סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) is one of the שלוש רגלים (Shalosh Shegalim), three pilgrimage festivals. The other two pilgrimage festivals are Passover and Shavuot.

Sukkot is also known as The Feast of Booths (“Tabernacles”), חג האסיף, The Feast of Ingathering, or just simply The Chag (The Festival).

Sukkah in New Hampshire

Time of year. Sukkot begins each year on sundown, Tishri 15, which on the secular calendar can be in September or October.

Sukkot is an eight day festival. The first two days are celebrated as full holidays.

The following five days are חול המועד (Hol Hamo’ed) – weekdays that retain some aspects of the festival.

The seventh day (fifth of the intermediate days) is הוֹשַׁעְנָא רַבָּא (Hoshanah Rabbah) which has a special observance of its own.

The last, eighth, day is celebrated as separate holiday (see below).

Sukkot Schedule 2019 (under revision)


Historical connection: Sukkot commemorates the life of the Israelites in the desert during their journey to the promised land. During their wandering in the desert they lived in booths (Sukkot).

Agricultural/pilgrimage connection: tba

Sukkot as a rain festival

In ניסוך המים a Sukkot Rain Making Ritual, Rabbi Zev Farber writes

In rabbinic thinking, Sukkot is a rain holiday. (t. Sukkah3:18) … The Tosefta quotes a prooftext to Rabbi Akiva’s statement from the post-exilic book of Zechariah, in which the prophet describes what will happen with the nations of the world after their defeat by Israel in the end of days:

יד:טז וְהָיָ֗ה כָּל־הַנּוֹתָר֙ מִכָּל הַגּוֹיִ֔ם הַבָּאִ֖ים עַל יְרֽוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וְעָל֞וּ מִדֵּ֧י שָׁנָ֣ה בְשָׁנָ֗ה לְהִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֹת֙ לְמֶ֙לֶךְ֙ יְ-הֹוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת וְלָחֹ֖ג אֶת חַ֥ג הַסֻּכּֽוֹתיד:יז וְ֠הָיָה אֲשֶׁ֨ר לֹֽא יַעֲלֶ֜ה מֵאֵ֨ת מִשְׁפְּח֤וֹת הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֶל יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם לְהִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֹ֔ת לְמֶ֖לֶךְ יְ-הֹוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת וְלֹ֥א עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם יִהְיֶ֥ה הַגָּֽשֶׁם:

14:16 All who survive of all those nations that came up against Jerusalem shall make a pilgrimage year by year to bow low to the King YHVH of Hosts and to observe the Feast of Booths14:17 Any of the earth’s communities that does not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to bow low to the King YHVH of Hosts shall receive no rain. (NJPS).

Zechariah implies that God decides on the world’s rainfall on Sukkot, and the Tosefta uses it as a textual support for the water libation ritual… The [Talmud] tractate of Ta’anit, devoted almost entirely to describing a series of fasts, aimed at convincing God to make the rain fall. Sukkot marks the time of Israel’s rainy season and the official daily request for rain found in the second blessing of the Amidah, משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם (“who makes the wind blow and the rain fall”) is said for the first time on Shemini Atzeret—the day after Sukkot—accompanied by an elaborate rain prayer recited in Musaf of that day.


The Torah directs us to use four species of plants to celebrate the holiday: The lulav (palm branch), etrog (lemon-like citron), myrtle, and willow. The etrog is handled separately, while the other three species are bound together, and are collectively referred to as the lulav.

During the five intermediate days of Sukkot it is customary to read the book of Ecclesiastes.

On the Shabbat which falls during the week of Sukkot (or in the event when the first day of Sukkot is on Shabbat), the Book of Ecclesiastes is read during morning synagogue services in Israel. (Diaspora communities read it the second Shabbat {eighth day} when the first day of sukkot is on Shabbat.) The rituals of Sukkot

Lulav and etrog

The four species are the lulav (לולב‎) frond of the date palm tree; hadass (myrtle);  aravah (willow); and etrog (citron). When the three leaves are bound together then the unit is then referred to as “the lulav”.

Lulav and etrog symbolism

Custom of inviting ushpizin

There is a kabbalistic custom, beginning in the late 1500’s to invite seven spiritual guests, ushpizin (אושפיזין,) into the sukkah. These traditionally are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. In Trad-Egal communities there often is a complementary set of seven Jewish women spiritual guests.

