Reconsidering the "High Holidays"
In Judaism, the high holy days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are preceded by the month of Elul, a time dedicated to repentance and preparation for the season. Rosh HaShanah—meaning “Head of the Year,” and celebrated as the Jewish New Year—is a solemn day, observed on the first day of the seventh Hebrew month, in the Fall. It is said that on this day, the Book of Life is opened, but will soon be closed again on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During this ten day period, known as the Days of Awe, it is taught that God makes His decision whether or not one’s repentance will be accepted, and he will be judged worthy to have his name inscribed in the Book of Life. On Rosh Hashanah the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown 100 times, because, according to the Talmud, the loud and repetitive sound of the shofar confuses Satan, preventing him from bringing any charges against Jews during the time of judgment.
Unfortunately, not a single one of these teachings originate with Scripture—from the theme of the month of Elul, to the opening and closing of the Book of Life, to the judgment period of the ten Days of Awe, to the observance of a new year, and even to the inclusion and use of the shofar. All of these are time-honored, beloved Jewish traditions, yet Scripture says absolutely nothing about them. Isn’t it worth considering that the instructions of Scripture alone are sufficient to teach us what we need know about these days? Isn’t it possible that we’re actually missing God through all our efforts to reinvent His ways?
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I received this teaching starting in November 2009. i had been trying to keep all the traditions which was stressful. After I observed the appointed times acccording to Scripture alone, the holidays became a time of joy and relevance.
Yes there is a precedent for the blowing of the shofar…
The shofar was used to announce holidays (Ps. lxxxi. 4), and the Jubilee year (Lev. 25:9). The first day of the seventh month (Tishri) is termed “a memorial of blowing” (Lev. 23:24), or “a day of blowing” (Num. 29:1), the shofar.
But as for all the rest of the rabbinic mishigash… yes, that we don’t need to keep as Yeshua has told us in Matthew to not follow after the Rabbi’s and their rules.
Shalom Mona — thank you for your comments.
Obviously Scripture does not forbid the use of the shofar on Yom T’ruah. The point I am making is that Scripture nowhere instructs Israel with regard to it’s use explicitly for Yom T’ruah. Without context, the so-called “blowing” (t’ruah, Leviticus 23, Numbers 29) in no way suggests (nor forbids, for that matter) the blowing of a shofar. On the contrary, throughout Scripture, t’ruah is often the loud blast of sound made from people shouting (check out Joshua 6:20, for example). Hence, zik’ron t’ruah or yom t’ruah would be more accurately translated as “memorial/day of loud blasts [of sound].” (Much more about this in my teaching on Yom T’ruah.)
As for Psalms 81:4(3), the word most often translated “blow” there is not even “t’ruah,” but a form of “taqa”. Even so, this still does not directly inform us with regard to the use of the shofar on Yom T’ruah. For sure, Yom T’ruah, being the first of the seventh month, is a Rosh Chodesh (New Moon), but this does not indicate that the shofar should be used in a specially prescribed manner on Yom T’ruah that is different than at any other New Moon (which, we can speculate, would be simply for the announcing of the arrival of the New Moon).
And as for it’s use for the consecration of the Jubilee Year, the shofar is to be sounded on Yom Kippur, not Yom T’ruah. Again, no direct instruction for special Yom T’ruah use.
All that to say, I don’t think this Scriptural evidence is strong enough to say that there is “precedence” for any special use of the shofar on Yom T’ruah. That is not to say that the shofar cannot be used at all. On the contrary, it is certainly capable of making much t’ruah! My biggest concern for us as believers, however, is when we assign a value to shofar blowing on Yom T’ruah (hyper-spiritual, or uber-traditional, or what have you) that exceeds the teaching of Scripture, or worse, adheres to the mysticism of Judaism. I therefore advise cautious use of the shofar on Yom T’ruah, as one of many instruments that may be used to make t’ruah — “loud blasts [of sound]”.
Finally, to your comment about Yeshua’s instructions not to follow the Rabbis… as a Jew, I don’t take a negative view toward Judaism, but rather a high view of Scripture. I warn against the use (and misuse) of Rabbinics not simply because they are Rabbinics, but simply because they are manmade traditions, and not the instructions of Scripture, which are sufficient and supreme! Why do some of us spend so much time and energy to upholding the traditions of men, as it obscures and often replaces the perfect standard of Scripture? That’s what my word of warning is all about. (On this topic, please check out my new book, Bearing the Standard: A Rallying Cry to Uphold the Scriptures).
Yeshua told us not to put tradition above the commandments but He never said all tradition was bad..
