The High Holy Days and Pilgrimage festivals


Days Of Awe (High Holy Days)

The days of awe are the most important days in the Jewish calander and make up the Jewish new year:

  • Day 1 and 2: Rosh Hashanah
  • Day 3-8: Days of Awe (time of reflection)
  • Day 9: Big meal and Mikveh before the Yom Kippur fast begins.
  • Day 10: Yom Kippur
1 of 16

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah takes place on the first and second days of the year. Celebrations mean that no work is allowed, Jews eat a large meal with their family they eat a special bread called Hallah bread a Challot in the shape of ladders, birds or crowns, and they also eat sweet food such as apples and honey and say ‘may it be your will, O God, to give us a good and sweet new year.’ Another tradition is ‘Tashlikh’ where Jews take bread and throw it into flowing water and cast of their sins. They wear white robes and have white scroll covers because Isaiah 1:18 says ‘… though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’ this shows white as a sign of purity and a new beginning. Most of Rosh Hashanah is spent in synagogue though; a special service takes place where they blow into the Shofar (the curved Rams horn which represents Jews bending to God’s will) 100 times a day from the 1st to the 28th of the month except for on Shabbat. The Shofar reminds Jews of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, it also reminds them of Isaac’s near sacrifice when the ram appeared and was sacrificed instead. 

However Rosh Hashanah is not all about the year to come but about reflecting on the previous year. The days of awe are sometimes referred to as Yom Hadin meaning the day of judgment as Jews believe your sins are written in the book of life and if not forgiven remain permanently with you.

2 of 16

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur then occurs, the holiest day for Jews it is the tenth day of ‘Tishri’ and is the day of sealing. People greet each other with ‘may a good sealing complete your inscription’. Another name for it is Shabbat Shabbaton. Jews observe Yom Kippur because the Torah tells them to in Leviticus ‘And [all this] shall be as an eternal statute for you; in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and you shall not do any work neither the native nor the stranger who dwells among you. For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you. Before the Lord, you shall be cleansed from all your sins.’ This is why Jews obey Yom Kippur.

Traditionally Jews celebrated Yom Kippur in the Jerusalem temple. On Yom Kippur a goat and a bull were sacrificed and supposedly took all the sins of the people into the desert. It was the one point in the year where the High Priest entered the most sacred part of the temple so that he could beg for his people’s forgiveness.

However after the temples destruction a smaller sacrifice like a chicken began and it occurred at home the day before the start of the festival (nowadays money to charity). Jews also had ritual baths in the Mikveh to cleanse themselves for the big day.

Many people spend Yom Kippur in the synagogue and attend all five services, all Jews however attend the Ne’ilah meaning ‘sealing’ where they repeat the opening verse of the Shema and the shofar is sounded one last time. People then return home at the end of the day and break their fast.

3 of 16

Yom Kippur

On Yom Kippur they start by lighting candles for their dead relatives, and ask forgiveness for their whole family. They say blessings that will be sealed in the book of life. Following its second name Shabbat Shabbaton all usual Shabbat rules apply however Yom Kippur has extra rules that apply such as:

  •  No food is allowed unless you are in bad or unsuitable health to do so this fasting is done

Ø As a sign of asking for forgiveness

Ø A sign of self discipline

Ø A way of concentration spiritually.

Ø To make people more companionate and understanding

  • No washing is allowed (except after using the toilet)
  • No skin creams
  • No leather shoes are allowed- wrong to benefit from the skin of the dead animal
  • No sexual intercourse.
  • All clothes are white- a sign of purity
4 of 16

The Pilgrimage Festivals

The Jewish pilgrimage is a very important time. It is a chance for Jews to reaffirm their promises and covenants with God and reflect upon their past. There are three Jewish pilgrimage festivals:

1. Sukkot- celebrates the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years, with only God to rely upon. It also celebrates the last harvest festival.

2. Shavuot- celebrates the giving of the Torah.

3. Pesach (Passover)- celebrates the Jews Exodus from Egypt.

Jews are told to celebrate them in the Torah. Jews used to go on pilgrimages to Jeruselum and give offerings of the harvest in the Temple but after the temples destruction the practice is less common. Now people visit the western wall and Yad Vershem.

