“Sukkah” is the Hebrew word for a hut (as in “Pizza Hut”) – a small house, typically temporary and wooden, in someone’s territory. “Sukkot” is the plural of “Sukkah”, i.e. “huts”.
One of the most interesting Jewish holidays is Sukkot. We often refer to it as the “Gathering Festival”, following the Biblical phrase: “Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days.” (Leviticus 23:39)
Researchers associate the origin of the main Jewish holidays (Pesach = “Spring Festival”, Shavuot = “Harvest Festival”, Sukkot = “Gathering Festival”) with the yearly cycle that had developed in various ancient agricultural communities. Prof. Yuval Noah Harari, in his bestseller ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’, describes the reasons and processes that led large groups of humans into domesticating various plants and animals — a thing that caused a major change in the ways of life, while developing new habits and traditions.
Staying in a hut near or in the field made it easier for workers to protect and gather the products, while acting under pressure of time, trying to complete the job before the first rain, which is expected at this time of year in the said regions.
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The penetration of a holiday into the ancient Hebrew religion was accompanied (as is the custom of religions) by a nice collection of specific commands and traditions. An interesting phenomenon associated with agricultural holidays has to do with other tradition – this of the Hebrew “leap year” that adds an extra month to a standard Hebrew lunar year. It so happens that following such a leap year, these those holidays arrive a little late, while following a couple of non leap years – those holidays arrive a little early.
Another fascinating phenomenon related to Sukkot was formed during the time of the Maccabees, in the 2nd century BC. In those times the tradition was to start the Sukkot celebrations in the Temple, but that location was under strict Greek control for a while. After the Maccabees freed the Temple, they sent a letter to the Jews in Egypt, telling them of a new holiday: “and we offered sacrifices, and fine flour, and lighted the lamps, and set forth the leaves. And now celebrate ye the days of Scenopegia (Sukkot) in the month of Casleu.” (2 Maccabees 1:8-9). This later developed into the holiday of Hanukkah.
Nowadays, in many places and in many communities, the “Gathering Festival” has turned into an important event for children. In addition to a long vacation from school, the little ones get to participate in the creative joy of building a Sukkah and decorating it, and in breaking a routine by spending time outside home.