Tabernacles – A Joyful Festival

Jewish people are preparing for a joyful Sukkot festival starting this evening, Monday 20th September. Also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot lasts seven days and commemorates the temporary dwellings built by the ancient Israelites during their escape from slavery in Egypt, followed by 40 years of living in the wilderness.

Consequently, the modern festival includes building an outdoor booth and assembling a special ‘bouquet’ including a palm frond, a myrtle branch, a willow branch, and a lemon-like fruit known as an ‘etrog’. Special prayers are read, including some from the Book of Ecclesiastes

Immediately following Sukkot there is an eighth day of holiday called Simchat Torah – ‘Rejoicing with the Torah’ – a celebration of completing the annual cycle of Torah readings and starting the cycle again.

During Sukkot in Israel, many organisations will be closed or open for reduced hours.

The Sukkot holiday comes just five days after the sombre Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, during which there is fasting, deep reflection about sins committed, seeking of forgiveness and resolve to sin less during the coming year.

Thus, Israel’s ILTV channel referred to it as a progressing ‘from fast to feast’.

Sukkot is one of three biblical feasts for which God required all Israelite men to appear before him. Consequently, Jewish historian Josephus wrote that as many as 2.7 million pilgrims crowded into Jerusalem and the surrounding area during those feasts in Jesus’ time on the Earth.

Recent archaeological excavations in Jerusalem have revealed a grand picture of the city and the temple shortly before it was destroyed by the Romans, including the gate the pilgrims passed through on their way up to the temple.

Dr Guy Stiebel, from Tel Aviv University, says,

“They would purify themselves in the Siloam Pool and then go straight up
to the Temple Mount, through a stepped street which was previously believed
to have been built at the time of King Herod. Now we know that the project
was actually carried out under Judean Governor Pontius Pilate.”

Dr Yonatan Adler, from Ariel University, says archaeologists have also discovered around 1,000 ritual baths in Israel. Some 200 of them are found in Jerusalem or its surroundings and were almost certainly used for purification rites, as well as the Pool of Siloam.

These purification rites seem to have some association with the process introduced by John the Baptist, as described in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 3 verses 1 to 12.