- Bedikat Chametz
- Burning and Selling the Chametz
- Erev Pesach
- The Seder
- Matza— Unleavened bread
- The Matza and Wine
- The Seder Atmosphere
- The Eight Days of Pesach
- The Omer
- Erev Shavuot— The Eve of Shavuot
- Le’il Shavuot— The Night of Shavuot
- Aseret Hadibrot— The Ten Commandments
- Rosh Hashanah
- The Month of Elul
- Erev Rosh Hashanah
- The Prayers
- The Shofar
- The Meals
- The Spirit of Rosh Hashanah
- The Ten Days of Repentance
- Yom Kippur
- Erev Yom Kippur
- Kol Nidrei
- The Sukkah
- The Arbaah Minim
- Simchat Beit Hashoeva
- Hoshanah Rabbah
- Shemini Atzeret — Simchat Torah
- The Menorah
- Chanukah Celebrations
- Other Mitzvot of Purim
- Rosh Chodesh
- The Fast Days
The Jewish Festivals
The festival of Pesach [15th-22nd Nissan] celebrates the miraculous exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The word Pesach means “Passover” recalling the “passing over” of G‑d over the Jewish houses during the tenth plague of the slaying of the firstborn. The festival is also called Chag Hamatzot, the festival of matzot, and Zman Cheruteinoo, the Festival of our Freedom.
During this festival no leavened bread — Chametz— may be eaten or found in the home of a Jew. Chametz includes cake, cereals, crackers, biscuits, yeast, pasta and whisky.
Preparations for the festival start early as the whole house is spring-cleaned and any Chametz removed. Finally, the kitchen is koshered for Pesach. Separate sets of pots, pans, crockery and cutlery are used on Pesach.
The highlight of Pesach is the Seder— the meal on the first two nights of Pesach [N.B. in Israel there is only one Seder night]. Shop well in advance for all Pesach needs, such as wine, matza, meat/poultry, fish, eggs, lettuce, horseradish etc. All items should have “Kosher for Passover” labels.
The Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat Hagadol,and it is customary on this Shabbat for the Rabbi to teach the congregation the laws of Pesach.
בדיקת = searching חמץ = Chametz
On the eve of 14th Nissan, the head of every household searches the whole house for any remaining Chametz. The search is made with a candle and a feather [to brush crumbs], a wooden spoon [to collect crumbs], and a bag in which to put the Chametz. It is customary that before he starts the search, ten pieces of bread are “hidden” by another member of the family, and the head of the family has to find these pieces whilst thoroughly searching the whole house. A special blessing is made before the search — Baruch Ata….Al Biur Chametz.
Burning and Selling the Chametz
Any Chametz found during the search is collected in the bag, stored carefully and burned on the morning of 14th Nissan. Burning the Chametz is called Serayfat Chametz
After burning the Chametz, an announcement is made that all remaining Chametz which was not found during the search should be worthless like the dust on the ground. This is called Bittul Chametz — annulling the Chametz. It is also customary to sell any remaining Chametz [e.g. Whisky etc.] to a non-Jew. This sale of Chametz should be done through a Rabbi. Any Chametz sold should be locked away in a safe place such as the garage. This sale is called Mechirat Chametz. After Pesach, the non-Jew sells back the Chametz to the owner.
Erev means eve. On 14th Nissan, all firstborn males must fast [unless they attend a siyum, a celebratory completion of a tractate of the Talmud, usually made by the rabbi in the synagogue]. All preparations for the Seder should be made, i.e. cooking food and preparing lettuce, horseradish, charoset etc.
During Temple times, the Paschal lamb would have been sacrificed on Erev Pesach, roasted and eaten at the Seder.
Before sunset, women light Yomtov candles to usher in the festival.
The Torah commands us that on the night of the 15th of Nissan we must re-tell the story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. We must also eat matza and maror [bitter herbs] and drink four cups of wine. The evening must take on a particular order. The word Seder means “order”.
