Traditional Jewish holidays are based upon events in Jewish history and centered on the Jewish faith, as described in the Hebrew Bible. Some of the major Jewish celebrations are Pesach (or Passover), Purim, Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights), Shabbat, and Bar Mitzvah.
Pesach, or Passover
Passover is a usually week long Jewish celebration in commemoration of the escape of the Jewish people from Egypt. The name is said to have originated from the tenth plague that God sent upon the Egyptians, killing the firstborn of each family. The Israelites marked their houses with the blood of a sacrificial lamb, as God commanded, and the angel of death “passed over” them, sparing their children.
Purim is a Jewish holiday commemorating the events of the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible. When the Jews in exile in Babylonia came under Persian rule, the Persian king’s Vizier Haman wanted to exterminate them, but his plans were foiled by Esther, and the Jews were allowed by the King to kill their enemies.
Hanukkah, or Chanukah, the eight-day Festival of Lights which falls around the same time as Christmas, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt, as described by the Books of Maccabees in the Hebrew Bible (books which most Protestant Christians consider to be non-canonical or “apocrypha”).
The Shabbat is the day of rest, representing the seventh Day of Creation when God rested from his work. It is observed from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, the traditional Jewish way of dividing days. Observant Jews refrain from any work or physical activity, including driving cars, on the Shabbat.
Bar and Bat Mitzvah
A Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah is the celebration of the coming of age of Jewish boys and girls. It usually takes place on a Shabbat service, the first for the boy or girl to participate in as an adult. It is customary to celebrate and give gifts to the youth for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah.