Upon the six holy days in the Jewish calendar—the first and seventh days of Passover, the first and eighth days of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the day of Shebu'ot (Weeks), and the day of Rosh ha-Shanah (New-Year)—the Bible prohibits every kind of labor (Lev. xxiii. 7, 8, 21, 25, 35, 36). The punishment prescribed for the transgressor of this law is stripes (see Crime). All kinds of work forbidden on the Sabbath are forbidden also on the holy days, except such work as is necessary for the preparation of food for the day of the festival (Ex. xii. 16; Beẓah 36a). The Day of Atonement is like the Sabbath in this respect, that work of any kind is forbidden; the only difference is in the punishment meted out to the transgressor: for Sabbath-breaking the punishment is stoning; for working on the Day of Atonement it is excision (Karet).What Work Permitted.
Carrying objects from place to place or kindling a fire, permissible in connection with the preparation of food, is also permitted when done for other purposes, so long as too much labor is not involved. Even with regard to the preparation of food only such work is permitted as could not be done before the holy day, or such as, if done before the holy day, would not result satisfactorily. Thus, it is permitted to slaughter an animal and to cook and bake on the holy day, because, if done before, the food would not taste as well. But it is forbidden to harvest, to gather fruit from a tree, to grind in a mill, or to do anything that could have been done as well before the holy day. The general purpose underlying these laws is to enhance the joy of the festival, and therefore the Rabbis permitted all work necessary to that end, while guarding against turning it into a working-day (Maimonides, "Yad," Shebitot Yom-Ṭob, i. 5-8).
Although only so much work is permitted as is absolutely necessary for the preparation of the food for the day of the festival, an increase, for instance, in the amount of meat cooked, when no extra labor is caused thereby, even though not necessary for the day, is permitted. The housewife may fill the kettle with meat, although only a portion of it will be used on the holy day; she may fill the oven with bread, even though she needs but one loaf (Beẓah 17a; "Yad," Shebitot Yom-Ṭob, i. 10). Washing and anointing were considered by the Rabbis of as much importance as eating, and therefore they permitted the heating of water for the purpose of washing face, hands, and feet, but not for the whole body (Beẓah 21b; "Yad," Shebitot Yom-Ṭob, i. 16; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 511, 2)."Muḳẓeh" and "Ha-kanah."
On the holy days some authorities forbid the use of any object not previously designated for that purpose ("muḳẓeh"). A chicken kept for its eggs, or an ox kept for plowing, or fruit kept for business may not be used as food on a holy day unless it has been expressly stated before the holy day that these were destined to be used as food ("hakanah"). All authorities agree that objects that come into existence on a holy day ("nolad") may not be used on that day ("Yad," Shebitot Yom-Ṭob, i. 17, 18; RAbD and Kesef Mishneh ad loc.; Oraḥ Hayyim, 495, 4, Isserles' gloss). It is forbiddento eat an egg laid on the day of a festival, notwithstanding the fact that it may have been ready the day before. The reason for this law as given in Beẓah 2b is, according to Rabba, as follows: It is not permitted to prepare on the Sabbath for a festival that follows it, or on a festival for the Sabbath following it. Hence, an egg laid on a festival immediately following the Sabbath may not be used on that day because it was prepared on the Sabbath, and in order to make the law uniform so that no mistake could occur ("gezerah"), it was forbidden even if laid on a festival not immediately preceded by a Sabbath. If the holy day occurred on a Friday, no food could be prepared for the coming Sabbath unless express provision had been made for such preparation on the day preceding the holy day by means of "'erub tabshilin" (see 'Erub). This consists of bread and some dish over which the blessing is pronounced and an Aramaic formula recited in which the significance of the 'erub is declared. The idea of the 'erub is that this dish, prepared before a festival for the Sabbath, is regarded as the beginning of the Sabbatical preparations, which need only be continued on the holy day (Beẓah 15b; "Yad," Shebitot Yom-Ṭob, vi. 1, 2; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 521; see BeẒah).Second Days of Festivals.
The second-day holy day, although a rabbinical institution established because of the uncertainty of the calendar, was still regarded by the Rabbis as of equal sanctity with the first day, and all work forbidden on the first day is also forbidden on the second. While no punishment is prescribed for the violator of a second-day holy day, the Jewish communities took it upon themselves to inflict punishment upon him. Excommunication, even beating ("makkat mardut"), was frequently the lot of such a transgressor (see Excommunication). The only distinction the Rabbis make between the first and second days concerns burials; on the first day the burial must be carried out by non-Jews, on the second day Jews are permitted to conduct it. The two days are regarded in all respects as two distinct holy days, and objects that come into existence on the first day can be used on the second. The two days of New-Year, however, are considered as one day, except in the case of a burial, which is permitted on the second day (Beẓah 6a; "Yad," Shebitot Yom-Ṭob, i. 22-24; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 496, 526). For the laws concerning Palestinian Jews, who do not observe the second day, but who have settled in a place outside Palestine where it is observed, or vice versa, see Conflict of Laws; Custom.
