About Jewish & Secular Holidays 101

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Holiday Prayers

Special occasions in Jewish life call for special prayers, both at home and in the synagogue. Among the holiday prayers one is likely to encounter during the course of the year are: Hallel or Psalms of Praise on joyful occasions; Yizkor, or the Memorial Service, in memory of those no longer among us; and Musaf, or the Additional Service, in commemoration of the additional sacrifice offered in the Temple in Jerusalem on certain holidays.

Rosh Chodesh

This is the commemoration of the new moon and is an ancient celebration of the first day of the month. Rosh Chodesh literally means the "head" or first of the month. In modern times it has assumed renewed importance in women’s observance, since women’s lives are more strongly influenced by the changing monthly cycles than are men’s.


In Genesis 2 God rests on the seventh day of creation. In commemoration of God’s creative act Jews have celebrated the seventh day as a day of cessation from labor. However, this is not viewed in Judaism as a passive commemoration, but as an active sanctification of Divine time.

Jews and Secular Holidays

Over the course of the last two thousand or so years, most Jews have lived in the Diaspora, the lands of their dispersion. There they have become loyal citizens of the various lands in which they settled. The celebration of secular or national holidays has been embraced by Jews the world over and is often infused with Jewish values or meaning. However, in the modern world the temptation has also arisen among some to include various semi-secularized holidays of non-Jewish religious origin among those that are celebrated, such as Halloween, although the practice has proven controversial.

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