Messianic Jewish Issues That Matter, Week 5

Issue for Week #5: We want to a greater appreciation for the Mo’adim (festivals, holy days).

How it Works: I will be posting issues for discussion every Monday or Tuesday this summer. We can discuss the issue all week long. We welcome comments by by a variety of viewpoints and request brevity and politeness in commenting.

Where This is Going: I will produce an eBook based on this blog series. It may be that your comment will influence my thinking and final writing. It may be that you will be quoted (only with permission) in the eBook.

After the Jump: What’s so special about the Mo’adim? What does Messianic Judaism have to offer the Jewish world? What does Messianic Judaism have to offer the Christian world?

A man has nought else to do on a festival save to eat and drink and study. Divide it: devote half of it to eating and drinking and half of it to the Beit Midrash (house of study).
-Rabbi Joshua, Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 68b.

. . . bind up the money in your hand and go to the place the Lord your God chooses, and spend the money for whatever you desire: oxen or sheep or wine or beer, whatever your appetite craves. You shall eat before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.
-Deuteronomy 14:24-26.

Let there be lights in the expanse of the heaven . . . and let them be for signs and festivals (מועדים, mo’adim).
-Genesis 1:14.

The appointed seasons (mo’adim) were given to Israel for no other reason than for them to enjoy themselves.
-Tanhuma Bereshit §4.

It’s such a burden to be keep the Torah! This is a sarcastic line a friend at Tikvat David shares around the table every year as we enjoy Shavu’ot or Sukkot with the smell of grilling steak, with the abundance of cold beer, and usually a serene setting lakeside or in the mountains of Georgia.

In the smorgasbord of world religions, you have to admit Judaism is one of the livelier, more enjoyable of faiths.

When our synagogue used to meet at a church, we met with the elders to discuss arrangements. I asked if they had a problem with us bringing in a small amount of wine for some ceremonies. The discussion led to Deuteronomy 14:24-26. I was worried they might have a problem and think we were alcoholics. But they were all laughing and could not believe the Bible actually commends purchasing wine and beer! They often reminded me about that meeting afterwards and laughed, saying, “We ought to come to your events!”

What does the Lord require of you, O Israel? To rejoice and enjoy food and the company of good friends with Psalms and prayers and some good Torah learning. It’s tough to be a Jew (or a Messianic Jew or a Judeo-Christian).

For many in the Messianic Jewish movement, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, the feasts were the entrance into Torah living.

For me, it was Passover. I was nineteen years old for my first Passover. It was mysterious, a little weird, but I couldn’t get enough. I especially remember the parsley dipped in saltwater and the Haggadah. You’d think the horseradish might have made more of an impact on me, but somehow the idea of eating a sprig of parsley captured my imagination. The leader, a Jewish Christian (not a Messianic Jew, if you comprehend the difference), made some d’rash about the parsley and life, new life in Messiah. I think he quoted Colossians 2:7, about being “planted and built up in him and established in the faith.” Maybe it wasn’t very traditional (quoting the New Testament at the Seder?), but the whole idea of edible symbols and Bible verses was thrilling.

For many Christians, the feasts are the most interesting aspect of Judaism. For one thing, it has happened that many Christians, finding Passover and Weeks (Shavuot, Pentecost) and Tabernacles (Sukkot, Booths) in their Bibles, have wondered why these are not as important or more important than Christmas and Easter. A common cycle of thought happens for some: we should celebrate the “biblical” holidays and not the “pagan” festivals.

For many less-than-observant Jews, Passover and High Holidays and Hanukkah are Judaism. I’m not sure if the numbers have been changing in the last five years, but last time I read surveys of Jewish observance, some 70% of Jewish people participated in Passover Seders each year and slightly more attended High Holiday services.

We used to meet about half a mile from a Conservative synagogue in the Atlanta area. I remember at Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur you could hardly drive in the area because cars were park for a mile up the road. I’ve tried to explain to Christian leaders, this is not like the slight surge in attendance at church during Easter and Christmas. If churches saw a similar seven-fold multiplication of attendance, they would really understand.

So? What do Messianic Jews Have on the Holidays?

I believe that when it comes to the mo’adim, Messianic Judaism has a great deal to offer. These festivals and celebrations resound all the more with life and spiritual depth for us. You see, and argue with me if you think I am wrong, we might be compared to the more mystical and charismatic strains of Jewish practice (think of some of the positive aspects of Hasidic life).

The mo’adim for us are an occasion to celebrate Messiah. The “messianic” in Messianic Jew comes out nowhere quite like the holidays and observances. We’ve got spirit. We’ve got Messiah. We have already in our fledgling movement a strong tradition of musical enjoyment, dance, and reflection on Messiah at the holidays.

A Messianic Jewish Passover Seder has all the depth of a mainstream Seder with a whole lot more to add to it. In my opinion, there’s no Passover like our Passover. It is the quintessential Messianic Jewish celebration and remembrance. Yes, you can say that for mainstream Judaism also, but the Last Supper traditions of the gospels and the Passover-crucifixion-resurrection themes add layers of meaning to the Exodus-redemption-election themes of the traditional Haggadah.

