The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Jewish Art and Life   The Cycle of the Jewish Year  
The Cycle of the Jewish Year
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"Jewish ritual may be characterized as [ . . . ] the architecture of time. Most of its observances – the Sabbath, the New Moon, the festivals, the Sabbatical and the Jubilee year – depend on a certain hour of the day or season of the year."
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

In Judaism years are numbered from the date of the creation of the world as related in Genesis.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times – the days and the years
Genesis 1:14

To this day we use the lights of the heavens to determine the date and the seasons. In the Hebrew calendar, sunset and the appearance of the stars mark the beginning of a new day. The week is defined by the six days of creation, and the seventh day is the holy Sabbath, on which God rested from His endeavors. The reappearance of the moon denotes the beginning of a new month.

The cycle of the Jewish year is arranged here according to festivals and other occasions that have similar contents and customs. The Sabbath is in the center. Next to it are the three festivals that preserve the memory of formative events in the history of the Jewish people, around the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Other dates relate to the future: Hopes and expectations for a good year are intermingled with apprehensions, self-scrutiny, and atonement for one’s sins. Commemorative days and fasts in memory of tragedies that befell the Jewish people are presented alongside dates that evoke exultation and joy, when the Jews were miraculously saved from annihilation.

Some of the festivals and other occasions are biblically mandated; other, later dates were fixed in the wake of historical events. All these occasions have been transformed over the generations, with ancient rituals and customs being replaced by newer ones. The ritual utensils and decorative objects displayed here are all connected to these ceremonies and customs. Some of them attest to ceremonies that are no longer familiar to us or that preserve ancient traditions, whereas others are used in new ceremonies and customs.

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Sabbath and Pilgrimage Festivals

Holidays and Days of Remembrance

Feasts and Miracles