or סֻכּוֹת sukkōt, booths) or Succoth is an
8-day Biblical pilgrimage festival, also known as the Feast of Booths, the Feast of
Tabernacles, or Tabernacles. In Judaism it is one of the most important Jewish
holidays. The term also refers to a location referred to in the Hebrew Bible.
The word sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew sukkah, meaning booth; a sukkah can
specifically refer to the booth or hut constructed for the celebration of sukkot.
In Israel (and among Reform Jews), the first day is celebrated as a full holiday. Among
other Diaspora Jews, the first two days are celebrated as full holidays. The following
five or six days are known as Chol Hamo'ed—weekdays
that are part of the festival. The seventh day is called Hoshanah Rabbah and has a
special observance of its own. The last day, the eighth (eighth and ninth outside
Israel), is celebrated as a separate holiday with its own special prayers and customs
Sukkot commemorates the life of the Israelites in the desert during their
journey to the promised land, the Land of Israel. During their wandering in the desert
they lived in booths (sukkot). The Torah directs Jews to use four species of plants
to celebrate the holiday: the lulav (palm branch), the etrog (lemon-like citron),
myrtle, and willow. The etrog is handled separately; the other three species are
bound together and are collectively referred to as the lulav (thus the four are often
called "lulav and egrog").
Hoshanah Rabbah - the seventh day of Sukkot
- הושענא רבא
Shemini Atzeret - the eighth day of Sukkot -
Simchat Torah - the finale of Sukkot - שמחת
In Israel (and among Reform Jews), Sukkot is eight days long, including Shemini Atzeret.
Among other Jews outside Israel (the Diaspora), Sukkot (including Shemini Atzeret)
is nine days long. The second day of Shemini Atzeret (ninth day total) is observed as
Simchat Torah. In Israel, the festivities and customs associated with Simchat Torah
are combined with the other observances of Shemini Atzeret on a single day.
In prayer services at synagogues, the very last portion of the Torah is read on Simchat
Torah. In order to teach that Torah study never ends, the beginning of the Torah (from
the beginning of Genesis) is read immediately after. Services are
unconventionally joyous, and humorous deviations from the standard service are
allowed, and even expected.
In the Hebrew calendar, the first day of Sukkot is on the 15th day of Tishrei,
considered the first month of the Jewish year.
The holiday in the Bible
Sukkot is the third of the pilgrimage festivals on which
all Israelite males were required to make pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. The
celebration of this festival begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei).
In the Bible Sukkot lasts seven days plus an additional eighth day of Shemini Atzeret;
but in the course of time its duration was extended to nine days in Diaspora
communities. (This was due to the fact that a new month had to be declared in Jerusalem
when the moon was sighted, and there was worry that the news might not travel fast
enough for those outside Israel to receive it in a timely fashion. For this reason,
most Jewish holidays were celebrated on both possible days in case of doubt.) In the
Bible it is called:
The Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. xxiii. 34; Deut. xvi. 13, 16; xxxi. 10; Zech. xiv. 16,
18, 19; Ezra iii. 4.; II Chron. viii. 13)
The Feast of Ingathering (Ex. xxiii. 16, xxxiv. 22)
The Feast (I Kings viii. 2; Ezek. xlv. 23; II Chron. vii. 8)
The Feast of the Lord (Lev. xxiii. 39; Judges xxi. 19).
In later Hebrew literature it is called chag ("[the] festival")
It was agricultural in origin; this is evident from the name the "Feast of
Ingathering," from the ceremonies accompanying it, and from the season and
occasion of its celebration: "At the end of the year when you gather in your labors out
of the field" (Ex. xxiii. 16); "after you have gathered in from your thrashing-floor
and from your wine-press" (Deut. xvi). It was a thanksgiving for the fruit harvest
(comp. Judges ix. 27). Coming as it did at the completion of the harvest, it was
regarded as a general thanksgiving for the bounty of nature in the year that had
The seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshanah rabbah. While the name arose
comparatively late, the idea of this day as distinct from the rest of Sukkot may date
back to the days of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The joyousness of the Feast of Booths, as it gathered around the "drawing of water" and
developed in music and torchlight
processions (Suk. iv. 5), attained its
height on the seventh day. Many of the
exercises were in conflict with the Sabbath
or even with a feast-day (Suk. v. 1, "the
flute-playing lasts five or six days"); but
although with the destruction of the Temple
nearly all these exercises had fallen into
disuse, yet in framing the new Calendar,
about 361, the patriarch Hillel and his
advisers deemed Hosha'na Rabbah so important
and so much in conflict with the Sabbath
that, to prevent Hosha'na Rabbah falling on
a Sabbath, they would not allow the New-Moon
of Tishrei to occur on a Sunday. All the
ceremonies or services of praise or prayer
which belonged to the other middle days of
the feast while the Temple stood, or which
belong to them now, such as Hallel and the
swinging of the "lulav," or the sitting in
the booth, belong also to Hoshana Rabbah.
The bunch of five willow-twigs in no way
supersedes the two willow-twigs in the lulav.
Abudarham speaks of the custom of reading
the Torah on the night of Hosha'na Rabbah,
out of which has grown the modern custom of
meeting socially on that night and reading
Deuteronomy, Psalms, and passages from the
Zohar, of reciting some Kabbalistic prayers,
and of eating refreshments.
