Sukkot, or Feast of Booths, is the third holiday in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, and is one of the most important Jewish holidays. Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, when the whole Jewish people would come to Jerusalem in ancient times, when the Holy Temple was there, and would offer animal and grain sacrifices. It is a particularly joyous holiday that combines religious and agricultural elements.
Sukkot originates in the Torah, and commemorates the booths in which the Israelites lived in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. A sukka is a temporary dwelling, usually with wooden or cloth walls on at least three of its four sides and a roof made of tree branches (traditionally palm fronds) through which the sky can be seen.
Another explanation for the custom of building booths is to commemorate the booths built in the fields at harvest time to protect the harvested crops.
Sukkot is also known as the Harvest holiday, as it is celebrated in the autumn, after the summer harvest and before the planting of winter crops. A central theme in the holiday prayers is rain: the farmers thank God for this year’s harvest and pray for rain for the coming year.
Sukkot lasts seven days, from the 15th to the 21st of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (usually the middle of October). The first day and last days are particularly festive: the first is a holy day, a rest day, when no productive work is allowed, similar to Shabbat, so most businesses are closed; the eighth day from the beginning of Sukkot is called Shemini Atseret, is a separate holiday. The intermediate days are similar to weekdays.
Building a Sukka
The sukka is built in keeping with strict rules dictated by Jewish law. The sukka must be built under the open sky, and not under a roof or a tree, and it is customary to decorate the sukka with various fruits, paper cutouts and pictures. You will see sukkas built in the yards (or on the balconies) of all homes where religious Jews live, although many secular Jews also like to build sukkas, to the delight of their children. During the seven-day holiday it is a religious obligation to eat only in the sukka, and Jewish law dictates sleeping in the sukka too.
The four species - These are four types of plants (palm shoot, willow and myrtle branches and citron) that are used in ceremonial blessings on each day of the holiday, except Shabbat. One common explanation of the four species is that they represent the variety of characteristics in nature and in man - every tree and fruit has its own qualities, as do different people, and for this God is thanked.
Apart from the two rest days, when businesses are closed, the intermediate days are semi-holy days, and many businesses, particularly offices, operate in the mornings only. Some businesses are closed the entire week. Take into consideration that many vacation spots will be full of Israelis.