Jesus born at Sukkot / Festival of Booths / Feasts of Tabernacles

Sukkah from inside with sun streaming - Oct 7 14

People have asked us why we believe that Jesus was born at Sukkot (the Festival of Booths / the Feast of Tabernacles) and this article is about how theologians have arrived at this conclusion. It is also about how Sukkot has already been set apart by God to be the only Feast of Israel that all the nations of the world will one day celebrate.

Let’s start with how we arrive at Sukkot being the time of Jesus’ birth?

  1. Firstly, are able to determine that Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist was conceived in mid Sivan on the Jewish Calendar (which is in May/June) and born 40 weeks later on the Passover, which is on the 15 Nisan:

a. We know that John’s father (Zacharias) was a Levite who was assigned to serve in the Temple during the course of “Abia” in the 8th course of the year  (Luke 1:5, 1 Chr 24:10).

b. Since the cycle of service in the Temple began on the first Shabbat of Nisan (i.e. we know that the ecclesiastic calendar starts at the new moon before Passover — which is the 1st of Nisan).  We also know that  both Passover and Shavu’ot required all priestly courses to serve.  We can  calculate that the actual time of the 8th course where Zacharias served in the Temple was during the 10th week of the year, this would be at the beginning on the second Sabbath of the month of Sivan (May/June).

c. It is written that John the Baptist was conceived shortly after Zacharias’ service in the Temple (Luke 1:23-4) — which would be somewhere around the third Sabbath of the month of Sivan (i.e., late Sivan).

d. Assuming a full-term pregnancy (and the Scripture does not indicate otherwise), John the Baptist was born around Passover (Nisan 15).

e ) The Jews have always expected Elijah to come at Passover and herald the coming of the Messiah. and even today it is customary for Jews to set out a special cup of wine during the Passover Seder meal in anticipation of the arrival of Elijah for the festival. Jesus said that John the Baptist was a type of Elijah the prophet  (Matt 17:10-13, cp. Luke 1:17), therefore it is no surprise that John the Baptist (a type of Elijah) was born at Passover.

2. Jesus was conceived in late Kislev (Nov/Dec) and born 40 weeks later during Sukkot.

a. We know that Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist was conceived (Luke 1:24-27, 36) and that John the Baptist was conceived in late Sivan.  So, six months after late Sivan is late Kislev.

It is important to note here that the “sixth” month refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy,  not the 6th Jewish month of Elul (cp. Luke 1:36).

b. Placing the time of the conception of Jesus in late Kislev also makes sense of the fact that He is called the Light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46), as the first day of the Jewish festival of Chanukah (the Festival of Lights / Feast of Dedication) is the 25th day of Kislev. Based on the above, we can place the time of Jesus’ conception during the Jewish Festival of Chanukah.

c. Adding six months from the 15th day of Nisan (John the Baptist’s birthday), we arrive at the 15th day of the 7th month, Tishri – the first day of the festival of Sukkot.

d. In accordance with the Law of Moses, Jesus would have been circumcised the “eight day” after birth. Given He was born on the first day of Sukkot, the eighth day falls on a significant day on the Jewish calendar called Shemini Atzeret / Sinchat Torah, which, like the first day, is a day of sacred assembly (Leviticus 23:39).  On this day, the Jews complete their annual cycle of Torah readings and start again from Bereshit (Genesis), therefore Simchat Torah is considered by the Jews to be a time of “fulfillment” of the Torah. The circumcision of Jesus at this time indicates how He had come to fulfill the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-18).

3.  Circumstantial Evidence: 

a. John 1:14 states that the “Word became flesh and “dwelt” with us. The Greek word “dwelt” [skeinao] comes from the word skeinos, which the LXX (Septuagint) uses for the mishkan (tabernacle). The name given for the feast of Tabernacles itself is called Herotei Skeinon in the LXX.

b. King Herod most likely would used the opportunity of the Festival of Sukkot (in Jerusalem) to perform the census. It would not have been on Chanukah (which falls around December 25th on the Gregorian calendar) since he detested and feared the Hasmoneans.

c. Shepherds would not be out with their sheep in the dead of winter in Israel.  The angel who appeared to the shepherds said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Since Sukkot was known as both a festival of joy and also as the “Festival of the Nations,” the angel was actually giving them a greeting for the Festival of Sukkot.

d. We know that Jesus was 30 years old when He started His ministry (Luke 3:23) and assuming (as many Bible scholars do) that He ministered for 3 1/2 years, we can count backward from when He was crucified (month of Nisan) to arrive at His birthday falling in the month of Tishri, when Sukkot falls.

e. The Catholic church in 336 AD declared December 25th on the Julian calendar to be Jesus’ birthday in order to replace a pagan Roman holiday, Saturnalia. Ironically, December 25th was a celebration of the birthday of the sun god. The early church, in an attempt to get rid of the pagan holiday, declared December 25th to be the birthday of the Son of God.

f. The Scriptures teach that someday, when the Lord returns, that the nations of the world will all celebrate Sukkot — in fact, will be required to celebrate?