Shavuot (Weeks, Pentecost) is generally a minor observance in modern Jewish life. Surveys of Jewish observance do not include major number of participants in Shavuot ceremonies. But in Messianic Judaism, the story of Acts 2 adds to the story of Exodus 19. For us Shavuot is about the giving of Torah at Sinai and the giving of Spirit at Jerusalem just after Yeshua’s ascension. And we have the Law-and-Spirit passages such as Romans 8 to meditate on in addition to the more traditional Shavuot passages.

I could go through each holiday and speak about Messianic Judaism having all the meaning of Judaism but with more added.

And besides that, we emphasize rejoicing in a way that might make others in the Jewish community wonder if we are crazy. We have a tradition of dancing and lively music. I know some of my colleagues seem embarrassed by some of the pageantry and revelry of things like “Davidic” dance. I’m not embarrassed by it at all. Somebody, for goodness sake, ought to be applying the scriptures about dancing! So what if more sober and serious Jewish communities may not use music and dancing as much as we do in holiday and Sabbath observances.

Mo’adim and Christians

One of my best-selling books is about the Feasts for Christians (see it here at LifeWay.com).

I believe Passover is a neglected and forgotten observance of the Church. While Pauline Christianity (the gentile churches to whom his letters are written) followed the teaching of the Jewish apostles that non-Jews need not keep sign commandments of Torah (Sabbath, festivals, circumcision, dietary law, fringes) in order to be “kosher” to God, I believe Paul would say the modern Church is crazy not to make Passover a central, annual observance.

Read up on the Quartodeciman controversy (check wikipedia) and keep in mind: Pascha for these Asian elders might have been a Passover observance. Read 1 Corinthians 5 and consider how these Yeshua-followers in Greece understood Passover (it seems as if Passover was familiar enough to them that we might say they practiced it).

But most of all, consider that Yeshua’s last meal with his disciples was a Passover-like meal (I have written on the issue of timing of Passover and the Last Supper and concluded that it was a night before the Seder). And early pre-Passover meals were normal for pilgrims to Jerusalem like Yeshua and the disciples. And Yeshua said, “As often as you do this . . .” This? You know: a Passover-like meal.

Messianic Judaism has a vested interest in teaching our Christian friends about the mo’adim. We’re not trying to turn Christians into Jews. But we think (rightfully, in my opinion) too much of the Jewish original context of life with God was lost in the early centuries and for the wrong reasons.

And when it comes to Jesus, few things illuminate his life and the meaning of what he enacted in the cosmos more clearly than the mo’adim. Yeshua is the completer of the themes of Passover, Firstfruits, Shavuot, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and newer holidays such as Purim and Hanukkah.

Discussion

Briefly describe how a feast or holy day observance was vital to you in your growth in the knowledge and practice of your faith (as a Jew, a Messianic Jew, or a Christian).

Why are the holidays of the Torah so important? What are your favorite themes?

This entry was posted in Holidays, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Passover, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Messianic Jewish Issues That Matter, Week 5

  1. Jean says:

    I wish I could answer your question as a participant of the festivals and holidays but I have not experienced any Jewish feast or holy day. I have learned and read about them (out of my own desire to know more) but one day hope to find myself in the midst of celebrating too!
    So, my response may not be exactly what you were asking for but I think it relates.
    I was reading in the Gospel of John, chapters 7-8 and noted the context in 7:37 “On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds…” Interesting! I wanted to find out the significance to what Jesus was shouting at this particular festival. I have the book, “The Feasts of the Lord” by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal and learned for the first time (I’ve been a Christian for over 40 years) the magnitude of Jesus’ proclamation to the crowds that He was the Living Water and the Light of the World to those who were at the Temple celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. I was aware that Jesus was making two significant “I Am” statements but for the first time had read it in the bigger picture – in the context of the Festival. That was a number of months ago and I am still in awe from this deeper understanding of who Jesus is!
    Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this community even in a small way.
    Shalom!
    Jean Bergen

    • Derek Leman says:

      Jean, great share. Thank you. Yes, the people at Sukkot were praying for life-giving rain and the ceremony of the water-drawing is described in the Mishnah as the most joyous you could ever witness. And somewhere in the mix of all this activity, Yeshua is standing in the courts saying to those who could hear his voice, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.” It is a beautiful and meaningful picture, which taken as a Jesus-as-greater-than-the-Temple theme is powerful. Of course, I would not go for a Jesus-replaces-the-Temple interpretation and neither would the author of the fourth gospel.

      Derek Leman

  2. “We have a tradition of dancing and lively music. I know some of my colleagues seem embarrassed by some of the pageantry and revelry of things like “Davidic” dance. ”

    I am one such colleague who would like to see this and a few other Pentecostal leftovers go away. That’s not to say that Jews do not dance in praise of G-d – we certainly do. A lot. Probably more than anyone else. But in a Jewish way and when traditionally appropriate.

