The Meaning of Jewish Holidays

Why are Jewish holidays different from all other holidays?


Adapted with permission from Holidays: Judaism in a Nutshell,  Jewish Literacy Foundation.

In Japan, February 3 marks the Setsubun bean-throwing festival. September 28 is Confucius’ birthday in Taiwan, and October 19 is Ascension of Mohammed Day in Indonesia. Independence Day is May 14 in Paraguay, March 25 in Greece, April 31 in Trinidad and Tobago, and July 4 in the United States.

And what self-respecting list of holidays would be complete without Bastille Day, Soweto Day, Kwanzaa, Passover, and Easter?

jewish holidaysThe very concept of a holiday seems to touch a basic, universal chord. After all, everybody is into them. If you were to show ten people the above list and ask the question, “What’s a holiday?” most would probably tell you that they are cultural or religious days that are designated to commemorate something significant in that particular religion or society. And by-and-large they would be correct, with one exception: Passover [and any other Jewish festival].

A Mo’ed Is Not Exactly a Holiday

In the Jewish concept, while holidays may appear to be commemorations of historical events, in fact they are something altogether different. The Hebrew word the Torah uses for holiday is mo’ed, and mo’ed means “rendezvous” [an appointed time]. Every mo’ed, every Jewish holiday, is a meeting of sorts. In fact, Jewish holidays are multidimensional meetings…..

Jewish holidays are rendezvous that incorporate not only the dimensions of time and place, but spiritual dimensions that go to the heart of the Jewish understanding of history, the soul, God, and what it means to be a Jew. To appreciate the depth and import of these holiday-rendezvous events, it is necessary to first take a look at the primary components that converge to form the experiential framework of what we are used to calling holidays, but as we will see, are actually mo’ed, points of rendezvous that bring us to the threshold of the deepest aspects of our existence. Let’s take a look:

Rendezvous with Who?

Perhaps the most seminal Jewish perspective on God, and one that shapes the entirety of how Jews relate to God in general and the holidays in particular, is this: Since God is wholly complete and lacks nothing, it can’t be that His act of creation was motivated by a need, because a need implies a lack, and He has no lackings. Creation, then, is not for the Creator, rather, it is for us, His creations. If creation is for us, what this implies is that existence is for our benefit; in other words, existence is good for us….

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Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf is the award-winning author of eleven books, including the Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit and Judaism In A Nutshell: ISRAEL.

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