In 1661 a book of Jewish customs was published in Amsterdam. The book was originally written in Hebrew, but seeing as it is a book of Ashkenazi traditions and customs, it was translated into Yiddish. It contains woodcuts of Jewish practices as described by the 14th century Austrian Rabbi, Yitzhak Ternau, who provides an overview of the traditions of the Ashkenazi Jews; among them the traditions of the High Holy Days, including Sukkot.
In one woodcut, you see the building of a Sukkah.
Building a Sukkah
In another - Two Jews are examining arba'at ha'minim, the four species.
Carrying the Plenty
The third shows the custom of throwing fruit for children to pick up during Simchat Torah.
Giving fruit to children
But the fourth woodcut caught our attention simply because it is so... eye catching. And we asked ourselves and everyone around, why one figure has a head and the other not?
The picture that piqued our curiority
דען הוט גישלאגן דער טרופל, דש ער הוט קיין קופל
17th century Yiddish, that reads, "He struck with the willow for he has no head."
For some, the image was bizarre and jarring. But for the experts who came to our aid, they were surprised people weren't aware of this common, Kabbalistic practice!
Let us tell you of this common Kabbalistic practice:
The discussion of common Sukkot practices
On the night of Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh and last day of Sukkot, a devout Jew begins to wonder, one week after Yom Kippur, "Have I been sealed into the book of life or death?" and the doubt niggles.
What is a devout Jew full of doubt to do in such a scenario? An ancient Kabbalistic custom, which can be found among the writing of the Ramban from the 13th century, offers a solution.
On the night of Hoshana Rabbah, one should step outside and examine the shadow they cast by the light of the moon. If the shadow cast is that of a whole person, then the believer should have no worries, for that means they have been sealed into the book of life. If the shadow shows no head, the devout Jew should start getting their affairs in order.
This tradition raises more questions than it answers. After all, it is known that Yom Kippur is the day we are judged and sealed into the book of life or death by God. But Kabbalistic tradition gives an answer to that as well; though we are judged on Yom Kippur, the verdict is signed on the night of Hoshana Rabbah and in that window of time, it is said we can glimpse into the what the final sentence will be.