Keith Hunt - Sukkos in Custom and Ceremony   Restitution of All Things
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Sukkos in Custom and Ceremony

The basic truth and then ...

                           FEAST OF TABERNACLES

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


Origin of the Sukkoh

     The Sukkoh is the main feature of the Sukkos festival. It is
from the sukkoh that the festival took its name. But the origin
of the practise of living in booths during the festival is not

(It is if you take what the Bible tells us - God taught Isarael
to do so, as is found in Leviticus 23 - Keith Hunt)

     The Pentateuch tells us that the sukkoh is a reminder of
ancient days, when the Jews wandered in the desert and lived in
tents. This is, however, a forced interpretation and was evolved
in later times. If the Sukkoh was really connected with the
Exodus, then Pesach would be the time for dwelling in booths.
Besides, the Jews resided in tents during their wanderings in the
desert, and there is quite a difference between a tent and a
booth. The tent of the desert Bedouin consists of a sheet of
goatskin, hung over poles driven into the earth. The main feature
of a sukkoh is the open roof, which is covered with branches and

(Of course we find instructions in Moses about when Israel was
living in the Promised Land, but the principle is the same - and
the heart of the Feast could still be observed in the wandering
in the wilderness. Some people like to split hairs, so as the
Bible to them is not inspired - Keith Hunt)
     In addition to the reason for dwelling in booths as given in
the Pentateuch, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, Philo,
evolved a new meaning for the Sukkoh. He said that it was erected
to bring evidence of misfortune at a time of good fortune, and a
reminder of poverty to those who were wealthy. Maimonides gave
the same interpretation for the Sukkoh. 
     Still other thoughts and ideas were read into the sukkoh. It
was said, for instance, that Jews abided in the Sukkoh to show
the temporary quality and the uncertainty of Jewish life in
general. The sukkoh, the preachers said, reminds us that Jews
live everywhere for only a little while, as in the booths;
they wander eternally from country to country. But these thoughts
that were later bound up with the sukkoh give us no clue to the
scientific understanding of its origin and the connection it had
in ancient times with the festival.

(The truth of God's word and the meaning of temporal dwellings
and the promise of the age to come, should have always taught
Israel these truths of God's plan on earth and His coming Kingdom
- Keith Hunt)

     It is well first to review what we do know about the sukkoh
in ancient days. In the older, historical books of the Bible no
sukkos are mentioned in the passages which tell of the
celebration of the joyous autumn festival. In those days the
festival did not bear the name Sukkos. The first time we hear
mention of abiding in booths in the historical books of the Bible
is in the Book of Nehemiah, which says that on the first day of
the seventh month Ezra read from the Torah:

"And on the second day were gathered together the heads of
fathers' houses of all the people, the priests, and the Levites,
unto Ezra the scribe, even to give attention to the words of the
Law. And they found written in the Law, how that the Lord had
commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in
booths, in the feast of the seventh month; and that they should
publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem,
saying: 'Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and
branches of wild olive, and myrtle branches, and palm branches,
and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.'
So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves
booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their
courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the broad
place of the water gate, and in the broad place of the gate of
Ephraim. And all the congregation of them that were come back out
of the captivity made booths, and dwelt in the booths; for since
the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the
children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
Also day by day from the first day unto the last day, he read in
the book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days;
and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the

(Now, have you found what was just said as written in the Law,
the law of Moses? The author has passed over it as if it is not
there! Ezra found where it was WRITTEN the Lord commanded Moses
that the people dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh
month! Some people cannot see what their eyes have just moved
over, even if it bit them on the behind - Keith Hunt)
     Here it is stated that when Ezra came from Babylon, sukkos
were built in Jerusalem, made of leaves and branches, and the
Jews dwelt in them during the seven days of the autumn festival;
we are also told that this was an innovation at the time. The
question arises: In what way was it a novelty?

(An innovation of the time! I do not think so! Israel dwelt in
booths of some kind, in the feast of the seventh month, even
under Moses - so it is written, as you have just read - Keith

     It is impossible for us to assume that we deal here with an
entirely new thing, something never known before. New customs are
not introduced; old customs are rather reformed and
re-interpreted. There are three possibilities before us:

1. We can assume that the novelty spoken of was in the materials
used in the making of the sukkos; in the old days, before the
Babylonian exile, Jews lived, during the festival, in nomadic
tents and, in Ezra's day, it became mandatory to use booths made
of branches.

2. It can also be said that the novelty was in the fact that,
till that time, only certain groups of Jews dwelt in booths. From
the time of Ezra it became a religious precept for all Jews.