5 of 16

Yad Vashem and the Western Wall

Yad Vashem: Yad Vashem is the Jewish memorial of the holocaust in Jerusalem, where people remember the six million Jews that died in the Shoah. It allows Jews to reflect and remember their past and heritage in order to prevent it happening again.  It is a world centre for:

  • Research
  • Documentation
  • Commemoration
  • Education 

Of the holocaust and brings together individuals across the globe of all ages to reflect.

The Western Wall: The wall we call today the Western Wall, was part of the Mount retaining wall of Herod the Great’s holy temple built in the 1st century BCE. After the temples destruction by the Romans only the western wall remained standing, (as it still is today). However not the entire wall that remains today is from Herod’s time. Jews visit the wall and pray as it is a holy location, they believe that the Shechinah that was present in the Temple never left the western wall. Jews are not allowed to access the Temple site if they are ritually impure; this is because it is considered the closest possible point to the "Gateway to Heaven."

6 of 16


The festival of Pesach or Passover (Chag Hamatzot) is the Jewish spring festival, Pesach has for centuries been celebrated to remember the Exodus, the story of the excape of the Israelites from Egypt (Moses). It remains the most important example of God's power. The festival of Pesach is a re-living of the events of the exodus story. This story is told in the Hagadah. No work (except food preparations) can be done on the first and last days of Pesach.

The Seder meal

Although there are services in the synagogue the most important part of the festival takes place in the home. Before Pesach begins the house will be thoroughly cleaned to make sure that there is no leavened bread in the house. When the Jews left Egypt they had to pack so quickly that they took no yeast. This reminds the Jews that during the time of the Exodus they had only unleavened bread (matzoh). So during the festival of Pesach the Jew will only eat unleavened bread. During the reading of teh story of pesach the middle part of the matzah is hidden and after the meal the child who finds it wins a prize, this is called the afikomen.

7 of 16


On the eve of the Passover the Jew will go to the synagogue and then return home for the Passover meal. This special meal is called the Seder. This meal starts with the blessing of wine, four glasses of wine are drunk to remind Jews of God's four promises to Moses. The Seder plate has seven items all of which have a symbolic meaning. They remind the Jews of part of the Exodus:

  • Matzah bread. Three loaves of Matzoh, or unleavened bread. Reminds the of their ancestors.
  • Salt water. Salt water calls to mind the tears of the slaves, and of the Red Sea.
  • Charoset. A mixture of almonds, apples mixed with cinnamon and wine. Represents the mud that the Jews had to make into bricks when they were slaves.
  • Bitter herbs. These represent the bitterness of the slavery.
  • Parsely. A sign of spring, new life and new hope.
  • A roasted shank bone to represent the lamb which was slaughtered in the temple until it was destroyed in 70 CE
  • A roasted egg which recalls the sacrifice in the temple for the Passover.

A fifth cup of wine is poured and stands undrunk on the table. It is for the prophet Elijah who will come just before the Messiah. The door will be left slightly ajar for the same reason.

8 of 16

The four promises of Moses

Say therefore to the people of Israel, 'I am the Lord and I will bring you out from under their *******, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment, I will take you for my people, and I will be your God...' (Seder promises to Moses)

9 of 16


Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, is the second of the three pilgrim festivals. It is also called Chag Habikkurim, the festival of the first fruits. Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. However it was originally a festival to celebrate the summer harvest, farmers would bring there first harvest to the temple and offer it to G-d.

The period between Pesach and Shavuot is called The Counting of the Omer. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavuot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed us physically but giving the Torah gave them spiritual hope and beliefs.

Shavuot reminds Jews of them receiving the Torah and the Ten Commandments (the most important event in human history). Shavuot is always on the 6th of Sivan (the 6th and 7th outside of Israel)

Today the link of Shauvot with the giving of the law is much more important than the link with the harvest. The whole basis of Judaism are the laws that Moses received at Mount Sinai. There were 613 laws given to Moses, but the most important and the most well known are the 10 commandments.

