Belief in Brief: Sukkot

Sunday, October 4, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – The yearly Jewish celebration of Sukkot is a festival of thanksgiving for the fall harvest. It is also meant to commemorate and reflect on the Jewish wanderings for 40 years after the Exodus. Sukkot means “booths” or “huts” in Hebrew.


Sukkot began as a festival to celebrate a good harvest and thank God for the community’s good fortune. A part of the harvest’s crop would be brought to the temple in Jerusalem and offered as a sacrifice to God.

Later, Sukkot also became a festival that recognized the plight of the Israelites who wandered the deserts for 40 years after the Exodus in Egypt. The Exodus was when the Jews left Egypt and were freed from enslavement. With the guidance of Moses, the Jews made their way home, according to Jewish scripture.

The sukkah is a symbol of the huts in which the Israelites lived during this time. Today, it can be recreated using any material as long as the structure has at least three walls. The sukkah is also a reminder of God’s protection of the Israelites during the time they were wandering


Traditionally, Sukkot is celebrated five days after the holiday Yom Kippur. For Jews living outside of Israel, the festival is usually celebrated for eight days. Families enter the sukkah and recite a prayer and blessing over their meal. Oftentimes, because hospitality is a custom of Sukkot, Jewish families will invite guests to eat the special meal with them. Jewish families try to spend as much time as they can inside the sukkah during the holiday.

One rule of the sukkah’s construction is that it be recreated to have a roof that allows all sorts of weather (rain, snow, etc.) to leak through. This is meant to show how the Israelite’s huts were built and to emphasize that God’s protection does not mean a protection from everything in life.

This year, Sukkot began Saturday. The Simchat Torah marks the end of the festival, which occurs on the ninth day after the beginning of Sukkot. It signifies the end of the fifth book in the Torah and the beginning of Genesis. A ceremony marks the occasion by taking down the Torah scrolls and parading them around the congregation seven times.

Congregation Beth Shalom will mark the holiday with a service at 6:30 p.m. on Friday that includes music and dancing. Part of the service also will be a consecration service for the kindergarten children who begin their formal Jewish education.

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