Matza— Unleavened bread
The matza must be baked in less that 18 minutes from the time of contact of the flour with the water. Special flour and water are used. The speed with which matzot are baked is incredible. It is preferable to use hand-baked “Shmura” matza for the Seder. Shmura means “guarded”, i.e. the flour has been guarded so that it did not get wet before the baking process. This could have made the flour Chametz, for if flour is left in contact with water for 18 minutes, it leavens and becomes Chametz. If no hand-baked matza is available, square, machine matza may be used. Three matzot are placed one on top of the other and covered with a special matza cloth. The following items are placed on top of the matza cloth. (Some place these items on a special “Seder Plate”.)
Egg — To symbolize the Yomtov sacrifice in the Temple.
Maror — Horseradish. Bitter herbs remind us of the bitter times in Egypt.
Chazeret — Lettuce, for use with the Pesach sandwich [see later].
Karpas — Parsley, potato or onion. A small piece of vegetable to be dipped in salt water.
Zeroah— Shank bone. Some use a roasted chicken neck, to symbolize the Pesach lamb which was eaten roasted.
Charoset— A mixture of apples, pears, nuts and wine.
The order of the Seder is as follows;
Kadesh: On return from the Synagogue, the table is already set with the finest cutlery and dishes. The Seder plate is arranged and Kiddush is made [see Shabbat]. Drink first cup of wine.
Urchatz: The hands are washed, three times on the right and three times on the left, without making a blessing.
Karpas: A small piece of vegetable is dipped into salt water and eaten.
Yachatz: The middle matza is broken in two and the larger part is set aside for the Afikoman [dessert] to be eaten at the end of the meal.
Maggid: Children ask the “Four Questions” — Mah Nishtana — and the story of the Exodus is re-told from a book called the Haggadah. Drink second cup of wine.
Rachtzah: The hands are washed three times on the right, and three times on the left, this time with the blessing Baruch Ata…Al Netilat Yadayim.
Motzi Matza: The blessing is made over the matza and a piece of matza is eaten. One should eat at least 1 oz. or 27 grams of matza within four minutes.
Maror: Eat bitter herbs.
Korech: Make a sandwich of matza and bitter herbs.
Shulchan Orech: Eat a festive meal. Hors d’oeuvres is the boiled egg dipped in salt water. No roast meat is eaten at this meal.
Tzafun: Eat Afikoman for dessert. Nothing else should be eaten after the Afikoman.
Beirach: Say Grace after Meals. Drink third cup of wine.
Hallel: Sing praises to G‑d. Drink fourth cup of wine.
Nirtzah: Next year in Jerusalem.
The Matza and Wine
Both the matza and wine should be under strict Rabbinical supervision. If one cannot drink four cups of wine, it should be diluted with grape juice. Each cup of wine must contain at least 86 ml.
The Seder Atmosphere
On the Seder night, a person should imagine that he himself went out of Egypt. We should conduct ourselves like free men — reclining on pillows to the left side. The first Seder should finish by midnight but at the second Seder, one should talk about the Exodus of Egypt until the early hours of the morning. Involve the children — questions and answers — the Haggadah.
The Eight Days of Pesach
Special Yomtov [festival] clothing are worn for the eight days of Pesach. Only matza and kosher for Passover foods may be eaten. The first and last two days of Pesach are Yomtov, i.e. restrictions similar to Shabbat apply with two exceptions;
1) One may cook on Yomtov [using a pre-existing flame, as striking a match is forbidden].
2) One may carry those items necessary for Yomtov in the street.
The intermediate days — Chol Hamoed — do not have the restrictions of a Yomtov, yet only work activity needed for the festival are permitted. The seventh day of Pesach is a Yomtov on which we celebrate the miracle of the Splitting of the Sea [Yam Suf]. It is called Shvii shel Pesach. The last day of Pesach is called Acharon shel Pesach.
In Israel, Pesach is only seven days. If travelling to Israel for Pesach, consult a Rabbi as to whether one should keep one or two days Yomtov.
