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Sukkot or Tabernacles: Jewish Customs

The services in the synagogue today are modeled after the ancient services in the Temple (see Feast of Tabernacles in Bible Times). Sacrifices are no longer performed since the time of the destruction of the Temple.

It is usual practice to build and decorate the booth (sukkah). In the United States, Jews usually hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it because these vegetables are readily available in the fall.

Lulav

Jewish tradition calls for a lulav (Four Species) made of a palm, myrtle, willow and fruit from the citron to be waved. The rabbis insist this is the only accepted lulav; however Scripture says, “And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook…” (Lev. 23:40).

When Ezra reinstated the feasts, Nehemiah 8:15, he used olive branches. And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.

  • The Hebrew word for “goodly” in the verse in Leviticus above is hadar {haw-dawr’} [01926 ] meaning “ornament,” “splendor,” or “honor.”
  • The Hebrew word for “palm” in this verse is tamar {taw-mawr’} [8558] meaning “palm tree” or “date palm.”
  • The Hebrew word for “bough” in this verse is `anaph {aw-nawf’} [06057] meaning “bough” or “branch.”
  • The Hebrew word for “willows” in this verse is `arab {aw-rawb’} [06155] meaning “poplar, willow or a tree characterized by dark wood.”

There is thought to be spiritual significance based on the characteristics of the lulav and citron:

  • The palm bears fruit (deeds) but is not fragrant (spiritual blessing). This is like a person who lives by the letter of the law but does not have compassion or love for others.
  • The myrtle only has fragrance, but can’t bear fruit. This is like a person who is “so heavenly minded he is no earthly good.” He (or she) may recite scripture, but he doesn’t produce fruit.
  • The willow can neither produce fruit nor fragrance. This is like a person who is intrigued by different doctrines but never produces fruit.
  • The citron creates both fruit and fragrance. This is like a faithful believer who lives a balanced life in wisdom before God and man. Believers should strive to be like the citron.

The Tradition of Waving the Lulav

  1. While standing, the person picks up the lulav with its attached willows and myrtle in his right hand, holding the lulav so that its spine is toward them.
  2. The etrog is picked up in the left hand, next to the lulav, with its tip (pitom) pointing down.
  3. The blessings are said: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and instructed us concerning the waving of the palm branch.” Then the shehekeyanu is said: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, for keeping us in life, for sustaining us, and for helping us reach this day.”
  4. The etrog is then turned right side up and shaken with the lulav.

Each day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the people in the Temple courtyard would hold their lulavs and make a circular procession around the altar. During the procession they would pray a prayer that came to be known as Hoshanos. It is a prayer for God’s blessing, ending each phrase of the prayer with the word hoshana (“Please save” or “save now!”). On the first six days they would march around the altar one time. On the seventh day they marched around it seven times. Traditionally, Psalm 27 is recited at the service of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Bible prophecy tells us that people from the nations of the world will come up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with the Jewish people in Jerusalem And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts… (Zech. 14:17).

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  1. Charity Dell says:

    Sukkot is now being celebrated by Christians all over the world, including the 6000+ who come to Jerusalem every year for the “Christian Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles”, sponsored by the ICEJ. You can get livestream feeds of the worship services on the internet! There are numerous websites for Sukkot, from Jewish, Messianic Jewish and Christian
    viewpoints. Chag Sameach everyone on Sukkot, the
    Feast of Tabernacles!

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