4. Sukkot – a Festival for all the Nations of the Earth

Sukkot (Festival of Booths / Feast of Tabernacles) has already been set apart by God in Scripture to be the only Feast of Israel that all the nations of the world will one day celebrate — and not just by the Jews, but by all the nations of the earth (i.e. Gentiles), required if those nations are to receive rain.

It says in Zechariah Chapter 14 that at  the end of days, God Himself will gather the nations of the world to come against Jerusalem and that He will go out and fight against them;

“A day of the Lord is coming when your plunder will be divided in your presence.  I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle. The city will be captured, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be removed from the city. Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle.

Zechariah 14: 1-3

Then it says that the Lord Himself will return and set His feet on the Mount of Olives.  Just after the battle where the nations of the world come against Jerusalem — the Lord’s feet will stand on the Mount of Olives…now remember, this is an Old Testament passage. The Lord’s feet?

“On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east.”

Zechariah 14:4

What does the New Testament teach?

Luke 24:50 indicates that the Jesus ascended into heaven in the vicinity of Bethany — which is on the east slope of the Mount of Olives.

Acts 1:1 0-11 says that two angels said that He would return the same way as He left;

“And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:10-11

Yes, Jesus will come in the same way as He was seen go into heaven — to the Mount of Olives.

This is the Lord’s return — when none else than God Himself will become King over all the earth and only His Name will be exalted.

“On that day Yahweh will become King over all the earth—Yahweh alone, and His name alone”

Zechariah 14:8

But then it says something very interesting…

It says that the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will be then be required to go up to Jerusalem year after year to “worship the King” and “to celebrate the Festival of Booths” and if they don’t, they won’t get rain.

Then all the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the Festival of Booths.     Should any of the families of the earth not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, rain will not fall on them.  And if the people of Egypt will not go up and enter, then rain will not fall on them; this will be the plague the Lord inflicts on the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16-19

Why would God require the Festival of Booths to be celebrated by the nations — by the Gentiles and not only the Jews?  Why not Passover, when He gave His life?  Why not FirstFruits when He rose from the dead?  Why not Shavuoth / Pentecost when both the Law and the Holy Spirit were given? Why Sukkot?

Could it be that this will be when the nations of the world will celebrate His birthday on His birthday — and not as they do now, on December 25th?

We outlined above that Jesus will return to the Mount of Olives, but when? Understand we are NOT taking about the day and the hour of His return — which Scripture says that only the Father knows (Matt 24:36, Mark 13:32) but the time of year, the season.

Many theologians believe that Jesus will return on a Rosh Hashanah, which is also called the Feast of Trumpets and whose name in Scripture is Yom Teruah (literally “day of shouting”) — the only Feast of Israel not yet fulfilled in Jesus;

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17

The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, therefore each year, the day that Rosh Hashanah falls is different.  Assuming that He will return on one of these Feasts of Trumpets does not indicate what day that is; as that depends on the year.  It could be a Tuesday, a Monday, any day, even a Shabbat.

But could it be that with all the other Feasts of Israel fulfilled in Jesus, that this last one could be when He returns?

Just a thought….

Remembering and Preparing to Remember

preparing to remember - the Last Seder

It occurred to us today, that the observances decreed by God in Scripture involve not only ‘remembering’ but ‘preparing’.  He calls us to remember the Sabbath day to keep in holy, remember when we were sojourners in the desert by building a Sukkah, and to remember when the Lord led us out of Egypt by observing the Passover. Throughout our 3,500 year history — 3,200 years of that in the Land, we are a people called to remember and with that remembering, comes a great deal of preparation.  This article is about the Jewish concept of preparing to remember.

Today is eruv Yom Kippur, the day before the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.  It is the culmination of the ten Days of Awe that started at Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year).  At sunset today (Tuesday September 22, 2015) begins a day of fasting, in accordance with God’s command to ‘practice self-denial’ and ‘afflict our soul’ (Leviticus 23:26-32).

“The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. You are to hold a sacred assembly and practice self-denial; you are to present a fire offering to the Lord. On this particular day you are not to do any work, for it is a Day of Atonement to make atonement for yourselves before the Lord your God. If any person does not practice self-denial on this particular day, he must be cut off from his people. I will destroy among his people anyone who does any work on this same day. You are not to do any work. This is a permanent statute throughout your generations wherever you live. It will be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial. You are to observe your Sabbath from the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening.”

Leviticus 23:27-32

[You can read more about this feast and its significance in our recent post on the High Holy Days and the Ten Days of Awe here:].

Even in advance of a solemn day of fasting, comes preparation.

In Biblical times, for the Jews to do no work meant that fires had to be stoked to burn until the next day and preparation for the evening meal to be eaten to break the fast had to occur before sundown the night prior. Without refrigeration, this likely meant a meal that was put over a slow fire to cook until sunset the following day.

Today Jews including us, are preparing a sweet dish to break the fast and setting a single pair of candle sticks that will be lit tonight at sundown to welcome in this Sabbath of Sabbaths – a day where no work is done.  There is no challah and no wine on this Sabbath, for this is a fast day.