49 days after the Jews came out of Egypt, they stood before Mount Sinai and G‑d gave them the Torah. The Torah was given on the 6th of Sivan and on this day we have a festival of Shavuot to celebrate the giving of the Torah. The word Shavuot means “weeks”. In great anticipation of Shavuot, we count the 49 days, seven weeks, from Pesach to Shavuot. This counting is called Sefirat Ha’Omer. We start counting [with a special blessing each day] on the second day of Pesach.
Just like you count down the days to a birthday, so too do we count down the days to Shavuot. With each day our excitement grows.
The period between Pesach and Shavuot is called the Omer period. During this period the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died, so we observe some rules of mourning. It is forbidden to have a haircut or get married during the Omer. This excludes Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer [18th Iyar] which is a day of rejoicing.
Erev Shavuot— The Eve of Shavuot
On the eve of Shavuot, we wash, have a haircut, and put on Yomtov clothes. Food is cooked in preparation, especially milky dishes such as cheesecake. On Shavuot when the Torah was given, the Jews could only eat milky dishes since their meat dishes had previously been used for non-kosher meat. [Since the laws were given at Mount Sinai, the dishes were not kosher]. To commemorate this, we eat dairy foods on Shavuot. Furthermore, just as a mother feeds her baby milk, so too when the Jewish nation was born at Sinai, it was fed with milk/Torah.
Candles are lit before sunset to usher in the Yomtov. Shabbat restrictions apply on Yomtov with the two exceptions mentioned above.
Le’il Shavuot— The Night of Shavuot
Kiddush is made and after the Yomtov meal, it is customary to stay up the entire night of Shavuot and engage in the study of Torah. In fact, one reads a special book called Tikkun Le’il Shavuot, which is a collection of excerpts from Tenach, Mishnah and Zohar, and an enumeration of all the 613 commandments.
Aseret Hadibrot— The Ten Commandments
In the morning in Synagogue, the Torah reading is the description of the Giving of the Torah on Sinai. When the Ten Commandments are read, it is customary to stand. In some places the Synagogue is decorated with flowers to recall the Sinai desert which miraculously blossomed at the time the Torah was given. Great effort must be made that the whole family, including small children and babies should be in Synagogue for the reading of the Ten Commandments. The Book of Ruth is also read on Shavuot.
After Synagogue a Kiddush with dairy foods such as cheesecake, yogurt, blintzes and sour cream is served, We then wait one hour, and then eat a meaty Yomtov meal. In Israel, the Yomtov of Shavuot is one day only and outside Israel it is two days.
Rosh Hashanah [1st and 2nd Tishrei] is the first day of the Jewish Year. Literally translated it means the head [Rosh] of the year [Hashanah] i.e. just as the head controls the body, so too one is judged by G‑d on Rosh Hashanah and decisions are made in the Heavenly Court above for the whole year. For this reason, Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom HaDin — the Day of Judgment. On Rosh Hashanah, G‑d looks at all human beings and decides what will happen to them in the coming year. His decision is based on our conduct in the previous year — G‑d carefully weighs our good and bad deeds on Heavenly weighing scales and if the good deeds outweigh the bad, one is written down in the Book of Life.
Rosh Hashanah is also the day when we crown G‑d as our King. It is like the coronation of a king when all his subjects vow to be loyal to the crown. The coronation is heralded with trumpets. The Shofar [ram’s horn] that we blow on Rosh Hashanah is our trumpet and it reminds us to be fully devoted to G‑d, His Torah and Mitzvot.
We describe G‑d on Rosh Hashanah as Avinu Malkeinu — Our Father, Our King.
Our Father let Him act as a Father, have mercy on us and grant us a happy and sweet new year.
Our King — we reaffirm our loyalty and dedication to follow His command.
The Month of Elul
The month of Elul is a month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Just as in any business, where the director will assess the profits or losses of the business at the end of the year, at the end of the Jewish year in the month of Elul, we must make an account of our actions and deeds during the year. If we have offended anybody, we must ask them for forgiveness. In Elul, one’s whole conduct should be more sober in view of the High Holy Days coming. It is a good time to check one’s Tefillin and Mezuzot to make sure they are kosher.