3. The third explanation is that in the olden days the custom of
abiding in booths during the festival was practised only by the
Jewish peasants, who erected the sukkos in fields and orchards.
During Ezra's time the custom was also taken over by the Jews of
the towns and cities, who erected their booths on the roofs of
their houses and in the squares of the town.

(Trying to split hairs - it does not matter for the basic trunk
of the tree, exactly what the booths were made of in Moses' time
or Ezra's time. They may have made them of different materials in
and after the time of Ezra, but that does not matter, as much as
the foundational truth of the Festival is concerned - Keith Hunt)

     The basic point, however, is that, in Ezra's time, it became
mandatory to abide in a booth made of branches and leaves during
the autumn festival, and that this law was based on an old
custom. What this old custom was we do not know today. There are
various theories and conjectures regarding this custom, but every
one of them has some flaw, some point that remains unexplained.

     According to one popular theory, the sukkoh originated from
an ordinary shack that was erected in field and orchard during
the time of harvesting the fruit. But this theory leaves two
important questions unanswered. First, how did such an important
Jewish law evolve from the natural practice of dwelling in
booths? Secondly, building a shack and living in it during the
harvest period was an ordinary occurrence; why, then, did it
become a regulation to erect such a booth during the festival
marking the completion of the harvest?

(The author as you should by now see, does not believe in the
inspiration of the Bible, and God giving Israel this Feast from
the beginning of the days of Moses - Keith Hunt)

     There is also a theory that the sukkoh originated from the
booths that were erected by the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to
observe the autumn festival. In this theory there are also flaws.
     In the first place we do not know that the pilgrims of the
olden days erected booths. It seems that they lived in tents
during the time they stayed at the sanctuary. Again, it seems
hardly understandable that from a natural need there should arise
a religious regulation.
     On the whole, we know nothing about the sukkoh in the olden
days, before Ezra. We know only that, beginning with Ezra, the
sukkoh became the main feature of the festival.

(Garbage to that thought and idea. Israel dwelt in booths of some
kind from the beginning of the days of Moses, as it was God who
gave this Feast to Israel to observe in booths, in the seventh
month - Keith Hunt)

     In more recent times a great change in the custom came about
among the Jews who live in the great cities of Europe and
America, where there is no place to erect sukkos. In these cities
there are generally only congregational sukkos, erected by the
synagogue, where, after services, Kiddush is pronounced over
light food and drink.

The Four Species

     We know as little about the lulov and the esrog (the branch
of palm leaves and citron) of ancient days as we do about the
sukkoh. In old days these were obviously used only as materials
with which to build and decorate the sukkoh. This is apparent
from the passages of Nehemiah quoted above. We also know that the
Samaritans and the Karaites always used these materials in that
way. All that is told in the Pentateuch is that Jews are to take
fruit from a "goodly" tree, leaves from the date-palm, branches
from a tree, and willows from a stream, and rejoice with them
before God. But no instructions are given regarding them, as to
whether they should be held in the hand or used to decorate the

     Later, however, we do not know when or through what
circumstances the passage began to be interpreted that, at
Sukkos, Jews are to hold an esrog and a lulov in their hands,
together with three sprigs of myrtle and two willow twigs, as a
festival wreath, and to shake them and point them in all

     This Sukkos bouquet is thus made up of four species, and
Jews have read all sorts of meanings into them. The oldest
explanation is that the four species are a talisman for rain.
Jews show God that exactly as these four plants cannot exist
without water, so the entire world cannot exist without rain.
     Later, further meanings were attached to the lulov and
esrog; for instance, that the four species represent the three
patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and Joseph; or that they
represent the four classes into which Jews are divided. The
citron has both taste and aroma, and represents those Jews who
have knowledge of the Torah and do good deeds; the palm, or
rather the date that grows on it, has taste, but no aroma, and
represents those Jews who know the Torah, but do not practice
good deeds; the myrtle has aroma, but no taste, and represents
those Jews who perform good deeds, but do not know the Torah;
while the willow has neither taste nor aroma and represents that
group of Jews who neither know the Torah nor do good deeds. There
was also an interpretation that the lulov is the symbol for the
backbone, the citron for the heart, the myrtle for the eye, and
the willow for the mouth.

(All may have types and meanings which God allows us to have to
learn His ways of life. The obvious meaning of this Feast is the
Kingdom age of bounty and blessing to come to earth, and we are
pilgrims wandering through this earth waiting for that eternal
home to come. It is also a harvest Thanksgiving Feast for all the
bounty God has given us. The present blessings a type of the
future Kingdom blessings and secure eternal home - Keith Hunt)

Beating Willow Branches

     Beating the ground with willow branches (Hoshanos) is an old
custom that played a great role in the Sukkos ceremonial far back
in the time of the second Temple. The Jews of the period were
such staunch observers of the custom of beating the earth at the
sides of the altar with willow branches that they did it even on
the Sabbath. Later, however, when the Jewish calendar was
reformed, it was arranged that the first day of Tishri was never
to fall on Sunday, in order that Hosbano Rabbob would always come
during the week-days and there would be no disturbance of the
custom of Hoshanos.

