Q: Hi Kevin, I ran across an article recently that was saying that we shouldn’t be celebrating the Festivals because we’re only supposed to do that in the Land in the place of His Name (Jerusalem, e.g. Deuteronomy 16:5-6). The author was saying it’s wrong to do this! Wow! What’s that about?
A: I’d like to see the article to find out exactly what his take is, but here’s mine: I wouldn’t say that it’s “wrong”—only that it’s impossible! Torah was given to Israel so that Israel could be Israel—and that includes possessing the Promised Land. There are no provisions for keeping Torah in Dispersion. On the contrary, Numbers 9:9-12, for example, gives instructions for someone who is on a journey at the time of Passover. It doesn’t say anything about keeping the Feast where he is (the implication being, outside the Land), but that he better be back in time to celebrate it a month later!
Our Feast celebrations today are nothing but memorials as long as the Jewish people as a united nation are not in the Land and sacrifices are not being made there (i.e. the Temple service restored). So even if you personally happen to be within the borders of the modern State of Israel during the time of a feast, whatever you “keep” is still a memorial. There’s just no way to get around this without ignoring Scriptural facts and spiritualizing when convenient.
The residual replacement theology in our thinking (even among many Jewish believers!) tells us that we can keep the feasts individually, outside the context of a restored people of Israel. But any individualistic aspect of Torah was given as part of a corporate and national covenant. Our individual Torah observance is not for ourselves—as Messianic Jews and the Gentiles who sojourn with us, we only make up the smaller parts of the larger nation.
Should we celebrate the memorials, then? I think so—as long as we don’t forget that that is all they are. The danger, however, is that without the right perspective toward Scripture, and with wrong motives in our hearts, doing so may continue to feed our self-absorbed ways. We must not perpetuate the fantasy that the memorials are authentic, all the while ignoring the reality that even the portion of Israel (the Jewish people) who is in the Land remains far away from God, and the whole nation (including those of us in Dispersion) is in need of restoration to Him through Yeshua.
What do you think? Weigh in with your comments below.
This “Challenging Paradigms” article was originally published in Messianic Jewish Issues.