What are the High Holidays?
Strictly speaking, the High Holidays are Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. However, the High Holiday season extends from the preparatory time of the Month of Elul to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and onwards through Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
The Month of Elul is a time of preparation for the High Holidays. The shofar is blown every morning to awaken the spirit and inspire soul searching to prepare for the High Holidays.
Rosh HaShanah means “Head of the Year” and is known as the Jewish New Year and the Day of Judgment. At Rosh HaShanah everyone’s name is inscribed favorably or unfavorably in the Book of Life. However, the book is not closed until Yom Kippur and The Days of Awe are meant to work towards changing ones fate to favorable. Traditions include sounding the shofar 100 times and eating foods such as apples dipped in honey.
The Days of Awe are ten days starting with Rosh HaShanah and ending with Yom Kippur. It is the time for the most serious introspection of oneself. We work at seeking forgiveness from all we have wronged to ensure our names will be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It is observed by restraining from all pleasures including a 25-hour fast. This day is the final appeal to G-d to be written favorably in the Book of Life. Through intensive prayer we ask G-d to accept our penance and seal our verdict for a year of life, health and happiness.
Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah and technically not the High Holidays, but are considered part of the season and flow naturally from the Days of Awe.
Sukkot means “booths” and refers to the dwelling the Israelites has during the 40 years of wandering in the desert and commemorates this period. It is celebrated by constructing a sukkah outside your home and eating and sleeping in it for the duration of the seven day holiday.
Shemini Atzeret means “to gather on the eighth” and occurs the day after Sukkot. On this day we would leave the Sukkah, but G-d has enjoyed Himself so much that he asks us to say just one more day.
Simchat Torah means “rejoicing in the Torah” and is the day after Shemini Atzeret. On this day we complete the annual cycle of weekly Torah portions. The last portion of the Torah is read and the first portion in Genesis to show the never ending cycle of the Torah.