     The custom is not mentioned in the Pentateuch, and there is
therefore a controversy in the Talmud about its origin. But it
seems that it is a very ancient custom that Jews observed even in
the time of the first Temple. Like many other customs of this
sort, it was not recognized officially as a part of the Jewish
religion, and remained only a custom of the people, a part of the
folk-belief which was not incorporated into the official law
book, the Torah.

     Pouring water on the altar was a related custom. These two
customs had the same motive, both were originally talismans for
an abundant crop in the coming year. Pouring water was a sign of
rain, exactly as eating honey at New Year is an augury of a year
of sweetness; and beating the earth with fresh willow branches
was a talisman for making the earth fertile, because the willow
grows only in moist places, and anything which grows in a damp
place, and is very vigorous, is a symbol of growth and life to
primitive man.

     Only in the olden days, however, was this custom of beating
the earth with reeds of the stream a talisman of fertility. In
time it was incorporated into the Temple ceremonial and it became
a religious ceremony. At that time the willows were beaten on the
earth near the altar, and it was believed that the power to call
forth fertility resided not in the willows, but in God's altar.

(Some things are allowed by God to become part of the overall
Feast; they are neither wrong nor automatically right. You may do
or not do them; the principle is Romans 14. Jesus took the "water
ceremony" on the seventh day of this Feast and used it to bring
forth a greater truth, a spiritual truth, that was greater than
the physical - John 7:37 - Keith Hunt)


     The circling of an object in a religious procession is a
popular Jewish custom. It is done on various occasions. Jews
circle the groom under the wedding canopy; they circle the
cemetery on certain occasions; and there are places where a
procession is made around the coffin of a corpse at a funeral.
This custom of making a circular procession was interpreted in
various ways in later days. The truth, however, is that it is a
very old, primitive custom of ancient days that is found among
all peoples of the earth. It arose from the belief shared by all
peoples in the course of their spiritual development that the
world is full of spirits, and that there are many magic means of
overcoming them.
     One of the best and surest means with which to fight the
spirits, primitive men believed, was through the use of the
circle, what was called and is still known as the "magic ring."
     The closed circle played a great and important part in the
beliefs of people since oldest times. As late as in the Middle
Ages there was strong belief in the magical power of the closed
circle. When a magician of the Middle Ages wanted to prove his
magic, he first drew a circle about himself and sat in it. There,
in the center of the magic ring, he sat as in a fortress, and was
able to do as he pleased with the spirits, without their being
able to reach him. Even the devil, people believed, feared a
closed circle, for were he to enter within the ring he would
become entirely helpless and would have to obey all orders given

(Now, it is true, that you can add to the basic truth, false
ideas taken from the heathen. So careful concern must be taken as
to what and when and where and why, certain rites or ceremonies,
are put within the basic framework of God's Festivals - Keith

     From this practice, too, comes the belief in the
"wishingring" which, when worn on the hand, brings fulfillment of
every wish.
     The custom of the circular procession, of making a circle
around an object, has its origin, then, in this old, primitive
belief which, however, survived, and remained in man's religious
development. As it was originally believed that man could conquer
the spirits with the use of a magic circle, so it was later
believed that man could gain favor with God through the circling
of an object. Man stood in a ring, a circle, and did not release
God until He heard man's prayer and granted it. Such a tale is
told in the Aggadah of the Talmud regarding Honi, the
Circle-drawer, who lived in Jerusalem at the time of the war
between the two Hasmonean brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. He
was nicknamed "the circledrawer" from his habit of making a
circle about himself and then telling God that he would not move
from the spot until his prayer was granted.
     Not only Jews believed that they could have their way with
God through the use of circles, but also the Hindus, the
Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans shared this idea. With all
these peoples it was a popular custom to make processions about
the temples, the altars, and the statues of their gods. One of
the most vital ceremonies of the Arabs consists of circling their
     What happened to all customs happened also to that of the
circular procession. People forgot its original meaning. New
meanings were woven into it and it became a symbolic ceremony, an
important part of the ritual of Sukkos.


Indeed it is so, many false pagan customs and ceremonies, have
been added to the Feasts of the Lord by the Jews. Modern
Christianity has done the same. Over the centuries of time the
Roman Catholic and Protestant churches have introduced, adopted,
and adapted, many pagan customs and ceremonies and traditions,
till today people accept them, not even thinking about from
whence they came, and if they really have anything to do with the
Bible and with God.

Keith Hunt

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