Category Archives: Modern Celebrations – Jewish Roots



Note: this Table of Contents list contains a description of our most recent articles.  Please see to the right for a list of all posts.

  1. Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Messiah — Jews and Gentiles in Land — the first article in the series, shedding light on Jewish understanding of the Land and the fundamental differences between the Galilean Jews of the North and the Judean Jews of the South
  2. Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Messiah – Introduction – an intro to a new, extended series of articles that places Jesus and His teachings within their Jewish context and sheds invaluable light on passages that could not be fully understood otherwise.
  3. The Company Dinner – another modern parable
  4. The Talmud – now available in English, free and online – Now available to anyone for free and online, tools include the ability to click on a verse of Scripture, see where it’s quoted in the Talmud, and read it in full in with explanatory notes written in plain language. Most surprisingly, the very passages that today’s rabbis deny as being about Messiah, were understood by the Jewish sages to be about Messiah.
  5. New Years and the Parable of the Ten Virgins – The lighting of the oil lamps for the 8th day of Chanukah on New Years Eve brought to mind the Parable of the Ten Virgins and some thoughts for the Church.
  6. Boundaries of the Land of Israel – as set by God: Christians need to understand that the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334 which was just passed declares that where David was first crowned king is not Israel, nor is Bethlehem of Judea, where Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1). Yes, the “little town of Bethlehem” that you sing about in Christmas carols as being the birth place of the King of the Jews is not in the land of the Jews. This is a battle for truth.
  7. Questions and Answers about Jews and Christmas: People often want to know what Jews do at Christmas time and some Christians want to know what Messianic Jews do. This article provides some background on “Jews” and some answers to the questions. Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask.
  8. Gehenna – Jewish Origins of Hell: Some think of “hell” as the one place God is not and to others, it is the place where God pours out His judgment on “those who do not believe”. Is this what the Scriptures teach? Where does this concept of Hell come from? That is the subject of this article.
  9. The New Perspective – second phase of the Reformation? The Reformation restored the Word of God to the ordinary people and called them out of an obligation of submission to the papacy to one of submission to Scripture.  But Was the Reformation all that was required to restore the Scriptures to their first century understanding?
  10. The Last Day of the Great Feast –  Sukkot has two  ” last days” — Hoshanah Rabbah and Shiminei Atsaret. The “last day and greatest day of the Feast” mentioned in John 7:37 is Hashanah Rabbah. This article helps explain why Jesus said what He did that day.
  11. Who is Abraham’s Seed – Understanding who “Abraham’s seed” is, is to understand God’s plan of redemption to ‘all nations of the earth’ since the book of Genesis! This article follows the previous 3 which covered the promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant, the promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant, as well as Paul’s use of the term “Israel” in Romans.
  12. God’s Promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant  – What were God’s promises to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews) and do they still apply?

  13. God’s Promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant; 

    There are those that say that Gentile Christians, along with Jewish believers in Messiah form what is now termed “true Israel” and replace the Jewish people (physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God’s covenant people. In this article is part of a series of articles, taking a deeper look at God’s promises to the Jewish people and God’s promises to the Gentiles, through Messiah. This article focuses on God’s promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant.

  14. Paul’s Use of the term “Israel” in the Book of Romans –   Some say that Jews who do not accept Jesus as Messiah are not “true Israel” — but rather Gentile Christians and Jewish believers in Messiah form what is termed “true Israel“.  Does the Scripture teach that “Israel” is part Jewish by descent and part Gentile by descent — and if not, what do the passages in question really mean? In this article, we will explore how Paul uses the term “Israel” everywhere else in Romans and then look at what he is saying in Romans 9:6-8.

  15. It’s Time We Had a Talk – another modern parable – It came to pass one day, that the older brother felt that it was a fitting time to share matters of the family with his younger brother. This is that story.

  16. Shavuot – Counting of the Omer from Passover to Pentecost -Today, June 12, 2016 is Pentecost Sunday! Yes, we know that the Church celebrated it on May 15th this year but according to how God commanded the Jews to determine the date of Shavuot (Pentecost). it is today. The Church’s Pentecost falls on a different date than Biblical Pentecost.

  17. Miquedem – Songs from Scripture; Listen free to a brand new album of Jewish music, with songs taken directly from Scripture. Complete lyrics posted in Hebrew, Hebrew-English transliterated phonetics & English.

  18. He Who Believes – Mi Shemaamim; This is a song written by Israeli Eyal Golan which you will probably catch yourself humming later.  It is very catchy!  The lyrics are beautiful, and appear in Hebrew, transliterated Hebrew-English phonetics and English;

  19. What did Paul Mean by “May it never be!” ? – When Paul said in Scripture ‘may it never be” (me genoito / μένα genoito is the Greek equivalent) he was using a very common Hebrew expression as many other Jews of his day would have — not surprising considering Paul was Jew.

  20. Biblical Pentecost and the Church’s Pentecost – few Christians realize that the date that the Church celebrates as “Pentecost Sunday” is different than the day that God established in Scripture. This blog explains how the date of Pentecost (Shavuot) is determined from the date of Passover and how the giving of the Holy Spirit is tied to the day Jesus rose from the dead!

  21. A Jewish Perspective on Counting Days of Lent and Easter Egg Hunts – As we’ve been working on the 3 upcoming posts (Part 2, 3 and 4) that follow Part 1: The Significance of Passover to the Church, we thought we’d take a bit of a divergence and look at two Gentile Christian customs related to the Church’s celebration of “Easter” that we thought our readers might find it interesting to look at through Jewish eyes.

  22. A Jewish Roots Update – More than 11,000 visitors from 212 countries or territories in just 10 months.  Who would have thought.

  23. UNESCO Resolution Erases Jews Connection to Temple Mount – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has passed a resolution erasing the Jews connection to the Temple Mount.

  24. Passover – Significance to the Church – Most people know “the Last Supper” occurred during Passover, but have never had just two of the Passover elements — the “bread” and the “cup”, explained in that context.  When Jesus took “the bread”, what did the disciples understand it to signify before He spoke? What prior meaning did the cup(s) of wine have to them?  Given it was Passover, what might the Disciples have understood Jesus to be saying?

  25. INTRO: Passover, Pentecost and Booths – significance to the Church : God set apart 3 specific times of commemoration for the Jewish people where they were required to appear before Him in Jerusalem.  These 3 days also coincide to significant days to the Church — namely (1) the day of the “Last Supper” of Jesus and His disciples, where He instituted the New Covenant, (2) the day the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost and (3) the date that many Biblical scholars believe to be the date of Jesus’ birth.

  26. Canadian Prime Minister Ignores Mention of Jews in Holocaust Statement – on January 27 2016,  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Most notable was the Canadian Prime Minister’s blatant omission of any reference to the Jewish people or to the anti-Jewish ideology which fueled the Nazi’s systematic extermination of 6 million Jews.

  27. Understanding Matthew’s Genealogy – an Old Testament Overview – The genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew starts with Abraham and culminates with the birth of Jesus; which is a uniquely Jewish perspective.  To understand who some of the individuals are that are named in this genealogy requires some understanding of the Old Testament and so in this article, we provide an overview of the Old Testament to lay the framework for our next study. This article is a summary of the first study in a series called the “Gospels from a First Century Jewish Perspective” from our Jewish Roots of Christianity LifeGroup.

  28. Jewish Sects of the Second Temple Period – introduction to the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots and Nazarenes during the Second Temple Period (introduction to Christianity and Judaism – siblings, not parent and child);

  29. Christianity and Judaism – siblings, not parent and child – We’ve often heard it said that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism; as if Judaism is the parent and Christianity, the child. A more accurate analogy is to see Judaism and Christianity as siblings, twins in fact, born out of the same event.

