Sukkot: Background and Biblical sources


From the Bible

"Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh, when you have gathered in the fruits of the land, you shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a Sabbath, a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest." "And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. And you shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year; it shall be a statute forever in your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month." "You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths; that your gene- rations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the Land of Egypt." "I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD." And Moses declared unto the Children of Israel the appointed seasons of the Lord."Leviticus: 23,39-45


The festival of Sukkot is rooted in the Bible, which delineates its basic laws and recounts the historical events related to it.

According to the Pentateuch, HAG HA-SUKKOT (Feast of Booths) or HAG HA-ASIF (Feast of Ingathering), as the holiday is alternately termed, is one of the three festivals on which the Israelites were enjoined to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. It prescribes the manner of observance -- dwelling in booths, prohibition of work on the first and eighth days, offering sacrifices, use of the Four Species, and rejoicing over the harvest.

The people were commanded to assemble and hear the reading of the Law of Moses every seventh year, on the Feast of Booths.


The Festival has nine days (eight in Israel) and begins on the 15th of Tishri.

In addition to the first days there are four intervening days (third to sixth inclusive) known as Chol Hamo'ed -- weekdays of the Festival. There are three further days, with characteristics of their own making a combined nine day festival period.


  • Chag HaSukkot: Festival of Booths (Lev. 23,34).
  • Chag Ha'Asif : Festival of Ingathering (Exod. 23,16)
  • Zeman Simchateinu: Season of our Rejoicing (Deut. 16,14)
  • Chag : The Feast (Lev. 23, 39-41)
  • The first two days are called Sukkot.
  • The seventh day is called Hoshanah Rabbah - The Great Hoshanah.
  • The eighth day is called Shimini Atzeret - The Feast of the Eight days or the Eighth Day of Solemn Assembly.
  • The ninth day is called Simchat Torah - Rejoicing of the Law. (This day is really the second day of Shimini Atzeret).

The Temple Period

The dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of King Solomon took place on Sukkot, and this historic event is described in detail in I Kings and 2 Chronicles.

First Kings also describes the rebellion of Jeroboam against Rehoboam, King Solomon's successor. To show his independence, Jeroboam, among other changes, changed the date for the commemoration of the feast.

The biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah contain accounts of the reinstitution of the celebration of Sukkot in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.

The prophet Zechariah foresaw a period when all nations will worship one God and will observe the Feast of Booths. The idea of a universal religious brotherhood is confirmed in the rabbinic dictum:

"On the Feast of Tabernacles, the Israelites offered seventy bullocks for the seventy nations of the world" (Midrash Tanhuma on Pinhas).

A Sukkot Summary

NOTE: Each of the * sections below is presented in greater detail in subsequent background files:

Sukkot is also historically a national celebration--CHAG HA-ASIF--the Harvest Festival. At this time of year the farmer had already gathered his harvest and was relaxing before the first rains. It is only in relation to Sukkot that the Torah says,

"You will rejoice before the Lord your G-d."

This is why Sukkot is also the only holiday called, "ZMAN SIMCHATENU"-- the season of our rejoicing.

Through the Ages

Solomon's temple in Jerusalem was consecrated during Chag Ha-Asif, and because of this, the holiday of Sukkot became the first of the three REGALIM (pilgrimage festivals celebrated in Jerusalem: Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot).

When Solomon went to Jerusalem, he went with all the people of Israel. The Cohanim (priests) and the Levites brought up all the holy vessels in the Tabernacle and G-d's altar (the Ark). King Solomon and all the Congregation of Israel that were assembled with him sacrificed sheep and oxen before the Ark.

After the Babylonian exile, Chag Ha-Asif became known as Sukkot. This was in remembrance of the days our ancestors left Egypt and dwelled in booths (Sukkot);

"for in booths I sat the children of Israel when I took them from the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 23:41).

The Torah names the first seven days of Sukkot "Chag Ha-Sukkot"--The Festival of Booths--for during these days we are commanded to sit in the Sukkah. In Israel, Sukkot is celebrated for eight days, while in all other places nine days are celebrated. The eighth day is called Atzeret, and the last day is called Simchat Torah. The first and eighth days are both holy days, and no work is permitted.

Before Sukkot, every Jew builds a Sukkah in his yard where he and his family join in the Sukkot meal. Chassidim (men of good deeds) begin building the Sukkah immediately after Yom Kippur ends, so as to proceed directly from mitzvah to mitzvah:

"they will go from strength to strength" --Psalms 85.

Home and Community Customs

The mitzvah of ARBA'AT HA-MINIM, the four species, symbolizes national unity: The ETROG and LULAV symbolize a full life of happiness and love of G-d. The HADAS and ARAVA represent the weaknesses of man. On Sukkot, it is a mitzvah to invite poor Torah students to join in the meals. In extending this invitation, the Ushpizin are also hosted-- Arbraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. This custom represents our forefather Abraham's mitzvah of inviting guests.

Communal Customs

The seventh day of the mitzvah of Sukkah and "the four species" was named Hosha'nah Rabbah for the prayer "Hosha'nah." On this day, the altar was circled seven times, while the following words were repeated-

"Save now, I beseech you, G-d; G-d, I beseech you, send now prosperity."

Today, we march around the Bimah (reader's pulpit) seven times with the Torah, reciting the same Hosha'nah prayer. On this day, the LULAVIM wave repeatedly, signifying the nation's prayer for rain.

The night of Hosha'nah Rabbah is the culmination of judgement, the day when our future fate is decided upon and sealed for the coming year. The night has thus come to be called LEYL HA-CHOTAM--the night of the sealing of man's fate.

On SIMCHAT TORAH (the last day of the Sukkot festival), the annual cycle of the Torah reading is completed, and immediately begun again-- symbolizing the nation's eternity.

The reader who finished the last portion of the Torah is called CHATAN TORAH, bridegroom of the Torah, and the reader who begins "BERESHIT" (the first portion of the Torah) is called CHATAN BERESHIT, bridegroom of Genesis.

On this day, the Torah is lovingly surrounded with dancing, while children carry flags garnished with apples at the end of sticks.


The materials in this file have been adapted from the "SUCCOT" folder written and produced by the former Publications Division of the Youth and Hechalutz Department, WZO and from "SUKKOT", a leaflet by the American Zionist Youth Foundation, WZO, New York.



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29 Apr 2015 / 10 Iyar 5775 0