In the week before Rosh Hashanah, we get up extra early and say Selichot — prayers asking for G‑d’s forgiveness.
On Rosh Hashanah, the King is in the Palace, during Elul the King [G‑d] is in the field, i.e. G‑d is easily approachable and accepts all with a smiling face.
Erev Rosh Hashanah
As on Erev Shabbat you should bath, have a haircut and put on Yomtov clothes. The table should be set and a Machzor [special Siddur for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur] prepared.
In the Synagogue a white Parochet [curtain] is hung in front of the Ark.
Before Sunset, the women light the Yomtov candles. After Maariv it is customary to wish each other a Ketiva V’Chatima Tova — a good inscription for a sweet new year.
The Musaf Amidah of Rosh Hashanah is very special in that we concentrate on three themes:
Malchiot — saying verses from the Tenach which proclaim G‑d as our King.
Zichronot— verses which ask G‑d to remember us for the good.
Shofrot — verses which talk about the Shofar.
In one of the main prayers, we proclaim: “And repentance and prayer and charity will remove any bad decree.”
The special mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is the Shofar. The Shofar is a ram’s horn. It is blown:
1) To herald the coronation of G‑d as our King.
2) To arouse us to repent.
The Shofar is blown with three distinct notes:
Tekiah — a long uninterrupted blast
Shevarim — three short blasts
Teruah — nine bleeps
Altogether the Shofar is sounded 100 times on Rosh Hashanah. The Shofar is curved to remind us to bow ourselves before G‑d.
As on every Yomtov, two festive meals are eaten, one by night and one by day after attending the synagogue. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah it is customary to eat only sweet foods so that G‑d should grant us a sweet year. So:
1) Sweet wine is used for kiddush.
2) The Challah is dipped into honey.
3) Sweet apple is dipped into honey and eaten at the beginning of the meal.
4) Sweet vegetables e.g. Tzimas [carrots with honey and raisins] are eaten at the meal with fatty meat indicating that the year should be fat [i.e. prosperous] and sweet.
5) Pomegranate — our merits should be as numerous as its seeds.
On the second night of Rosh Hashanah a new fruit should be placed on the table.
The Spirit of Rosh Hashanah
The atmosphere of Rosh Hashanah should be festive yet serious and sincere in view of the fact that we are being judged on this day. Imagine how you would feel on the day of a big court case you were involved in. Refrain from idle chatter and wasting time. Concentrate on prayer, learning and good deeds. Many people recite Tehillim (Psalms).
It is customary on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, after Minchah, to go to a pool of water, river, sea etc. where there are fish, and to symbolically cast our sins into the water. This is called Tashlich.
The Ten Days of Repentance
The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippurare called the Ten Days of Repentance. During these days, we should make a special effort to make sure our conduct is as it should be. These are days in which our good conduct may tip the scales and secure us a good new year.
The 10th of Tishrei is Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day in the Jewish year. With Teshuvah — repentance — G‑d will forgive our misdeeds and seal us in the Book of Life.
On Yom Kippur one may not;
1) Eat. The fast commences before sunset on the 9th and finishes at nightfall on the 10th.
3) Wash — even when washing our hands in the morning, we only wash to our knuckles.
4) Wear leather shoes. Sneakers, slippers [not leather] etc are permitted.
Boys from the age of Bar Mitzvah and girls from the age of Bat Mitzvah must fast all day. Children aged 11 and above should fast for part of the day.
Erev Yom Kippur
On the day before Yom Kippur, it is a mitzvah to eat a festive meal. One who eats and drinks on the 9th of Tishrei is considered as if he fasted for two days. One should give a lot of money to charity on this day.
Early in the morning, we do kaparot, i.e. wave a chicken round our heads and say — this chicken shall be my atonement, i.e. this chicken shall be given to the poor and the merit of this mitzvah of Tzedakah shall stand in my good stead. Some perform the kaparot service with fish or money.
Men immerse themselves in a mikvah [ritual pool of pure rain water] to purify themselves. Yomtov clothes are worn. Married men wear a kittel [white coat] in Synagogue with a Tallit.