10 of 16


What can and can't be done on Shavuot:

  • Work is not permitted during Shavuot.
  • It is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavuot and study Torah, and then pray as early as possible in the morning.
  • It is customary to eat a dairy meal at least once during Shavuot. “Song of Songs 4:11 The sweetness of Torah drips from your lips, like honey and milk.” - Cheesecake
  • The book of Ruth is read at this time. Again, there are varying reasons given for this custom, and none seems to be definitive
  • Homes and the synagogue are decorated with flowers and greenery because Mount Sinai was covered in vegetation.
  • Jews have a special challah in there homes (can be different shapes but must represent something)
11 of 16


Sukkot is a Jewish festival celebrating the fruit harvest and the gathering of the crops. It reminds Jews of when the Israelites were travelling through the desert after they had made the exodus out of Egypt. Sukkot begins on 15 Tishri, 4 days after Yom Kippur and ends on 22 Tishri. It is marked by the building of a sukkah temporary shelters which Jews built and lived in whilst gathering the harvest so they didn't have to tavel home; the idea of these shelters came from the Israelites as they used them as shelter in the desert. They must be large enough for the family using it. The walls are made of anything but the roof must be completely natural and must be cut to be used. The roof (s’chah) must allow less sun light than shade into the sukkah but must allow the light of the stars shine through. It is decorated with fruit and pictures and signs of the Jewish forefathers: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David also known as the Ushpizzin (meaning guests) as they are invited into the sukkah for a day.

 Many Jewish families invite non-Jews to come and eat with them on sukkot as the prophet Zechariah said that one day non-Jews would gather in Jerusalem for sukkot. For the last and the first two days no work is to be done except preparation of food. 

12 of 16

Lulav and Etrog

Other than the sukkah there are two special objects connected to the sukkot, these are the lulav and the etrog. The etrog is a citrus fruit it must have a pittam or pistil to be kosher. The lulav is palm, myrtle and willow placed in a woven palm holder. Together the lulav and etrog form the four species which are intended to represent the final gathering of the harvest. Every sukkot morning except Sabbath people hold the lulav in their right hand the etrog in their left place them both together and say a blessing to Hashem. Then they wave them in six directions front right back left up and down (front is east towards Jerusalem) this signifies that Gods power is everywhere.

Leviticus 23:40 On the first day you shall take the product of the hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your G-d for seven days.

13 of 16


Instructions for sukkot are found in the Torah:

Leviticus: 23:39-40 But on the fifteen day of the seventh month, when you gather In the crop of the land, you shall celebrate Hashem’s festival for a seven-day period… and you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, for a seven-day period.

Leviticus 23:42-43 You shall dwell in booths for a seven-day period; every native in Israel shall dwell in booths. So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt; I am Hashem, your G-d.

14 of 16

The Jewish calander

Most people use the Gregorian calander however Jews have there own calender.

By calculating the worlds creation as Monday the 7th October 3761, they can start their calender then calling it 1 Tishri 1 AM.  The lunar year is 10 or 11 days shorter than the solar year so the Jewish calender follows the lunar  cycle and the Sun.

Jewish new year starts at Rosh Hashanah so by adding 3760 or 3761 to the Gregorian calender (depending on if they are in the new year yet as the new years are at different times) you get the year.To allow for the new moon, Jewish months alternateand each month of 29 days is followed by one of 30 days to form a 12th month year of 354 days. in order to have the right number of days the calander leap months are added at the end of every 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th,17th and 19th year of every 19 year cycle. this leap month is added after the twelve month of adar and is called adar II or Adar Sheni.

The difficulty with this is that festivals have certain times in the year they must occur e.g) Pesach is the spring harvest festival and with leap year adjustments they will be a long way of spring. It is important festival dates are specific as dispora Jews don't know when teh new moon appears in Jeruselum. Therefore to ensure everyone kept festivals an extra day was added to the pilgrim festivals in the diaspora.

15 of 16

Jewish calender

  • 1st                    Nisan             30 days
  • 2nd                   Iyar                29 days
  • 3rd                    Sivan             30 days
  • 4th                    Tammuz        29 days
  • 5th                    Av                  30 days
  • 6th                    Elul                29 days
  • 7th                    Tishri             30 days
  • 8th                    Heshvan        29 or 30 days
  • 9th                    Kislev            30 or 29 days
  • 10th                  Tevet             29 days
  • 11th                  Shevat           30 days
  • 12th                  Adar               29 days (30 days when it's a leap year)
  • 13th                  Adar II            29 days (leap year)
16 of 16


Miss KHP


Detailed account of Jewish festivals with quotes that you can use to save you time. This is good for any exam board that covers world relugions including Judaism.

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Worship resources »