  3. Derek Leman says:

    Gene, here are a few points to discuss about Davidic dance and I’d enjoy some dialogue about it:

    (1) Let’s get rid of the name “Davidic” (no one calls it that in our synagogue, BTW).

    (2) No flags! Or banners!

    (3) No matching outfits unless it is a special presentation.

    (4) Are you, Gene, against music and instruments on Shabbat? That is one area I resist following the tradition. My understanding is that the halachic reason is the temptation to “fix” a broken instrument and the theological rationale is sadness since the Temple is destroyed. Thoughts?

    (5) Are you saying dancing in worship on Shabbat should be forbidden? If so, does this go with the halachic prohibition of instruments or something else?

    Derek

    • Derek…. 1), 2), 3) – agree!

      4) “Are you, Gene, against music and instruments on Shabbat?”

      Let’s just say that I am halachically “traditional” in that regard. On a more personal level, I do not care for the whole Evangelical music team on stage performance / admiring clapping audience set up. I just do not miss it. But, to each his/her own and I do not judge those who disagree with me on this issue.

      (5) “Are you saying dancing in worship on Shabbat should be forbidden? If so, does this go with the halachic prohibition of instruments or something else?”

      No, dancing on Shabbat is not forbidden. Instead, the question is of timing and appropriateness. When is dancing a traditionally appropriate thing to do in a Jewish community (in a synagogue during services)? Is Shabbat morning during service? No! Friday night during some of the songs? Yes! (Chasidic Jews, for example, dance in the synagogue on Shabbat night.) Men and women dancing together? (I would say No, but then again, I am more halahically traditional). Holy day celebrations (like Simchat Torah) – most definitely Yes!

  4. Donna Levin says:

    Well, as a dancer, I just have to comment. For me, it’s an expression of worship and many people have told me they have been touched by some of the dancing we have done. In fact 3-1/2 years ago, I became a Bat Mitzvah (better late than never) and we expressed my spiritual journey through a series of three different dances. By the time we were finished, some of the men were weeping (the last dance was done to Neshama Carlebach’s gorgeous version of Return). So, if done right, it can be a powerful way to worship.

    We do not dance on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. I think our congregation used to call it Davidic, but we haven’t used that term in ages. We only wear special outfits for presentations, so it sounds like our synagogues are similar, Derek. We have small synagogue so we don’t even have the room for banners or flags, but I’m in agreement with you yet again. I really don’t like them and am pretty tired of the whole giant banner “thing”. As a married woman, I do prefer not holding hands with a man and would prefer to have men and women dance separately. Well, we don’t exactly have a ton of men rushing to dance with us so it’s not that big of a problem.

    In terms of your original discussion questions, I would say that observing Shabbat has made a huge impact on my life. I was raised as a secular Jew and never lit candles until I was in my early fifties, around 6 years ago. Not only did it change my life, but it changed my marriage. Who knew that putting out a white tablecloth, lighting candles, blessing Adonai, etc. would have such an impact? Each week I have a countdown to Shabbat in my head and I just can’t wait to get there. I used to think it was “bondage” to rules and regulations–what a fool. Now I know how beautiful and lovely it is. Baruch HaShem for restoring this in my life!

  5. Derek Leman says:

    Thanks, Donna. Yes, I hope my comments on dancing and banners and flags do not anger any person who loves those things. As for dancing in worship, we have almost exclusively women who are involved (once in a while a man gets in) and there is little hand-holding in the steps our ladies go through, so not an issue. We also have been very careful not to have moves that suggest anything inappropriate sexually. I’ve been known to dance like it was Simchat Torah in the Torah parade from week to week. I suppose I could be criticized for this, but every time we parade the Torah is seems like a Simcha to me!

  6. Bob Williams says:

    “While Pauline Christianity (the gentile churches to whom his letters are written) followed the teaching of the Jewish apostles that non-Jews need not keep sign commandments of Torah (Sabbath, festivals, circumcision, dietary law, fringes) in order to be “kosher” to God, I believe Paul would say the modern Church is crazy not to make Passover a central, annual observance.”

    I’m glad to see you admit that gentile believers are invited, even encouraged, to keep the sign commandments of Torah. I often feel that there is resentment in some quarters (within MJ) that so many gentiles enjoy these things too. My Rabbi taught us that the more Torah you bring into your life the more blessed your life will be. The Mo’adim are a blessing to all who keep them.

  7. Derek Leman says:

    Thanks, Bob. As you will see in this weeks post, “Messianic Jewish Issues That Matter, Week 6,” the problems do not come from non-Jews who adopt some Jewish practices while being respectful toward Judaism and supportive of Jewish believers. You sound like someone who is respectful and supportive of the need for Yeshua to be represented to the Jewish community (at last) as the Jewish Messiah and not the Jewish converter-to-Christianity.

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