  30. Christmas and the Coming of the Messiah – Growing up in the Jewish areas we lived in, the expectation of Messiah was all around us. Christmas, however was a “Gentile holiday” which we had no connection to. Jesus, as portrayed by most Christians has no connection to most Jews, as the Jewish Messiah either. The Jesus of Scripture tells a very different story.  Jesus of the Gospels is Jewish.

  31. Holy Days of Israel – with Scriptural References: Jewish Holy Days are observances set out by God in Scripture — more than celebrations. This article describes our main Holy Days and what they commemorate.

  32. Holiday Observance from a Jewish Perspective: The Jewish concept of ‘observance’ of a holiday is quite different than the idea of ‘celebrating’ one and this difference becomes quite apparent to us at Christmas.  It is not as though there is a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way, but we thought it might be helpful for our readers to understand how we as Jewish believers regard holidays, in particular Christmas.

  33. The Abrahamic Covenant and the 12 Tribes of Israel – In this article, we outline from Scripture who are the people and where is the land belonging to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Jews) and whether the covenant God made with Abraham also applies to the descendants of Ishmael.

  34. The 12 Tribes Ishmael and Their Land – We’ve heard people say that since the land of Israel belongs to both the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael and that the solution to the tension in the region is to divide the land between them.  But few people realize that the land of the 12 Tribes of Ishmael is northern Saudi Arabia and the south-eastern part of Assyria (Iraq) — far from the 12 Tribes of Israel! In this article we outline from Scripture who are the people and where is the land belonging to the descendants of Ishmael (with maps).

  35. Objections to a Religious Ideology or Doctrine is not Xenophobia – We hear a lot these days about xenophobia — with people being accused of being xenophobic or being a xenophobe when they object to a religious ideology or to the doctrine of another’s religion or belief system. That is not Xenophobia.  Xenophobia is to show fear or contempt towards a person because they hold to a specific ideology or holds to a given religious doctrine. There is a difference.

  36. How Israel Came to Possess the Land it Currently Occupies – Israel is often portrayed in the media as ‘land-grabbing’, so we want to clear up where the land that Israel currently occupies came from.

  37. Where is Ancient Palestine and Who are the Palestinian People? Does the idea of an ancient Palestinian homeland belonging to the Palestinian people have any basis in history? There were 3 such places with that name, none of them belonging to Arabs; one belonging to the Romans, one a province of the Byzantine Empire and one under British administration.  So what is “Palestine” and who are the “Palestinian” people?

  38.  1948 – The Fullfillment of the Second Gathering of the Jews to the Land of Israel – When God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people, was it conditional on their obedience? If so, how would we explain that the Jews have been returned to the land not once, but twice — and the most recent time was in 1948? What do the Scriptures have to say about God’s covenant with the Jewish people with regard to obedience to His commands and how that related specifically to the Land?

  39. Montreal Bagel and Smoked Meat – [a break from our usual articles]. Sometimes, the world is all too serious and what we need is a little distraction — such as food or music.  For Jews, both food and music are integral to who we are.  There is the food and music of home; not our ancestral home, but the Jewish community in which we grew up and for us, as Montreal Jews that food is epitomized by bagel and smoked meat.

  40. Jesus born at Sukkot / Festival of Booths / Feast of Tabernacles – 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.

  41. Remembering and Preparing to Remember – Jews are a people called to remember and with that remembering comes preparation. This article elaborates on the the Jewish concept of preparing to remember which has been passed down to the Church in the observance of The Lord’s Table.

  42. The High Holy Days and the Ten 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. These are the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur, and the requirements of God in observing this day have important significance to New Testament believers today, both Jews and Gentiles.

  43. God’s Calling on Gentiles, His Calling on Jews – We have pondered writing this article for a while and the reason is simple. How can the (predominantly Gentile) Church fulfill God’s specific calling on them mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament if they don’t know and understand what it is?’s_calling_on_Gentiles/

  44. ‘The Parable of the Vineyard Workers’ in Matthew 20 is part of Jesus’ reply to Peter’s question given Matthew 19:27 but without understanding the reference Jesus is making to Old Testament concepts that would have been very well known to the disciples, one can easily miss what Jesus is saying.  This article elaborates on those concepts so that the meaning of the parable becomes clear.

  45. New Testament Dietary Laws – Different for Jews and Gentiles’ – Most have heard of Jewish dietary laws but not what made foods ‘unclean’ or what role these laws served but few are aware of the dietary laws set out for Gentile Christians in the New Testament. How did these differing food laws impact social interaction between Jewish believers and Gentile Christians in the first century? What about today?

  46. ‘A Visit from the Mormons’ – It’s not every day that the Mormons come knocking and find a mother and son engaged in Scripture study in their living room; with a four volume Hebrew-English Interlinear and Strong’s Concordance at the ready. Talk about catching a couple of Mormon missionaries off guard! Daniel answered the door and invited our visitors in.

  47. What does Paul mean that he became “as a Jew to the Jews and to the Gentiles, a Gentile”: In this article we look at what Paul meant by being “under” the Law, “outside” the Law and “within” the Law and what that meant in terms of the call to be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9).

  48. Status quo  in the First Century Church vs Today – There was no need for the Gospel writers or Paul to explain Jewish practice because the vast majority of believers at the time were Jews and Jewish practice was understood.  But two thousand years later, most Gentile readers of the New Testament have little understanding of these Jewish practices. In this article we discuss the implications of this.

  49. Historic Perspective Affects New Testament Interpretation – This article looks at how the historical perspective of the Church after the death of the Apostles has shaped understanding of Israel and the Jewish people.

  50. Jesus – a Prophet like Moses – what does it mean for Jesus to be ‘a prophet like Moses’? What would the implications be for Jesus to have taught something different than what the Law of Moses taught?

  51. Creation of a Palestinian State – the “Two State” Solution – the idea of a “two state” solution is often proposed as a means to resolve the ongoing tensions between Israel and the ‘Palestinians’, but few realize there have already been two “two state” solutions. This article documents those.

  52. Different Sects of Jews – from the Pharisees and Sadducees to the Sects of Today – to understand what Jesus was saying to the Jewish leadership and why, one needs to understand who the Jewish leadership was and what they believed. What are the Jewish sects of today and how are they related to those of the first century?

  53. The Keymaker’s Sons – A Modern Parable – This story was written with the desire to help Gentile Christians understand how Jewish believers perceive our relationship with Gentile Christians within the Church.

  54. Is there a Difference between Jewish Believers and Gentile Christians – and if so, what is it?  This article seeks explores the ways in which Jewish believers look at their faith and the Scriptures from a slightly different perspective than Gentile Christians.

  55. Shavuot (Pentecost) and Jesus being the “firstfruits from the dead” – this article explains from Scripture the timing of the events related to the crucifixion of Jesus and the Jewish holiday of Passover and how the timing of the Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) is tied to the timing of Passover.

  56. “A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” – the Apostle Paul has much to say about whether God has rejected the Jews and in Romans 11:14–25 he speaks directly to Gentiles about the unbelief of much of physical Israel. Paul exhorts the Gentiles not to brag (:18), not to be arrogant (:20), not to be conceited (:25) and not to be unaware (:25) of God’s plans of redemption of physical Israel. Why Paul said this and what the Scriptures say with regards to the future salvation of the Jews is elaborated on in this article.

