To Feast, or Not to Feast…

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.

15 replies
    • Lilly
      Lilly says:

      In Lev 23:14; 21; 31 it says we are to keep these feasts
      “NO MATTER WHERE WE LIVE” How much more clearer can this be??? Hasn’t he put his name on us?

      • Kevin
        Kevin says:

        Shalom Lilly. In the verses you quoted, the Hebrew is b’chol mosh’voteichem, which the NIV notoriously translates as “wherever you live.” The literal translation, which is reflected in most other translations, is “in all your sitting-places (or dwelling-places).” That the root word moshav means literally “sit” rather than the implied “live” is easily seen in Psalm 1:1, “O the happiness of that one, who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, and in the way of sinners has not stood, and in the seat (moshav) of scorners has not sat.”

        We also need to read these verses in context. Aside from the explicit command regarding the Passover not being sacrificed just anywhere in Israel (Deuteronomy 16:5-6), as well as the example from the article from Numbers 9:9-12, Levicitus 23:10—just four verses before your first example—clearly says, “when you come in to the Land I am giving you.” So, when we read “in all your dwelling-places,” it doesn’t imply “anywhere in the world,” but “in the Land of Israel.” It is imposing ourselves on the text to think that God was bringing Israel into the Land, but giving them commands that they (we) could keep wherever we please. That’s just not supported by the context.

  1. Philip S
    Philip S says:

    Well, that was an unusual response…and I agree totally. The “messianic” Jewish crowd who celebrate the feasts are really just falling into the same trap as “unbelieving” Jews do as they are following made up rules by the rabbis. It is a “cultural” tradition today (as opposed to a “Biblical” one).

    The feasts are excellent teaching material to explain why Jesus did what He did, when He did! They are also God’s “Calendar of Redemption. But the feasts where a “dress rehearsal” for the real events – 1st 4 Spring Feasts are for the Messiah and Holy Spirit to come, the last three fall feasts deal with end-times…not the church as they were given to Israel!

    If at any time one makes any of the seven feasts for the “church”, they now are espousing a replacement doctrine. The “gentiles” grafted in receive the “blessing” of what each feast brought.

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      That’s not exactly what I am saying, Philip, however, I appreciate your comments.

      In response, though, I would say that you might be extremely surprised to find out how much of the Jewish Roots teachings about the feasts (the ones you’ve obviously been exposed to) are based not in Scripture, but in Talmudic Judaism. There are many issues at odds with Scripture both on the teaching/education side as well as on the practical application side.

      Yet despite the issues, this does not negate the value and benefit of a Scriptural approach to both the instructional and practical sides. My main point is that we cannot dismiss what the Scripture says — imagining that tradition and Scripture say the same thing — and misuse the feasts for individualistic or self-serving purposes.

  2. Mona
    Mona says:

    Here is my take on the subject…

    I have been keeping the feasts in the most basic sense. For Pesach, I do a leg of lamb, greek olives, some feta and escarole lettuce. I observe and count the omer… and do a total fast on Yom Kippur. I also take off time from work to make sure that I’m not working on those High Sabbaths. I do try to observe all the commandments as much as possible given one’s situation. So… Do I follow Rabbinic? or the Modern Church my answer to that is no.

    I think and believe that the Torah was written in plain simple language for anyone to follow…. No special understanding needed… nothing extra from the sidelines for apparent understanding or practice.

  3. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Thanks for your very helpful response concerning the keeping of feast days.
    As a gentile I have always wondered why the days were kept once the Jewish believer accepts Christ. I was under the impression the the feast were shadows of things to come and that Christ full filled the feast.
    I definitely do not think the Church replaced Israel.

  4. Ben
    Ben says:

    Well I appreciate your Comment and the insight, but I thought we were commanded to keep the Torah & Feast
    and as far as that comment that the church replaced Israel – is so misguided if our gentile Brothers & sisters forget they are grafted in to the Olive Branch

  5. Lilly R.
    Lilly R. says:

    When Yah said to keep these things forever—he meant forever! I don’t believe we should be sacrificing a lamb–I think that is to be done only in Jerusalem at the Temple—which we no longer have. But as far as celebrating the feasts…Absolutely we should be keeping them!
    Alecheim…Lilly R.

