Festivals vs Pilgrimage in Judaism

Festivals are an integral part of Judaism, they often commemorate past events, losses and historic victories. Orthodox Jews make a point of celebrating important festivals as a family, so that knowledge and tradition may be passed down to the next generation. In this regard, festivals are a key aspect of Jewish life, perhaps more so than pilgrimage. There are countless festivals in the Jewish calendar (perhaps not countless, but many) each celebrating or commemorating something different. Some may argue that without festivals to remind us, important historic events would be forgotten as generations wore on. Not to mention the fact that age old traditions would be lost. So yes, festivals are a very important aspect of Jewish life.

Now, how do they compare when placed against pilgrimage? Firstly, it’s always best to define one’s terms; a pilgrimage is a journey, often over great distances that are made for religious reasons. Examples of famous sites of pilgrimage can be found in Christianity’s St Peter’s Church, in the Vatican, Rome. This is supposedly were the great St. Peter is buried and millions of Christians flock to it every year. An example of a Jewish site of pilgrimage is the cave at which the matriarchs (Sarah, Rivkah and Leah) and patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are buried. Pilgrimages are made to go see historic sites and remember great people who have passed.

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They are not so different to Festivals, which also commemorate and remember past people and events. I don’t honestly think takes precedence over the other. Rather, they are intrinsically related.

Together they are important aspects that make up Judaism. The religion does not rely on only one, nor really does it rely on both as they are not the key principles of religion. They do play important roles though, in the family aspect of religion.

However, it can be said (and rightly so) that Jewish pilgrimage is rarely practised in these times save by those ultra-orthodox Jews who travel to Mt. Hebron every year. So festivals, which are celebrated by nearly all Jews, may be said to be more important. One can’t say that this argument is invalid, as it presents a worthwhile point, however in my opinion neither is more important than the other.

Therefore, I must disagree with the statement and say that I do not believe that festivals are more important than pilgrimage. Nor if the question had been inversely stated, would I agree with it then. No one aspect of religion is more important than another. Perhaps had the question been; “In the 21st century, do you believe that festivals are more important than pilgrimage?” I may have answered differently.