  57. The Early Church [including Polycarp] continued to celebrate Passover – few Gentile Christians realize that both Jewish believers and Gentile Christians in the early Church at Jerusalem and Antioch including Polycarp, a Church Father (80-167 CE) continued to celebrate the Passover according to the Biblical requirement (on the 14th of Nisan) and did so for the first two centuries, possibly until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  This article is fully referenced for the more scholarly and skeptical reader.

  58. The Temple and Synagogue in the Early Church – is an article about the role of the Temple and the synagogue in the life of Jesus and the early Jewish believers at the beginning of the Church as we know it.

Questions and Answers about Jews and Christmas

INTRODUCTION: This article stems from some wonderful, lively discussion around a post on Facebook about what not to ask Jews at Christmas.  The comments and inquiries were sincere and thought provoking; so much so, that it was felt that this would be the best place to answer those, as well as the original questions.  We trust that this will be of interest to those that follow the Jewish Roots of Christianity.

Here is the original post from Facebook:

Ten questions not to ask Jews this time of year:
1. I know you’re Jewish, but you do have have a Christmas tree, right?
2. But you had one growing up, right?
3. Then what did you put your presents under on Christmas morning?
4. Does that mean you don’t get presents?
5. So how *do* you celebrate Christmas?
6. Do you at least eat a Christmas ham?
7. You must be envious of everyone that *does* celebrate Christmas, right?
8. Don’t you feel really left out that you’re missing out on all the fun?
9. Don’t you wish you had holidays and special food to look forward to?
10. But Chanukah is like a Jewish Christmas, right?

Here are 4 of the comments and questions that were posted which we will attempt to answer below:

  1.  “Hahaha to #9…how many holidays and how much special food we have!”

  2. “I once got that “everyone” celebrates Christmas because it’s not a religious holiday.”

  3. “Why not ask these questions? I didn’t have the privilege to grow up around a Jewish community, I don’t know the answers to a lot of these questions. There are more subtle ways to ask some of the questions, sure, but I hope someone who’s genuinely interested and not intending any offence wouldn’t be judged for just trying to understand someone else’s experience at this time of year.”

  4. “The real question is what do you ask Messianic Jews??”

The answers to these questions are as diverse as Jews themselves!

Two Jews, Three Opinions

First of all, it is impossible to speak of “the Jews” — both in Biblical times as now, as a homogeneous group with unified beliefs.

In the New Covenant (Testament) when “the Jews” are referred to, Scripture identifies which Jews were being spoken of; whether they are Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, or ordinary Jews who followed Yeshua (Jesus) from the Galilee, the Decopolis, Judea and Samaria and from beyond the Jordan (Matt. 4) .

It is very important for Christians to keep this in mind when studying the teachings of Jesus or of Paul, because the things that they said were to a specific group for a specific reason.  Reading “up” in a passage to find “which Jews” where being spoken to is required to understand what was being said, and as importantly what was not being said.

It is equally impossible to speak of “the Jews”  today as if they were a homogeneous group. 

Jews range from Orthodox to secular  — and everything in between and within each category there are many subgroups.  As well, there is a great deal of variation as to how each group would define itself as well as how it would define other groups of Jews — or whether some of those “others” would be even be considered “Jews” (such as Kairaites or Messianic Jews).

The expression “two Jews, three opinions” captures this well.

To begin to comprehend how “Jews” would answer the above questions, requires knowing a little bit about the different sects of Jews and what they believe relative to each other.

Here is a brief sketch of the main sects of Jews;

The term Orthodox Jews is synonymous with the term Rabbinic Judaism and originated with the biblical Pharisees. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Pharisees who had already established and led and taught in the synagogues were the only group who retained their influence. The Essenes and Nazarenes (term for the first “Messianic Jews”) were considered “heretics”.  For the first 3 generations after the death of Yeshua (Jesus), the Jewish believers were still able to attend the traditional synagogue but in 72-73 CE (40 years after Jesus’ death), the addition of the Birkat ha-Minim forced the Jewish believers from the traditional synagogue.

[see the section on the “Blessing” of the Heretics” in the previous post titled “The Temple and synagogue in the Early Church”:]

The Orthodox Jews of today includes the Masorti (traditional Orthodox), the Chasidim (one form of “black hat” Jews including the Lubavitch and Breslov that originated in Eastern Europe in the 1700s), and the Israeli Haredi (also “black hat” Jews, non-zionists — believing only Messiah can establish Israel) and Dati (modern Orthodox, zionist).

Simplistically put, Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah has two partsthe “Written Law” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) that was given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, along with the “Oral Law” needed to understand and practice them. The “Oral Law”, as the name implies, was originally not written down, but is said to have been passed down from Moses, and from there from father to son, and from teacher to disciple. “Oral Law” dictates everything from the wearing of phylacteries (tefillin) and the colour of their straps, to how many walls and the size of those walls, required to build a Sukkah (booth for the Feast of Tabernacles).

Halakhah (literally “the path that one walks“) is the complete body of rules and practices that Jews are to follow, including Biblical commandments and the commandments instituted by the rabbis, based on “Oral Torah”.

The Talmud

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Rabbinic authorities were concerned that the “Oral Law” would be forgotten, so it was written down in the form of the Mishnah, a shorthanded collection of the oral teachings. That is, the “Oral Law” was “oral” from 70 CE until 190 CE (2nd century after Yeshua’s (Jesus’ death), when the Mishnah was completed.

It was believed by the rabbis that important information was missing from the Mishnah, so this material was compiled in the Gemara (also spelled Gemorra), which comprises rabbinical commentaries on the Mishnah. The Gemarra includes the Melchilta (exegesis on the Book of Exodus) , Safra (exegesis on the Book of Leviticus),  Sifri (exegesis on verses in Numbers and Deuteronomy) as well as the Beraisos (commentaries on the Mishnah) and Tosefta (an appendix to the Mishnah).

The Talmud, is the compendium of Jewish law and thought, including the Mishnah and the Gamara.

Regardless of the sect they come from, Orthodox Jews recognize the authority of both the Written Law and Oral Law.  How those are interpreted and expressed, may vary however between the different groups of Orthodox.

Reform Jews do not believe that the Torah, even the Written Law, was given by God. For the most part, they seek to practice the ethics and values of Judaism without any obligation to God.  As such, they do not seek to practice the commandments attributed to God in the first five books of Moses  (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or Halakhah

Conservative Jews grew out of the tension between Orthodox and Reformed Judaism and began as an American movement in the early 1900s. They generally accept the binding nature of Halakhah, but believes that the Law should change and adapt — absorbing some of the practices of the predominant culture around them, while remaining true to Judaism’s values and ethics.

The Kairaites — literally “people of the Scripture” originated with the Sadducees.  As mentioned above, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Pharisees who established, led and taught in the synagogues were the only group with influence. The Kairaites do not accept the concept of “Oral Law” given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai along with the “Written Law”. They only recognize the written Law, as recorded in the first five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). The Kairaites distinguish themselves from the Rabbanites (Rabbinical Judaism, derived from the Pharisees) and believe it is their responsibility to study the written text in Hebrew and to interpret the texts of Scripture, without rabbinical interpretation.

The first thing to know about Messianic Jews is that they are Jews. Messianic Jews did not ‘convert’ to Christianity.  Like the Nazarenes of the first century (i.e. Paul, Matthew, Mark, etc.) who were referred to as the ‘Jews that believe’, Messianic Jews believe that God’s promised Messiah has come.  Many Messianic Jews, like the early Jewish believers of Scripture, continue to set themselves apart as Jews, a distinct people, because God called the Jewish people to.

