Jewish Holidays - An Introduction

Jewish Holy Days

       The Jewish calendar is replete with celebration and reflection.  Following are a few highlights regarding some of the Holy Days.

Rosh Hashanah: (September/October)

       Rosh Hashanah begins the celebration of the Jewish New Year and is also a celebration of the creation of the universe. The shofar (ram’s horn) is blown, special prayers are recited and the culmination of these events fall upon the holiest day in the Jewish year, Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur: (September/October)

       Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement (Levitcus 23) begins 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, and is a time of prayer and fasting asking forgiveness for sins of the community as well as the individual.  This is a time where, it is said that, God will judge the people of the earth and determine if they are to live throughout the next year or appoint their time to die.  Thus, there is an emphasis on reading scripture, prayer, fasting and repentance. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are referred to as the “High Holy Days”.

Sukkot: (Sept/October)

       Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles is a harvest festival of thanksgiving (Leviticus 23).  In fact the pilgrims, in the beginning of American history, used the festival of Sukkot for their time of praise and thanksgiving, thus our  holiday of Thanksgiving. 

This is a time of gathering the harvest and a time of remembering the wandering Israelites in the wilderness for forty years living in temporary dwellings or booths (a sukkah).

Simchat Torah: (Sept/October)

       Simchat Torah, or Rejoicing in the Law celebrates the conclusion of weekly readings through the Torah (five books of Moses) in the Synagogue.  They conclude by reading the last chapters of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis.  There is a great celebration parading the Torah Scroll up and down the isles of the Synagogue, dancing, singing and rejoicing.

Chanukah: (Nov/December)

       Chanukah, or the Feast of Lights is an eight-day celebration remembering God’s deliverance from the notorious Syrian emperor Antiochus who set out to destroy the Jewish religion.

 An eight candle menorah is lit, one candle the first night, two candles the second and so on.  This is used to commemorate the victory of Mattathias and his five sons, including Judah the Maccabee (“Judah, the Hammer”) who led a revolt against the Syrian emperor. 

       When they defeated Antiochus, who desecrated the Temple,  they cleansed the Temple.  The Jews endeavored to light the seven-candle Menorah located inside the Temple. However, there was only enough consecrated oil to last for one day.  The miracle was that the Temple Menorah stayed lit for eight days until the special oil was procured. 

       Thus the lighting of the eight candles is for the remembrance of this great event.  Gifts are exchanged and special foods are eaten.  It is a time of great celebration.

Purim: (February/March)

       Purim or the Festival of Lots is a time of celebrating the redemption of the Jews from being exterminated.  Because the Jews refused to bow down to Haman, a notorious Persian, he , being an advisor to King Ahasuerus, drew lots (Hebrew, Purim) to determine what day the Jews were to be killed.

       Through the efforts and intervention of Mordecai and his niece, Queen Esther, the Israelites were saved.

       It is a time of celebration with costumes of the biblical characters.  The Book of Esther is read in the synagogue and festive foods and noisemakers are part of the celebration.

Passover: (March/April)

       Passover is celebrated in the Spring time. The celebration remembers the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.  Special foods are prepared with each item symbolizing the biblical event.  A special place is set for the prophet Elijah as they believe he will come during Passover and announce the coming of the Messiah.

Shavuot: (May/June)

       Shavuot, or Feast of Pentecost occurs seven weeks after the second day of Passover and commemorates the receiving of the Law (Torah) at Mount Sinai.  Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot are the three pilgrimage festivals.  During the time of the Temple the Jews brought an offering of their firstfruits (bikkurim) to the Lord. 

       Shavuot is also called the spring harvest Festival of firstfruits.  Shavuot is considered the birthday of Judaism.

Shabbat: (begins Friday night – ends Saturday night)

       Shabbat is considered the holiest day of the week.  It is a time of celebrating the creation of the world.  It is a day of rest, prayer, study, relaxation, romance, spirituality, enjoyment and setting aside this day from the rest of the week. 

       God rested on this day (Gen. 2:3) and it is the only holy day mentioned in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8).

       There are many other wonderful holidays and celebrations throughout the Jewish year.  These few examples will give Christians a general idea of what is celebrated, and why.

The Christian Connection

       There are many parallels to the Christian calendar and the Jewish calendar.   Below are theological connections that you may find surprising.

1.  Rosh HaShanah is symbolic of the Rapture of the Church and the complete gathering of Israel (1 Cor. 15:52; Isa. 27:12-13).

2.  Yom Kippur represents Israel’s time of “Great Trouble” or the Tribulation Period (Zech. 12:10-13:1; Jer. 30:7: Heb. 9-10)

3.  Sukkot points to the Millennium Reign of Messiah on earth (Rev. 21:3; Zech. 14).

4.  Simchat Torah symbolizes believers rejoicing in the “Living Word” (John 1).  Jesus the Messiah fulfilled the Law and is the Word.

5. Chanukah is mentioned in John 10 when Jesus was in Jerusalem during the “Feast of Dedication” or Chanukah.  In that context Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd:  the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (10:11). In the lighting of the eight candles during Chanukah a ninth candle is used.  This candle is raised above the other eight.  This is called the “shammash” meaning “servant or shepherd” candle.  Jesus was saying, “I am the good shammash”

6.  Purim is a reminder that God has a plan for redemption for Israel as well as the whole world.  Jesus is our redeemer, protector and friend.

7.  Passover points us to the Messiah who became our Passover (1 Cor. 5:7). Just as blood had to be spilled, and put around the doors in order for those who believed to be saved, so it is with Messiah Jesus.  His blood had to be spilled in order for those who believe to be saved.  

                  Communion comes from the Passover tradition.  The Bread and Wine come from the tradition.  The                            Passover and the Lord’s Supper tell of the complete story of redemption and deliverance. 

                 Jesus said that Elijah has already come.  He was speaking of John the Baptist (Matthew17:12,13).  Therefore, when Jewish people celebrate the Passover they unconsciously bear witness to the Messiah. 

                 When a Christian partakes of communion, they remember Jesus, of whom the Passover Lamb represented.

8.  Shavuot remembers the receiving of the Law from Sinai.  However, it also commemorates the receiving of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Shavuot) in Acts chapter two. Shavuot not only celebrates the birthday of Judaism, it is also the birthday of the Church.

9.  Shabbat points to the true rest we find in the Messiah and ultimately the Sabbath rest of the Kingdom of Messiah (Thy Kingdom Come).  Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).

Believer’s Responsibility

These holidays are shadows and types of Messiah.  Most Jewish people are unaware of the meaning behind these beautiful Holy Days. 

Believers in Jesus have the responsibility and privilege to share their faith with Jewish people as to the meaning of these great symbols and types that are associated with Jewish celebration.

May God bless you as you bless God’s ancient people Israel!

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the world of God.” Romans 10:17