By: Emil G. Hirsch
The Hebrews designated a festival by the word "ḥag" (the Arabic "ḥajj"), originally implying a choragic rhythmic procession around the shrine of an idol or an altar (see Wellhausen, "Skizzen und Vorarbeiten," iii. 106); but later, without specific reference to this usage, connoting a day or season of joy ("ḥag" and "simḥah" are correlatives; comp. Amos viii. 10; Deut.xvi. 14). As fixed festivals occurred at appointed times, they came to be known as "mo'adim" or "mo'ade
Traces of old popular festivals indicative of the manner of their observance show that sacrifices were an important feature, usually leading up to feasting (eating and drinking; see Ex. xxxii. 6). Marriage games (see Dancing), probably imitative of former marriage by capture (Judges xxi. 21), persisted even down to the time of the Second Temple; and debauch and revelry were by no means rare (Amos ii. 7-8; comp. I Sam. i. 13-14).
The following are the religious festivals ordained in the Law or referred to in the Old Testament:
The Sabbath (Ex. xx. 10; Deut. v. 14), marked by the cessation of all labor (Amos viii. 15), regarded as a day of joy (Hosea ii. 13), and observed with offerings to
Rosh Ḥodesh, or simply Ḥodesh (Day of the New Moon), mentioned in the prophetic writings in connection with the Sabbath (Hosea ii. 13; Isa. i. 3; II Kings iv. 23; Isa. lxvi. 23; Hag. i. 1), and marked in the Law by special sacrifices (Num. xxviii. 14, xxix. 6; comp. Ezra iii. 5). See New Moon.
Pesaḥ (Passover; Ex. xii. 1-28), the "Ḥag ha-Maẓẓot" (Ex. xxiii. 14; Lev. xxiii. 4-8), in commemoration of Israel's liberation from Egypt. It lasted seven days, from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of Nisan, the first and the last day being "holy convocations," with abstention from hard labor and the offering of sacrifices (comp. Num. xxviii. 16-25; Deut. xvi. 1-8). On the second day the first-fruit (barley) 'omer was offered (Lev. xxiii. 10). Those that were in a state of impurity or distant from home were bidden to celebrate the festival in the next succeeding month (Num. ix. 1-14). See Passover.
Shabu'ot (Festival of Weeks; Ex. xxxiv. 22), "the feast of the harvest, the first-fruits of thy labors" (Ex. xxiii. 16), the day on which to offer, at the conclusion of seven weeks counted from the day after Pesaḥ. (Sabbath), the new meal-offering, "two wave-loaves . . . the first-fruits unto
Yom Teru'ah (Blowing of the Trumpets; Num. xxix. 1; comp. ib. x. 10), or "Zikron Teru'ah" (a memorial of blowing of trumpets; Lev. xxiii. 24), the first day of the seventh month, a holy convocation with cessation of hard labor and prescribed fire-offerings. See New-Year.
Yom ha-Kippurim (Day of Atonement), the tenth day of the seventh month, "a Sabbath of rest" ("Shabbat Shabbaton"), with fire-offerings, and holy convocation, with absolute cessation of all labor, under penalty of excision ("karet"), and with fasting (Lev. xxiii. 26; Num. xxix. 7-11). See Atonement, Day of.
Sukkot (Festival of Booths ["tabernacles"; Lev. xxiii. 34; Deut. xvi. 13]), lasting seven days, from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of the tenth month (Tishri), the first day being a holy convocation. For seven days offerings had to be brought (Num. xxix. 13), the eighth day being also a holy convocation ("'Aẓeret"; Num. xxix. 35). Labor ceased on the first and eighth days. This feast was also known as "Ḥag ha-Asif" ("the festival of ingathering"; Ex. xxiii. 16). The celebration was marked by the erection of booths, in which to dwell during seven days, and by the waving of palm-leaves with the fruit of the "'eẓ hadar" ("goodly tree"; Lev. xxiii. 40). See Tabernacles, Feast of.—Post-Biblical Data:
In post-Biblical times (in which "Yom Ṭob" as a technical term for "festival" comes into use) the character and appellations of many of the Biblical festivals were modified, and their number was increased by the addition of new semi-holidays and by the investing with sanctity of the days immediately following the holy days prescribed in the Law, except in the case of the Day of Atonement and the Sabbath. These "second days," known as "the second holidays of the Diaspora" (Yer. Ta'an. i. 62d; Beẓah 4b), owedtheir institution to the desire to have all Israel observe the festivals upon the same day (Sifra ix. 1). But before the fixation of the calendar by calculation, the beginning of the doubtful months (those having 29 or 30 days) and the intercalation of the year depended upon the decision of the Jerusalem authorities, which decision was based upon the appearance of the new moon and upon the state of the crops. In the case of the months in which festivals occurred (R. H. i. 3), the authorities announced their decision to the outlying districts by means of fire-signals and messengers. In order, therefore, to make sure of not ignoring the proper day, the communities in the Diaspora added a second holiday to the day presumptively correct according to their calculation.