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      No doubt, they are “forever.” And you’re right—sacrificing a lamb for Pesach should be reserved for Jerusalem. But “keeping” and “celebrating” the feasts, according to Scripture, requires making sacrifices, doing it in Jerusalem, as the reunited people of Israel. We can celebrate memorials of the feasts, remembering them through symbols and rites (i.e. a Passover seder), but this is not “celebrating” or “keeping” the feasts, according to Scripture. The conditions don’t presently exist for a Scriptural keeping of the feasts. The question is, then, what are we doing when we keep our memorials? What does it mean? What is the purpose? How does it affect our understanding when we realize we’re not actually keeping the feast, but memorializing it? That’s the point of the article.

  6. Carol
    Carol says:

    Hello Kevin,

    Would you say then that we need to examine why we are keeping the feast?

    If the feast are to be celebrated forever then how do we who are not in Jerusalem keep the feast?

    Just a note… Today in reading Luke chapt 2, I noticed that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. I pondered this for a short period.

    Now I find it interesting of course after reading this post.


  7. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    Hi Kevin, my husband & I came across your article when looking for an answer as to how & why many seem to be “keeping the feasts” when what we see as the scripture clearly saying we can’t where we are not in the land, have no temple or priesthood. We simply acknowledge the times of year, teach our children about then & wait for the time when we are able to “keep the feasts in obedience to the commands. Would it not be adding to the word by “memorializing” or practicing the feasts, or “doing the best you can” which we have also been told? We have noticed that you are selling resources to keep/ celebrate the feasts however when I read your article I believe your stance is that they cannot be? Just wondering if these resources advocate “keeping them? Thank you, Shalom

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      Shalom Nicole — those are greats question!

      To the matter of “memorializing,” I guess it depends on what you (or others) mean by that. When I speak of memorializing, it would include acknowledging the days and teaching the children — as you already mentioned — but not necessarily to the exclusion of celebration or practice.

      Consider 1 Corinthians 5:7-8. “Clean out the old leaven, so that you may be a new batch of dough, because you are unleavened; for our Pesach–Messiah–was also sacrificed, so that we may keep the Feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of evil and wickedness, but with the matzah of purity and truth.” (MJLT)

      The Corinthian believers, in addition to being a largely Gentile community, were certainly not in the Land, which is where Pesach (Passover) and the Feast of Matzah are commanded to be kept. Now Paul is referring to the Feast(s) in a figurative manner, since the surrounding passage is not about Feast-keeping per se, but about being pure. However, the reference to the Feasts clearly indicates not only the Corinthians’ understanding of the Feasts, but that they have practiced “cleaning out the leaven” and “keeping the Feast.” Otherwise, Paul’s exhortation doesn’t make sense — it would be too far removed from the Corinthians’ experience to be helpful in making his point. They knew what he was talking about, because they practiced it.

      That said, the most we can glean from this is that the Corinthians practiced some kind of observance of the Feast — we have no idea what that looked like. By virtue of not being in Israel (and most of them not being Jews), whatever they did would be very different from what would be happening in the Land. It seems that whatever they did, it centered on the person and work of Yeshua. This is what I would call a viable “memorial” of the Feast — to not practice it as if the conditions according to Torah are being fully met, oblivious to the fact that they are not — but to remember (memorialize) the key aspects of the Feast, and to celebrate it.

      In fact, this is exactly the point of our Haggadah (Behold the Lamb), which explicitly recognizes that our Passover memorial is just that, and that without a lamb sacrificed and eaten in Jerusalem, it isn’t a real Passover. While this makes us sad, our remembrance also allows us to keep the command to tell our children about Passover, and is also an opportunity to recall that “our Pesach–Messiah–was also sacrificed.”

      I don’t believe this adds to the Word at all — anymore than merely acknowledging the days and teaching our children about them does. The Scriptures tell Israel to actually *do* these things — not just acknowledge, or teach, or memorialize. But just because they *can’t* be done right now, doesn’t mean they should be forgotten. On the contrary, the passage from 1 Corinthians seems to indicate that there is freedom in the way such days may be “kept,” especially for Gentile believers. What is troubling is when doing Jewish tradition or ignoring the condition of the Diaspora is viewed as “keeping the Feast.” Slaughtering and eating a lamb in Nova Scotia and calling it “the Passover,” or living in a sukah for seven days in freezing temperatures is not “keeping the Feast”. Such commands are inextricably tied to the Land and the People of Israel, with a functioning priesthood. Yet despite these conditions, it appears we are still invited to remember, and, with freedom, to “keep the Feast.”

      “So then, let no one judge you in eating, or in drinking, or in respect to a chag, or of a chodesh, or of shabatot, which are a shadow of the coming things; but the Body is of the Messiah.” Colossians 2:16-17 (MJLT)

      I hope that answers your question!


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