Ancient Harvest Festival Seen Growing in Favor with Young
Menu JTA Search

Ancient Harvest Festival Seen Growing in Favor with Young

Download PDF for this date

“True to its philosophy of progress and adjustment, liberal Judaism has endeavored to bring about a rejuvenation and revival of the secondary festivals, Passover, Shabuoth and Succoth,” says Rabbi Jacob D. Schwarz, director of synagogue activities of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

“Shabuoth experienced a great spiritual revival in the synagogue by the introduction of confirmation, and Passover, which languished in the home, has been revitalized in part by the institution of the congregational ‘Seder’ and in still greater part by observance in the religious school, which commonly takes the form of a ‘seder demonstration’ or model ‘seder,’ and which in turn has tended in the direction of a revival of Passover ceremonies in the home.”


“The feast of Succoth,” Rabbi Schwartz continues, “languished even more than the other two and was seemingly overshadowed by its close proximity to the High Holy Days, which are prone to induce spiritual exhaustion to the more anemic piety of these latter days. Here was an ancient and moribund harvest festival in urgent need of revitalization. Its symbol, the ‘Succah,’ owing to the exigencies of modern life, which begrudge the necessary space to the humble outdoor booth, was fast disappearing. The effort to replace the home booth with the ‘Succah’ in the synagogue has met with a fair measure of success. In the large congregations, fifty-eight per cent, of the synagogues have an outdoor ‘Succah.’ All of the remainder have an indoor ‘Succah’ usually on the altar or altar decorations symbolic of the ‘Succah.’ In the medium size and smaller congregations, the number of outdoor ‘Succoth’ is correspondingly smaller and the number of those who decorate the altar with ‘Succoth’ symbolism is correspondingly greater.


“Something more potent, however, seemed to be needed to infuse new life into the synagogue observance of the Succoth festival and again the appeal was made through the children. Beginnings in this direction were made about thirty years ago by the introduction of the Children’s Harvest Festival which at the present time is prevalent in eighty-nine per cent of the large congregations and in a considerable number of congregations in the smaller size groups: in many cases all part of the regular Succoth service on the first day, in other cases on Saturday or Sunday of the Succoth week or on Shemini Azeret. These harvest services centering largely around the products of our own fields and orchards emphasize our personal gratitude for the bountiful gifts of nature at harvest time, as well as God’s providence and guidance in the spirit of the traditional Succah. One congregation conducts an annual outdoor Succoth service, for which one of the member families of the congregation offers the hospitality of their residential grounds. The children bring offerings and participate in the service.

“The most neglected holiday of all was Shemini Azeret, which in the liberal synagogue marks the close of Succoth. In more recent years an effort has been made to revive the observance of this day in the synagogue. As is perhaps not difficult to understand, in plan### revival inspiration has ### from the dis### festival ### Azeret service is to a large extent built around the central ideas of the traditional Simhat Torah.

“Twenty-seven of the large congregations have adopted some form of Simhat Torah ceremonial. In general, three forms of observance are diseernable. The most common of these is the processional with the scrolls, patterned after the traditional Hakafot. In some congregations this is combined with the ceremony of transmitting the Torah symbolically from generation to generation. In still others, these two ideas are combined with a consecration ceremony for the children who are about to enter the religious school, thus identifying that experience with the traditional transmittal of the Torah.


“A number of typical examples will show how these ideas are combined in the various types of observance. In the first example, the reading of the Torah is followed by five processionals: the first processional consists of the past presidents, other former officers and elders of the congregation; the second processional consists of the present officers and board of trustees; the third consists of members of the alumni; the fourth consists of members of the last confirmation class; the fifth consists of the members of the present confirmation class.

“The rabbi presents the Torahs to the elders and expresses the appreciation of the congregation for the service they have rendered it. The elders march around the temple while the choir sings, and return to the altar. The elders thereupon transmit the Torahs to the present officers, to whom the rabbi speaks appropriate words regarding their responsibility to the Torah. The officers march around the Temple and on returning to the altar, transmit the Torahs to the Alumni group to whom the rabbi delivers a charge.

‘When the Alumni return from making the circuit, they transmit the Torahs to the members of the last year’s confirmation class who in turn make the circuit and transmit the Torahs in turn to the present confirmation class. A charge is delivered to both classes by the rabbi. Appropriate music is rendered during the circuits.


“In another congreation, the entire religious school assembles in the schoolrooms and marches into the synagogue in a body preceded by a grandfather, father and son, representing three generations and each bearing a Torah. The Torahs are deposited in the Ark. The holiday services are conducted by the children to the time of the taking out of the Torah. The representatives of the three generations ascend the platform. The Torah is taken out and handed to the grandfather. The rabbi makes an appropriate brief address and the Torah is passed from the grandfather to the father, to the son, to symbolize the unbroken line of devotion and loyalty. This is followed by the reading of the Torah. Before the Torah is deposited in the Ark, the entrance class of the Religious School ascend the platform and are given the priestly benediction by the rabbi after appropriate introductory remarks.

“Another congregation conducts a more elaborate ceremonial, combining all three ideas. This begins with a processional by the entire religious school bearing fruits and flowers, while the choir sings appropriate songs. Special shelves are built from the floor to the ele#ation of the pulpit so that the ###gth of the pulpit is covered with fruits and flowers.

“The children remain standing at their seats until they have completed the first hymn. Recitations are given by six or eight pupils of the school on such themes as “The Meaning of Consecration,” “This Festival,” “Joy of the Torahs,” etc., interspersed by hymns sung by the school.

These recitations take about twenty minutes and at their completion three groups of grandfather, son and grandson, each group representing three generations, ascend the pulpit. The president of the congregation hands one Torah to the first grandfather, which he passes to the son and the son passes to the grandson.

“A second Torah, handed to the grandfather, is transmitted by him to the son, who retains it and a third Torah is retained by the grandfather. The same procedure is followed with the second group of grandfather, son and grandson and likewise with the third group. The tenth Torah is handed to the rabbi. The three groups of grandfather, son and grandson then descend the pulpit, preceded by the rabbi. The first group marches up the right aisle, the second up the left aisle and the third, led by the rabbi, up the center aisle. The two groups in the side aisles join the group in the center aisle and proceed in single file to the pulpit where they form a semi-circle.

“A processional of the children who have just been enrolled in the religious school, clad in white, then advances to the pulpit where the little ones recite in Hebrew and English, “The Torah Which God Gave Through Moses.” The rabbi then stations himself before the Ark and as the children, two by two, step forward, the rabbi consecrates them. Traditional music is sung by the choir during the service and a violin or cello accompaniment is played during the consecration service.

“One congregation combines the Children’s Harvest Festival with the Simhat Torah ceremonial. In a few congregations the observance takes the form of a Simhat Torah pageant in which the To##h is the central figure.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund