Temple, to God, the Rock of
Israel.
     It seems that both in the Temple in Jerusalem and in the
other temples throughout the country those participating in the
celebration often went beyond the limits in revelry and drink,
and the festival often became a tumultuous, wild bacchanalia. The
more serious-minded amongst the Jews protested against this
character of the festival. The prophet Amos visited the temple at
Beth-El during the autumn festival, and the revelry that he saw
made such an unfavorable impression upon him that he condemned
the sanctuary and the entire ritual of the festival. Hosea, who
appeared as a prophet in the Kingdom of Israel a short time after
Amos, also protested against the bacchanalia of the autumn
festival. The same festivities doubtless took place in the
Kingdom of Judah, for Isaiah, who was a prophet in Jerusalem,
tells us that all, even priests and prophets, were drunk in the
sanctuary.

     We can well believe that not only the above-mentioned
prophets, but all other spiritual leaders of the Jews, looked
upon the unbridled revelry of the autumn festival as something
un-Jewish and distinctly heathen. The people, however, paid
little attention to their spiritual leaders and teachers, and
continued to drink and revel at "The Festival."



After the Babylonian Exile

     The movement against Baal, against the "high places," and
against the nature-worship which the Jews had taken over from the
Canaanites, the older inhabitants of Palestine, agitated Jewish
life in the time of the divided kingdom; it made of the Jews an
entirely different people and, in time, changed the character of
all the Jewish festivals. They were separated further and further
from the soil, from nature and the agricultural seasons of the
year, and instead of village revels they were promoted to exalted
national religious observances.
     This happened to all the festivals, including Sukkos. The
very fact that the provincial sanctuaries, the "high places,"
were abolished during Josiah's reign, and the Temple in Jerusalem
was declared the only sanctuary for Jews, changed the character
of Sukkos. The very appearance of the festival must have been
different from the old days, now that all Jews made the
pilgrimage to the one sanctuary in Jerusalem. The fact that all
Jews were united in one place added a new national significance
to the festival.
     Even a greater influence toward modifying the revelry of the
festival was the Babylonian exile, and the circumstances in which
Jews found themselves after the exile. The primary objective at
that time was to find some means of ridding the festival of its
connection with nature and of giving it a historical and national
aspect. It was, therefore, bound up with the great events of
ancient days, at the beginning of Jewish history, when the Jews
were still wandering shepherds and dwelt in tents. It was
declared, that for this reason Jews sit in booths during this
festival.
     However, this bond between Sukkos and the memory of the life
in the desert could not be stretched too far. It was impossible
to make of it a second festival of the Exodus, and the nomadic
life in the wilderness did not accord very well with the joyous
autumn festival and its customs and ceremonials. In many details,
therefore, Sukkos remained the revel of the old days. It was no
longer the greatest festival of the year, since that role in the
days of the second Temple was taken over by Pesach, but it still
remained the merriest Jewish holiday.

     Since we know much more about Jewish life in the later days
of the second Temple, let us pause and see how Sukkos was
observed in the Jerusalem of that period.


A Pilgrim Festival

     Twice each year Jerusalem opened its gates wide to welcome
countless thousands of Jews. At Pesach and again at Sukkos
pilgrims flocked into the city from all parts of Palestine, from
every foreign land known to the Roman world, from every place
that harbored a Jewish community. One could feel in Jerusalem
during those days the pulse of the entire Jewish people; one
could meet in the streets every type of Jew from every corner of
the earth and one could learn, at first hand, the lot of these
dispersed Jews, how they lived, what they believed, and what they
hoped.
     Shovuos at that time did not play a significant role in
Jewish life. The two great festivals of the year were Pesach and
Sukkos. Pesach brought a greater number of pilgrims to Jerusalem;
but it was far more interesting and joyous to make the
pilgrimage at Sukkos, that holiday being much richer in parades
and ceremonials. Besides, one felt more free at Sukkos. The
festival had a joyous outlook and invited to revelry. Especially
joyous and unrestrained were the Jewish peasants, who had by then
finished the year's agricultural toil; they had gathered the
fruits of the fields and orchards and were waiting for God to
send the winter rains, to create again a world of green on the
now barren, brown earth.
     Those Jews who lived in lands far from Jerusalem were
gratified if fate gave them the opportunity to make the
pilgrimage once in a lifetime. Jews who lived closer to the holy
city made the pilgrimage at least once a year, but those who
lived fairly close to Jerusalem came three times a year, for all
three great festivals, especially for Pesach and Sukkos. It is
reported that the town of Ludd was entirely deserted at Sukkos,
every man, woman, and child, having gone off to Jerusalem; no
doubt this also occurred at Pesach.
     When a Jew from afar wanted to make the pilgrimage to
Jerusalem he had to find a group to go with him. Traveling alone
was dangerous, as many robbers infested the countryside despite
the fact that the Roman government policed the road. Pilgrims
never went to the holy city alone; from every direction they made
their way in caravans.
     Even during the dry season, in which Sukkos fell, the roads
were in bad condition. Difficulties always arose, here a stream
to ford, there a cleft in the earth to cross, in a third place a
swamp to wade through. A few of the roads were good, especially
the one that connected Babylonia with Palestine. There were, here
and there, stretches of road built by the Romans, who are famous
to this day for their road building. But one had to pay toll on
these roads, and the people would have preferred to do without
both the roads and the tax.
 