Torah-observant Messianic Jews don’t follow the Law because it will “save” them, but because God called them to. While this may come as a surprise to some Christians, Jesus followed the Law.  While this may be obvious once it is thought about, He followed the commands of Moses (not the “Oral Law” of the Pharisees) and had He not, He would have been committing sin and would no longer have been the Lamb without blemish.

It is also important to understand that what He taught was not different than what was taught in the Law of the Old Covenant (Testament). If it was, He would have been a false prophet, not the Messiah.  

Likewise, He didn’t give ‘new meaning‘ to what was taught in the Law as that would have been causing us to rebel against God and His commands; a most grievous sin.

Yeshua (Jesus) not only upholds the Law but speaks of the Law’s continued relevance and practice to Jews in the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount. If one “reads up” from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew to see “who” He was speaking to, it says!  He was speaking to the ordinary Jews who followed Him there from the Galilee, the Decopolis, Judea and Samaria and from beyond the Jordan (Matthew. 4).

To these ordinary Jews He said;

“anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matt 5:17-19

It should come as no surprise that many Messianic Jews are Torah-observant. Messiah was.

Questions and Answers

Perhaps now it is easier to see that depending which sect of Jews are asked, the answers to the above questions will be very different!

To Orthodox Jews, Christmas is a Gentile holiday. God in His Law commands the Jews not to follow the practice of the nations around us, so while they would have no issue with Gentiles celebrating it, Christmas and anything to do with it are foreign practices. Conservative Jews would hold a similar position. Reform Jews don’t believe that the Scriptures were inspired by God, so anything attributed to God is not binding. They would have no issue with decorating a tree or celebrating the secular version of Christmas — with Santa Clause and mistletoe. Since Kairaites follow the written Law, they would not follow any of the practices of the nations around them.  That said, they would have no issue with Gentile Christians celebrating it. Torah-observing Messianic Jews are not that different from Kairaites, except that they believe Messiah has already come. Most Messianic Jews would not have any problem with Gentile Christians celebrating Christmas in whatever way they wish, including Christmas trees and ham! While we certainly can’t speak for “all” Messianic Jews, we can say how we view Christmas. We believe that Yeshua (Jesus) was born during Sukkot (see previous blogs) and we commemorate His coming to “tabernacle” among us, during the Feast of Tabernacles.  We are fine with Gentile Christian celebrating their Savior’s birth at Christmas and take no issue with them having Christmas trees, or mistletoe or Christmas hams. There is nothing in Scripture defining what Gentile Christians can do or eat, outside of Acts 15 (see previous blog).

We mean no offense to our Gentile Christian brothers and sisters by not having a Christmas tree and we hope they will understand that God called the Jewish people not to follow the ways of the nations around us, so we don’t.


For His own reasons, God called us to be a distinct nation and a peculiar people and we choose to honor Him by maintaining the Jewish practice and observance that He called us to. We are not better for not doing so, just distinct.

As Messianic Jews, raised in Jewish families, here are our answers to the ten questions:

1. I know you’re Jewish, but you do have have a Christmas tree, right? nope

2. But you had one growing up, right? nope

3. Then what did you put your presents under on Christmas morning? Since we didn’t celebrate Christmas we didn’t get any presents on Christmas morning. So we didn’t need to put the presents we didn’t get under anything.

4. Does that mean you don’t get presents? On Chanukah (which falls at different times relative to Christmas each year because ours is a lunar calendar), our parents would give us a gift of money and chocolate coins. 

5. So how *do* you celebrate Christmas? We don’t. We commemorate the birth of Messiah at Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). 

6. Do you at least eat a Christmas ham? nope. We do not eat pork because God listed a few foods in His Law that were “to be unclean to us” (not that they are inherently unclean). Since pigs do not have a cloven hoof and chew the cud, we don’t eat pork. 

7. You must be envious of everyone that *does* celebrate Christmas, right? nope. We have so many holidays that God called us as a people to observe “from generation to generation” that we are not in the least bit envious that you celebrate Christmas. Actually, we feel a little “bad” that Gentile Christians only have Christmas and Easter.

8. Don’t you feel really left out that you’re missing out on all the fun? nope. We have many holiday and special foods and observances. If you are would to include us in your celebrations, please feel free to invite us, but please don’t mind if we don’t eat the ham.

9. Don’t you wish you had holidays and special food to look forward to? nope.  We are still recovering from all the food from the several Fall Festivals and have 8 days of sufganiyot (Israeli donuts) and potato latkes (fried potato ‘pancakes’) to eat during Chanukah. Then we have a bit of time to recover before Passover and the Feast of Unleavened bread. We have no shortage of holidays and special food.

10. But Chanukah is like a Jewish Christmas, right? nope. It is a commemoration of when the Jews, led by the Maccabee brothers defeated the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV (~ 165 BCE) after he had plundered the Jewish Temple of its gold objects of worship then and desecrated it by sacrificing a pig on its alter.  As sons of Mattityahu, who was a priest, the Maccabee brothers were also Levites and therefore permitted to rededicate the Temple after it was cleansed, but once the flame was lit, it had to remain lit.  But there was only enough oil for one night and it would take another 8 days to make new oil for the Temple. They lit the flame anyways, and went about making the new oil.  The miracle that occurred on Chanukah (called the Feast of Dedication, in English) is that the tiny bit of oil that was only enough to burn for ONE night, lasted EIGHT nights — long enough for the new oil to be ready.  So we commemorate that “a great miracle happened there”, by lighting an 8-branched Chanukiah and eating foods fried in oil, such as sufganiot and latkes.

Did you know that Chanukah (the Feast of Dedication) is mentioned in the New Covenant (Testament)? 

“At that time the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple courts in Solomon’s Colonnade.”

John 10:22

With respect to asking questions about another person’s culture or practices, from our experience, it’s best to ask open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions, such as the ones above can be perceived as judgmental, as the one asking them presumes that the reference point is there own — that “everyone” celebrates Christmas.

Here are some open-ended ways to ask Jews you meet what, if anything they do at this time of year.  These would likely be welcomed by just about any Jew — from the most observant to the most secular;

1. I know you’re Jewish so I’m curious if Jews put up Christmas trees.
2. Did you have one growing up?
3. Do Jews get presents at Christmas, and if so, do they put them under that Jewish candelabra thingy…what’s it called?
4. Do Jews give presents to their children or to each other on Chanukah?
5. Why do Jews not celebrate Christmas?
6. Do you eat any of the holiday foods we eat at Christmas time, like ham?
7. Were you ever envious of everyone that *does* celebrate Christmas?
8. Do you ever feel really left out that you’re missing out on all the things we do at Christmas?
9. Do you have other holidays and special food to look forward to on those holidays
10. I’ve always wondered, is Chanukah sort of like a Jewish Christmas?

Final thoughts…

No, not “everyone” celebrates Christmas and even to some of those that do, it’s not always a religious holiday.

To many, it is about getting and decorating a tree, about giving presents to kids and blaming it on a fat guy in red underwear and drinking rich alcoholic drinks and eating foods that have no affiliation to any religious observance.

As correctly pointed out in the Facebook discussion,  the real St. Nicholas made a point of secret gift-giving.

To observant Christians, while their celebrations may have some of the above,  the main focus is on celebrating the birth of their Savior (whether or not they believe that occurred on December 25th, or not). It is an occasion with deep theological significance, as well as a time to gather with friends and family.

