Updated: Oct 20
The High Holy Days, also known as the Ten Days of Repentance, or the Days of Awe, are the most widely observed Jewish holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement
While these are the two main holy days, the High Holiday season also includes Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles, Shemini Atzeret, the “Eighth Day of Assembly,” and Simchat Torah, which literally means “Rejoicing in the Torah.”
Here is a quick description and dates for the High Holy Days observances for 2023:
Begins at sundown Sept. 15 and ends at sundown Sept. 17
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, literally means “the head of the year”
Main focus of this observance is intense moral and spiritual introspection as Jews prepare themselves for God’s judgment of the preceding year
God “writes” His judgment on the world on Rosh Hashanah and it is “sealed” ten days later on Yom Kippur
The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Ten Days of Repentance, or the Days of Awe
To learn more about Rosh Hashanah, check out our resource page, What Is Rosh Hashanah?
Begins at sundown Sept. 24 and ends Sept. 25
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in Judaism
Main focus is atonement and repentance
The day is observed with a 24-hour fast, during which Jews are in synagogue beseeching God for forgiveness
It is the final opportunity to repent before God’s judgment is “sealed”
To learn more about Yom Kippur, check out our resource page, What Is Yom Kippur?
Begins at sundown on Sept. 29 and ends at sundown Oct. 6
Sukkot, also known as the Festival of Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths, is a joyful celebration
Main focus is a joyous celebration of the harvest and a time to remember God’s provision for His people while they wandered in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt
Main observance is building a sukkah, temporary dwellings that resemble what their ancestors lived in during their time in the desert.
Sukkot is one of three pilgrimage holy days mandated in the Bible, along with Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost), during which Jews were required to travel to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem
Many believe Sukkot was the inspiration for the American Thanksgiving
To learn more about Sukkot, check out our resource page, What Is the Festival of Tabernacles-Sukkot?
Begins at sundown on Oct. 6 and ends at sundown Oct. 8
Shemini Atzeret, or the “Eighth Day of Assembly,” immediately follows Sukkot
The day marks the end of this intense journey of reflection and celebration and acts as a transition back to the routine of life
As it is connected to Sukkot, it is celebrated in the sukkah and is marked by the prayer for rain, officially starting the rainy season in Israel
To find out more about Shemini Atzeret, check our our resource page, What Is Simchat Torah?
Begins at sundown, Oct. 7, and ends at sundown on Oct. 8
Simchat Torah, which literally means “Rejoicing in the Torah,” is a joy-filled celebration, marking the completion of the annual reading of the Torah, from Genesis to Deuteronomy
The observance is marked in the synagogue with dancing and singing as the Torah scrolls are carried around the sanctuary seven times
The holiday underscores the centrality of the Torah to Jewish life as a gift from God and as a source of Jewish identity
To find out more about Simchat Torah, check our our resource page, What Is Simchat Torah?
How Do Jews Prepare for the High Holy Days?
The month preceding the High Holy Days, the month of Elul in Hebrew, is a time of preparation for these holy days, involving intense reflection and soul-searching, known in Hebrew as cheshbon hanefesh —literally “an accounting of the soul.”
This month long process culminates on Rosh Hashanah when, Jewish tradition teaches, all humanity is called to judgment before a holy and merciful God. The customs and traditions associated with Elul are intended to cultivate the proper mindset.
One of the best-known traditions is the blowing of the shofar, the biblically mandated trumpet made from a ram’s horn, after morning services at the synagogue. Many families also blow the shofar in their own homes. The sounding of the shofar is intended as a “wake-up call,” to rouse the people form their spiritual stupor and jolt them into repentance. At this time, it is also customary to recite from Psalm 27, which speaks of assurance of God’s protection, along with a plea that God will not forsake His children.
Jews around the world also prepare their hearts using three biblical principles, known as the Three Pillars: repentance, prayer, and charity.