Sukkot / Festival of Tabernacles 2023

Daniel Goodman
By Daniel Goodman

Published September 30, 2023.

sukkot in Israel - the Western Wall

Sukkot is known by many names: Feast of Shelters, Feast of Booths, Feast of Ingathering, and The Feast of Tabernacles.

What is Sukkot?

Sukkot is a week-long Jewish holiday that celebrates the fall harvest. It is one of the most joyful festivals in Judaism, bringing families, friends and communities together. Sukkot is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals (Sukkot, Passover, Shavuot) and commemorates the 40 years of wilderness wanderings and the completion of the harvest or agricultural year.

The Bible reveals dual significance in the Feast of Tabernacles. Agriculturally, Sukkot is Israel's "Thanksgiving." It is a joyous harvest festival celebrating the completion of the agricultural year.

As a historical feast, Sukkots' main characteristic is the requirement of Israel's people to leave their homes and to dwell in temporary shelters or booths. The Jews built these booths (temporary shelters) to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt and their protection, provision, and care by the hand of God during their 40 years in the wilderness.

Customs of Sukkot

Many interesting customs are associated with the celebration of Sukkot.

  1. Sukkah - The booth of Sukkot is called a sukkah. The temporary shelters consist of at least three walls framed with wood and canvas, with the roof or covering made from cut branches and leaves placed loosely atop, leaving open space for the stars to be viewed and rain to enter.
  2. Decorating the Sukkah - It is common to decorate the Sukkah with flowers, leaves, and fruits. Decorating your sukkah is a celebration of Sukkot itself and will enhance the festival celebration throughout the week. Decorations for the Sukkah can get children more involved in the Sukkot celebration.
  3. Arba Minim / Four Spices - The Arba Minim / Four Spices are a set of four species of plants used in Jewish rituals during the holiday of Sukkot. *link to Arba Minim

When is Sukkot 2023?

Sukkot's celebration takes place on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. It comes five days after Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. This year (2023), the festival of Sukkot begins on the evening of Friday, September 29 and ends on Friday, October 6.

"Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the Lord's Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days.'" - Leviticus 23:34 (NIV)

Why is Sukkot celebrated?

The festival of Sukkot commemorates the 40-year desert journey of the Israelites following their liberation from Egypt, during which they lived in temporary booths (sukkot) and relied on God's guidance to reach the Promised Land, Israel.

What are the Arba Minim / Four Spices?

  1. Lulav - A palm branch. It is typically the largest component of the Arba Minim and symbolizes the spine.
  2. Etrog - A citron fruit. It is often referred to as the "etrog," "etrog citron," or "etrog fruit." It is prized for its unique shape and fragrance and represents the heart.
  3. Hadas - Myrtle branches. Three myrtle branches are bound together, symbolizing the eyes.
  4. Arvah - Willow branches. Two willow branches are bound together, representing the lips.

These four species are used together in a special ritual during Sukkot, with the ritual involving waving the lulav, etrog, hadas, and aravah in six directions (east, south, west, north, up, and down). This ritual is performed each day of Sukkot, with the exception of Shabbat, to symbolize unity, and is a way of thanking and praising God for the harvest and for the protection provided during the Israelites' desert journey.

Events in Israel during the Sukkot festival.

  1. The Jerusalem March - Each year during the Sukkot holiday, the Jerusalem March paints the city with tradition, vibrant colours and a vast array of participants. Tens of thousands, both local and from around the globe, come together to joyfully parade through the streets of Jerusalem, creating a festive atmosphere that's hard to resist. For the past three decades, thousands of Christians from around the world have come to Jerusalem every fall to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.
  2. Succot Four Species Fair at Sarona - The vibrant festive market located at Giv’on Square, which takes place from Wed 27 September 2023 - Fri 29 September 2023, will be a treasure trove of artisanal delights, offering a rich array of wares that encapsulate the essence of Sukkot. From the symbolic "four species" to intricately designed Sukkahs and an assortment of Sukkah decorations, you'll find everything required to elevate your holiday experience.
  3. Tamar Festival - An enchanting five-day revelry, the Tamar Festival, traditionally held during Sukkot amid the awe-inspiring backdrop of Masada in Israel's Negev Desert, stands as the nation's grandest musical extravaganza. This festival showcases the talents of beloved Israeli musicians and invites the world's diverse musical heritage to harmonize within an unparalleled desert oasis. Many of the festival's sunrise concerts enable the breathtaking sunrise over the desert and the Dead Sea to provide a unique ambience serving as a stunning backdrop.
  4. Spicy Way Farm - During the joyous intermediate days of Sukkot, Spicy Way Farm in Beit-Lechem-Haglilit hosts a vibrant celebration of flavours and hues. This fiesta invites visitors to partake in creative culinary workshops centred around the deep red pepper Paprika. Attendees can immerse themselves in guided tours through the lush Paprika fields and savour delectable dishes inspired by this fiery spice, making it a truly uplifting experience for the senses.

You're invited to join us as we continue our exploration of the diverse array of festivals and events in Israel. We'll be diving into Christian and historical sites, along with immersive experiences in other captivating locations throughout the Holy Land.

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