We understand the idea of a holiday being tied to the “commemoration” of an event, as this is very much a part of every one of the Biblical holidays, so whether December 25th is actually the date of the incarnation or not, we understand the importance of commemorating that the Messiah was at one point, a very real human baby. There are “Christmas carols” about “sweet baby Jesus” and the little baby “asleep in the manger”, but He did not remain a helpless baby — and someday, when His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, He will not be a helpless baby, but the ruling Messiah come to judge the world.

There is a day spoken of by Zechariah, the prophet — after the nations of the world come against Jerusalem, where the Scripture say;

“Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle.  On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east”

“On that day there will be no light; the sunlight and moonlight will diminish. It will be a day known only to Yahweh, without day or night, but there will be light at evening”

Zechariah 14:3-4, 6-7

Yes, He came as a baby, but He is returning as Messiah and King.

To you and yours, we wish you and wonderful and meaningful Christmas...

...and from our house to yours, Happy Chanukah!

The Last Day of the Great Feast

In a sense, Sukkot has two  ” last days” — Hoshanah Rabbah and Shiminei Atsaret. The “last day and greatest day of the Feast” (John 7:37) is Hashanah Rabbah (also translated ‘the last day of the Great Feast ‘, mentioned in John 7:37.

During the Temple service, it was customary to make one procession around the altar on each day of Sukkot, and seven on the seventh day”. The priests would carry palm or willow branches in their hands — two of the four  ‘species’ used to celebrate Sukkot, and contained in the “lulav”. The Temple ceremony was one of rejoicing and gratitude for a blessed and fruitful year.

Jesus and the “last day of the Great Feast”

Another ceremony, called the water libation ceremony also took place during Sukkot.

“On the last and greatest day of Feast [of Sukkot], Yeshua stood and cried out loudly ‘if any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in Me, as the Scriptures has said, out of his belly will flow streams of living water. “

John 7:37-38

Just below, is an excellent article , written by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz , about this ceremony .

” The Eighth Day”

The day after Hoshanah Rabbah is the so-called “8th day” of the 7-day Feast of Sukkot called Shiminei Atzaret.

After commemorating so many significant occasions, including Yom Teruah (referred to currently as Rosh Hashanah), the ten days of Awe followed by the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, then the seven day Feast of Tabernacles called Sukkot,  G-d asked for one more day as a sabbath.  There are no special activities – no shofar, no fasting, no sukkah, no lulav. Just one more today together – just Him and us.

Tonight at sundown (Sunday October 23, 2016)  until tomorrow at sundown, is this ‘last day’ of the great feast, which we take for- and with Him.


PHOTOS: Reenactment of Ancient Water Libation Ritual Revives Part of Temple Service

Biblical Pentecost and the Church’s Pentecost

Someone told us last night that today is Pentecost Sunday; “a time to remember when the Holy Spirit was given to us“.

My first reaction was “no, its only day 21, there’s another 29 days to Pentecost“!

We looked at each other blankly.

You see, the date the Church celebrates as Pentecost is not the anniversary of the date that it occurred in Scripture. The Church’s Pentecost is on a different date than Biblical Pentecost.

Based on God’s command to us in Leviticus 23, Jews actually count 50 days from Passover to arrive at the timing of Pentecost. The commencement of this 50-day period was marked in Temple times by the bringing of the Omer offering and ended on the 50th day with the festival of Shavuot, as described in the Book of Leviticus:

“And you shall count from the morrow of the Sabbath from the day you bring the Omer [sheaf] of waving; seven complete Sabbaths shall you count… until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath shall you count fifty days… and you shall proclaim on this very day, it shall be a holy convocation for you.”

Leviticus 23:15-16,21

During the Second Temple period there was a well-known debate between the three different Jewish factions (Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes) about the meaning of the Hebrew phrase “morrow of the Sabbath” . All three groups agreed that the “morrow of the Sabbath” was associated with the Passover / Feast of Unleavened Bread, but the different interpretations resulted in it being observed on different days by each of the sects.  The highly contested issue was “which Sabbath” do we start counting from? 

The Sadducees who made up the Temple Priesthood, believed the 50-day count to Pentecost began on the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven-days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. According to their reckoning, the counting could begin anywhere from the 15th to the 21st day of the first month of Nisan — depending on what day of the week the Feast of Unleavened Bread began.Taking a plain reading of the text as the Sadducees used to [and as the Karaite Jews still do today], count from the day after the Sabbath of Passover [a Sunday], which was the day that the wave offering was brought in Temple times (also called the Feast of Firstfruits), until the day after the seventh Sabbath.  Based on this way of determining the date, Pentecost (Shavuot) always fell on a Sunday.

The Pharisees (who wrote the Mishnah and the Talmud and from whom today’s Orthodox rabbis descended) argued that Pentecost is to be counted from the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is designated as a “Sabbath” (where no work is done). There is a problem with the Pharisees way of counting, however. The 1st day day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread could theoretically be called “Sabbath,” (which is what the Pharisees do) but the 49th day of the Pharisee’s way of counting is does not usually fall on the weekly (7th day) Sabbath. As a result, the Pharisee’s Shavuot was rarely the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath” as required by Leviticus 23:16. Only about once every seven years, did the Pharisee’s Shavuot fall on a Sunday, i.e. the “morrow of the seventh Sabbath”.

We know from Josephus that the Pharisees interpretation was the one that prevailed as he writes that “all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their [the Pharisees’] exposition” (Antiquities 18:15), and that the Sadducees “submit to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them” (Antiquities 18:17).

[Note: as Messianic believers, we have reason to be able to say that the Saduccees had it right — because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday! More on that below]

Pentecost got its name because there are 7 “weeks of weeks” (7 x 7 = 49 days) from after the wave offering — so when one day is added to the 7 “weeks of weeks” it totals 50 days (49 + 1 = 50 days). Pentecost (50 = Pente). The name of this feast day in Hebrew is Shavuot, meaning “weeks”.

As you may recall from an earlier article,  the date that Passover fell each year wasn’t known until the “new moon” appears that month. Once the “new moon” was sighted, the date of Passover was set for 14 days later.

Biblically, and based on the sighting of the New Moon which occurred this year in Israel on April 9th, Passover fell 14 days later], and today is Day 22 of that “counting”.

Coincidentally, based on the fixed Jewish Calendar adopted by Rabbinic Jews in the 4th century — long after the destruction of the Second Temple and the scattering of Jews throughout the known world, today is also Day 22 of that “counting”.

Crucifixion of Jesus – the ‘same day’ as “the Last Supper”

We have often been asked how it is if Jesus was crucified on a Friday, how He rose from the dead “on the third day”, given that was a Sunday.  In the explanation of how Pentecost was determined the year Jesus died, the “3 days” will become clear.

The night of Jesus’ “Last Supper” (more accurately, Last Seder) with His disciples, the Feast of Passover fell on the evening of the fifth day of the week.

[Note: Sunday is the first day of the week (see Mark 16:9, Matthew 28:1), the Sabbath is the 7th day of the week]

Therefore, the evening of the fifth day was what non-Jews would have called Thursday night.

[Note: By the Jewish reckoning of days, Thursday night is the beginning of Friday, as days begins at sunset, the night before – based on Genesis “evening and morning were the first day”].

Biblically, by the Jewish reckoning of days, Jesus was crucified later the same day as He shared the Passover meal with His disciples. That is, after sundown on the fifth day (Thursday night), the sixth day (Friday) began.  By a Jewish reckoning of days, Jesus was crucified later on the 6th day, a “Friday” to Gentiles. This is what the Church has come to call “Good Friday“.

Now here is where it gets very interesting…

Jews started counting the days to Pentecost (Shavuot) from the day after the “Sabbath of Passover” — so the year Jesus went to the cross, the “Sabbath of Passover” was the Saturday between Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection. 