For observant Orthodox Jews, the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of repentance – where they rise in the wee hours of the morning (4 am) and gather in synagogue to recite Selichot; communal prayers for divine forgiveness.  In the Sephardi tradition (Jews of Middle Eastern background) these corporate penitential prayers begin a full month before Rosh Hashanah. In the Ashkenazi tradition (Jews of Eastern European background), recitation of these corporate prayers of repentance begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah.  While Yom Kippur is a one day observance, there is as much focus on preparing to remember as there is to remember and observe the day itself.

It occurred to us that there seems to be a fundamental difference between the way we, as Jews observe holidays and the way it appears to us that our Gentiles friends observe them.  Firstly, while celebration and rejoicing is a part of many of our observances, we as Jews don’t celebrate holidays as much as observe them.

Observance of our Feast Days and Holy Days were established by God with the entire chapter of Leviticus 23 outlining the dates and specific observances of the seven annual feast days of the LORD;

  1. Passover / Pesach
  2. Unleavened Bread
  3. First Fruits
  4. Pentecost / Feast of Weeks / Shavuoth
  5. Feast of Trumpets / Rosh Hashanah
  6. Day of Atonement / Yom Kippur
  7. Feast of Booths / Tabernacles / Sukkot

Our Feast Days and Holy Days involve specific proscribed practices set out by God so that we remember.

For example, Passover in Scripture is associated with the taking of a lamb, killing it and then roasting in with fire.  As Messianic believers, our Passover Seder (meal and order of remembrance) centers on the evening meal of roasted lamb, unleavened bread and cups of wine and the remembering of the night we came out of Egypt. We remember the night our forefathers took those first lambs and placed the blood of those lambs on the doorposts and lintel and the Angel of the LORD passing over them.

We remember too, the night that Jesus gathered with His disciples at the Last Seder (what the Church calls the Last Supper) to eat the meal of lamb, unleavened bread and wine and to remember that same deliverance.

We also remember that on the night He was betrayed, He took some of the matzoh (the unleavened bread) and one of the cups of wine (the third cup — because He said will not drink the fourth until He drinks it together with us in His Father’s kingdom) and spoke of how the fulfillment of this is in Him.  He is the Lamb that takes away our sin. He the matzoh that is striped, pierced and broken for us.  The wine represents His blood, poured out for us for the forgiveness of sins – the blood of the Lamb that spares us of from judgement and death.

The corresponding holiday for our Gentile brothers and sisters is Easter.  In the evangelical church, this is often observed by a meal of turkey and/or ham with whatever side-dishes the hostess decides to make. It is a time for family to gather, to enjoy a good meal and while Gentile Christians have this meal after attending Easter services at church where they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection, the meal itself and the foods offered have no relationship to the observance. The Greek Orthodox retain the custom of a roasted lamb on Easter which makes sense to us as Jews – connecting the meal to the observance.
As Messianic believers, we commemorate Jesus’ birth during the Feast of Booths / Tabernacles / Sukkot – which is when many scholars believe He was born.

[for more info:].

Of course we enjoy sharing Christmas dinner with our Gentile Christian extended family, when invited. It seems everyone has their favorite stuffing recipe and way of preparing turkey and that along with Brussel sprouts, people have a love-it or hate-it relationship with fruit cake.  From our vantage point, we see both Easter and Christmas observed similarly – with a religious observance at church and then a festive meal with friends and family that has little or no connection to the holiday. While lovely, this is foreign to us as Jews.  The foods we eat and share with friends and family on these Feast Days and Holy Days are connected to the Holy Day and our remembrance of the events they commemorate.

For us as Jews, “holidays” are not about ‘days off’ as ‘days dedicated’ to remembering.

As Jews, there is no separation between religious observance and how we carry that out in our everyday lives — because such as separation does not exist.  We have a separation between the sacred and the common – between every day and the Sabbath days and Feast Days, but we don’t have a concept of the secular – of something that is not connected to our faith and lives as Jews.

Our entire calendar – in fact, our entire lives center on times of remembering and preparing to remember. Last week, before Rosh Hashanah, we were gathering branches for the Sukkah we would build after Rosh Hashanah and after Yom Kippur. Yesterday, we were checking to make sure that we had all the pieces to assemble our Sukkah before we start the observance of Yom Kippur, tonight.

Every week, we prepare for Shabbat; with the preparation or purchase of challah (sweet braided egg bread) and the preparing of the best meal of the week.

For Rosh Hashanah, we prepare special dishes made with honey to signify a sweet year.

For Passover, there is the preparation of the lamb roasted over fire and for obtaining sufficient matzoh (unleavened bread) for the week-long celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

We think that the institution of what the Church calls the Lord’s Table may be the only commemoration that exists today in which Gentile Christians regularly participate that embodies this Jewish concept of remembering and preparing to remember. The Christians at Corinth (a largely Gentile church) were exhorted by Paul to “examine themselves” so that they do not “eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner” (1 Corinthians 11:28). They were called to remember, yes – but also to prepare to remember.  This is no small matter, as the bread and the wine are not “just” food, but foods with a specific significance – in fact a significance set out all the way back to that first Passover when God led the Jews out of Egypt and which God Himself commanded all Jews to remember (Exodus 12). Jesus, as a Jew was observing the Passover, as the Law required.

“This day is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute.”

