Although the word “holiday” is usually associated with some type of celebration, the Jewish holiday calendar is marked with many days meant to commemorate a tragic event going back to the origin of Judaism and its early years. Because of the sheer number of somber events remembered by the faithful during the Jewish holidays, many religious events have been consolidated into a few fasting days spread throughout the year.
The Jewish calendar was originally constructed using precise calculations based on the lunar and solar cycles. Because of their unique system, holidays begin at sundown of the previous day rather than at midnight. The exceptions to this rule are fasting holidays, which begin at dawn and end at sundown. Although Tish’a b’Av and Yom Kippur are fasting holidays, they also begin at sundown the day before.
Jewish Fasting Holidays
Jewish holidays 2012 begin and end with the Tenth of Tevet, observed this year on January 5th and December 23rd. Other fasting days include the 17th of Tammuz on July 8th, Tish’a B’av on July 28th and 29th, the Fast of Gedeliah on September 19th and Yom Kippur, known as the Day of Atonement observed on September 25th and 26th.
Fasting is intended for adults of Bar Mitzvah age and older who are in good health. Women who are nursing or pregnant, the elderly and the very young or those in ill health are not required to fast, but should abstain from sweets and other indulgent foods.
Unless otherwise noted, the fast begins at dawn and ends at nightfall. Work is allowed on all of the fasting holidays with the exception of Yom Kippur.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins the high holidays on the Jewish calendar 2012. It starts a 10-day period of repentance that ends with Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah itself is a two-day celebration that begins at sunset on September 16th, 2012, and ends at nightfall on September 18th. Work is not permitted on either Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.
The eight days of Passover 2012 begin on April 6th at sunset and end at nightfall on April 14th. The first and last two days of the holiday are considered “yom tov,” and carry stricter restrictions, such as no work being carried out, than the intermediate days. A traditional meal ritual called a “seder” is held on the first and second nights of the holiday.
In 2012, Sukkot begins at nightfall on September 30th and ends at sunset on October 7th. No work is permitted on the first two days of this Jewish holiday. Jews should avoid work if possible on the Purim holiday, which begins at sunset on March 7th and ends at nightfall on March 8th.
Other minor holidays include Tu B’Shevat on February 8th, Ta’anit Esther on March 7th, Shushan Purim on March 9th, Lag B’Omer on May 10th. Work is permitted on each of these holidays. No work is permitted on the Jewish holidays Hoshanah Rabbah on October 7th, Shemini Atzeret on October 8th and Simchat Torah on October 9th.
As the Christian holiday of Christmas has become more about commercialism and less about religion, Chanukah is in danger of the same happening in the United States. Since the holiday marks the end of the Jewish holidays 2012 and falls just before the Christmas holiday, in many Jewish homes it has become more about exchanging gifts and less about religion. On the Jewish holiday calendar for 2012, Chanukah begins at sunset on December 8th and ends at nightfall on December 16th.