Later, when such doubt was precluded by the method of determining the calendar by calculation, the custom was nevertheless sanctioned on the ground that the "minhag of the fathers" should be scrupulously regarded (Beẓah 4b). Even the first of Tishri was extended to two days (considered, however, as one long day), because during the existence of the Temple the second day of Tishri was observed as holy, the witnesses to the appearance of the new moon having arrived only in the afternoon of the first of Tishri. These "second days" are not observed in Reform congregations. See Second Day of Festivals. The "semi-holidays" of later origin than the Torah are:Additional Festivals.
Purim, generally on the fourteenth of Adar; but for the cities with walls dating from Joshua's days (Meg. i. 1-3; Sheḳ. i. 1), on the fifteenth. It is a day of rejoicing and merrymaking, in commemoration of the events related in the Book of Esther. See Esther; Purim.
Ḥanukkah (Festival of Dedication), from the twenty-fifth of Kislew to the third of Ṭebet, in commemoration of the events recorded in I Macc. iv. 59. According to II Macc. i. 9, 18; ii. 16; x. 8, it is a belated Tabernacles; called the "Festival of Lights" by Josephus ("Ant." xii. 7, § 7; comp. Shab. 21b; B. K. vi. 6; Yer. Suk. 53d). See Ḥanukkah.
Josephus mentions ("B. J." ii. 17, § 6) a festival in connection with the carrying of wood (comp. Neh. x. 35, xiii. 31), on the fifteenth of Ab (see Schürer," Geschichte," 3d ed., ii. 260; Ta'an. iv. 5, 8; Meg. Ta'an. xi.; Derenbourg, "Essai," pp. 443, 445).
The Alexandrian Jews observed as joyful memorial days: (1) one to commemorate their escape from the elephants of Ptolemy VII. Physcon (III Macc. vi. 36); (2) one in honor of the translation of the Bible into Greek (Philo, "Vita Mosis," ii. § 7).
The following modifications of the significance and designation of the Biblical holidays in post-Biblical times may be noted:
- (a) The first of Tishri becomes the "Rosh ha-Shanah," in Aramaic "Resh Shatta" (R. H. i. 1). It is the day of judgment (R. H. l.c.), and thus assumes a more solemn character, though fasting is interdicted (Ta'an. ii. 10; Yer. Ta'an. 66a). The blowing of the shofar is invested with theological and mystic significance ("Malkiyyot, Zikronot, we-Shoferot"; R. H. iv. 5, 6, 9; Yer. R. H. 58d). See Shofar.
- (b) On Pesaḥ the Seder, or meal introducing the festal week, takes the place of the paschal lamb (Pes. x.; Yer. Pes. 37d). The season itself has come to be designated in the prayers as ("the time of our liberation").
- (c) Shabu'ot (also 'Aẓeret). The proper counting of the seven weeks was, between the Sadducees and Pharisees, a point of controversy hinging on the Biblical phrase "mi-moḥorat ha-Shabbat" (Lev.xxiii. 15), which, against the literal construction by the former, was authoritatively and demonstratively explained to mean the day after the first day of Pesaḥ (Sifra, ed. Weiss, p. 100d; Men. x. 3). The designation "'Aẓeret." marks it as the concluding festival of Pesaḥ. In the later liturgy it is celebrated as the "zeman mattan toratenu" (comp. Shab. 86b), the memorial-tide of the revelation on Sinai.
- (d) The second or "minor" Pesaḥ ("Pisaḥ Ze'era"; see Num. ix. 1 et seq.) fell into desuetude after the passing of the Temple service with its requirements of purity and sacrifices.
- (e) Sukkot becomes the "ḥag" par excellence. In the liturgy it is denoted as "zeman simḥatenu" (the time of our joy). The eve of the second day, in the Second Temple, was proverbial for the rejoicing attendant upon the ceremonial drawing of water ("simḥat bet ha-sho'ebah"; Suk. v. 1), on which occasion priests and Levites in stately torchlight procession, with singing, the blowing of trumpets, and the playing of other instruments, made the circuit of the Temple court to the eastern gate, reciting and repeating there the declaration that while the Fathers bowed eastward to the rising sun, they belonged to Yhwh and their eyes were lifted toward Him (Suk. v. 1-4). During that night Jerusalem was brilliantly illuminated.