Exodus 12:14

The bread that He took was the unleavened bread of the Passover, which begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The wine that He took represented the blood that was applied to the doorposts and lintels the night He lead us out of Egypt.

Say what?

Yes, the Old Testament seems to say that it was God Himself that lead us out of Egypt. The account of the Jew’s deliverance from Egypt in Exodus reads that we were to not only listen and obey the “Angel” that would lead us out, but that we should not defy Him because He will not forgive our acts of rebellion, for God’s Name is in Him.

“I am going to send an angel before you to protect you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and listen to his voice. Do not defy him, because he will not forgive your acts of rebellion, for My name is in him.”

Exodus 23:20-21

How do we know this isn’t just any angel?

Would it be a sin requiring forgiveness if we defied an ordinary angel?  To defy this Angel would be an act of rebellion that He (the Angel) would not forgive – and who but God, can forgive sin?

It is for this reason that theologians speak of this Angel as being the pre-incarnate Jesus, appearing as He does in other places in the Old Testament.

Jude 1 speaks of Jesus and some manuscripts saying Christ as being the One that lead us out of Egypt;

“Now I want to remind you, though you know all these things: The Lord Jesus (some manuscripts say Christ) first saved a people out of Egypt and later destroyed those who did not believe.”

Jude 1:5

From these passages, it would seem that on the night that He was betrayed, Jesus was commemorating the deliverance that He Himself wrought for the Jews the night He led them out of Egypt.

The foods they were eating were not arbitrary – but each had a specific meaning that was known to the Jewish disciples present.

The foods that Jesus took were not novel. The bread that He took was the unleavened bread of the Passover and the wine that He took represented the blood that was applied to the doorposts and lintels the night He lead us out of Egypt.

Jesus was not giving the bread and the cup new meaning, either!  He was applying the original meaning to Himself – saying as the Lamb of God, the wine represented the blood of the Lamb that bought our freedom when He Himself freed us from slavery in Egypt and that represents His blood that buys our freedom from sin. Jesus was using the unleavened bread which represented the haste in which the Jews left Egypt to also represents His sinless body, broken for us.

Note: ‘Leaven’ or yeast is a symbol of sin – see Galatians 5:9 and 1 Corinthians 5:6, hence the unleavened bread of the Passover represented Jesus’ sinless, thus perfect sacrifice.

Jesus was explaining who He is and what He came to do to the Jewish disciples in terms they already understood and with foods that already had very specific meaning to them.  It is this – in its all fullness that He calls His disciples to remember.

The Apostle Paul passes on the Jewish inextricable link between specific foods used to celebrate the Feasts of God and the events they represent when he exhorts the (largely Gentile) Church in Corinth to prepare to remember. 

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He also took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup.  For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged.

1 Cor 11:23-31

Hmm…”the cup of the New Covenant“.  What is Jesus referring to?

Jesus is referring to the promise in the Old Testament passage in Jeremiah 31 where God promises the New Covenant (or Testament) to the Jewish people.

Yes, as shocking as it may sound, God promised the New Covenant “to the House of Israel” and the “House of Judah” in the Old Covenant!

Furthermore, He says He will make a New Covenant with us, because we broke the one He made with us at Sinai when He brought us out of Egypt…the very thing that Passover celebrates!

“Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke even though I had married them”—the Lord’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sin.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34

It was quite intentional that Jesus instituted the New Covenant at Passover because He said it advance in Jeremiah 31 that this New Covenant was to replace the (old) covenant that He made with us at Sinai when He led us out of Egypt!!

Is it any surprise then that He used the very same foods used at Passover to implement the New Covenant and calls us to remember His death for us using them? No, this is no coincidence.

In the same manner that the Church observes the Lord’s Table and remembers His death on our behalf as the Passover Lamb that we, as Messianic Jews observe the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. We do it to remember.

As we covered in our previous article on the 10 Days of Awe beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur [], we do not believe that the Day of Atonement has anything to do with the rabbinic belief of our names being sealed in the Book of Life for the coming year. Our names were written in the Book of Life when we accepted His death as our Passover Lamb, once for all sacrificed for us.

Just as we remember His death in the unleavened bread and 3rd cup at Passover and when we share in the Lord’s Table with our Gentile brothers and sisters, we remember His death in our observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  He is our covering — our “kippurah”. This is what we remember.

“…the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?”

Hebrews 9:11-14

We keep this day as He called us to “throughout our generations” (Leviticus 23:26-32) and remember that He is the ‘eternal azazel’ (see previous article) — the scapegoat that bore our sins and removed them forever.  And through repentance of our individual sins and confession our corporate sins, we prepare to remember Him and His atoning death on this Day of Atonement.

For us as Jewish believers, keeping Yom Kippur is no different than the Church celebrating the Lord’s Table – remembering His death with the broken bread and cup.  Communion doesn’t ‘save’ and neither does observing Yom Kippur – but in both we remember and prepare to remember the Lord’s death till He comes.

It is also a somber and holy time where, as the ‘faithful remnant’ of our people, we have the privilege to come before Him and confess the sins of our people and ask for His mercy and salvation, in accordance with His will.