Alternative Ushpizin guests
from an infographic by

Texts for Ushpizin from the Rabbinical Assembly

Observance of הוֹשַׁעְנָא רַבָּא (Hosha’nah Rabbah)

The seventh day of Sukkot. “This day closes the period of repentance that began on Rosh Hashanah. Tradition has made this day into a sequel to the Days of Awe, lengthening the period of penitence and postponing the day when final sentence is to be rendered.” Isaac Klein

Our practices are based on the practices that our ancestors once performed in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

On this day we make seven hakafot (circuits) around the synagogue, holding the lulav. (Mishnah Sukkah 4:5) There are customary readings – hoshanot – for each of the circuits. (when did they become standardized?)

Each hoshana (הושענא) is done in honor of a patriarch, prophet or king. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David

We take two or more of the aravot (willow branches) out of the lulav, and beat them on the floor. Many communities use five branches.  It is said that this ritual symbolizes the elimination of sin. This is known as havatat aravot. There is no brachah.

See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot lulav, 7:22, and Shulkhan Arukh 664:4

Shemini Atzeret

Tishri 22. The eighth day of Sukkot. In the Talmud it is written that “the eighth day [of Sukkot] is a separate festival”, so Sukkot is really observed as seven days, and Shemini Atzeret is observed as a separate holiday. It marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel.

Simhat Torah

Tishri 23. Rejoicing with the Torah. The finale of Sukkot.

The last portion of the Torah is read on this day. The following Shabbat we start the Torah again at the beginning of Bereshis (Genesis).

Festivities begin in the evening with Ma’ariv. There are seven hakafot (processions) of the Torah around the Synagogue. Services are unconventionally joyous, and humorous deviations from the standard service are allowed, and even expected.

Difference between observance in Israel vs the diaspora

In Israel, Sukkot is eight days long, including Shemini Atzeret. Outside Israel (the Diaspora), Sukkot is nine days long. Thus the eighth day is Shemini Atzeret, and the extra (ninth) day is Simchat Torah.

In Israel, the festivities and customs associated with Simchat Torah are celebrated on Shemini Atzeret.


Articles to incorporate hoshanah-rabbah

Origin of Hosha’nah Rabbah

David Zinberg writes “.We generally observe religious customs simply because they are customary…. Still, a symbolic act whose symbolism is inaccessible will leave many observant people unsatisfied. (Imagine, for example, a Passover Seder without the Haggadah’s explanation of the symbolic foods. Such a Seder, stripped of its exoteric meaning, might be called mysterious rather than symbolic). Whatever your position on rationalizing the biblical commandments, it would be difficult to make the case that the willow beating of Hoshana Rabba must be accepted as an unintelligible ḥok (non-rational decree).”

So what is the purpose behind the rituals of hoshanah rabbah?

In The Mystical Ritual of Hashana Rabbah: Summoning God, Rabbi Zev Farber suggests  that “With this ritual we bring God’s presence (shekhinah) into our synagogues so that we can make our request. What is our request? Specifically, rain, more broadly, survival.”

In Beat It! The Ritual of Havatat Aravot, Bradley Shavit Artson suggests that … TBA

In  What Did the Willows Ever Do to Deserve Such a Beating? An Original Explanation for a Perplexing Custom. Steven Weiner suggest that … TBA.

In Hibut Arava: A mimetic threshing ritual? David S. Zinberg suggests that … TBA.

David Zinberg writes:

In both Jewish and Greek traditions, the willow represented water. The Hoshanot ceremony — in both primitive agrarian and modern societies — is most fundamentally a supplication for rain.  As mentioned, an ancient rabbinic tradition considered Hoshana Rabba the final day of judgment for the imminent rainy season — on Shemini Azeret, the very next day, we begin praying for rain on a daily basis. Several piyyutim for Hoshanot petition God for rain, for a fruitful harvest, and for protection from agricultural diseases and crop failure (אדון המושיע; אדם ובהמה; אדמה מארר; למען תמים; תענה אמונים).

Prayers for rain at the beginning of winter are ultimately for a bountiful harvest in the summer. And, considering the overall appearance of a willow branch, not only does it evoke water, it also resembles a stalk of grain. I believe חיבוט ערבה was originally intended to mimic and thereby augur the threshing of grain at the harvest, the final stage in the agricultural cycle.

Related topics

Sukkot outreach at restaurants and pubs

Yom Tov Shnei, the second day outside of Israel


Observance of Sukkot in ancient times

What Sukkot Meant to Jews and Gentiles in Greco-Roman Antiquity

Samaritan observance of Sukkot

Israelite-Samaritan Sukkot: A Fruity Sukkah Made from the Four Species

Documentary hypothesis and Sukkot

The First Sukkah? The Book of Ezra-Nehemiah


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