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Navigating the 2023 Jewish Holiday Season: Dates, Traditions, and Impact

In 2023, the fall Jewish holiday season kicks off in the middle of September and continues into early October, bringing a series of significant celebrations that hold deep cultural and religious significance for the Jewish community. These holidays not only mark moments of reflection and joy but may also have an impact on students’ academic commitments, especially those with assignments and tests due on Mondays.

The Major Jewish Holidays in 2023-24

  • Rosh Hashana
    • Begins at sundown on Friday, September 15
    • Ends at sundown on Sunday, September 17
  • Yom Kippur
    • Begins at sundown on Sunday, September 24
    • Ends at sundown on Monday, September 25
  • First two days of Sukkot
    • Begins at sundown on Friday, September 29
    • Ends at sundown on Sunday, October 1
  • Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah
    • Begins at sundown on Friday, October 6
    • Ends at sundown on Sunday, October 8
  • Passover
    • Begins at sundown on Monday, April 22, 2024
    • Ends at sundown on Monday, April 30, 2024

While each of these holidays has its own unique rituals and traditions, there is a common thread: the observance of restrictions during the evening and daytime hours. Many Jews abstain from using electricity, electronic devices, writing, erasing, and even driving during these holidays. These restrictions mirror those observed weekly during the Jewish Sabbath, from Friday night to Saturday night, by more traditionally observant Jews.

Rosh Hashana: The Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashana, marking the Jewish New Year, will be celebrated from September 15 to September 17, 2023. It involves long worship services in the evenings and mornings, and a festive dinner is a common tradition. Foods like apples and honey, pomegranates, and new fruits symbolize a sweet and fruitful year. Greetings such as “Happy New Year” or “May you be written in the Book of Life” are exchanged, signifying the beginning of the ten-day Season of Repentance leading to Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, falls on Monday, September 25, 2023. It entails a 25-hour fast that begins before sunset the day prior. Communal prayer dominates the evening and day, and people often wish each other “An easy fast” or “A meaningful fast.”

Sukkot: The Feast of Booths

Five days after Yom Kippur, Sukkot, the eight-day holiday of booths, begins on September 29, 2023. Traditionally observant Jews have specific restrictions during the first two and last two days of Sukkot. The holiday commemorates the Israelites’ 40-year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land and involves dwelling in temporary sukkahs, symbolic of life’s fragility and dependence on God. The MIT Hillel sukkah is open for visits and welcomes all, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, to experience this tradition.

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

Following Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah mark the culmination of the holiday season. These two holidays also have specific restrictions. Shemini Atzeret serves as a “cap” to the week of festivities, and Simchat Torah involves the completion and immediate restart of the annual cycle of Torah readings with joyful processions and celebrations.

Why Do Jewish Holiday Dates Change?

Jewish holidays follow a lunar calendar, causing them to shift over a three to four-week period relative to the solar Gregorian calendar. However, Passover always falls in the spring, so leap months are occasionally added to keep it within the desired timeframe. Jewish holidays typically begin in the evening, before sunset, and extend until nightfall one or two days later.

As this year’s Jewish holiday season approaches, it’s an opportunity for reflection, renewal, and connection with tradition.