     The Babylonian Jews came in great masses to Jerusalem,
thousands of them for each festival. They would meet at two
cities, Nahardea and Nisibis, leaving in huge caravans, carrying
with them the head tax for the Temple sent by those Mesopotamian
Jews who were unable to make the pilgrimage themselves.
     The trip from Babylonia to Jerusalem usually took two weeks,
and Babylonia was close to Palestine compared to some of the
countries from which pilgrims came. Many traveled from the
western edges of the Mediterranean Sea, making the pilgrimage by
boat. There were some rich Jews who drove in chariots; others
rode to the holy city on donkeys and camels, especially those who
brought merchandise to sell in Jerusalem. Most of the pilgrims
came on foot, for it was considered more meritorious to make the
pilgrimage that way. It is told that the famous Hillel made the
pilgrimage from Babylonia to Palestine entirely on foot.


On to Jerusalem

     It is the period before Sukkos. In many towns and cities,
near to and far from Jerusalem, pious Jews gather to make the
pilgrimage to the holy city. As they prepare for the journey,
they are filled with pious longings and can hardly wait for the
day when they will really find themselves in God's city, marching
in festive parade to the Temple, dancing and singing hymns of
praise to God. Especially eager and impatient are those who are
making the pilgrimage for the first time; they have heard so much
about the beauty of Jerusalem, of its scholars and sages, of the
wonderful ceremonials in Herod's Temple; they are filled with a
longing to walk the streets, to enter the gates, to dine in the
taverns, and to be a part of the throbbing life of this great
city.
     The pilgrims start at last for the main city of the region,
which is the starting point of the pilgrimage. They carry staffs
in their hands; sandals cover their feet; their shoulders bear
waterskins and food containers. Many carry money for the second
tithe; others carry baskets of belated "first-fruits" to offer up
to God in the Temple.
     They gather before the gates of the city. One man is elected
leader. He stands before the caravan and calls out, "Arise ye,
and let us go up to Zion, to the House of our God." He sets out
and the caravans follow. The people are in an exalted mood. They
are on their way to the gates of Zion, which "God loves more than
all the dwellings of Jacob." Their hearts are full and they
express the intensity of their feeling by singing Psalms:

"How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts!
My soul yearneth, yea, even pineth, for the courts of the Lord:
My heart and my flesh sing for joy unto the living God."

     It grows warm; the way is hard and full of obstacles; the
pious travelers are exhausted; yet they pay no heed to their
aching muscles. For they travel to the House of God; and "it is
better to spend one day in God's courts than a thousand days
elsewhere." 
     The roads of Palestine resound with pious song. More and
more groups of pilgrims join forces and greater and greater
becomes the enthusiasm of the travelers. They meet peasants from
the countryside around Jerusalem, driving oxen to be sacrificed
in the Temple, the horns of the cattle bedecked with flowers.
They are almost there! Pipers lead the procession and the
pilgrims march to music.


Entering the City

     The pilgrims approach the holy city. From the hilltops the
towers and roofs of Jerusalem are visible. They look upon the
city and sing:

"As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, So the Lord is round
about His people, From this time forth and forever."

     Arriving finally at the gates of Jerusalem, again they sing:

"I rejoiced when they said unto me: Let us go unto the House of
the Lord. Our feet are standing, Within thy gates, O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem that art builded, As a city that is compact together;
Whither the tribes went up, even the tribes of the Lord,
As a testimony unto Israel, To give thanks unto the name of the
Lord. For there were set thrones for judgment, The thrones of the
House of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper
that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within
thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sakes I will now
say, 'Peace be within thee.' For the sake of the House of the
Lord our God I will seek thy good." 

