In rabbinic Judaism, Sukkot suffered from two problems. The first was the proximity of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which overshadowed it. The second was the urbanization of the jew, which diminished the importance of a rain festival. While Sukkot remained a major holiday, it lacked its former emotional clout. Ultimately, it was rescued by tying it to the Torah. The last day of the festival was chosen for the end and the beginning of the annual cycle of Torah readings Renamed Simchat Torah, the celebration provided attachments more relevant than agricultural memories.
With the coming of the secular age and the Industrial Revolution, Sukkot fell on hard times. Metropolitan Jews found an agricultural celebration to be slightly quaint. And there was no grand idea or striking historical event to give it dramatic shape. Rescuing Sukkot for some useful purpose became the difficult task of the Ambivalent clergy. Ultimately, only the Zionists in their new agricultural settlements in Israel were able to rescue it.
From a humanistic point of view, Sukkot has special significance. Agriculture was the beginning of human civilization, a quantum jump in the human mastery of the environment. The emergence of farming some ten thousand years revolutionized human existence. Territorial settlements, cities, population growth, surplus wealth, and written language followed quite naturally from this technological success. It lay the foundation for the human self-confidence that led to the secular age.
From “Judaism Beyond God” by Rabbi Sherwin Wine. Milan Press 1995
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