Jews and Christians too celebrate the festival of colours though the significance is very different from the Hindu festival

Do you know that Jews too celebrate Holi, and also Christians, the only difference is that it falls before Hindu festival? For Christians, the feast of colours is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday, a day prior to Ash Wednesday, which marks the 40-day fasting period of Lent. Jews observed their festival of Purim just two days before Holi this year. Those who visited Chabad House in New Delhi on Tuesday, 10 March, must have got a taste of the Israeli Holi, when wet colours were used to smear people, under the watchful eyes of Rabbi Shnoer Kupchick and Remon Ezra, the major-domo at most Jewish festivals celebrated in Delhi.

Purim falls in early spring and commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from Artaxerxes, the Persian emperor, who ruled from India to Ethiopia as recounted in the Scroll of Easter dating back 3,500 years. It is not a solemn festival but one of merriment. Esther was the emperor’s consort and helped her people attain liberty, for she was a Jewess.

In the spring beginning on 15 Nisan falls the Passover (11-17 April), which commemorates the freedom of the Jews from Pharoah. The pascal lamb is eaten on this day with due solemnity ~ sandals on the feet, loins girded, staff in hand with no part of the lamb wasted. For Christians this feast coincides with Easter (which is called Pasca by many Indians) and for the Jews it is second only in importance to Yom Kippur, Lag B’Omer (30 April), the 33rd day in the coming of the weeks between the Passover and Shavout, commemorates the Bar Kochba uprising against the Romans (AD 132-135).

Rosh Hashanah, which falls on 21-22 September, and coincides with autumnal equinox, marks the Jewish New  Year with the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn). The Book of Leviticus in the Bible says, "It is a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts (of the horn)".

According to the Israel Information Centre in Delhi, the term Rosh Hashanah is rabbinical as are the formidable themes of the festival ~ repentance, preparation for the Day of Judgement and prayers for a fruitful year. The major customs of the two-day festival, besides the sounding of the shofar, include elaborate meals, prayers of repentance and the recitation of the Hallel, a collection of blessings and psalms. Yom Kippur, eight days after Rosh Hashanah (30 September) is the day of atonement and self-denial. Five days after it falls Sukkot, the feast of the Tabernacles, which celebrates the exodus from Egypt and the thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest.

Shavout (31 May), the last pilgrimage festival, falls seven weeks after the Passover at the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. It is also known as the Festival of Weeks and marks the offering of new fruit and grain to the temple priests. It too marks the anniversary of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The lengthy summer until Rosh Hashanah is punctuated by the Ninth of Av (falling late July or on 2 August), the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. This day is also marked by mourning and fasting.

Then comes Shemini Atseret (12 October), the sacred occasion of the eighth day with which Simhat Torah is combined. The two festivals focus on the Torah ~ the five books of Moses. Hanmukkah, festival of lights, beginning on 25 Kiley, (usually 14-21 December) commemorates the triumph of the Jews against the Greeks (164 BC).

TU B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat (late January early February), the rabbinical new year of fruit trees for sabbatical, tithing and other purposes, has almost no ritual impact. It is listed as generally being observed on February 11.

During the Mughal days there were people of all nationalities, including Jews, in the royal court. They dwelt in their mansions on the outskirts of the Capital. Jewish festivals were presumably observed by them on a limited scale. Akbar had Jewish women in his harem of 3,000 concubines, surpassing even Solomon the Magnificent. Like Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan were generally tolerant of other communities. 


It was during this time that Sarmad, an Armenian Jew migrated to Delhi to trade in gemstones. He later became a Sufi and was beheaded by Aurangzeb as a heretic. But there were other Yahudis (Jews) like Daud and Ishakh who continued to trade with merchants in Delhi. There is, however, no record of their being persecuted by Aurangzeb and his successors, one of whom (Mohd Shah) is said to have fallen in love with the mistress of a Jewish jeweller. But whether she joined his harem is not known. Interestingly, there were women from Malabar among King Solmon’s concubines 3,000 years earlier, who had come in the ships carrying spices.-RVS