Paul speaks of the future salvation of Israel in Romans 11:1-25;

“I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not!.

For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.

God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.

Or don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he pleads with God against Israel?

‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets

and torn down Your altars.

I am the only one left,

and they are trying to take my life!’

But what was God’s reply to him?

“I have left 7,000 men for Myself who have not bowed down to Baal”.

In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.

What then?

Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened, as it is written.

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people [the Jews] jealous and save some of them.

For if their rejection brings reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

Now if the firstfruits offered up are holy, so is the whole batch. And if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Now if some of the branches were broken off [the Jews] and you [Gentiles], though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree, do not brag that you are better than those [Jewish] branches. But if you do brag—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you.

Then you will say, “Branches [Jewish] were broken off so that I, [a Gentile] might be grafted in.”  True enough; they were broken off by unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches [the Jews], He will not spare you either.

Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you [as Gentiles] —if you remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.

For if you [Gentiles] were cut off from your native wild olive and against nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree [Jews], how much more will these—the natural branches [unbelieving Jews]—be grafted into their own olive tree [Israel]?

Romans 11:1-25

As Jews around the world are fasting and praying and repenting for our sins as a nation, we too will join them.

Would you, as those who have been “grafted in” to the commonwealth of Israel through Messiah join us in praying for God to soften the hearts of our people?

Would you pray along with us this Yom Kippur (this year that is Wednesday September 21, 2015 — beginning at sundown on Tuesday night) that the day that Zechariah spoke of in Chapter 12 would come about soon and in our time!

We would ask you to join us in prayer that we as a nation would ‘see Him who we have pierced and mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son’!

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David [the Jews] and the residents of Jerusalem and they will look upon Me whom they pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for Him as one weeps for a firstborn.”

~ Zechariah 12:10


The High Holy Days and the Ten Days of Awe

Days of Awe

The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and ending with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) are commonly known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance.  But Rosh Hashanah is only one of our two New Years. What is also confusing to some is that because we follow a lunar calendar, Jewish feast days and Holy Days fall at a different time each year on the Western (solar) calendar.

Before we elaborate on these Holy Days and the time period in between, let’s talk briefly about the reckoning of days and dates.


For Jews, a new day begins at sundown on the prior day. This tradition developed out of the creation account in the Genesis 1:5 where it says, “the evening and the morning were the first day”.


People often ask us why our holidays are not on the same day each year.  They aren’t on the Western calendar or Gregorian calendar but they are on the Jewish calendar and that is because the Jewish Calendar is a lunar calendar of ~354 days in length and the Western calendar or Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar of 365 days. To make sure that the feasts were celebrated at the proper times, an extra month was added by the priests every 3 years or so (a leap month) to make up the difference between the length of the lunar calendar (~354 days) and the length of the solar calendar (365 days).


As mentioned above, we have two New Years in the Jewish calendar; one is the 1st month of the civil calendar (Rosh Hashanah / Feast of Trumpets) which falls sometime in September on the western calendar and the other is the 1st month of the ecclesiastical calendar which occurs in the spring. The 1st day of the month of Nisan, is 14 days before Passover.


The first month in the ecclesiastic or religious calendar is Nisan and is when the children of Israel were to select a lamb from their flock – a perfect lamb, which would become the Passover sacrifice on the 14th day. As the first month of the religious calendar, the Feasts and Holy Days that God called the Jewish people to commemorate are reckoned from the first of Nisan.  It was also considered the New Year for counting the years of the reigns of kings in ancient Israel. The New Year on the 1st of Nisan is mentioned in both Exodus 12:2 and Deuteronomy 16:1.


Rosh Hashanah (literally “head of the year”) is the Jewish civil New Year and the name in Scripture is Yom Teruah (literally “day of shouting”) also called the Feast of Trumpets.

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a day of complete rest, commemoration, and joyful shouting—a sacred assembly. You must not do any daily work, but you must present a fire offering to the Lord.”

Leviticus 23:23-25

Rosh Hoshanah begins on the first day of the month of Tishrei – which is the first month of the Jewish civil year, but the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year. Rosh Hoshanah is the New Year from which years are counted and according to Jewish tradition is the anniversary of the creation of the world. Rosh Hashanah is also called the Feast of Trumpets and it is customary for the shofar or ram’s horn to be blown on Rosh Hoshanah.

A shofar is a trumpet made from a hollowed out horn of a kosher animal (such as a ram or goat) and is the ‘trumpet’ that is blown 100 times during the synagogue service for the Feast of Trumpets.

Rosh Hashanah is mentioned in Numbers 29:1-2 as well as Leviticus 23:24-25.

This year, Rosh Hashanah began Sunday, September 13, 2015 at sundown — which was the start of the year 5776.


The morning service for Rosh Hashanah has many of the same elements as an ordinary Shabbat (Sabbath) service including the Bar’chu (call to worship), the recitation of the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4) and the v’havtah (Deuteronomy 6:5-9), it also includes the Birkat Ha-Minim or “blessing of the heretics” which is recited aloud as part of the Amidah (or “standing prayer”) as it has been since 40 years after the death of Jesus.