The candles are lit and all go to Synagogue. All Shabbatrestrictions are in force on Yom Kippur. The service starts with Kol Nidrei [an annulment of vows]. The Torah Scrolls are removed from the Aron Hakodesh and the Chazzan chants Kol Nidrei, followed by Maariv.
At the end of each Amidah a special prayer called Al Chait is said. Al Chait is a list of all common sins, and when we read down the list we should repent for all our aveirot [sins]. It is customary to tap the heart with the right fist, as if to say — it is you, i.e. the Yetzer Hora [see chapter on middot] which has caused me to sin. This verbal expression of our sins is called Vidui. Doing Teshuvah is the special mitzvah of Yom Kippur.
During Musaf, we read of the special service of the Kohen Gadol — the High Priest in the Temple on Yom Kippur. When we read the section where the Kohen Gadol mentions G‑d’s Name, we bow and prostrate ourselves.
On Yom Kippur [as well as on other Yamim Tovim] a special memorial prayer called Yizkor is recited in which people remember their deceased relatives and pledge Tzedakah in their merit. In many places it is the custom that children who have both parents still alive go out of the Synagogue whilst Yizkor is recited.
At Minchah, the Torah is read followed by a special Maftir called Maftir Yonah. This is the story of Jonah and the whale. The story teaches us of the repentance of the people of Nineveh.
The concluding service of Yom Kippur is called Neilahwhich means “closing”, i.e. G‑d’s books are closing and being sealed and this is our last chance to be inscribed for a good year. Many sincere tears are shed at Neilah. After Neilah, the Shofar is sounded once to signal the termination of Yom Kippur.
The festival of Sukkot starts on 15th Tishrei, five days after Yom Kippur. On Sukkot we:
Sit in a Sukkah — a temporary dwelling with a roof of sticks and leaves.
Shake the Arbaah Minim.
When the Jews were in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, G‑d protected them from the blazing sun and heat of the desert with Divine clouds of protection. Furthermore, the Jews built Sukkot — temporary structures with thatched roofs which protected them from the sun. To symbolize this, we dwell in a Sukkah for seven days, from the 15th-22nd Tishrei. We must eat and drink [and some sleep] inside the Sukkah. The Sukkah reminds us:
of G‑d’s constant protection of the Jewish nation.
That just as the Sukkah is a temporary dwelling, so too life is temporary and this world is only a corridor to the Palace of the World to Come.
The Sukkah must have at least three walls and the roof — the Schach — must be made from sticks, leaves, pine, laurel etc, i.e. things that grow from the ground. The Schach must be thick enough that the shade inside the Sukkah is greater than the sun, but not so thick as to be rainproof.
In short, during Sukkot, one should move out of the house and one’s main dwelling place should be in the Sukkah. Eat, drink, sleep, learn and pray in the Sukkah. A special blessing [Layshave BaSukkah] is made when sitting and eating in the Sukkah.
The Arbaah Minim
Every day of Sukkot [except on Shabbat] we shake the Arbaah Minim — the four species:
Lulav— Palm branch [tall and thin]
Etrog— Citrus Fruit
Hadass— Myrtle branch
Aravot — Willow branch
We take a Lulav, three Hadassim and two Aravot, bind them together and shake them, together with the Etrog, in all directions.
The Arbaah Minim symbolize many things, for example:
Lulav — has taste [i.e. the date of the palm] but no smell — A Jew learned in Torah but lacking in mitzvot.
Etrog — has taste and smell — A Jew learned in Torah but with many mitzvot.
Hadass —has smell but no taste — A Jew with many mitzvot but unlearned.
Aravot — has no taste and no smell — An unlearned Jew lacking in mitzvot.
The Arbaah Minim represent the four types of Jews, as above. We bind them all together to show Jewish unity and that all Israel must serve G‑d. Also,
Lulav = spine
Etrog = heart
Aravot = lips
Service of G‑d must be with the whole body.
