Sukkot – The Feast of Tabernacles

Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) begins on the 15th of Tishrei, the date of the first full moon after the autumnal equinox. (September/October.) This year Sukkot begins the evening of Thursday, September 19th. During this “season of our rejoicing”, the Jewish people eat their meals in a tabernacle or booth, covered with boughs but with the sky showing through in remembrance of the wanderings from Egypt to the Promised Land.

Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) is one of the three Pilgrim festivals ordained by God. People had to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast in the Temple.

“Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread… at the time appointed in the month of Abib… and the Feast of Harvest, the first fruits of your labours which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” Exodus 23:16 (NKJV)

Being an observant Jew, Jesus celebrated Sukkot:

“Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand… Then the Jews sought him (Jesus) at the feast, and said, Where is he? … Now about the midst of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple and taught… On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7: 2,11,14,37-38 (NIV)

A portable sukkah!!

The three pilgrim feasts – Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) have both historical and agricultural significance.

Because Sukkot occurred in the fall harvest, it was also observed as an agricultural event. Prayers for rain were also recited during this holiday. 

In Israel, the first and last days are celebrated as a full holidays (like a Shabbat); The “Eighth Day of Solemn Assembly” is celebrated as Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Law). People are allowed to work during Chol Hamo’ed* (intermediate days), but the festival framework is maintained. Schools are closed, and many families enjoy the holiday together by going on outings, visiting family or entertaining guests in their Sukkah.

Sukkot’s observance involves “dwelling” in the sukkah. The concept of thanksgiving for the harvest remains central, symbolized by the fruits (real or artificial) that decorate the sukkot (one sukkah, two sukkot).

Some say the American Pilgrim fathers were influenced by the Jewish observance of Sukkot, from which Thanksgiving Day came.

The choice fruit (etrog) and palm branches (lulav)

An important symbolic item of the Festival is the Arba’ah Minim* (Four Species). These are held together and waved at different points in the religious services. The four species consist of a lulav (palm branch), etrog (citron), hadasim ( three myrtle twigs) and the aravot (two willow branches). Combined, these are called the Lulav*.

Bible Readings During Sukkot

 The unabridged Hallel (Psalm 113-118) recited each morning.

  • Leviticus 22:26-23:44
  • Numbers 29:12-31
  • Zechariah 14:1-21
  •  1 Kings 8:2-21
  •  Exodus 33:12-34:26

Excerpt used with permission, taken from Remember, Observe, Rejoice, A Guide to the Jewish Feasts, Holidays, Memorial Days and Events by Petra van der Zande and can be purchased by clicking here.