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When Holidays Begin | Work on Holidays | Extra Day of Holidays | List of All Holiday Dates

Jewish Holidays - Introduction

Level:  Basic

This is the first in a series of pages on the Jewish holidays.  Each of the pages in this series talks about the significance of a holiday, its traditional observances and related customs, the date on which each holiday will occur for five years, and in some cases recipes for traditional, Ashkenazic holiday-related foods.

Pages are available regarding the following holidays and other special days:

A few general notes about Jewish holidays:

When Holidays Begin

All Jewish holidays begin the evening before the date specified.  This is because a Jewish "day" begins and ends at sunset, rather than at midnight.  If you read the story of creation in Genesis Chapter 1, you will notice that it says, "And there was evening, and there was morning, one day" at the end of the first paragraph.  From this, we infer that a day begins with evening, that is, sunset.

For a discussion of why Jewish holidays occur on different days every year, see Jewish Calendar.

Work on Holidays

Work is not permitted on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and second days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Shavu'ot, and the first, second, seventh, and eighth days of Passover.  The "work" prohibited on those holidays is the same as that prohibited on the Sabbath, except that cooking, baking, transferring fire from another fire already lit before the holiday, and carrying outside, all of which are forbidden on Sabbaths, are permitted on holidays.  When a holiday occurs on a Sabbath, the full Sabbath restrictions are observed.

Extra Day of Holidays

You may notice that the number of days of some holidays do not accord with what the Bible specifies.  In most cases, we celebrate one more day than the Bible requires.  There is an interesting reason for this additional day.

The Jewish calendar is lunar, with each month beginning on the new moon.  The new months used to be determined by observation.  When the new moon was observed, the Sanhedrin declared the beginning of a new month and sent out messengers to tell people when the month began.  People in distant communities could not always be notified of the new moon (and, therefore, of the first day of the month), so they did not know the correct day to celebrate.  They knew that the old month would be either 29 or 30 days, so if they did not get notice of the new moon, they celebrated holidays on both possible days.  For more information about the lunar months, see Jewish Calendar.

This practice of celebrating an extra day was maintained as a custom even after we adopted a precise mathematical calendar, because it was the long-standing custom of the Jews outside Israel.  This extra day is not celebrated by Israelis, regardless of whether they are in Israel at the time of the holiday, but is celebrated by everybody else, even if they are visiting Israel at the time of the holiday.

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated as two days everywhere (in Israel and outside Israel), because it occurs on the first day of a month.  Messengers were not dispatched on the holiday, so even people in Israel did not know whether a new moon had been observed, and everybody celebrated two days.  The practice was also maintained as a custom after the mathematical calendar was adopted.

Yom Kippur is celebrated only one day everywhere, because extending the holiday's severe restrictions for a second day would cause an undue hardship.

List of All Holiday Dates

Below is a list of all major holiday dates for the years 5781 through 5785 (or fall 2020 through summer 2025).  All holidays begin at sunset on the day before the date specified here.

Holiday   5781     5782     5783     5784     5785  
Rosh Hashanah  19Sep20    7Sep21   26Sep22   16Sep23    3Oct24 
Yom Kippur  28Sep20   16Sep21    5Oct22   25Sep23   12Oct24 
Sukkot   3Oct20   21Sep21   10Oct22   30Sep23   17Oct24 
Shemini Atzeret  10Oct20   28Sep21   17Oct22    7Oct23   24Oct24 
Simchat Torah  11Oct20   29Sep21   18Oct22    8Oct23   25Oct24 
Chanukkah  11Dec20   29Nov21   19Dec22    8Dec23   26Dec24 
Tu B'Shevat  28Jan21   17Jan22    6Feb23   25Jan24   13Feb25 
Purim  26Feb21   17Mar22    7Mar23   24Mar24   14Mar25 
 Pesach (Passover)   28Mar21   16Apr22    6Apr23   23Apr24   13Apr25 
Lag B'Omer  30Apr21   19May22    9May23   26May24   16May25 
Shavu'ot  17May21    5Jun22   26May23   12Jun24    2Jun25 
Tisha B'Av  18Jul21    7Aug22   27Jul23   13Aug24    3Aug25 
 
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