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 passed.
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 hopes.
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 solemn
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 literature.
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.
The princes 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. 8:13-16).
At this place were erected the foundries for casting the metal-work for the
temple (1 Kings 7:46).
See also: Jewish holidays