Shabbat (or Sabbath) falls every seventh day of the week, from Friday just before sunset until dark on Saturday night. It is a day of rest, marking the time when God stopped creating after after the six days of creation. Shabbat recognizes God as Creator of the Universe and as Redeemer of Israel from Egypt.
Rosh Chodesh (the new month) is celebrated for either one or two days. Before the calendar was set, this was determined by whether the new moon was seen on the 30th of the month. The Torah instituted that each new month be commemorated with a sacrifice. While no animals are currently sacrificed, many mark Rosh Chodesh with extra singing and prayers, including Hallel, Torah reading, and a haftarah. In some communities, women gather together and refrain from work in honor of the womens' refusal to contribute to the making of the golden calf.
Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, also known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, is considered by many to be the holiest day of the Jewish year. Traditionally, the day is one of fasting and prayer for a clean slate at the start of the new year.
Sukkot is a weeklong celebration of the harvest in early fall. It is celebrated by the building of temporary booths — that is, sukkot — outside homes in which people eat their meals and sometimes even sleep. The booths are reminders of the transience of life and the sheltering presence of God.
Simchat Torah is a joyous festival celebrating the completion of the year's cycle of reading the Torah. It is common to find people singing and dancing in synagogues — and even in the streets — with Torah scrolls.
Chanukkah is an eight-day winter holiday commemorating the Jewish victory over the Seleucid Greek oppressors in 164 BCE. It is widely known as the "Festival of Lights" due to the practice of lighting a candle or oil lamp each night of the holiday. This ritual recalls the miracle of the oil, in which a small container of oil for the Temple menorah lasted for eight nights, after it was expected to last for only one.
Passover, or Pesach, is a week long springtime festival commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. It also celebrates national redemption, and freedom from slavery. It is observed through avoidance of certain foods (especially grains) and ritual dinners called Seders where attendees retell the story of the Exodus.
Shavuot is a holiday that celebrates both the wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Many stay up all night learning to honor the latter. It is traditional to chant the book of Ruth on this holiday and to indulge in dairy foods.
Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is a fast day and the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Among other historical tragedies, it commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively. One fasting abstains from food and other physical pleasures, reads the biblical book of Lamentations, and observes mourning customs.
There are assorted fast days scattered across the Jewish calendar. During the two major fast days, Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av, one abstains from food, drink, washing, and sexual relations for 25 hours. During the other, minor fast days, one abstains from food and drink from sunup to sundown.
The “Four questions” is a text that features prominently at the Passover seder, opening up the portion of the evening in which the exodus story is discussed. Also referred to as “Ma Nishtanah” (“why is this night different”) after its two opening words, the questions highlight the differences between the seder night and all other nights. The text’s origins are in the Mishnah, with variant versions in different rabbinic texts and haggadahs. It is commonly recited or sung by the youngest person at the seder.
The High Holidays refer to the Jewish New Year (Rosh HaShanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) that follows 10 days later. These days are a time for repentance, introspection, prayer, and good deeds.
Lag BaOmer ("the thirty-third day of the Omer") is a day of celebration during the otherwise solemn period of the forty-nine days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. Many mark this day with outdoor parties and bonfires.
There are four New Years in Jewish tradition: the New Year for governments and festivals in the spring, the New Year for tithing animals in late summer, the New Year for calendars and spiritual renewal (Rosh Hashanah) in the fall, and the New Year for trees and planting in the end of winter.
Sefirat HaOmer (literally, "the counting of the Omer") is the period of 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. Each day is verbally counted off. Traditionally, this period of time is a solemn one, and many avoid celebrations during this calendar period.
Shabbat HaGadol (“The Great Shabbat”) is the Shabbat that immediately precedes the holiday of Passover. Jewish texts offer many explanations as to why this Shabbat is called “great,” like those that point to a great miracle performed on this Shabbat during the exodus, or those that point to the word “great” at the end of the haftarah prophetic reading traditionally read on this Shabbat. In many communities, the rabbi delivers a lengthy sermon on a Passover-related topic.
Asarah BeTevet, literally, "the tenth of Tevet" is minor fast day on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet that lasts from dawn until nightfall. It commemorates the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE that ultimately culminated with the destruction of the First Temple.
“The Four Children” refers to a rabbinic text incorporated into the maggid section of many haggadahs. The text presents four types of children who ask different kinds of questions, from different perspectives, with different assumptions, at the Passover seder. Each child is given a unique answer, built by weaving together different biblical verses. Variations of the text abound.
“The Four Expressions of Redemption” refers to four expressions from God’s speech to Moses in Exodus 6:6–7, in which God promises to redeem the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt. God uses four phrases to describe the process: “I will take you out,” “I will save you,” I will redeem you,” and “I will take you.” Some consider a phrase in the following verse, “I will bring you,” to be a fifth expression of redemption.
Tu B'Av — the fifteenth of Av — is a minor holiday. Falling just six days after the fast day of Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, Tu B'Av is described in rabbinic literature as one of the happiest days for the Jewish people. In antiquity, women would go out in festive clothing to dance in vineyards on this day. Today, the holiday is often viewed as a celebration of love.
Tzom Gedaliah ("the Fast of Gedaliah") is a minor fast day on the third of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which is the day after Rosh HaShanah. It is observed from dawn to nightfall and commemorates the assasination of Gedaliah, a Judean official, by fellow Judeans — an act that led to further dispersal during the Babylonian Exile.
Yom HaAtzmaut is Israel's Independence Day, celebrated on the fifth day of Iyyar (usually in April or May), marking the date when the Israeli provisional government signed their Declaration of Independence.
Hosh'ana Rabbah is the seventh day of the Sukkot holiday. In Temple times, the day was marked by seven processions around the altar, which was decorated with willow branches. Today, the day is marked by customs such as seven processions around the synagogue sanctuary, extended recitation of prayers known as "hosh'anot," the striking of willow branches on the floor, and staying up at night to learn Torah.