To rejoice and be cheerful on the holy days is recommended by the Rabbis. It is customary to give new toys and fruit to children, new garments and ornaments to women, and to have meat and wine on the table during these days. The day should be divided into halves, one to be spent in eating, drinking, and amusement, the other in worship and study. Fasting or the delivering of funeral orations is forbidden. Too much drinking and excessive hilarity, however, are not encouraged. The court used to appoint overseers, who visited the public parks and gardens to see that men and women in their joviality should not commit sin. The law thus succeeded in establishing a dignified observance of the festivals by the Jews, free from asceticism or licentious hilarity (Beẓah 15b; Shebitot Yom-Ṭob, vi. 16-21; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 529). For the ritual of the holy days see the articles on the several holy days.Ḥol ha-Mo'ed.
The week-days of the festivals ("Ḥol ha-Mo'ed") of Passover and of Sukkot are considered as semiholy days, and only certain kinds of work are permitted on them. Any kind of labor requiring immediate attention may be done on these days. The Rabbis, however, included a great many kinds of labor under this head, while preserving the sanctity of the ḥol ha-mo'ed by providing certain signs which should remind the Jew of the festival ("shinnui"). It is forbidden to transact regular business on these days, though a man may buy or sell privately, and thus be enabled to spend more for the coming festival. At present in many lands it is customary for store-keepers to go to their places of business during these days, but to make some change by keeping the doors only half open or by keeping the shades down. It is forbidden to write on these days, but it is customary to write letters, though some change is made, as by writing lengthwise instead of across the paper, etc. There is a certain leniency in the interpretation of all these laws; and while the sanctity of the festival is still maintained in various ways, few hesitate to do various kinds of work or to pursue their daily occupations (Ḥag. 18a; M. Ḳ. i., ii., iii.; Shebitot Yom-Ṭob, vii., viii.; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 530-548).
No marriage should be celebrated on these days, on the principle that one joy should not be confused with another joy. It is permitted, however, to celebrate a betrothal or to remarry a divorced wife (M. Ḳ. 8a). In the case of a funeral there should be no excessive mourning (see Mourning). Shaving or hair-cutting is forbidden, as every one should prepare himself before the holy day begins. Only such as could not possibly do so before the holy day, as the prisoner who has just been released, or the excommunicate whose term has expired, or one arrived from a far-off land, may have his hair cut on these days (M. Ḳ. 14a; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 531, 532; Isserles forbids also the cutting of one's nails).Ritual.
The order of services is the same as on working-days, except that the prayer "Ya'aleh we-Yabo" (May Our Remembrance) is inserted in the "Shemoneh 'Esreh." After the regular morning service the "Hallel" is recited and a section of the Law is read, after which the additional service of the festival ("Musaf"), in which, according to the Ashkenazic ritual, the Biblical verses for the day are inserted, is read. During the middle days of Passover, "half Hallel" is read, that is, the first eleven verses of Psalms cxv. and cxvi. are omitted (see Hallel). The lesson of the Law for Ḥol ha-Mo'ed contains Biblical selections connected in some way with the character of the day. If one of these days falls on a Sabbath, the weekly portion is omitted, and instead a portion from Exodus (xxxiii. 12-xxxiv. 26), which contains a short reference to the three festivals, is read. The HafṬarah for Passover is the vision of the valley of the dry bones (Ezek. xxxvi. 37-xxxvii. 14), and for Sukkot the account of the wars of Gog and Magog (Ezek. xxxviii. 18-xxxix. 16). It is alsocustomary in many communities to read the scroll of Canticles on the Sabbath of the middle days of Passover, and of Ecclesiastes on that of the middle days of Sukkot (Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 490, 663). Peculiar ceremonies attend the services on the last of the middle days of Sukkot, which is known by a distinct name—"Hosha'na Rabbah."
There is a difference of opinion among the early authorities as to whether tefillin are to be worn on these days or not, and in consequence various customs arose. The Sephardic Jews do not wear tefillin on these days, while the Ashkenazim do. Some are careful not to pronounce the blessings on tefillin at all, while others say them in a whisper. The Ḥasidim follow the Sephardim in this as in many other customs. However, before Musaf on the middle days of Passover, and before "Hallel" on Sukkot, the tefillin are always removed (Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 31, 2, Isserles' gloss; see Phylacteries).
These days being a period of leisure to many Jews, they were devoted by the medieval Jewish communities to the consideration of congregational affairs. In Germany the election of the governing body of the congregation took place upon them. Collections for charity were taken up, and house-to-house begging was also permitted (sometimes also on Fridays). In spite of the stringent laws against gambling in some medieval Jewish communities, many indulged in card-playing and in other games of chance (see Gambling).
In commemoration of the rejoicings that accompanied the ceremony of the "drawing of water" in Temple times (Suk. 51a; "Yad," Lulab, viii. 12-15), many Jewish communities, especially in Russia and Poland, indulge in festivities and merrymaking during the evenings of the middle days of Tabernacles ("Simḥat Bet ha-Sho'ebah"). Various hymns taken from the ritual are chanted, refreshments are served in the bet ha-midrash, and the young are permitted to indulge in various pleasures.
- Dembitz, Services in the Synagogue and Home, Philadelphia, 1898;
- Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, Philadelphia, 1896.