     The Temple is now clearly visible to the pilgrims. Golden
plates with which it is covered glisten in the sun and the white
marble dazzles their eyes; they are hypnotized into silence as
they view the House of God, the goal of their travels.
     Representatives of the holy city are present at the gate to
welcome the countless number of pilgrims. They come from many
lands, and they speak various languages and dialects, but they
are all brethren, children of the same folk, and Jerusalem is,
for all of them, the holy city.


In Jerusalem

     The weather is balmy and since there is no fear of rain,
very few pilgrims make their way to the taverns of the city. Why
be confined to a house? An open booth is enough. Wherever there
is a bit of room, in the courtyards, in the squares, in empty
lots, even on the roofs of houses, booths are hastily constructed
of green branches with leaves intertwined.
     All Jerusalem seems covered with green branches and fruit.
Wherever one turns one sees palm leaves, olive branches, odorous
myrtle, fragrant willow, and other leafy twigs and branches, from
which hang citrous fruits. Even the streets are adorned with
fruit. And through the adorned streets and squares of the holy
city move thousands of people, each man carrying with him a
lulov, a ceremonial branch of palm leaves. No man is seen during
this festival without a lulov grasped firmly in his hand. The
more wealthy and aristocratic Jew has his lulov tied with a
golden ribbon.
     All are happy; every face bears a smile. In the open places
groups gather, singing and dancing. To some, however, the
festival is an occasion for reflection. Among the pilgrims there
are many proselytes. The serious Jew, seeing their whole-hearted
adoption of Jewish ways, wonders whether the time is not at hand
for the fulfillment of the words of the prophet, who said that a
time would come when "every one that is left of all the nations
... shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord
of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles (Sukkos)." (Zech
14)
     
     The pilgrims are occupied every moment of the time. He that
wishes to observe all the ceremonies and services of the festival
has not time to close an eye; there is barely time to eat. The
very first thing in the morning the ceremony of pouring the
libation of water upon the altar is held, and the last ceremony
at night, the torch dance, continues almost till dawn. Sleep must
be put off for a time. But who comes to Jerusalem to sleep?


Libation o f Water

     At last, it is the morning of the first day of Sukkos. Every
day, after the burning of the daily sacrifice, a libation of wine
is poured on the altar. But during Sukkos there is also a
libation of water, with special ceremonies that all wish to see.
     A merry throng gathers for the procession from the Mount of
the Temple down to the spring of Shiloah. Leading the procession
is a priest bearing a large golden ewer, in which he draws the
water to be poured on the altar. He returns to the Temple and
comes to the Water Gate which leads to the inner court. A great
crowd awaits him there and greets him with joy. Priests carrying
silver trumpets blow the ceremonial calls, t'ki-ob, t'ru-oh,
t'ki-oh, and other priests chant the words of the Prophet, "With
joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation." 
     At the same time another group of priests goes to Moza, a
place near the city, to gather long willow branches which they
place alongside the altar, with their points inward. The priest
bearing the golden ewer of water marches into the inner court of
the Temple, followed by the crowd, which joins the even greater
assembly already in the court. The morning sacrifice has already
been burned. The priest with the ewer proceeds to the altar,
above which stand two containers made of silver, one for water
and one for wine. Each of these containers has a narrow spout
which is trained on the altar. The priest holds the ewer of water
above the container and is about to pour. Many of the assembled
multitude call out, asking him to raise his hand still higher, so
that they can see that he is really pouring the water upon the
altar, and not upon the ground.
     After the libation the priests with the trumpets again blow
three calls, t'ki-oh, t'ru-oh, t'ki-oh, and the ceremonial
procession begins. Around the altar circles the long line of
priests, bearing the willow branches. The Levites stand in choir
formation and sing the Psalms of Praise. When they come to the
words, "We beseech Thee, O Lord, save now! We beseech Thee, O
Lord, make us now to prosper!" the entire congregation gathered
in the inner court raises the palm branches and twirls them in
the air, joining the Levites and reciting in a great chorus: "We
beseech Thee, O Lord, save now! We beseech Thee, O Lord, make us
now to prosper!" Were one looking down from above it would seem
that not men but a forest of palm trees is shaking in the wind
and asking the aid of God.


