08 October 2017

Jewish customs and traditions

Date of Issue : 12 September 2017

Here is a beautiful set of stamps issued by Israel Post on 12 September 2017 .The holidays celebrated in the Hebrew month of Tishrei are among the most important of the entire Jewish year. This stamp series presents three of the special customs associated with this festive period, emphasizing customs that are carried out in the dark. 

Selichot Prayers

In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the Days of Judgment, when people's actions are examined and their fates for the next year are determined. Jews are required to scrutinize themselves as these festivals approach, to mend their ways and ask forgiveness for their sins. Over the years, a set of special prayers called Selichot has been compiled, and are recited during the days leading up to the Days of Judgment. Selichot prayers are recited for the last time on the night before Yom Kippur Eve, but begin at different times based on different ethnic traditions. Sephardim and Yemenite Jews begin reciting Selichot prayers on the first day of the month of Elul, while Ashkenazim begin a week before Rosh Hashanah. Selichot prayers are traditionally recited in the hours of darkness after midnight. In the past, a synagogue official would walk around the town to awaken congregants when it was time to recite the Selichot, knocking on windows and calling out loudly: Get up to recite Selichot!

Building a Sukkah

During the seven days of the Sukkot festival, religious Jews move most of their activities from their homes to a temporary structure called a Sukkah, where they eat all their meals and even sleep at night. This serves as a reminder of the way Jews lived during the exodus from Egypt. There are many rules that define how the Sukkah must be built and how it should be covered with branches so that it remains a temporary structure, as required in order to perform the mitzvah. It is customary for all members of the family to participate in building and decorating the Sukkah. Traditionally, building the Sukkah begins at night after the end of Yom Kippur, as the start of a first mitzvah immediately after atoning for sins of the previous year. 

Second Hakafot

Shemini Atzeret, also known as Simchat Torah, is celebrated at the end of the seven days of Sukkot and marks the last day of the annual cycle of reading the Torah. On the eve and on the morning of this festival it is customary in synagogues to take the Torah scrolls out of the Ark and to carry them around the platform at least seven times. The whole congregation participates in these Hakafot (encirclements), singing and dancing with the Torahs. In the evening at the end of Simchat Torah additional Hakafot take place outside the synagogue, with music and an even larger crowd of participants. These Second Hakafot are mentioned among the customs of Isaac Luria (known as Ha'Ari Hakadosh) in Safed in the 16th century and from there they spread among the communities in Eretz Israel. In 1940 Rabbi Frankel, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, turned the Second Hakafot into a popular tradition conducted outside many synagogues. 

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