The seventh day of the festival is distinguished as the "great Hosha'na" (the Gospel accounts of Jesus' entry on Palm Sunday seem to have confused this with Pesaḥ), or "the day of the palm-and willow-branches" (Suk. 42-45). Carrying in their hands branches at least eleven feet long, the celebrants make seven circuits around the desk, chanting "Hosha'na" (Ps. cxviii. 25), and then beat the floor with the branches. This custom, said to be of Mosaic origin, is undoubtedly an adaptation of a Babylonian rite (Yer. 'Ab. Zarah iv.).
The eighth day, Shemini 'Aẓeret, is treated as an independent holiday in regard to certain rabbinical prescriptions (mourning, for example). It is a "yom-ṭob bi-f'ne 'aẓmo." See Shemini 'Aẓeret.
The ninth day is styled "Simḥat Torah" (joy of the Torah), because it marks the conclusion of the (annual) cycle of Pentateuchal lessons and the beginning of a new cycle. See Law, Reading of the; Simḥat Torah.
- (f) The New Moon, in Biblical times a holiday (I Sam. xx. 18, 24-27; II Kings iv. 23), came to be regarded as a day of penitence, owing to the circumstance that among the sacrifices prescribed is also a sin-offering (Num. xxviii. 11-16). This sin-offering was said to have been instituted on account of the moon's jealousy of the sun (Sheb. 9; Gen. R. vi.; Ḥul. 60b; Zohar, Wayiḳra); or, according to others, it is an atonement for the sins committed duringthe preceding month (Sheb. i.); thus the day is called in the liturgy "zeman kapparah" (the time of atonement). Yet, withal, it remained a day of joy, on which fasting was not permitted; women abstained from petty manual occupations (Soferim xix.). But by the cabalists in recent centuries it was changed into the "Minor Day of Atonement" ("Yom Kippur Ḳaṭon").
The days intervening between the "holy [convocation] days" (the first or second and seventh or eighth respectively) of Pesaḥ and Sukkot are known as "ḥol ha-mo'ed" ("the week-days of the festival"), entailing certain restrictions regarding work, mourning, the solemnization of marriages, and the like. See Ḥol ha-Mo'ed.
The Biblical festivals readily fall into two groups:Classification of Festivals.
- (1) Those dependent upon the seasons or the harvest (Pesaḥ and Shabu'ot in spring and summer, and Sukkot in autumn). As the Law prescribes that at those festivals "every male shall appear before [correctly, "shall see"] Yhwh" (Deut. xvi. 16), thus demanding pilgrimages to the Temple, these comprise the "pilgrim festivals," the three "regalim" (Ex. xxiii. 14), on which the "re'iyyah," i.e., the visit to the Temple court, took place. The Mishnaic term for this visit is "re'iyyat panim" (Yer. Peah i. 15a), or "re'ayon" (Peah i. 1), or, as none was to come empty-handed, but must bring a gift, "re'iyyat ḳorban." This obligation rested on all male Israelites, with the exception of such as were under age or afflicted with deafness or a mental defect. The gift had to be worth at least two silver denarim according to Shammai's school; while the Hillelites contended that a silver "ma'ah" was sufficient (Ḥag. i., 1, 2a; comp. ib. 6a). The number of visits was not fixed (Peah i. 1; but see Beẓah 7a, and R. Johanan in Tosafot ad loc.; Levy," Chald. Wörterb." iii. 406a). The character of these three festivals is agricultural; hence the fundamental note is joy and gratitude (Deut. xvi. 11, 14, 15).
- (2) Those connected with the moon: (a) Sabbath; (b) New Moon; (c) the New Moon of the seventh month, and (d), in connection with the seventh month, the tenth day thereof. The Sabbath and the New Moon festivals were certainly days of joy; but the first and the tenth of Tishri developed into days for solemn reflection, and in course of time in the synagogue were designated as "yamim nora'im" (fearful [awful] days), though the endeavor to ascribe to them also the nature of days of joy was not wanting (see Maḥzor Vitry, ed. Hurwitz, p. 360). The ten days intervening are styled "'aseret yeme teshubah" (ten days of repentance), distinguished by additions in certain parts of the liturgy.