It was the day after that Sabbath — the “Sabbath of Passover” from which the Sadducees would have begun “counting of the Omer“.  Of course, the “morrow after the Sabbath [a Saturday] of Passover“, is a Sunday (as it is required to be according to Leviticus 23:16)

On the year that Jesus was crucified, it was that Sunday, that the “counting of the Omer” began. Jesus rose from the dead on the Sunday (“Resurrection Sunday”) – which was the “morrow after the Sabbath” of Passover — the day of the wave offering, which is called the “Feast of Firstfruits” and the Scriptures say that Messiah (Jesus) is the “first fruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Counting the 50 days of the Omer from the day that Jesus rose from the dead [a Sunday, following the Sabbath of Passover] brings us to another Sunday… Pentecost Sunday! 

The Holy Spirit fell on Shavuot (Pentecost), 7 weeks after the Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead!

The Church’s Pentecost

“Christian Pentecost” does not fall on the same date as “Biblical Pentecost”, which is why to the Church, Pentecost is tomorrow and by Biblical reckoning, it is 29 days from now.

As we developed at length in an earlier blog on Passover, and its celebration by the Early Church on the 14 day of Nisan (including Church Father, Polycarp), this was changed by the Church leaders of the First Ecumenical Council (4th century CE). At that time, they adopted the secular Roman solar calendar (Julian Calendar) and “fixed” the date of “Pascha” (forerunner to Easter) to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on, or after the vernal equinox (set as March 21st).  Therefore, Christian Pentecost falls 50 days after Pascha (or Easter).

Biblical Pentecost is tied to Passover based on a lunar calendar, and which falls 14 days after the sighting of the New Moon in the first month (called Aviv before the Babylonian captivity and Nisan, afterwards).

In the 4th century, the Church abandoned the date of Passover established by God in Scripture [which was based on the sighting of the New Moon on a lunar calendar (354 days)] – in favour of a fixed solar calendar of 365 days. Their reasons for doing so were much the same as the reasons for the Jew’s adoption of the ‘fixed’ Jewish Calendar— so that the dates of all the holidays were known in advance.  With a fixed solar calendar, Christians throughout the known world could celebrate the holidays, especially Pascha (Easter) on the same date.

Which Pentecost, then?

As Messianic believers, we continue to celebrate the Passover, and commemorate Messiah’s Last Seder with His disciples and going to the cross on the 14th of Nisan, as the early Church did and as the Church father Polycarp, did (as the Apostle John taught him, see earlier blog).

Since the timing of Pentecost is tied to Passover, Pentecost (Shavuot) for us, falls on the same date as it did in Scripture; 50 days after the “morrow of the Sabbath of Passover” — which is always a Sunday and which is the actual anniversary of the giving of the Holy Spirit.

That being said, we don’t for a moment think that the Church changing the dates of Passover and Pentecost has any importance to Gentile believers. The matter of Gentiles not being required to keep  the Law of Moses was resolved in Acts 15:5. Halacha (“the way to walk”) for Gentiles is simple;

“(1) abstain from things polluted by idols, (2) from sexual immorality, (3) from eating anything that has been strangled and (4) from blood”

Acts 15:20

We don’t believe that it is somehow ‘wrong’ for the Church to celebrate “Easter” on a date other than on the date of Passover, or for the Church’s Pentecost to be on a different date than the Biblical Pentecost.

We trust you will understand, that for us as Jews, we continue to do as we always have, and see no reason to adopt a different date.

Final Thoughts

We think that the important thing is what Paul said in Romans 14 — if the Church commemorates Pentecost tomorrow, then observe the day — for the honour of the Lord;

“One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Romans 14:5-8

So, Happy Pentecost to our Christian brothers and sisters!

Meanwhile we’ll keep counting. . .until June 12th.

Sunday May 15, 2016:
Today is the 1st day of the 4th week of seven weeks. Today is the 22nd day of the counting of fifty days from the day of the waving of the Omer on the morrow after the Sabbath.
שבוע 415 מאי 2016:
הַיּוֹם יוֹם רִאשׁוֹן‏ לַשָּׁבוּעַ רְבִיעִי מִשִׁבְעָה שָׁבֻעוֹת. הַיּוֹם עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁנַיִם יוֹם מִסְפִירַת חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם מֵהֲנָפַת הָעֹמֶר מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת.


INTRO – Passover, Pentecost and Booths – significance to the Church


God set apart 3 specific times of commemoration for the Jewish people that were occasions that all the men were required to appear before Him in Jerusalem.  These 3 days also coincide to significant days to the Church — namely (1) the day of the “Last Supper” of Jesus and His disciples, where He instituted the New Covenant, (2) the day the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost and (3) the date that many Biblical scholars believe to be the date of Jesus’ birth.

Jewish ‘holidays’ are not simply nice traditions that we celebrate as part of our cultural identity — but dates of commemoration set by God Himself for a specific purpose. Of the holidays set apart by Him as His “appointed times” — three were occasions that all the men were required to appear before Him in Jerusalem.  These are often called the “pilgrim festivals”. These three are of significance to the Jewish people of course, but also have a great deal of importance to the Church.

Before getting into what these three occasions are and what they signify to both to the Jews and the Church, we need to provide some background on the calendar, itself. The Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles (not solar cycles, like the Western calendar); specifically, on the timing of the “new moon“.

new moon over Jerusalem April 9 2016
new moon over Jerusalem April 9 2016 7:16 PM – courtesy of Nehemiah Gordon

At the beginning of the moon’s cycle, it appears as a thin crescent shape. This is the “new moon” and signals the beginning of a new Jewish month. The first day of the month is called Rosh Chodesh (gutteral “ch” sound) — the “Head of the Month”.  During the remainder of the lunar cycle, the moon grows until it is a “full moon” (of no special significance in Judaism) in the middle of the month, and then it begins to wane, until it cannot be seen at all. It remains invisible for approximately two days until the “new moon” reappears, and the cycle begins again. The entire cycle takes approximately 29½ days and since a month needs to consist of complete days, some months are twenty-nine days and some thirty days. Knowing exactly when the month begins is very important to the Jewish people, as God set the dates of Jewish observances according to the phases of the month.

Before God delivered the Jews from slavery in Egypt, God told Moses and Aaron that this month shall be to you the “beginning of months” — that “it shall be the head of months” for you.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: ‘This “chodesh” (new moon) shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the head of months (first of the months) for you.'”

Exodus 12:1-2

God tells Moses that the year will begin on that month — for the purpose of counting months…but not for the purpose of counting years. “New Years” is a different time, see below.

The “first month” referred to above is the first month of the Biblical Calendar. 

Months in the Hebrew/Jewish calendar are numbered, with the first month being the one with the commemoration of God’s delivery of the Jews from bondage (Passover). This month is called Nisan by Jews today, and used to be called “Aviv” before the Babylonian exile. It is the start of the Biblical Calendar.

Years are counted from Rosh Hashanah — the Civil New Year, which occurs in the seventh month of the Biblical calendar and which according to Rabbinic tradition commemorates when Adam and Eve were created.  Rosh Hashanah is the “head of the year” — in contrast to the first month which is the “head of months“.

Rosh Hashanah is what Jews celebrate as “New Years” and is set out in Scripture in Exodus 34 where it is referred to as “the turn of the year“;

“Observe the feast of Pentecost with the first-gathered produce of the wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year.”