As discussed in an earlier post, this ‘benediction’ (actually a curse) was added as a 19th to the 18 benedictions of the Amidah under the direction of Gamaliel II in 72-73 CE and calls for the ‘minim’ or ‘heretics’ – including sects such as the Essenes (the sect that hid the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Nazarenes (Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah) to be destroyed and blotted out of the Book of Life. This “blessing” is recited 18 times a week in corporate synagogue prayer and for obvious reasons, a Messianic Jew is unable to say “amen” to the Amidah.  It is by not doing so that we are clearly identified in the synagogue and ostracized as “heretics” and excommunicated from the congregation.

This is the Birkat ha-Minim;

For the heretics let there be no hope. And let the arrogant government be speedily uprooted in our days. Let the Nazarenes [name for Jewish believers] and the minim [any of the other Jewish sects considered to be heretics] be destroyed in a moment. And let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not be inscribed together with the righteous. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant.”

There are leaders in the Messianic Jewish community who call for us as Jews to participate in the community life and synagogue life along side of our people, however barriers such as the inability to recite the Amidah, that is recited daily, make this is challenging, at best.


According to Jewish tradition, it is said that God opens the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah (Feast of Trumpets) and writes the names of the righteous (tzaddak’im) in it and seals their fate on Yom Kippur.  These are those who will be given another year by God to live.  The names of the wicked (resha’im) are written in another book, the Book of Death on Rosh Hashanah, and their fate sealed on Yom Kippur.  These are those that are not given another year to live because of their unrepentant sin.

Since most people are considered neither righteous nor wicked the fate of these is not sealed until Yom Kippur; which provides them time to repent during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  These are called the Days of Awe or Days of Repentance.

This is a time for serious introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and repent to God and others and to make amends to those who have been harmed. The Talmud (a written record of the Oral Law) states that Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God so to atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them, if possible. These are days of ‘teshuvah’ of ‘turning back to God’.  In Judaism, God’s judgement, far from being absolute, is conditional and based on man’s conduct toward God and others.  A change in man’s conduct (repentance) will bring about a change in God’s judgement.

Common greetings at Rosh Hashanah include “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year” and “May your name be written in the Book of Life for another year”.


Yom Kippur is a day in which the entire nation of Israel is to seek God corporately for forgiveness of their sins and concludes the Days of Awe.  In 2015, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on the evening of Tuesday, September 22 and concludes after sundown on Wednesday, September 23rd.

Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement” or literally ‘the day of covering’ and is the holiest day on the Jewish Calendar; a day that the Old Testament describes as a day for affliction of the soul or self-denial (Lev. 23:27).

The Lord again spoke to Moses: “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. You are to hold a sacred assembly and practice self-denial; you are to present a fire offering to the Lord. On this particular day you are not to do any work, for it is a Day of Atonement to make atonement for yourselves before the Lord your God. If any person does not practice self-denial on this particular day, he must be cut off from his people.  I will destroy among his people anyone who does any work on this same day. You are not to do any work. This is a permanent statute throughout your generations wherever you live. It will be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial. You are to observe your Sabbath from the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening.”

Leviticus 23:26-32

Yom Kippur is first mentioned in Exodus 30:10 in reference to the initial instructions to the priests about making atonement once a year upon the Ark of the Covenant and later in Leviticus (Lev. 23:26-32) and Numbers (Num. 29:7-11), God provides a summary of instructions for Israel concerning observance of Yom Kippur.

Leviticus 16 is an entire chapter about how the day was to be observed in Temple times and contains detailed description of the High Priest’s role in offering sacrifices during Yom Kippur.


In ancient Israel, observance of Yom Kippur centered on the Temple. The High Priest, a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses was to prepare himself in order to be able to come into the Lord’s presence and offer the sacrifice for the sins of the entire nation.

God instructed the priests to first undergo ‘mikveh’ which is a form of bathing in small baths for the purposes of ritual purification. The Church’s custom of immersion baptism is derived from mikveh but that is a topic for another post.

The High Priest would then put on special priestly garments, representing the sacredness of the holiday.

The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of two of Aaron’s sons when they approached the presence of the Lord and died. The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he may not come whenever he wants into the holy place behind the veil in front of the mercy seat on the ark or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.

“Aaron is to enter the most holy place in this way: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to wear a holy linen tunic, and linen undergarments are to be on his body. He must tie a linen sash around him and wrap his head with a linen turban. These are holy garments; he must bathe his body with water before he wears them. He is to take from the Israelite community two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering.

Leviticus 16:1-2


According to Jewish tradition, the Day of Atonement was the only time that the High Priest – and only the High Priest – could pronounce the name of God, the sacred Tetragrammaton (יהוה) – which in English is represented by the four letters YHWH.  It is said that when the High Priest entered the Holy Place with the blood of the Lord’s goat, that he would utter the Name. He was the only one, and that was the only time, when the Name could be uttered.  It was the responsibility of the High Priest to pass on the exact pronunciation of the Name of God to his successor — if with his last dying breath.


Before the High Priest could offer the sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of the nation, he had to offer a sacrifice of a bull for his own sins and those of his family (Leviticus 16:6).

