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Jewish Holidays

One of the most important responsibilities of a Jewish person is to observe the holidays. Some holidays commemorate important historical events in the lives of the Jewish people. In contrast, other holidays such as Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) have no historical basis and are primarily observed for religious reasons. That is, they are observed because the Bible says that they must be observed. As will be shown, however, most Jewish holidays have both an historical and a religious basis.

In the section that follows, the major Jewish holidays will be examined. For each holiday, both a brief text and a selection of images of liturgical objects representing the festival will be presented. In defining the holiday, each text will situate the time of the holiday in both the Hebrew and Julian calendars; examine its religious and/or historical significance; and discuss the laws, customs, and rituals surrounding its observance. By reading these texts alongside their respective images, it is hoped that one will gain an understanding of the Jewish holidays within their artistic context.

This section does not present every Jewish holiday in the calendar year. As a result of limits of time and space, it was not possible (nor was it felt to be desirable) to form an exhaustive list of all the events. Consequently, the project team chose to present only the "major" Jewish holidays, i.e. the holidays which have the greatest historical/religious significance for the Jewish people. In addition, it should be noted that the length of the texts and the number of images selected for each holiday have nothing to do with the importance of that holiday in the Jewish calendar year.

Rosh Hashanah: Jewish New Year
Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement
Passover: Commemoration of freedom from Slavery
Shavuot: Giving of the Torah to Jewish People
Shabbat: Sabbath or Day of Rest
Tisha Be-Av: Commemoration of Destruction of Holy Temple
Independence Day: Declaration of Independence
Hanukkah: Festival of Lights
Purim: Victory over Haman
Simchat Torah: Rejoicing of the Torah
Sukkot: Harvest festival

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