Exodus 34:22

The feast “at the turn of the year” is after Pentecost, and is the “feast of Ingathering” — also called Feast of Booths (Sukkot) or Feast of Tabernacles and is one of the three pilgrim festivals. The other two are Passover (Pesach) and Pentecost (Shavuot) and coincide with very important dates to the Church, as well as to the Jews.

It is important to keep in mind that it is the sighting of the “new moon” that signals the beginning of a new Jewish month (Rosh Chodesh) and the sighting of the “new moon” on the first month which begins a new calendar of months. The timing of Passover is set as being on the 14th day of this month. 

There are several challenges to setting the beginning of any new month relative to the timing of the “new moon”.  Firstly — what if it isn’t visible?  What if it is overcast? It does happen in Israel; what then?

Multiply those challenges with the need to confirm the sighting of the “new moon” before a new year can begin – by which the date of Passover is set. Remember, Passover is one of the three times a year all the men of Israel had to go to Jerusalem. There was no way to know when Passover would be — until the sighting of the “new moon” occurred, and then all the men and their families had 14 days to get packed and to arrive in Jerusalem.  Quite the “road trip”!

To put this in context, that means that none of the disciples knew in advance when the “Last Supper” would take place until 14 days earlier, when the “new moon” was sighted.

The Pilgrim Festivals

None of the Jewish ‘holidays’, including the pilgrim festivals of Feast of Booths (Sukkot), Passover (Pesach) and Pentecost (Shavuot) are “holidays” in the same way commonly thought of by non-Jews. These are times of commemoration that God Himself set apart in Leviticus 23, along with Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Firstfuits (which we touch on below) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  He calls these “My designated (or “appointed” times)”

“Tell the people of Israel: ‘The designated times of the LORD which you are to proclaim as holy convocations are My designated times.’ “

Leviticus 23:2



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.

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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).









Rethinking the Sabbath – some reflections for my Christians friends

SabbathI have been doing a great deal of thinking about “shabbat” (the sabbath) the last few months and I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you here.

The whole idea of the Sabbath seems foreign to many; irrelevant even. Our society is geared towards ‘working hard’ and ‘playing hard’ but not ‘resting’.  Rest is seen at best as something we do only out of necessity after we have worked too hard or played too hard. Or it is viewed as a waste of time in a YOLO (“you only live once”) world — driven by the need to cram in as much as possible before one dies. But is it?

Sabbath, in the Jewish mind is the focal point of the week; a holiday that is planned for, fiercely guarded and fully celebrated from sundown Friday night until sundown Saturday night. It is ushered in by the lighting of the two sabbath candles and separated from the rest of the week by “Havdalah”. By the lighting of two sabbath candles we welcome in Shabbat; the two candles remind us to ‘remember’ the sabbath day and ‘observe’ it, or keep it holy. They are kindled by the woman of the house and is one of the very important responsibilities given to her, along with the preparing of the challah, or braided sweet egg breads. The blessing on the challah and on the cup of sweet concord wine is said by the male head of the home. Then, the family dines on the best meal of the week; for which the choicest foods are reserved. The husband blesses his wife or in his absence, the eldest son blesses his mother and the father blesses each of his children. That evening is spent together as a family, sometimes in the study of Torah. There is a morning meal and late afternoon meal which is either prepared in advance before Shabbat started (or prepared before shabbat and simmered for 24 hours over a slow fire). Then, to mark the end of the sabbath, we have Havdalah. Havdalah is our final reflection on the ‘otherness’ of shabbat and is delineated by the smelling of fragrant spices, the lighting of a braided candle (kindling a fire after the day of rest) and the blessing on a cup of wine, in which the braided candle is extinguished.  During shabbat, no work is done. Wow! That sure does seem like an awful big fuss over nothing in a busy frenetic world.  But is it?

To many Christians, the whole idea of a sabbath is lost or at best confused.  Some think since the command to remember the sabbath day and keep it holy was given to the Jews it is of no relevance to them whereas others think that the sabbath was somehow ‘changed’ to Sunday and that is the ‘Christian sabbath’. The sabbath was never changed; the early Church gathered on the first day of the week because that was the day their Lord rose from the dead. Note: the first day of the week according to the Hebraic (lunar) calendar of the Scriptures is Sunday not Monday (Gregorian calendar)].

The first day of the week,Sunday is called “the Lord’s Day”; a day for gathering together and remembering His death and resurrection. Acts 20:7 says that the early Church met ‘on the first day of the week’ to break bread together and it is commonly held that this was the weekly celebration of what has become known as ‘communion’.  While many Christians recognize the the disciples waiting until after Shabbat to prepare His body for burial (Matt 28:1, Mark 16:1-2 and Luke 23:56) it is a commonly held misconception that Paul abolished the sabbath and quote a few passages in support of that (Rom 14:5-6, 1 Cor 8, Gal 4:9-10, Col 2:16). Let’s look at those passages a little more closely;

Romans 14:5-6, saying “no day is above another”, negating that the context of that verse is regarding the eating of meat or abstaining / fasting (see Rom 14: 2, 3 and 6), nothing about the keeping of the sabbath. Paul clearly had no issue with the Law (see Rom 7:12, Romans 2:13, Rom 7:22), but rather was addressing the diversity of practices in a body composed of both Jews and Gentiles — essentially saying that Gentiles are not second class citizens by not keeping the Jewish feasts or customs and neither are those believers that choose to abstain from meat (likely because they were concerned that the meat may had be offered to idols).

Paul’s comments in 1 Cor 8 was also not about the keeping of sabbath but about not causing another believer to stumble over whether we do or don’t observe – in this case, the eating of meat.

Some quote Galatians 4:9-10 as being about the baseness of celebrating the sabbath but one needs to look at the context of this passage to understand what Paul was saying,  Galatia was in Asia Minor and the believers there were Gentiles (i.e. uncircumcised, see Gal 5:2, 6:12-13). The “weak and beggarly elements” Paul was referring to was an exhortation for these Gentile believers not to turn back to the pagan practices they had observed before becoming Christians.

Some say Col 2:16-17 abolishes the sabbath, but it is more clearly understood as an addressing of Gnostic beliefs and practices that had been influencing the Colossian church. Paul was not referring to that the Colossians were celebrating the sabbath but how they were.  Paul’s conclusion in Col 2:16 is that no man should judge another with regard to how they observe the practice of eating meat, in drink, in keeping a holiday, new moon or sabbath. Paul says (Col 2:17) that these things are a shadow of things to come. This doesn’t make them obsolete, only exhorting us not to let others judge us in how we keep (or not keep) these things, but to let Him who is the living head, be the judge in that regard.

So what was Paul’s custom regarding the sabbath?

Acts 13:14 records that 10-15 years after coming to faith in Messiah, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Notice that the Gentiles in attendance (!) wanted him to teach them more about Jesus being the Messiah on the following sabbath. Gentiles in Antioch were already gathering with Jews on the sabbath. Paul did not correct them or rebuke them for this practice.

About five years later, Paul “came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was went into them and for three sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead and saying “this Jesus whom I preached to you is the Christ” (Acts 17:1-3). This is 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus and it is STILL Paul’s custom to go to the synagogue on the sabbath and discuss the Scriptures!

Several years later, Paul went to Corinth where “he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath (Acts 18:4) and later went to Ephesus in Asia Minor where “he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).

Although Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, neither his teaching nor his actions on the sabbath indicate that Paul thought the sabbath was abolished. Paul’s emphasis is that whether we are Jews or Gentiles, we are not to judge each other in terms of how we observe — whether it is the eating of meat, the drinking of wine or the celebration of new moons, festivals or sabbaths.