The the High Priest then selected and consecrated two separate male goats; each had an important role on the Day of Atonement.  One goat would become a sacrifice before God as a sin offering and the second goat would become the “azazel” or ‘scapegoat’ and which the community would later lead into the desert (Lev. 16:7-10). The exact meaning of the word ‘azazel’ is thought to be a technical term describing ‘complete removal’ or ‘dismissal’ of sin. The ‘scapegoat’ was quite literally the “escape goat” as it escaped death and was sent into the wilderness.

After Aaron casts lots for the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other for azazel, he is to present the goat chosen by lot for the Lord and sacrifice it as a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot for azazel is to be presented alive before the Lord to make purification with it by sending it into the wilderness for azazel.

Leviticus 16: 7-10


The High Priest would then take the blood from the bull which he had sacrificed as sin offering for his own sins and those of his family and would take fiery coals from the altar and then bring them along with two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense inside the veil into the Holy of Holies, before the Lord. (Leviticus 16:12). He would then put the incense on the fire before the Lord, so that the cloud of incense covered the Mercy Seat.  Any mistake in carrying this out would result in the High Priest dying instantly (Leviticus 16:13).

The High Priest would then take some of the bull’s blood and would sprinkle it with his finger against the side of the Mercy Seat and then seven times before the Mercy Seat, making atonement for his own sin.


Having made atonement for his own sin and that of his family, the High Priest was then fit to sacrifice the Lord’s goat for the sins of the nation.

He would then enter into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the goat’s blood upon the side of the Mercy Seat and in front of it, exactly as he had with the blood of the bull that he offered for his own sins (Leviticus 16:15).


The High Priest would then place some of the blood from the Lord’s goat onto the second goat – the azazel.  He would then confess the sins of the nation over the second goat, then the nation would lead the azazel goat out into the wilderness (16:21-22). The removal of the goat from the camp symbolized the removal of the nation’s sins from Israel.

According to the writings of the rabbis, the azazel goat was taken ten miles out of Jerusalem and along each mile of the way, there were refreshment stations for the man who escorted the goat out of the City.  When the man reached ten miles from the City, he would then watch the goat wander off until he could no longer see it no longer and would then return to the City and report that the sin was gone and the Day of Atonement was considered complete.

Under the Law of Moses, the sin-bearing goat bearing the sin of Israel was alive somewhere but put away. Sin could be put away, but never really eliminated.


How could one know for certain that God had accepted the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement? What if the scapegoat wandered back among the people of Israel? What if someone accidentally came upon the scapegoat in the wilderness?

Over time, the Jewish people began to address some of these concerns through various traditions, one of them being that of the scarlet string, or cloth.


Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible says that the Jews began to tie on the head of the scapegoat, a piece of scarlet ‘cloth’ and Matthew Poole’s Commentary refers to it as a scarlet ‘string’.  The tradition was that if God accepted the sacrifice, the scarlet string (or cloth) turned white while the goat was led to the desert; but if God had not accepted this the sacrifice, the string remained red and the rest of the year was spent in mourning. Through this, they thought they had some certainty about the work of atonement.

Matthew Poole’s Commentary says that later the Jews altered the ceremony so the goat would be killed and have no chance of returning to Israel.  After the blood of the Lord’s goat was placed on it and the sins of the nation laid on it, the goat was carried to a mountain which the Jews had named Azazel (after the name given to the goat) and it was thrown off of a cliff.  If the red string turned white, God was pleased with the Israelites, otherwise it remained red and they mourned all that year.

According to the Talmud, the rabbinical text central to mainstream Judaism, forty years before the temple was razed to the ground by the Romans a disturbing change occurred. There are two versions of the Talmud: the Jerusalem Talmud (known as the Yerushalmi) and the longer, more authoritative Babylonian Talmud (known as the Bavli).

According to the Jerusalem Talmud, “forty years before the destruction of the Temple the crimson thread remained crimson” (The Yerushalmi, translated by Jacob Neusner, p.156f).

According to the Babylonian Talmud (The Soncino Talmud, tractate ‘Yoma,’ 39b), “during the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the crimson-coloured strap did not become white“.

Forty years before the destruction of the Temple coincides with Jesus’ death on the cross — the final sacrifice.  One can only surmise that as an outward sign to the Jews that God no longer accepted the sins of the nation being put on the azazel, the scarlet thread no longer turned white.


Coming into God’s presence in Temple times was not something anyone could do.  Only one person was set apart by God to come into His presence and that was a descendant of Aaron, a High Priest. And he couldn’t come in any way that he pleased; he had to be clean – both ritualistically (through ‘mikveh’) and cleansed of his own sin through the sacrifice of a bull and the offering of its blood as atonement for his sin.  He had to be dressed is garments of pure linen and have his head covered.

Leviticus 16 is very clear;

The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he may not come whenever he wants into the holy place behind the veil in front of the mercy seat on the ark or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.

Leviticus 16:2

Through the sacrifice of Messiah on the cross, we have access to God’s very presence – at any time. He is our High Priest, our sacrifice, our redemption, our access!

But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?

Hebrews 9:11-14

At the day of reckoning, we who overcome to the end will be dressed in white clothes and our names will never be erased from the Book of Life;

In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels.