It has been noticed that the Biblical festivals, all of which occur within the first seven months of the year, are seven in number, and that they are otherwise intended to bring out the symbolic bearing of this the sacred number. The Sabbath is the seventh day; the Sabbatical ("Shemitṭah") year is the seventh year; the jubilee the first after 7✗7 years; 7✗7 (=49) days elapse between Pesaḥ and Shabu'ot; Pesaḥ and Sukkot each have seven days; the seventh month has four holidays; the first of the seventh month alone of all the New Moon festivals being important. Of the seven festivals six are in a class requiring abstention from only hard labor; on the seventh (the Day of Atonement), as on the Sabbath, all labor is forbidden. Hence both the Sabbath and the Day of Atonement are" Shabbat Shabbaton" (Lev. xxiii. 24, 32, 39; xvi. 31).—Critical View:
When the Hebrews were still nomadic shepherds they could not have observed festivals having an agricultural background. Nor before the establishment and recognition of one central sanctuary, and the development of the sacerdotal and sacrificial ritual, could fixed and well-defined sacrifices have been the prominent feature of the festal celebration. The laws in the Pentateuch that bear on the festivals are, therefore, posterior to the invasion and conquest of Palestine; and the analysis of their contents and the comparison of their provisions, with allusions to and descriptions of the festivals in other Biblical books, demonstrate that the festal cycle as finally regulated is the outcome of a long process of growth in which the successive domination of various social and religious influences may be clearly differentiated. Of the pastoral period, the Sabbath, the New Moon, and Pesaḥ as the festival of the slaughtering of the young firstling of the flock, are survivals, displaying even in their adaptation to later social and theological circumstances the traces of an anterior pastoral connection.Pastoral Feasts.
The moon was the beneficent deity of the shepherds in the region and climate where ancient Israel had its ancestral home. Hence the many traces of lunar institutions in even the latest Israelitish cult and its phraseology; e.g., the "horn" (crescent), the "face" (of
The Pesaḥ lamb marks the spring festival of the shepherd clans offering a gift to the deity, and trysting their god at the common. "family" feast, before setting out for their several pasture-grounds. In the appointments of the occasion, as described in the chapter purporting to account for the institution (Ex. xii.), the pastoral character is still dominant. The "sprinkling of the blood" on the door-post recalls the "blood covenant" which insures safety to both man and beast, and protects the flock from harm. The Meccan hadj is, indeed, the old SemiticPesaḥ—the limping dance in imitation of "skipping rams." With the later agricultural spring festival these pastoral customs were combined, but the Pesaḥ must originally have been distinct from the festival of the Maẓẓot, which is clearly of an agricultural nature.Agricultural Festivals.
The harvest is the natural provocation for the farmer to rejoice and to manifest his gratitude to the Godhead. The oldest traditions (Judges xxi. 19; I Sam. i. 3) mention a yearly festival of thanksgiving ("hillulim": Judges ix. 27) after the vintage; and it is this festival which even later is called the festival (I Kings viii. 2, 65; xii. 32, 33; comp. Ezek. xlv. 25; Neh. viii. 14). It was celebrated first by dancing in the vineyards (Judges xxi. 21); later, by processions to festal halls ("leshakot"; I Sam. ix. 22), with music (Isa. xxx. 29)—at Shiloh, for example (I Sam. i. 3), at Beth -el (I Kings xii. 32), and at Jerusalem (I Kings vi. 38, viii. 2; Isa. xxix. 1). As these festivals increased, the necessity arose of regulating them and of fixing them for certain seasons of the year; hence, in Isa. xxix. 1 allusion is made to a regular cycle of the "ḥaggim" circuiting the year.Traces of Development.
The oldest code (Book of the Covenant), in Ex. xxiii. 14 et seq., provides that three pilgrimages in one year shall be made to the sanctuaries, not necessarily to Jerusalem, as has been supposed, but to the central shrine of the clan or tribe (comp. I Sam. xx. 6). The three festivals are purely agrarian; viz.: the Ḥag ha-Maẓẓot (seven days), in the month of Abib (Ex. xxxiv. 18, where there is no mention of the slaughter of the lamb); the Ḥag ha-Ḳaẓir, the wheat-harvest (Ex. xxxiv. 22a), for offering the first-fruit ("bikkurim"); the Ḥag ha-Asif, the old festival of the vintage (see above). Deuteronomy retains this cycle, but makes pilgrimage to Jerusalem imperative (Deut. xvi. 16). It combines the old pastoral Pesaḥ with the Maẓẓot feast, but the offering of the firstlings (Deut. xvi. 2) is merely intended as a sacrificial meal, the flesh being boiled and not roasted (Deut. xvi. 7, against Ex. xii. 8). Maẓẓot is historically connected with the exodus from Egypt ("leḥem 'oni"; Deut. xvi. 3). The second festival appears as "Ḥag ha-Shabu'ot" (Deut. xvi. 10). The third is named "Ḥag ha-Sukkot" (ib. xvi. 13), and lasts seven days (ib. 15).