The first two days of Sukkot are Yomtov, and Shabbatrestrictions apply except for cooking [using a preexisting flame] and carrying. Festive meals are eaten by night and day and candles are lit at night [in the Sukkah]. Kiddush is made before every meal. One should be happy and rejoice on Yomtov. The last two days of Sukkot are called Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The intermediate days of the festival are called Chol Hamoed.
Simchat Beit Hashoeva
In Temple times during Sukkot, great celebrations with singing and dancing took place, and these celebrations were called Simchat [the joy of] Beit Hashoeva [the water drawing]. Even today, each night of Sukkot we sing, dance and rejoice. The Talmud says that during Sukkot, there was so much rejoicing, people hardly slept a wink for seven days.
Every day of Sukkot, Hallel is recited and the Torah is read. After Hallel, it is customary to encircle the Bimah with the Arbaah Minim in hand. This service is called Hoshaanot. [Some say Hoshaanot after Musaf]
The last day of Chol Hamoed is called Hoshanah Rabbah. On this day, we encircle the Bimah seven times with the Arbaah Minim. At the end of the Hoshaanot service it is customary to take five willow branches and beat them on the ground five times. Hoshanah Rabbah is the last date of appeal to G‑d to be granted a sweet new year.
Shemini Atzeret — Simchat Torah
Shemini Atzeret is the eighth day of Sukkot. We still sit in the Sukkah but we don’t shake the Arbaah Minim. Simchat Torah is the day after Shemini Atzeret. [We no longer sit in the Sukkah]. Simchat Torah is the culmination of the whole month of Tishrei and its festivals and on Simchat Torah we finish the yearly cycle of reading the Torah and start again from the beginning.
The person chosen to be called up to the Torah for the last portion of the Torah is called the Chattan Torah. The person called up to read the beginning of the Torah is called the Chattan Bereishit. It is customary for the Chattan Torah and Bereishit to sponsor the Kiddush and festivities for the day.
Both on the night of Shmini Atzeret and the night and day of Simchat Torah, all the Sifrei Torah are removed from the Aron Hakodesh and we dance with them as we encircle the Bimah. Children carry flags and small Sifrei Torah. We kiss the Torah to show that we are truly happy that we are the chosen people who have G‑d’s Torah. The joyous dancing around the Bimah is called Hakafot. During the reading of the Torah the custom is that everyone receives an Aliyah.
Both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are Yomtovdays and all Shabbat restrictions apply, except:
1) cooking [from a pre-existing flame]
In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are combined into one day.
Simchat Torah is one of the happiest days in the Jewish calendar and the mitzvah of Simchat Torah is to dance and rejoice with the Torah.
Kiddush is made by night and day together with festive meals.
On the 25th of Kislev we celebrate Chanukah. In the days of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Greeks governed Israel and they forced the Jews to worship their idols.
A Jew called Matityahu Maccabee organized a revolt against the Greeks and together with his sons and a small army, waged war against the Greeks and miraculously were victorious. When they entered the Holy Temple, they found that the Greeks had defiled all but one jar of pure olive oil, just enough to light the Menorah [candelabrum] for one day. Miraculously, this small jar of oil remained alight for eight days until more oil was made.
All Israel marveled at the victory in war and the miraculous burning of the oil for eight days and the Rabbis instituted the eight days starting from the 25th of Kislev as a festival called Chanukah. Chanukah means “dedication” — for in those days, the Temple was rededicated. The festival is to be celebrated by lighting candles.
On the night of the 25th Kislev, we light our Chanukah Menorah. The first night of Chanukah, we light one candle, the second night two candles and so on, until the eighth night when we light eight. The candles are placed in the Menorah from right to left and lit from left to right. Many people use olive oil instead of candles since the miracle in the Temple was with olive oil. The Menorah is lit either by the window or by the door opposite the mezuzah. Special blessings are made and songs sung when lighting the Menorah — see Siddur.
It is customary on Chanukah to eat foods connected with the miracle of the oil, e.g. potato latkes, doughnuts [fried in oil].
