Pilgrim Festivals

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PILGRIM FESTIVALS (Heb. שָׁלוֹשׁ רְגָלִים, "three pilgrim festivals"), collective term for the three festivals of *Passover, *Shavuot, and *Sukkot. The duty of pilgrimage on these three occasions stems from the biblical injunction, "Three times a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which He shall choose, in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles" (Deut. 16:16; and Ex. 23:17 where the festivals are not specified). According to the Mishnah, "All are under obligation to appear, excepting a deaf-mute, an imbecile, a child, one of doubtful sex, one of double sex, women, slaves that have not been freed, a man that is lame or blind or sick or aged, and one that cannot go up [to Jerusalem] on his feet" (Ḥag 1:1). The importance of the duty is stressed by Joshua b. Levi who stated, "all who perform the duty of pilgrimage are considered as if they had received the *Shekhinah" (tj, Ḥag, 1:1, 76a). Besides the festive offerings made on these occasions (Lev. 23), it was also enjoined that "they shall not appear before the Lord empty. Every man shall give as he is able" (Deut. 16:16–17). The Mishnah ruled that the minimum value of each individual offering was to be three pieces of silver (Ḥag. 1:2).

In the times of the judges, the pilgrimages were made to Shiloh (i Sam. 1:3) and, after the construction of the Temple, to Jerusalem (i Kings 8:65; ii Chron. 7:8–9). *Jeroboam, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, considered them such a threat to his authority that he established rival shrines at Dan and Beth-El (i Kings 12:26–33). After the return from Babylonia, Nehemiah reinstituted the practice of pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the festival of Sukkot (Neh. 8:15). Both Josephus (Wars 6:422–7) and the Tosefta (Pes. 4:3; also Pes. 64b) comment upon the large number of pilgrims to the Second Temple during Passover. According to the Mishnah, the fact that there was room for them all was a miracle (Avot 5:5). It seems that even Diaspora Jewry made the pilgrimage (Ta'an. 28a), and it was ruled that the prayer for rain should not be recited until 15 days after the conclusion of Sukkot in order to allow the last of the pilgrims to return to the Euphrates (Ta'an. 1:3).

In modern times, the tradition has been continued by individuals and groups from all over the country going up to Jerusalem, especially during the intermediate days of Sukkot. The center of pilgrimage is the *Western ("Wailing") Wall, but when access to it was barred pilgrims went to Mount Zion.


S. Safrai, Ha-Aliyyah le-Regel bi-Ymei ha-Bayit ha-Sheni (1965).