In Deuteronomy the tendency is manifest to give these natural agrarian tides a religio-historical setting. A further development is shown in the festival scheme of Ezekiel, who divides the year into two parts, each beginning with an expiatory, celebration, on the first day of the first and seventh months respectively (Ezek.xlv. 18, 20; Cornill, "Das Buch des Propheten Ezechiel," p. 494), and each celebration followed after the lapse of fourteen days by a festival of seven days (the spring or Pesaḥ festival, and the autnmn festival respectively); while stress is mainly laid on the sacrificial cult. It may be observed that Ezekiel neglects Shabu'ot.
Lev. xxiii. (P1) marks another modification. The three festivals are designated as the "Mo'ade
P2 loses sight entirely of the natural bases of the holidays. The historical and ritual aspect is exclusively emphasized. In Num. xxviii. no mention is made of the barley-offering characteristic elsewhere of Pesaḥ. Pesaḥ is the memorial of the Exodus (Ex. xii. 14), a ritual occasion ("'abodah," verse 26; "lel shimmurim," verse 42). All details concerning the lamb are scrupulously regulated, and offerings are prescribed (Num. xxviii. 16-25). Shabu'ot becomes the "Yom ha-Bikkurim" (Num. xxviii. 26-31), without historical connection, but of ritual significance. For Sukkot a very elaborate-sacrificial order is given (Num. xxix. 12-38).Summary.
From the foregoing it appears that the festivals, in part originally pastoral and agricultural, gradually assumed a historical and ritual character: Pesaḥ and Maẓẓot, at first distinct, becoming merged; Shabu'ot, originally the close of the spring harvest, assuming historical significance only in Talmudic times (Pes. 68b); but, in the light of the Priestly Code, all three festivals of the agricultural season being invested with mainly sacrificial importance.
The pastoral moon festivals (Sabbath and New Moon) underwent similar changes. Of the New Moon festivals not mentioned in Deuteronomy, or in JE, that of the seventh month alone survived as an important holiday (see Lev. xxiii. 24 [P1] and Num. x. 10 [P2]).
Various reasons for this exceptional fate of this New Moon festival are given. The fortuitous fact that it was the new moon of the seventh month may have lent to it a higher degree of sanctity from the very beginning. Again, reckoning the beginning of the ecclesiastical year from autumn, and not, as the civil year, from spring (see Calendar; New-Year), may account for the survival. The building of the wall under Nehemiah (Neh. iv.), and its dedication, have also been brought (by Geiger) into connection with the first day of the seventh month as a day of memorial of the blowing of the shofar (Neh. xii.; comp. ib. viii. and ix.). Whatever may have been the reason, the solemn celebration of this day is post-exilic, probably even later than Ezra iii. 6 and Neh. viii. 2.
The tenth day of the seventh month (see Atonement, Day of) is not known to Ezekiel. It is instituted in Lev. xxiii. 27. It was originally a priestly day for the cleansing of the sanctuary (Samuel Adler, in Stade's "Zeitschrift," iii. 178-185). With it in course of time was combined an old popular festival (see Dancing): the late ritual is notfree from pagan (Edomite) survivals (see Azazel). The order of procedure, as given in Lev. xvi., is a very late addition to the Pentateuch. It is characteristic of the very late introduction of this day as the Day of Atonement that in Ezra's time (Neh. ix. 1) the twenty-fourth and not the tenth of the seventh month was kept as a day of atonement.
In P the Sabbath is emphasized as a day of solemn import (Ex. xvi. 27, xxxi. 12 et seq.); the New Moon is held to be one of the cycle of feasts (Num. xxviii. 11 et seq.); and in further extension of the ideas underlying the Sabbath, the Sabbatical year and the year of jubilee are instituted.
- Wellhausen, Prolegomena, 4th ed., pp. 82-117;
- Stade, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, 1887, pp. 497 et seq.;
- Benzinger, Arch. pp. 464-478;
- Nowack, Hebräische Archäologie, 1894, ii. 138-203;
- Buhl, in Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encye. vii. 19;
- W. R. Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church;
- Green, The Hebrew Feasts, 1885 (against the critical school);
- commentaries by Dillmann and Holzinger;
- Guthe, Kurzes Bibelwörterb. s.v. Feste;
- Hastings, Dict. Bible, and Cheyne, Encyc. Bibl., s.v. Feasts;
- Riehm, Wörterb. s.v. Feste;
- George, Die Aelt. Jüd. Feste, Berlin, 1835;
- Bachmann, Die Festgesetze des Pentateuchs.