For many of Jerusalem’s residents, the Mahane Yehuda market is the ‘go to’ destination for groceries and household goods. Unlike a “one stop buys all” supermarket, the Mahane Yehuda market, known to many as ‘the shuk‘, is filled with small local stores, each specializing in specific goods.
Bread is purchased at the bakery, fruits at the fruit store, drinks at the drink shop, meat at the meat store, etc. There are also many competing stores with vendors calling out to attract customers. This makes pre-holiday shopping colorful and adventurous, as it requires waiting in many lines, dealing with different cashiers, and the final price often involves a bit of bargaining.
In the Mahane Yehuda market, one experiences a real feeling of the upcoming Sabbath or holiday. During the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashana, for example, the shuk is filled with vendors selling apples and honey for customers to purchase as gifts so they can wish their friends a Good and Sweet New Year. Walk through the shuk around Hanukkah time and you will find menorahs for sale in honor of the Festival of Lights.
Right now, during the days leading up to Sukkot, the Festival of Joy, besides all of the delicious foods, the special items on sale are known as the Four Species.
Sukkot is the holiday of joy and Israelis just love to eat! In Jerusalem’s famous Mahane Yehuda market, one experiences a real feeling of the upcoming holiday.
Known in Hebrew as the arba minim, the Four Species are: The ‘etrog’, a lemon-like citrus fruit also known as a citron; the ‘lulav’ – a closed date palm frond; ‘hadassim’ – the fragrant branches of a myrtle tree, and ‘Aravot’ – the branches of a willow tree. These four plants are bundled together and waved in a ritual, based on the biblical verse in Leviticus 23:40, in which G-d commands the Jews to “take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook” in order to “rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.”
In Judaism, a mitzvah (Divine commandment), such as the waving of the four species, is to be carried out with honor and grace. When a person shops in order to perform a mitzvah, they are not just shopping, they are on a holy mission. Mahane Yehuda helps fulfill this mission by setting up a giant tent exclusively devoted to the sale of the of the four species. Vendors come from all over Israel to help Jews fulfill this mitzvah.
Tens of thousands of Jews, during the days after Yom Kippur leading up to Sukkot, pass through this massive space searching for the optimal set of Four Species. Many hours and lots of shekels can be spent in the process!
Since Jewish holidays such as Sukkot begin in the evening, the afternoon preceding the holiday often brings out last-minute shoppers racing to complete their pre-holiday errands and purchases. Shortly before sundown, the tent is completely dismantled and disappears until next year’s Season of Joy.
Happy Sukkot from the Holy City of Jerusalem!
By: Eitan Press, United with Israel