Afternoon in the Temple

     When this ceremony is finished it is time for the Musaf
sacrifice which is added on festivals. Later in the afternoon
comes the regular second daily sacrifice. In addition to these
standard sacrificial ceremonies countless special sacrifices are
offered all day long by the pilgrims, either free will offerings
or according to vows made. So throughout the day, there is great
ado and bustle on the Mount of the Temple and the priests in
charge know no rest. So great is the demand made upon them that
during the festival every priest in the country is stationed in
Jerusalem.

     The sacrificial ceremonies, however, are not the only things
these pilgrims, who made the long trip to Jerusalem, came to see.
They wander, singly and in groups, through the colonnades of the
Temple. They stop to listen to a caustic debate between a group
of Pharisees and a group of Sadducees, or they pause to hear
expositions of the Torah as propounded by the great sages, the
disciples of Hillel and Shammai. They find Jews belonging to
various sects, observing ceremonies that differ from those of
other Jews, but these sectarians also consider Jerusalem the holy
city and come to serve God in the Temple. It is interesting to
hear and see all these things and the pilgrims barely take time
to eat hasty meals outside, so eager are they to rush back to the
Temple.


The Torch Dance

     The most interesting and joyous ceremonial of the festival
is still to come, the fire-observance with its torch dance, which
takes place at night in the Court of the Women. This ceremony is
called Simchas Bes Hashoevoh, the festivity of the water-drawing,
and it is said that he who has not witnessed it has not seen what
real festivity is.
     Evening has come. The great Court of the Women is crowded
with people, ready for the celebration. Above, on the roof of the
colonnades that encircle the court, galleries have been built for
the women; below them are the men. In the center of the court
burn great golden menorahs, set on bases that are fifty yards
high. Each menorah has four branches, which terminate in huge
cups into which oil is poured. Four ladders are placed against
each menorah and four young priests mount them and pour oil into
the cups to keep the wicks burning. (The wicks were made from the
worn-out garments of the priests.) The light of these menorahs
attains such intensity that all Jerusalem is lit up by them.
 
     The lights flare up, higher and still higher; the sound of
flutes is heard. Men gather in the spacious court, fine men, the
choice men of Jerusalem. They bear torches in their hands and
they dance, waving the torches, throwing them in the air and
catching them again. And again and again! Others stand on tiptoe
and bend their heads down to the ground, rising again without
getting off their toes. These are dancers! And songs arise. One
sings:

"Blessed be our youth
That hath not shamed our later years."

Another sings:

"Blessed be our later years That atoned for our youth."

A third sings:

"Blessed be he who hath not sinned; And he who sinned and
repented, He is forgiven." 

     It is late in the night. The dance goes on. On the fifteen
steps that lead from the Court of the Women to the Court of the
Laymen stand Levites, bearing harps, cymbals, flutes, trumpets,
and other instruments; they play and as they play they sing the
Psalms of Ascents.
     It is almost morning. The Levites have retired. The
congregation chants Psalm after Psalm. At the top of the flight
of stairs stand two priests, with silver trumpets in their hands.
Suddenly a rooster crows. It is the signal for which the priests
have been waiting. They blow the three calls, t'ki-oh, t'ru-oh,
t'ki-oh. They march down ten steps and blow again, t'ki-oh,
t'ru-oh, t'ki-oh. They march down all the way and, blowing a
third time, they march across the court to the eastern gate.

     They turn and, with their backs to the gate, recite, "Our
forefathers stood on this spot with their backs to God's house
and with their faces to the east and worshiped the sun - but we
turn to God and our eyes always turn to God." 

     And now, as the dawn of day appears, the gates of the Temple
are opened and the assembled congregation goes home.


The Festival Ends

     These ceremonies are repeated every day during the festival,
and always before a great congregation. On the morning of the
seventh day, however, the priests march around the altar seven
times instead of just once. And on that day they beat the earth
with their willow branches. This is the official end of Sukkos
and the children seize and dismember the lulovim and eat the
citrons.

     The next day is Sh'mini Atseres, the eighth day of
convocation, a special day for concluding the festivities of the
holiday. It is still Sukkos, but without the symbols of that
festival, no sukkoh and no palms or willows.

(No, as Alfred Edersheim, in his work shows, (found on this
Website) this 8th day is a separate festival - distinct from
Sukkos - Keith Hunt)

     The day is almost over and the pilgrims are preparing to
leave. In the Temple the evening sacrifice is being offered. A
host of Jews stand in the court, watching intently to see the
direction in which the smoke from the sacrificial fire will blow.
It is an omen for the coming year. Should the smoke blow to the
north, then the poor are happy and the rich mournful, since this
is an omen of a wet, rainy year; in such a year foodstuffs are
cheap, and the poor people, the consumers, profit. If the smoke
blows south, the poor are sad and the rich merchants happy, for a
dry year means a rise in the cost of food, and the dealers will
profit at the expense of the consumers. If the smoke blows to the
east, then all are pleased. This is a sign of good for all. And
if the smoke turns to the west, all are sad; this foretells a
famine year, when there will be nothing to sell and nothing to
eat.


