Holidays In Jewish Diaspora And After Effects Over The Nationalism


Holidays and collective mourning times of the Jews, always, had been ceremonial process a long with the life cycle period. As like as, birth, circumcision, marriage and pilgrimage; observing the Jewish holiday is a significant part of the Jews in terms of both collective and individual. In holidays, the awareness for the religious conciseness was raised, importance of the community and family become clear and assist of the Jewishness stated even for secular stereotype  Jews. Holiday sessions have been seen as a gathering apparatus for Jewish community both in Eretz and diaspora. They, also, could be fruitful melting pot tool among the different kinds of Jewish sub-groups in the communities. Furthermore, atmosphere of the holidays has created unique bridges between diaspora and land of Israel from destruction of the second temple until today. This bridges, which erected by hopes and wishes, have been transformed concrete efforts and sympathy since 1948. Establishment of the State of Israel formed new type of proximity and belonging between diaspora Jews and Israel. Despite the technical and theological differences, Jewish nationalism and Jewish holidays intermingled together. In this presentation paper, I will mention one basic technical difference about celebrating the  Jewish festivals in diaspora and Eretz Israel. After this important emphasis, I will roughly explain some major holidays and mourning days of Jewish life. Finally, I will try to discuss sense of belonging and nationalistic motivations that raised during the celebration.

Jewish life is measured by the Hebrew calendar, which is based on a solar year comprising 12 lunar months. To correct the discrepancy between the lengths of the solar and lunar years, an extra month is added to the calendar every two to three years (according to a complex calculation that works out to seven of every 19 years being a leap year [1]). According to this calendar usage one technical problem is occurring between diaspora and Israel. Jews in different countries  which are using Gregorian calendars have developed the alternative solution to catch the current holiday periods. Yom tov sheni shel galuyot – יום טוב שני של גלויות is a extending the one day holidays through the two or extending first day of multi days holidays through to two days. The need for a second festival day arises from problems encountered by Jews living in the Diaspora following the Babylonian exile. The Jewish calendar, is a lunar system with months of 29 or 30 days. In Temple times, the length of the month depended on witnesses who had seen the new moon coming to the Temple in Jerusalem. Following confirmation of their evidence, a new Jewish month would be proclaimed. News of this proclamation was subsequently sent out to all Jewish communities. If no witnesses arrived, the new month was proclaimed the following day [2]. For instance; Shavuot is one day in Israel and two days in the Diaspora. Pesach is a seven-day festival in Israel, the first and last days of which are holy days, with five days of Chol HaMoed in between. In the Diaspora, it is an eight-day festival, with a pair of holy days at the start and finish, and four days Chol HaMoed. There are two exceptions to the rule. The fast day of Yom Kippur, which is one day even in the Diaspora, due to the difficulty of a two-day fast. Also, Rosh Hashanah is two days even in Israel [3].

