In the ancient times, Sukkot was, next to Passover and Shavuot, an important agrarian and pilgrim holiday. Jews would go on pilgrimage to sacrifice their annual harvest to God in the Temple.
According to Talmudinc tradition, every Jew should build a hut for the holiday. The hut should be big enough to find room for a man and a table. Three walls must be full and the fourth one may be just partial. The roof covering must be constructed in such a way as to enable seeing stars through it. The hut must be thus built in the open air. In Poland, Jews would build their huts on balconies (they were attached to the rear wall), or construct characteristic “alkier”. As “sechach”, the roof covering, was supposed to be made of natural materials, Jews used fir, straw or hay. During “Sukkot”, rules tell Jews to live and eat their meals in huts. However, due to cold European falls, Talmud lifted the duty of spending nights in the hut. Orthodox Jews only eat there.
Lulav and etrog are important symbols of the holiday. Lulav is a bouquet of plants. Traditionally, it is made of a branch of a true date palm (lulav), three branches of myrtle (hadasim) and two twigs of willow (arawot). Etrog is a variety of citron weaved into the bouquet. Everyday during Sukkot, six psalms are sung, from 113 to 118 inclusive. The singers hold the bouquet in their hands. Saying proper verses from psalm 118, they use the bouguets to make a gesture of blessing.
The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabbah. This is the end of judgement which begun on the New Year’s Day (Rosh Hashanah). The liturgy of Hoshana Rabbah is similar to that of Yom Kippur. The central ritual comprises making seven circles around bima with lulav and etrog during the prayer for good harvest. The night of Hoshana Rabbah is spent on prayers and reading of Holy Books, especially Book of Deuteronomy. The eighth day is Shemini Atzeret, during which worshippers pray for rain. In the ancient Israel, this prayer had fundamental importance; rain was extremely important, because without it harvest would not be good.
Sukkot ends with Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah). In Israel, the holiday is celebrated together with Shemini Atzeret, whereas in diaspora – during the ninth day of Sukkot. This is the end of the annual cycle of reading Torah in synagogue and the beginning of the new cycle. In the evening, all scrolls of the Bible are taken out from the Torah ark. A lit handle is left in their place, it symbolizes the everlasting light of Torah. Men make seven circles around bima with scrolls of the Bible in their hands, singing and dancing. This part of the synagogue is open to women and children, who participate in the procession. Subsequently, all adult Jews bless Torah and read the Bible. The last verses of the Book of Deuteronomy are read by the bridegroom of Torah (Chatan Torah). On the other hand, first verses of the Bible are read by the bridegroom of the Book of Genesis (Chatan Bereshit). After the service, both bridegrooms give presents to children and sweets. The next day, they organize a feast.