Sukkos in Later Times

     Sukkos lost much of its brilliance after the destruction of
the second Temple, but it remained the most joyous of Jewish
festivals. The symbols of the festival have been preserved to
this very day.

     In the time of the second Temple, Sukkos was a great
festival even outside of Jerusalem. In all the lands to which the
Jews of that day had wandered Sukkos was a day for sitting in
booths and holding feasts. And after the destruction of the
Temple Jews continued to observe Sukkos with great ceremony in
their synagogues and homes. The palm branch (lulov) and the
citron (esrog) remained Jewish symbols, and to this day Jews
shake the lulov in the synagogue while reciting certain passages
from Hallel. The religious procession has also been retained, but
instead of marching around an altar, the procession winds about a
Torah-scroll, which is held on the bimob, the center platform of
the orthodox synagogue. Even the Simcbas Bes Hasboevoh is
observed, in one form or another, to this day.

     The Jews continued to beat the earth with willow branches on
the seventh day of Sukkos which became known later as Yom
Hoshano, and still later it was given the title, Hoshano Rabboh,
the great day of Hoshanos. This name is derived from the fact
that, during the procession around the altar in the Temple, the
words Hoshioh No (save now) were called out. The two words were
contracted into one Hoshano, and the word became the designation
for the willow branches carried in the hand during the
procession, and also for the day in which the willow branches
played an important role. The prayers which, later in the Middle
Ages, were composed for the procession around the Torah-scroll
were also called Hoshanos because they begin and end with the
word, Hoshano.

     During the Middle Ages Hoshano Rabboh took over more and
more of the traits of the Days of Awe, till it became almost a
second Yom Kippur, from the fourteenth century onward. This Yom
Kippur character of the day is even stronger amongst the S'fardim
(Spanish and Portuguese Jews) than amongst the Ashkenazim (German
and Polish Jews).

     Centuries after the destruction of the Temple a ninth day
was added to Sukkos. This was done in an effort to observe
strictly the "second holiday of the Diaspora,"  thus a second day
was also decreed for Sh'mini Atseres. This extra day was later
(about the tenth century) given the name Simchas Torah, rejoicing
in the Torah, for, during that time it became the universal
custom to finish the cycle of the reading of the Torah on that
day.
     It also became customary to turn at once to the beginning of
the Pentateuch, after finishing the last chapter, and to start
reading the first chapter.
     Through this custom the joyousness of Sukkos lost the last
bond that had tied it to the life of nature and the seasons of
the year. There was still revelry, as in olden times, but the joy
and revelry took on a new meaning. Jews celebrated not because of
the grapes and the other crops, but because of the Torah. The
booth and the lulov were given new interpretations and became no
more than religious symbols.

     During the late Middle Ages the custom developed of taking
all the Torah-scrolls out of the Ark for the procession around
the bimoh (platform). Thus Simchas Torah, the added ninth day,
became in the course of time the merriest day of Sukkos and the
Simchas Torah procession became an interesting folk-observance in
which all, men and women, both the aged and the young, take part.

     In our own century, among Reform Jews, the observance of
Sukkos as a harvest festival has been re-instituted, in a new and
symbolic form. A small sukkoh is erected on the platform inside
the synagogue and sukkoh, pulpit, and platform are decorated with
fruits and flowers. On Sukkos a procession of children enters the
synagogue, singing songs of praise. The leaders of the procession
carry the four traditional Sukkos plants, citron, palm, myrtle,
and willow. The other children are divided into classes and
groups, each group carrying a specific fruit or vegetable. Thus,
the old motif of Sukkos as a harvest festival has been added to
the newer religious aspect.

                          ......................


To be continued with "Sukkos in Eastern Europe"

It seems that the Jews have lost the sight of the meaning of this
Feast - the coming Messiah Kingdom of God on earth; or at least
it is not at the front of the celebration of this Feast, as it
should be. The prophetic meaning should be the greatest
rejoicing, and then secondly the thankfulness of the harvest
festival to the Lord. Both combined into one Feast, makes this
feast of Tabernacles truly a happy festival of rejoicing.

Keith Hunt


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