So why celebrate shabbat? We rest, because He rested.  He is our rest and we spend that time with Him, as well as those He entrusted to us as family (both by blood and by adoption).

When we find our identity in Him and delight in Him and His Word, we more easily let go of ‘our plans’ and the things we think are important.  We were created for fellowship with Him and on shabbat we get to enjoy it, unencumbered by the demands of our busy life. What a privilege! What a delight!

As a Jew, I am free to observe shabbat and festivals and do so — and with great anticipation, knowing that such things are a shadow of things to come!


What is a Mezuzah? And Why Do I Hang One On My Doorpost?

10885349_869270203105663_1344847406077536697_nmezuzah [Hebrew: מְזוּזָה‎ (mezuzah) meaning “doorpost”; plural: מְזוּזוֹת (mezuzot)] is a hand scribed parchment which contains two portions of Torah;   Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and Vehavta (Deuteronomy 11:13-21). The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) begins with “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” and the Vehavta, include the verse: “And you shall inscribe these words upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.”

The parchment is stored in a protective case and hung on the doorposts of Jewish homes. The Mezuzah is not the decorative case but rather refers to the parchment inside.  The decorative case is there to protect the parchment. Often, the parchment is further wrapped in plastic wrap if it is exposed to the elements, to protect it.

mezuzah parchment

According to custom mezuzot should be placed on the right side of the door or doorpost when facing the door, in the upper third of the doorpost. Some Jews hang a mezuzah on every doorway in the home (except bathrooms) whereas others hang them on the doorposts of doors that have an entry from outside the home. This is what we do. Observant Jews will kiss their finger tip and then touch it to the mezuzah when entering the house as a way of showing respect to God and His Word.

The parchment (klaf) come from a kosher species of animal and is inscribed by hand. The sofer (Scribe) who writes the parchment has undergone many years of training and inscribes the mezuzah in the same manner and script as the Torah. The verses are written in black indelible ink with a special quill pen.  When complete, the parchment is then rolled up from left to right with the word שדי (“Shaddai”) visible on the exposed edge) and placed inside the case.  The Hebrew word שדי (Shaddai) is one of the Biblical names of God means “Almighty” and appears on the exposed part of the klaf as well as on the Mezuzah case itself (which may only have the first letter ש (“Shin”)). Shaddai also serves as an acronym for Shomer Daltot Yisrael which means “Guardian of Israel’s doors”.

The requirements in writing a Mezuzah parchment is the same as writing a Torah scroll; any mistake invalidates the entire parchment. Many observant Jews will have a qualified scribe check the mezuzot parchments for defects (such as small tears or faded lettering) at least twice every seven years. I check mine before hanging it on a new home, as I did last night (see photo).

While the important part of the mezuzah is the klaf or parchment, designing and producing mezuzah cases has been elevated to an art form over the ages. Mezuzah cases are produced from a wide variety of materials, from silver and precious metals, to wood, stone, ceramics, pewter, and even polymer clay. Some dealers of mezuzah cases will provide a copy of the text that has been photocopied onto paper, however this is not considered a Kosher (valid) mezuzah. The klaf in our mezuzot are handscribed.

Ashkenazi Jews (Eastern European Jews) tilt the mezuzah so that the top slants toward the room into which the door opens, whereas most Sephardim (Middle Eastern Jews) Jews affix the mezuzah vertically. Jews living in countries where the majority of Jews are Ashkenazim usually place it slanting (which is what I do, although Sephardic).

Generally, mezuzot  are hung immediately upon moving in or within 30 days of moving into a rented house or apartment in the Diaspora (outside the Land of Israel). The reason for this difference is that there is an assumption that when a Jew lives in Israel, Israel will remain their permanent residence, whereas a home in the Diaspora is temporary.

The mezuzah reminds us to keep God’s words constantly in our minds and in our hearts and to “teach them to your children when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when your rise up”. This is the main reason I hang mezuzot on my door posts (and also wear a decorative one around my neck).


Story of Chanukah – Why we light candles for 8 nights

10838050_870568996309117_4214129562589931007_oChanukah means “dedication” and celebrates the miracle of a day’s worth of oil used in the Temple lasting for eight days. The holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the (second) Temple in Jerusalem after it had been defiled under the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

BACKGROUND: Judaism had been outlawed and in 167 BC Antiochus Epiphanes ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple and for pigs to be sacrificed. The sacrifice of pigs to the Greek gods was standard ritual practice in the Ancient Greek religion. Antiochus’s actions provoked a large-scale revolt.

THE MACCABEE BROTHERS: Mattathias (Mattityahu), a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus Epiphanes. Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi (“Judah the Hammer”). By 166 BC Mattathias had died and Judah took his place as leader.

THE VICTORY: By 165 BC the Maccabean revolt was successful, and the Temple was liberated and rededicated. After the forces of Antiochus had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the olive oil used to keep the 7-branch Menorah in the Temple lit had been profaned and couldn’t be used.  They found a single vial that was still sealed by the High Priest with enough oil to keep the Menorah in the Temple lit for only one day but it took 8 days for new oil to be pressed from olives and made ready for use in the Menorah.  The miracle that Chanukah commemorates is that one days worth of oil burned for eight days; enough time for the new oil to be pressed and made ready.

HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS: The story of Chanukah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees which describe in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah. These books are not part of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) but are found in the Apocryphal books. The Jewish historian Josephus also writes about this in his renowned book, Antiquities of the Jews.

Chanukah is also mentioned in the New Testament in John 10;

“At that time the Feast of Dedication [Chanukah] took place at Jerusalem. It was winter and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” John 10:22-24

HOW WE CELEBRATE: Jews celebrate by lighting an 8-branch candleabra with an additional candle each night for 8 nights.  The middle candle, called the Shamash is the ‘helper’ candle that lights the others. We also eat foods fried in oil for each of the 8 nights and depending where Jews originate from, those foods differ.  Ashkenazi Jews who are of Eastern European descent eat “latkes” which are are shallow-fried pancakes of grated potato, flour and egg and usually flavoured with grated onion. Latkes may be topped with a variety of condiments ranging from savory (e.g. sour cream) to sweet (e.g. apple saucer) or they may be served plain.  Sephardic Jews who are of Middle Eastern descent eat various kinds of doughnuts and fritters, depending on the country of origin. In Israel, “sufganiyot” (סופגניות) are eaten, which are small round doughnuts filled with jelly or custard and topped with powered sugar. Like most Jewish celebrations, Chanukah is a time for family to gather and to share special food. It is also a time for games with a four sided top called a “dreydl” that has the four first letters of the expression “nes gadol haya sham” (נס גדול היה שם) which means ‘a great miracle happened there’

NOT JEWISH CHRISTMAS: Chanukah is not one of the major holidays of the Jewish Calendar as are Passover, Rosh Hoshanah (New Year), Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) or Shevouth (Feast of Weeks / Pentecost). It is a minor festival but because it falls shortly before Christmas some families have elevated it to a significant occasion. While gifts are not traditionally given for Chanukah, parents usually give their children “Chanukah gelt” (Yiddish for ‘money’) and oftenthese gifts of money are associated with their children’s dedication to their studies. Chocolate coins in little sacks are also often given.

REMEMBERING GOD: Like other Jewish holidays, Chanukah commemorates God acting on behalf of His people.  The blessing that is said each night as the Chanukiah is lit (usually by the children) refers to God having ‘wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old’. As we celebrate this season, be it Chanukah or Christmas and for some, both may we remember God and all He has done for us.  And may we be a people marked by thankfullness.

! חג אורים שמח

Happy Festival of Lights !