Jewish Holidays and Rituals: Examples & History

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  • 0:50 Rosh Hashanah
  • 2:01 Yom Kippur
  • 3:05 Passover
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will focus on the well-known Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Passover. In doing this, it will highlight the blowing of the shofar, the Jewish liberation from Egypt, and the Seder meal.


In today's lesson, we're going to take a look at several of Judaism's main holidays and celebrations. We'll also take a look at some of the important rituals that accompany these special days.

However, before we do this, let's do a quick review of Judaism itself. Judaism is the ancient faith of the Jewish people. Unlike many other ancient faiths, it is monotheistic, meaning it asserts there is only one true God. With the man Abraham as the father of their faith, Judaism has spread across every ocean and continent in our world.

With this down, let's get on to the well-known Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Passover. As we do this, please know we'll be offering just a brief explanation of these time-honored celebrations within the Jewish faith.

Rosh Hashanah

To get the ball rolling, let's start with Rosh Hashanah. In very simple terms, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, which takes place in Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish calendar.

Unlike most secular New Year celebrations, Rosh Hashanah is a time of contemplation and quiet. To a Jew, this holiday is a time to reflect over the last year. It is also seen as a time to prepare yourself to live a righteous life in the year to come. Add to this that Jews believe the world was created on this day, and it's pretty easy to see why this day holds such a place of importance within Judaism.

With its prominent place in Jewish culture, Rosh Hashanah carries many rituals. Perhaps one of the most important of these is the blowing of a ram's horn, known as a shofar. Blown loudly throughout the synagogue, its blasts are meant to be a call toward repentance and reflection.

Due to the solemnity of the day, Jews are not permitted to work during Rosh Hashanah. Instead, they are to spend the day in introspection. On a sweet note, one of the snacks of this holiday is apples dipped in honey. This yummy treat signifies the hope for a sweet new year.

Yom Kippur

With this, we come to our next Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur. Considered the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement. In simpler terms, it's a day set aside to sort of apologize for or make amends for the sins of the past year.

Like Rosh Hashanah, Jews will not work on Yom Kippur. In fact, in order to show their true repentance, many Jews will fast, with the more Orthodox Jews abstaining from things like intimate physical contact and even bathing. Due to the emphasis it places on repentance, much of Yom Kippur is spent in the synagogue, the Jewish place of worship. Like Rosh Hashanah, the blowing of the shofar is also incorporated into this holiday.

Among extremely Orthodox Jewish sects, a hen is sometimes used almost as a scapegoat for sins. In a ritual that is purely symbolic, a hen will be butchered, symbolizing punishment and sacrifice for one's sins. The hen will then be given to a poor or needy family for their Yom Kippur meal.


Last, we have the Passover. Steeped in Jewish history, the Passover is a commemoration of the ancient Jews' deliverance from slavery.

To make a very detailed story simple and short, both the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity include accounts of the Jewish enslavement within Egypt. In order to free them from this Egyptian bondage, God sent Moses to free the Jews from captivity. In order to do this, Moses performed many miracles, such as turning the water of the Nile to blood.

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