Children play with a dreidel — a square spinning top with the letters: נ, ג, ה, ש written on the four sides. These letters stand for נס גדול הי’ שם — “A great miracle happened there.” It is customary to give children Chanukah Gelt — money as a gift.
The Chanukah lights teach us an everlasting lesson, that the Jewish flame shall burn forever.
On the 14th Adar, we celebrate Purim. After the destruction of the First Temple, the Jews were exiled to Babylon where there arose a mighty ruler called King Achashverosh. He had a wicked advisor called Haman who plotted to kill all the Jews. The plot was foiled by Queen Esther and Mordechai. The entire Purim story is fascinating and is unraveled in Megillat Esther — the Scroll of Esther. This Megillah is read twice on Purim — by night and by day. During the reading of the Megillah,one bangs upon hearing Haman’s name. [Some children swing graggers.]
Other Mitzvot of Purim
In addition to reading the Megillah by night and day, there are three other mitzvot to be performed on Purim:
1) Mishloach Manot — “Sending of Gifts”— to send a gift of two items of food to a friend.
2) Matanot L’Evyonim — “Gifts to the poor” — to give charity to at least two poor people.
3) Seudat Purim — Festive meal — to eat on Purim day a festive meal. At this meal, it is a mitzvah to drink enough wine so that you don’t know the difference between “blessed be Mordechai” and “cursed be Haman.”
On Purim we eat Hamantashen — Triangular pastries filled with poppy seeds. The reason given is that in the palace, all Queen Esther ate was seeds — it was the only kosher food available.
The rejoicing of Purim is great. Many children dress in costumes and masks. We greet each other with a “Freilicher Purim / a Happy Purim / Purim Sameach!”
The first day of each Hebrew month is called Rosh Chodesh. Special prayers are said, such as Yaaleh Veyavo, Hallel [a beautiful praise of G‑d], Barchi Nafshi and Musaf [see Siddur].
On Rosh Chodesh, women refrain from heavy housework and washing clothes.
The Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh is called Shabbat Mevarchim — the Shabbat that blesses the coming month. On Shabbat Mevarchim, the Chazzan holds a Sefer Torah and announces when Rosh Chodesh will be and blesses the coming month.
A Jewish month may consist of 29 or 30 days and therefore Rosh Chodesh may be either one or two days [one day if the previous month has 29 days, and two days if the previous month has 30 days, the 30th day being the first day of Rosh Chodesh].
The Fast Days
Excluding Yom Kippur there are five national Jewish fast days.
Tisha B’Av — 9th Av. This is a 24 hour fast to commemorate the destruction of the two Temples on this day, and the destruction of Betar [a large populated town in Israel in post—Temple era]. Other tragedies in Jewish history took place on the ninth of Av such as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. On Tisha B’A v, we read the book of Eichah — Lamentations — say Kinot [verses of lament], we sit on the floor and do not wash or wear shoes.
Tzom Gedaliah — 3rd Tishrei. To commemorate the murder of Gedaliah Ben Achikom, a great Jewish leader of the post-Temple period. The fast is from dawn to nightfall.
10th Tevet — To commemorate the siege of Jerusalem in Temple times. Dawn to nightfall.
13th Adar — Fast of Esther. To commemorate Queen Esther’s fast before she pleaded with Achashverosh to save her people. Dawn to nightfall.
17th Tamuz — To commemorate the breach of Jerusalem’s wall by the enemy in Temple times. Dawn to nightfall.
The three week period between the 17th Tamuz and the 9th Av is a period of national mourning for the destroyed Temples. During this period it is customary;
1) Not to take a haircut.
2) Not to get married.
3) From 1st—9th Av, not to eat meat or drink wine [except on Shabbat].
4) To learn about the Temples.
The three weeks are called the Bein Hametzarim[literally meaning “between the narrow straits” of the 17th Tamuz and the 9th Av] and the nine days between 1st-9th Av are popularly called, “The Nine Days.”
When the Temple will be rebuilt in the days of Moshiach, these fast days will be turned to days of rejoicing. Anyone who mourns over Jerusalem will merit to see it rebuilt.