Before the regular morning service among
Sephardim (Jews of Spanish descent), prayers
known as "selihot" (forgiveness) are
recited. (These are the same prayers recited
before the "High Holidays".) In Amsterdam
and in a few places in England, America, and
elsewhere they also sound the shofar in
connection with the processions. (Likewise;
this is presumably in recognition of Hoshana
Rabba as the end of the high holiday season
when the world is judged for the next year.)
In both rituals, in the early part of the
morning service, the Sabbath psalms are
inserted, and the fuller "kedushah" is
recited in "Mussaf" (the "additional"
service) just as on true festival days.
After this prayer all the scrolls are taken
out of the Ark (on the six preceding days
only one or two; none on the Sabbath); the
reader, in making the circuit round the
platform, is followed by men bearing
scrolls; after them come others carrying the
lulav. On this and the preceding days they
begin: "Hoshana! for Thy sake, our God!
Hoshana! for Thy sake, our Creator!" etc.
Then come the seven processions (on the
other days of Sukkot, there is only once).
The compositions chanted in these are quite
different in the two rituals, and much
changed from those given in the Mahzor Vitry
(dated 4968 = 1208); the Sephardim refer
successively to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
Moses, Aaron, Phinehas, and David. Later on
the lulav is laid aside, every worshiper
takes up a small bunch of willows, and all
join in the hymn, "kol mebasser, mebasser
ve-omer" (A voice brings news, brings news
and says), expressing thus their Messianic
The compositions recited during or after the
processions generally consist of twenty-two
versicles each, alphabetically arranged, "Hoshana"
being repeated or implied after each.
The Torah (five books of Moses) directs Jews
to use four species of plants to celebrate
the holiday: The Etrog (citron, a large
yellow citrus fruit), Lulav (palm branch),
myrtle branches, and willow branches. The
etrog is handled separately, while the other
three species are bound together, and are
collectively referred to as the lulav.
The Tosher Rebbe of Montreal, Canada shaking
the four species while praying HallelA
commandment in the book of Leviticus states
"And you shall take you on the first day the
fruit of goodly (meaning of Hebrew
uncertain, but modern Hebrew "citrus")
trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of
thick trees, and willows of the brook" (Lev.
xxiii. 40). The use to which these branches
are to be put is not indicated; this gave
rise to divergent interpretations at a later
time. The Sadducees and Karaites maintained
that they were meant for building the booth,
as would appear from Neh. viii. 14-18, while
their opponents contended that they were to
be carried in the procession. Originally
these branches may have been used in the
festal dances, when it would be natural for
those taking part in them to adorn
themselves with sprigs and garlands; and
here also their purpose was probably to be
carried in the hand as was later the lulav.
Jewish observance after the exile
After the Jews returned to Israel from exile
in Babylon, they resumed the observance of
Sukkot. Mention of its observance is made in
Ezra iii. 4; and a description is presented
in Neh. viii. 14-18. Here it is said that
the feast was observed in obedience to the
command to dwell in booths. The people
gathered "olive-branches, and branches of
wild olive, and myrtle-branches, and
palm-branches, and branches of thick trees,
to make booths, as it is written," and they
"made themselves booths, every one upon the
roof of his house, and in their courts, and
in the courts of the house of God, and in
the broad place of the water gate, and in
the broad place of the gate of Ephraim".
While no mention is here made of the
sacrifices, the dwelling in booths is given
special prominence, the writer adding that
"since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun
unto that day had not the children of Israel
done so" (Neh. viii. 17). The inference is
that with the transfer of the festival to
the Temple, the ancient practise had lost
all significance, until revived with the
historical meaning, and referred to the
tents in which Israel had dwelt in the
wilderness. According to Nehemiah's account
of the celebration, the Law was read every
day; the eighth day was duly celebrated as a
According to Zech. xiv. 16-19, Sukkot in the
messianic era will become a universal
festival, and all the surrounding nations
will make pilgrimages annually to Jerusalem
to celebrate the feast there. (A modern
interpretation of this resulted in a recent
holiday celebrated in Jerusalem by non-Jews,
"The Feast of Tabernacles".) Sukkot is here
associated with the granting of rain, an
idea further developed in later Jewish
As a name for a location
The name sukkot appears in a number of
places in the Hebrew Bible as a location.
It is the first encampment of the Israelites
after leaving Ramses (Exodus 12:37); the
civil name of Pithom.
It is a city on the east of Jordan river,
identified with Tell Dar'ala, a high mound,
a mass of debris, in the plain north of
Jabbok and about one mile from it (Josh.
13:27). Here Jacob (Gen 32:17, 30; 33:17),
on his return from Padan-aram after his
interview with Esau, built a house for
himself and made "booths" for his cattle.
of Sukkot refused to afford help to Gideon
and his men when they followed one of the
bands of the fugitive Midianites after the
great victory at Gilboa. After routing this
band, Gideon on his return visited the
rulers of the city with severe punishment.
"He took the elders of the city, and thorns
of the wilderness and briers, and with them
he taught the men of Succoth" (Judg.
place were erected the foundries for casting
the metal-work for the temple (1 Kings