Revelation 3:5

This leads us to ask these two questions;

When we come into God’s presence in prayer, do we come as we are — or do we first confess our own sins and come by the blood of the Lamb?

Do we walk in without repentance, without preparation and without accepting His blood as atonement for our sin — coming in anyway that we choose?

Yes,  as Hebrews 4:14-16 says we can come boldly, but not presumptuously.

It is important for us, as New Testament believers to remember that atonement for our sin was provided at a great cost and our access to God necessitates the preparation of repentance and the application of His blood for our cleansing.

His Holiness and our sinfulness demand it.

May we never to take our access to His presence and the forgiveness through His blood lightly.


Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Jews observe only the command of Leviticus 23:27 to practice self-denial and to afflict one’s soul on the Day of Atonement.  This is accomplished by observing a complete fast from before sundown the evening prior and concluding after nightfall on the following day.Jewish people express their repentance through prayer, confession and the giving of ‘tzedakah’, or charity.  Jewish Oral Law also prohibits washing and bathing, marital relations, and use of any type of beauty products, including lotion or perfume.

Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, there is no place for Jews to offer sacrifices according to the Law of Moses for the forgiveness of their sins.  Aside from afflicting their souls by fasting on Yom Kippur, not a single Jew today is able to follow the order of service set out by God in Leviticus 16.

This cannot be understated —  because the Law says that ‘without the shedding of blood, there is no atonement for sin’ (Leviticus 17:11).


A few ultra-Orthodox sects of Judaism, most notably the Chassidim observe a practice of ritual atonement for sin using a chicken, which is called kapparot.

The practice involves a chicken (specifically a rooster for men and a hen for women) which is taken the afternoon before the beginning of Yom Kippur and is designated to be donated to the poor, as part of the consumption of the pre-Yom Kippur meal. The rooster or hen is swung over the head of the individual for whom it serves as a ‘sacrifice’, while the following prayer is recited in Hebrew and which is translated;

This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This rooster (or hen) will go to its death, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace”.

After the Kapparot ritual is concluded, the rooster or hen is treated as any normal kosher poultry product and is slaughtered according to the laws of shechita. It is then given to charity, so that a poor family has a meal to eat before the beginning of the fast of Yom Kippur meal.

In a second variant of the practice of Kapparot, a bag of money is swung around the head three times and then given to charity. In this case, the prayer recited translates as:

This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This money will go to charity, while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace.

The practice of Kapparot is first mentioned in Jewish writings from Babylonia in 853 C.E and is thought to be a custom of Babylonian and Persian Jewry, originally of non-Jewish origin.

Jewish scholars in the ninth century explained that since the Hebrew word “gever” means both “man” and “rooster” — that a rooster may substitute as a religious and spiritual vessel in place of a man.

The ritual of using a chicken or money as a substitute is still a ‘bloodless sacrifice’ and the written Law clearly states that only “blood that makes atonement for our soul” (Leviticus 17:11).


There are five separate synagogue services on Yom Kippur where a special prayer book called the Machzor (meaning cycle) is used. This prayer book is used during the 10 Days of Awe – from erev (the night before) Rosh Hoshanah to the end of Yom Kippur and the special prayers focus on confession and repentance.

Some Jewish men wear special white robes called a kittel, symbolizing both purity and mortality.

While it is also customary for Jewish men to wear a tallit (or prayer shawl) during prayer services year round, Yom Kippur is the only time in which they will wear the tallit in the evening.

The final synagogue service concludes with the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn).

As is the case with the Rosh Hashanah service (and the Shabbat service) there is the recitation of the Amidah (with inclusion of additional lines) and including the Birkat Ha-Minim – the “blessing on the heretics”.  As a result, Messianic Jews are unable to say ‘amen’ to this prayer; clearly identifying them from other Jews as “heretics”.


For us, as Jewish believers Rosh Hashanah does not represent the day that God decides whether our names will be written in the Book of Life, for we know that our names were inscribed in the Book of Life when we came to accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord (Philippians 4:3) and to the one who overcomes to the end, our names will never be blotted out of the Book of Life (Revelations 3:5).

As Jewish believers, we know without a doubt that atonement for sin is available only through the death and resurrection of our Messiah and has already been accomplished through the finished work of Jesus’ death on our behalf.

We are confident that Yom Kippur is not when our fate is sealed – for as long as we have breath, we can repent, turn from our sin and be forgiven. We can ask God for forgiveness through the blood of the Lamb and know we are forgiven and can repent, make amends and restitution if possible, to those we have wronged.

The ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur remain for us a time of repentance – both individual and corporate; a time where we reflect on God’s holiness and on the reality that our sin has terrible consequences to us, to those around us and is repugnant to our Holy God.

As Jewish believers, Yom Kippur is a time where, having come by the blood of the Lamb into His very presence, we can intercede for the salvation of our people — at the very time that they are seeking His Face.

Despite our deep sorrow over our own sin and the sins of our people, we know and are confident that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens and who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He came and lived as we do, yet without sin.  We know that because of what He has done that we can approach the throne of grace with boldness and that we will receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time (Hebrews 4:14-16).