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The Five Pillars of Judaism – Pilgrimage


You have read Amani’s post on the fifth pillar of Islam, Hajj, right? If not, then hurry, it’s been ready to read already a long time now (witnessing my laziness, not having written on the Jewish response before now).

I think the thought of the Hajj is a beautiful thought, and by limiting the commandment of Hajj to only being performed once, I would certainly encourage all Muslims to go, at least once. The thought of removing any signs of status, level of wealth, or what else can make difference between people, but being on the same level, that is certainly something I would encourage anyone, who could, to experience.

Mecca is central in the Hajj, and so is Jerusalem in the Jewish version, HaShalosh Regalim, literally the “three feet,” hinting at the walking up to Jerusalem, which was the commandment when the Temple still stood. Today, when we are left without the Temple, there are no commandments to do the three pilgrimages, which were performed by the Jews living within the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, in relation to the three festivals, Pessah, Shavu’ot, and Sukkot, each having their own special characteristics, the Pessah focusing on the leaving Egypt, the Shavu’ot of receiving the Torah, and the Sukkot having Jerusalem being full of small huts, where people spend the seven days of Sukkot.

The commandments to these three pilgrimages can be found in the Torah, in Shmot (Exodus) 23:14-17, where it is stated that:

Three times you shall slaughter sacrifices to Me during the year. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread as I have commanded you, at the appointed time of the month of springtime, for then you left Egypt, and they shall not appear before Me empty handed. And the festival of the harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you will sow in the field, and the festival of the ingathering at the departure of the year, when you gather in [the products of] your labors from the field. Three times during the year, all your males shall appear before the Master, the Lord.

Though it isn’t stated that this has to be done in Jerusalem, the fact that sacrifices are ordered, means that it can only be done in Jerusalem. And this was a commandment on all male Jews, as is apparent from the last verse, commanding all males to appear before God, Who had His “resting place” in Jerusalem.

It isn’t clear that Shavu’ot also is included here, since the verses only talk about Pessah (the festival of unleavened bread) and Sukkot (the festival of the harvest), but it is hinted at with the commandment of going to Jerusalem three times during the year.

The next place in the Torah is in Shmot (Exodus) 34:18-23, where is stated that:

The Festival of Unleavened Cakes you shall keep; seven days you shall eat unleavened cakes which I have commanded you, at the appointed meeting time of the month of spring, for in the month of spring you went out of Egypt. All that opens the womb is Mine, and all your livestock [that] bears a male, [by] the emergence of ox or lamb. And a firstborn donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; if you do not redeem it, you shall decapitate it; every firstborn of your sons you shall redeem, and they shall not appear before Me empty handed. Six days you may work, and on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing and in harvest you shall rest. And you shall make for yourself a Festival of Weeks, the first of the wheat harvest, and the festival of the ingathering, at the turn of the year. Three times during the year shall all your male[s] appear directly before the Master, the Lord, the God of Israel.


The mentioning of the Shabbat (six days you may work, and on the seventh day you shall rest) does not mean that the Shabbat was one of the pilgrimages, rather it is a referral to the working on the field, which is not supposed to be done on Shabbat, even if it means that there will be less of harvest to offer to God later on.

Here we see the three times being mentioned again, as well as the appearance of all the males (in the last verse), but this time it talks about Pessah (the festival of the unleavened cakes – it confuses me a little why ‘matzot’ here is translated as ‘cakes,’ normally, as was the case in the previous example, it is translated as ‘unleavened bread’) and Shavu’ot (festival of weeks), while Sukkot is not mentioned here.

The last place in the Torah dealing with the pilgrimages is Devarim (Deuteronomy) 16:1-16, which offers more details on the commandments involved, but especially Devarim 16:16 is interesting in our focus, stating that:

Three times in the year, every one of your males shall appear before the Lord, your God, in the place He will choose: on the Festival of Matzoth and on the Festival of Weeks, and on the Festival of Sukkoth, and he shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.

Here the commandment of the three pilgrimages are stated explicitly: Three times a year, each male shall appear, in Jerusalem (the place He will choose), during Pessah (festival of Matzoth), during Shavu’ot (festival of weeks), and during Sukkot, bringing sacrifices for each of them.

In later time after the destruction of the Second Temple, Jerusalem became less of a center of pilgrimage, both because of the Temple, but also because of most of the Jews being spread out in the world. The Jews didn’t give up the thought of pilgrimage though, some still going to Jerusalem, but most doing pilgrimages to lesser holy places or tombs of ‘Tzaddiqim,’ righteous Jews and Jewish sages.

This is also the case today, where many Jews in Israel do a “small” pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the three mentioned festivals, but also having many Jews visiting the tombs of the Sages, well-known rabbis, and cities of lesser holiness than Jerusalem, such as Sh’chem (Nablus), Hevron, and Uman.

It is possible that the commandments to do pilgrimage are not in effect in our days, but Jews are certainly still doing pilgrimages.

This ended the series of the Five Pillars of Judaism. I hope you enjoyed it and learned from it. I did.

I would like, as an ending remark, to thank Amani for giving me the idea. I can’t recommend her blog enough, and I hope that you guys (and girls) will give her blog a visit. I also hope that this gave an idea about some of the commonalities Judaism and Islam share.

1 Comment

  1. Amani says:

    Hey friend, thanks again for your support. Im in a writers block mode right now so Its been a while since posting. Its always great to read yours though 🙂

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