According to Halacha and Hebrew calendar there many large and small holidays during the year. Some of them celebrating for commemorating disasters which experienced during the history of Judaism and some of them celebrating for redemption from some threats and some of them are observing for underlining the entity of the State of Israel and for the sake of people which sacrifice themselves for the state of Israel. It is necessary to mention about some of them for understanding motivation of praise, gratitude and honour which were main ground floor of the festivals and mourning days. Shabbat was the seventh day of the every week and in the State of Israel it was observed broadly. Except the some exemption places. In diaspora observing the Shabbat depends due to different   sub groups of Judaism. Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish new year that is celebrating in the beginning of Autumn. Most of Jews goes to synagogues during the Rosh Hashanah ,which is celebrating two days both in Israel and diaspora. Some secular Jews are trying the go to Synagogue in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As like as “Twice a year Christians” who go churches just in Christmas and Easter and also, “twice a year Muslims” who go to Mosques just in Eid al-Fıtr and Eid al-adha morning praying. Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement, a day of fasting and repentance to reconcile themselves with the Creator for the mistakes we have made in the last year. It occurs on the ninth day after the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Sukkot, is the festival of booths commemorates the Biblical period of wandering in the desert, and is commemorated by building a temporary shelter called a sukkah, Sukkot begins on the fifth day after Yom Kippur. Chanukkah is the festival of lights, commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a successful revolt against the Seleucid Greeks. Owing to consumption society and marketing strategies, Chanukah get involved as a Jewish Christmas. It is totally wrong perception among the the countries where Jewish communities live in.  Purim is a another festival symbolising the being safe from the collective massacre plan under the Persian rule. It looks like a Catholic Mardi Gras. People put on different costumes and masks during the Purim. It is symbolise the hiding and escaping from the annihilation. Passover (Pesah) is the holiday that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. Strictly observant Jews do not work, go to school or carry out any business on the first two and last two days of Passover (first one day and last one day for some branches). Shavuot commemorates the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Tisha B’Av is a fast commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and other tragedies. Occurs in late July or August. Yom Ha-Shoah is a Holocaust Memorial Day. A day to remember the victims of the Holocaust. Occurs in late April or early May. The important days, I mentioned above, are forming the main skeleton of the Jewish memorial days in terms of religious frame. On the other hand three national holidays mostly related with the State of Israel, celebrating also in diaspora full of the joys of spring. Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, Yom Ha-Zikkaron, Yom Yerushalayim are the days of Israeli Independence Day, Israeli Memorial Day and Jerusalem Day, respectively.

Both Jewish holidays, mourning days and Israel’s national holidays has been a great opportunity for Jews to strengthen the ties with Jewish fellowship for last century.  David Kertzer explains, “Identification of the local with the national can take place only through the use of symbols that identify the one with the other” [4]. Generally, the atmosphere of the holidays are passing with the same rituals, praying ceremonies, supper meetings. Symbols like star of David, menorah, even Torah and so forth are the gates of the multisession highway of common Jewishness.

According to Kimmerling,“the local” must be seen as the pockets of Jewish communities, or even individual Jews themselves, in the Diaspora; similarly, “the national” refers to the modern state of Israel, to which all Jews are said to belong [5].The great example of the communitas crates a interaction among the Jews. Their wishes, praying and hopes are directly forwarded to land of Israel where the real, concrete and legal Jewish state living above it. It might be a just a dream or wish saying some nostalgic words for Jewish state before the 20th century in diaspora but today, Israel is a hotspot not only for ancient features and being home once upon a time for Jews but also features like current home for Jews, second homeland after their currently living country or legitimisation of Israel both national and religious motivations.

During the holidays and commemorative ceremonies some relationships, like family and ethnic bonds, seem so basic. Interaction between them I mean in family, in community, inter-immunity relations in Eretz or relations with gentiles in diaspora are the shaping frames of identity. People cannot imagine themselves without their attachment to these relationships” For modern Jews, these attachments are not just ethnic bonds but national ones now, too [6]. For instance, speaking during the praying in Synagogue, reading the Hebrew texts or scripts are powerful vacuum for the hearths through the Israel. Because the ancient language is still living in their homeland with the protection of the nation state [7].

Of course, there are many exemptions for the sense of belonging or nationalistic legitimacy over the holiday celebrations both in Israel and diaspora but my presentation can put on some clues for religion and nationalism combination that affects the Jewishness.

  1. Jewish Festivals and Holidays, From Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to Tisha B’av,
  2. Zimmels, Hirsch Jakob, “The Controversy about the Second Day of the Festival,” in Samuel Belkin, ed., Abraham Weiss Jubilee Volume (New York, 1964), 139-168.
  3. Kaufmann Kohler & W. Wilner, “Second day of festivals” Jewish Encyclopedia,
  4. Kertzer, David I. Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, p.21.
  5. Kimmerling, Baruch. The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001, pp.200-204.
  6. Calhoun, Craig. Nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Michigan Press, 1997, pp.30-31.
  7. Caron, Amelia, ”Next Year in Jerusalem: Constructions of Israeli Nationalism in High Holiday Rituals,” Pursuit – e Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 7, 2011, pp.74-76