Sukkot (Hebrew: סוכות or סֻכּוֹת, sukkōt ; “booths”, also known as Sukkos, Succoth, Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles), is a Biblical pilgrimage festival that occurs in autumn on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (late September to late October). The holiday lasts 7 days. In Judaism it is one of the three major holidays known collectively as the Shalosh Regalim (three pilgrim festivals), when historically the Jewish populace traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem. The word Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah, meaning booth or hut.
Sukkot (Hebrew: סוכות or סֻכּוֹת, sukkōt ; “booths”, also known as Sukkos, Succoth, Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles), is a Biblical pilgrimage festival that occurs in autumn on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (late September to late October). The holiday lasts 7 days. In Judaism it is one of the three major holidays known collectively as the Shalosh Regalim (three pilgrim festivals), when historically the Jewish populace traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem. The word Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah, meaning booth or hut. The sukkah is reminiscent of the type of huts in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. During this holiday, Jews construct and reside in sukkahs small and large. Here families eat their meals, entertain guests, relax, and even sleep. Sukkahs built on synagogue grounds are used by men learning Torah and also by celebrants at a kiddush, brit milah or Pidyon HaBen ceremony. The sukkah Sukkahs with different types of walls and roofing (s'chach). Far left and right: wooden walls, woven bamboo mat roofing. Center: cloth walls, palm fronds roofing. According to halakha, the walls of the sukkah can be made from any material, including wood, canvas, plaster, or regular walls of glass or aluminium. A sukkah may be free-standing, or include one or two sides of a building or porch in its structure. The roof of a sukkah, however, must be of organic material that is detached from the ground. Palm fronds, branches, bamboo and wood are the most common roofing materials. The amount of shade inside the sukkah must exceed the amount of sunlight that can enter through the roof. The decor of the interior of the sukkah may range from totally unornamented to lavishly decorated with pictures, tapestries, hanging fruits and ornaments. Families may also line the interior walls with white sheeting, in order to recall the “Clouds of Glory” that surrounded the Jewish nation during their 40-year sojourn in the desert. Tables, chairs, and beds or mattresses are moved from the house into the sukkah, which may also be fitted with electric fans, lighting, heaters, bookcases and shelves for the comfort of users by day and by night. Sukkot laws and customs In modern-day Israel (and among Reform Jews), Sukkot is a 7-day holiday, with the first day celebrated as a full festival with special prayer services and holiday meals. The remaining days are known as Chol HaMoed (“festival weekdays”). The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabbah (“Great Hoshana”, referring to the increased number of circuits taken by worshippers in the synagogue during morning services; see below) and has a special observance of its own. Outside the land of Israel, the first two days are celebrated as full festivals. Prayers Prayers during Sukkot include the reading of the Torah every day, saying the Mussaf (additional) service after morning prayers, reading the Hallel, and adding special supplications into the Amidah and grace after meals. In addition, the Four Species are taken on everyday of Sukkot except for Shabbat and are included in the Hallel and Hoshanot portions of the prayer. On the first day of Sukkot (the first two days, outside of Israel), the prayer services are extended and similar to those of Shabbat. Chol HaMoed The second through seventh days of Sukkot (third through seventh days outside the land of Israel) are called Chol HaMoed (חול המועד – lit. “festival weekdays”). These days are considered by halakha to be more than regular weekdays but less than festival days. In practice, this means that all activities that are needed for the holiday—such as buying and preparing food, cleaning the house in honor of the holiday, or traveling to visit other people's sukkahs or on family outings—are permitted by Jewish law. Activities that will interfere with relaxation and enjoyment of the holiday—such as laundering, mending clothes, engaging in labor-intensive activities—are not permitted. Observant Jews typically treat Chol HaMoed as a vacation period, eating nicer than usual meals in their sukkah, entertaining guests, visiting other families in their sukkahs, and taking family outings. On the Shabbat which falls during the week of Sukkot (or in the event when the first day of Sukkot is on Shabbat), the Book of Ecclesiastes is read during morning synagogue services in Israel. (Diaspora communities read it the following Shabbat). This Book's emphasis on the ephemeralness of life (“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity…”) echoes the theme of the sukkah, while its emphasis on death reflects the time of year in which Sukkot occurs (the “autumn” of life). The second-to-last verse reinforces the message that adherence to God and His Torah is the only worthwhile pursuit. Hakhel In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, all Jewish men, women, and children on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the festival would gather in the Temple courtyard on the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkot to hear the Jewish king read selections from the Torah. This ceremony, which was mandated in Deuteronomy 31:10-13, was held every seven years, in the year following the Shmita (Sabbatical) year. This ceremony was discontinued after the destruction of the Temple, but it has been revived by some groups and by the government of Israel on a smaller scale. Simchat Beit HaShoeivah In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, a unique service was performed every morning throughout the Sukkot holiday: the Nisuch HaMayim (נסוך המים—lit. “pouring of the water”) or Water Libation Ceremony. According to the Talmud, Sukkot is the time of year in which God judges the world for rainfall; therefore this ceremony, like the taking of the Four Species, invokes God's blessing for rain in its proper time. The water for the libation ceremony was drawn from the Pool of Siloam (Hebrew: Breikhat HaShiloah) in the City of David, and the joy that accompanied this procedure was palpable. (This is the source for the verse in Isaiah: “And you shall draw waters with joy from the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3). Afterwards, every night in the outer Temple courtyard, tens of thousands of spectators would gather to watch the Simchat Beit HaShoeivah (Rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing), as the most pious members of the community danced and sang songs of praise to God. The dancers would carry lighted torches, and were accompanied by the harps, lyres, cymbals and trumpets of the Levites. According to the Mishnah, Tractate Sukkah, “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.” Throughout Sukkot, the city of Jerusalem teemed with Jewish families who came on the holiday pilgrimage and joined together for feasting and Torah study. A mechitza (partition separating men and women) was erected for this occasion. Nowadays, this event is recalled via a Simchat Beit HaShoeivah gathering of music, dance, and refreshments. This event takes place in a central location such as a synagogue, yeshiva, or place of study. Refreshments are served in the adjoining sukkah. Live bands often accompany the dancers. The festivities usually begin late in the evening, and can last long into the night. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukkot