What Is The Most Important Festival In Judaism

History Of Jewish Festivals

The Jewish calendar, which follows the lunar cycle, is rich in festivals. The most important ones are Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days, the Jewish New Year, Hanukkah, Passover and Shavuot. Each of these festivals has its own particular character and purpose, which is similar to the purpose of the festival itself.
Before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, observance of the festivals was centered around the sacrificial offerings that were performed on the Temple Mount. Those four festivals were focused on the ordering of time, the bringing of the rains, the harvesting of the grain, and the celebration of some of the great events in Jewish history.

Yom Kippur

The most important festival in Judaism is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur marks the day when God forgives all sins committed by the Jewish people during the previous twelve months. It is a day devoted to fasting, praying and introspection. According to Jewish tradition, the Day of Atonement is the most serious of all holy days and should be observed with great solemnity and gravity. For the entire day, Jews abstain from food and drink and refrain from earthly pleasures, including pleasure derived from touch.

High Holy Days

The High Holy Days refer to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This two-day festival marks the solemn period of the Jewish New Year and is seen as the birth of the world. During these Days of Awe, the Jewish people commemorate the creation of the world and take time to reflect on the past and plan for the future.
The blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn, is the most iconic tradition on the High Holy Days. The sound of the shofar is meant to serve as a call to repentance and a reminder of God’s power. During the High Holy Days, Jews also recite special prayer services, recite the ‘Unaan’ or confession of sins, and extend traditional greetings of ‘L’Shana Tova’ or ‘a good year.’

Jewish New Year

The Jewish New Year, known as Rosh Hashanah, is the most celebrated of all Jewish holidays. It traditionally marks the beginning of a new Jewish year and, according to Jewish teachings, a time when God performs a judgment of the world and all its inhabitants. On Rosh Hashanah and throughout the High Holy Days, Jewish people engage in self-reflection and repentance for sins committed during the past year. This is done through prayer, charity and abstaining from work.


Hanukkah is probably the most widely celebrated of all the Jewish festivals. It celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Syrian Seleucid Empire in 168 BCE. According to tradition, when the Temple was rededicated, a single flask of oil remained that miraculously lit the Temple’s lamps for eight nights. To commemorate this miracle, Jews celebrate the festival of Hanukkah for eight nights each year, lighting a nine branched menorah or candelabra called the ‘Hanukia.’ During the festival, Jews light the Hanukia, recite prayers, eat fried foods and play with a four sectioned spinning top called a ‘dreidel.’


Passover is perhaps the oldest and most widely celebrated Jewish festival. The holiday commemorates the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, as described in the biblical book of Exodus. During the eight day festival, Jews refrain from eating chametz or any leavened products, fasting, and recounting the central Passover events in synagogue services. The most important part of the Passover seder is the retelling of the story of the exodus and the symbolic eating of matzah, the unleavened bread of affliction.


Shavuot marks the end of the spring grain harvest in Israel and marks the anniversary of the day that the Israelites received the Torah. It is one of the three most important festivals in the Jewish year, along with Passover and Sukkot. During Shavuot, Jewish people celebrate the miraculous lessons of faith and dedication that brought them to Sinai. They also celebrate the gift of Torah, with readings, rituals and traditional dairy dishes.

The Significance of the Festivals

Each of the major Jewish festivals is an opportunity for spiritual renewal and an invitation to personally engage with Judaism. The festivals are a reminder of the timelessness of God’s covenant with the Jewish people, the power of faith and the importance of community. Through their rituals and observances, Jewish people recognize their unique relationship with their Creator and the universal values of justice, peace and freedom that Judaism promotes.

Observance of the Festivals

Different Jewish denominations observe different customs and rituals for each festival. Orthodox Jews tend to be more observant of the festivals, and follow the directives of the Torah and Talmud more closely. Conservative and Reform Jews tend to be more relaxed about the observance of festivals; for example, some Reform Jews will use electricity on Shabbat and some Conservative Jews may not observe all the laws of kashrut. However, all three branches of Judaism recognize the importance of the Jewish festivals and their significance in expressing Jewish values and identity.

Rituals and Traditions

The rituals and traditions of each festival vary greatly, but there is one commonality—an understanding of the importance of observing and celebrating the festivals. Each of the festivals has specific customs, such as the reciting of special prayers or the eating of certain foods, and is often accompanied by family gatherings and the exchange of gifts. In addition, the observance of the festivals often helps Jewish people to connect with their rich spiritual traditions and to affirm their commitment to the Jewish faith.

Post-COVID Celebrations

Jewish festivals are typically celebrated in large groups and with extended family, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for people to join together for traditional celebrations. Because of the health risks associated with large gatherings, many families and synagogues have had to rethink how they celebrate the festivals, often offering virtual services and activities to ensure the Jewish community can still come together in spirit. Some families are also choosing to break up traditional gatherings and visiting relatives on various days during the festival instead of all at once, making it a more communal and collective experience.

The Future of Jewish Festivals

The Jewish festivals are a reminder of our connection to God and to each other, and they provide us with a platform to demonstrate our faith, joy and commitment to tradition. As time passes, these rituals will continue to hold an important place in Jewish life, bringing us all closer together no matter where we are in the world. Now, more than ever, the Jewish festivals represent hope and a brighter future, reminding us all that no matter our differences or struggles, we are part of a larger community of faith, working together to make a better world for all.

Josephine Beck is a passionate seeker of religious knowledge. She loves to explore the depths of faith and understanding, often asking questions that challenge traditional beliefs. Her goal is to learn more about the different interpretations of religion, as well as how they intersect with one another.

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