It’s true that Yeshua didn’t say “all tradition is bad.” However, He did ask the Jewish religious leaders, “Why also do you sidestep the command of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:2-3). He also said, “Isaiah prophesied well concerning you, hypocrites, as it has been written, ‘This people honor Me with the lips, but their heart is far from Me; and in vain do they worship Me, teaching teachings [that are merely the] commands of men.’ For, having put away the command of God, you hold [to] the tradition of men…. You put away the command of God [very] well [so] that you may keep your tradition….” (Mark 7:6-9, quoting Isaiah 29:13).
We need to be careful not to a call a tradition “good” that the Master considers “hypocrit[ical],” “far from [Him],” “in vain,” and “put[ting] away the command of God.” Wouldn’t it be better simply to bear the standard of Scripture?
That’s some tough love there Kevin. Thanks for ‘bearing the standard’ ‘tough love’….
Mona – thank you for your comments as it provided us an opportunity to hear Kevin expand on his “very short article.” As one who has signed the petition to bear the standard, it helps to know what is scriptural and what is man-made tradition. I’m all for traditions that point us directly to Adonai as long as it’s NOT prohibited in the Scriptures.
Thanks, Don! But how do we know when a tradition is pointing us directly to Adonai? Is anything but Scripture really able to do that? By what standard can we judge such a thing to be true? Just because it is not prohibited by Scripture? There are all kinds of traditions (Christian as well as Jewish) which are not prohibited by Scripture, but developed as a substitution for Scripture. What do we do if they’re not explicitly prohibited by Scripture, yet take away from our time, finances and resources that could otherwise be used to do what the Scriptures say?
As I say in Bearing the Standard, what makes the influence of tradition hostile to Scripture is its ability to fail us as a life-guide, leading us to put our weight behind something of subjective value that is susceptible to change. In my observation, no matter how much people know what traditions are manmade versus which commands are Scriptural, they eventually end up forgetting, blurring the lines in their daily lives, losing sight of God’s Word, and changing sides to whom they pledge their allegiance.
The main issue is this: what informs our lives more thoroughly, or more accurately than Scripture? Nothing. Why, then, follow any tradition that may or may not point us directly to Adonai, when there is more than enough Scripture available to fill up every single second of our lives?
Kevin – I’ll blame it on the residuals from the anesthetics from my surgery this morning. I think I can still make my point I think by saying ‘if the tradition points us back to Scripture.” In addition, we should also point out that just because something is not prohibited does not imply that it is permitted. We have to look at the whole of scripture. Love your last paragraph.
Bro, you gotta tell me when you’re having something like a surgery, so I can pray for you!
As to the subject at hand, I think we might hear Paul say, “‘All things are permitted to me,’ but not all things are profitable; ‘all things are permitted to me,’ but I–I will not be under authority by any[thing]… ‘all things are permitted to me,’ but not all things build up.” 1Corinthians 6:12, 10:23
I’ve been looking into this topic of tradition. In the Jewish New Testament (David Stern), the KJV, NKJV, the Amplified, and Hendrickson Publishers Interlinear Bible,
IIThes 2:15 is translated “Hold fast to the traditions.”
The NIV and New Living Translation translate this, respectively as “Stand firm and hold to the teachings,” and Stand firm and keep a strong grip on everything we taught you”.
Finally, Young’s Literal translation reads “hold to the deliverances that ye were taught.”
Which one of these is right?
In Stern’s commentary on the verse, he says that “believing in Yeshua does not imply giving up Jewish practices, but may imply modifying them to take into account New Testament truth.”
It seems almost ridiculous to try and figure this all out. I clearly understand that scripture ought to be the first and last word on the topic when it comes to appointed times, and time spent on all these traditions with modifications and reforms subtracts from the Word rather than adds to it.
And yet there it is. Hold fast to the traditions, teachings, or deliverances-( whatever that means.) How do we reconcile this? As a Gentile Believer, it doesn’t have much to do with me in terms of tradition. And many Jews, not having been raised with religious tradition, can’t hold fast to something they never practiced. Culture has alot to do with this.
And how do we keep these traditions in their rightful place instead of allowing them to overshadow the dominant position of the Word?
For example, God numbered the days of the week. But we have names for the days of the week that are rooted in Greek and Roman gods. The word “Thursday” is derived from the god Thor. Every day of the week is like this. So how do we get back to that place of God ordained language and still function in this world?
Christmas and Easter. Neither are scriptural. Channukuh and the Star of David. Neither are scriptural. They may be based in scripture, but they aren’t mandated by God. Yet this symbol, these holidays are what the world has come to identify with either Christian or Jewish faith. And just try and wrench this out of the congregation and you’ll be considered a cult figure, or a heretic.
I’ve thrown up my hands. But I haven’t thrown in the towel.
Your question and comments here really get to the heart of the matter. Thank you for posing them.
Let’s do a little word study. The word at issue here is “paradosis” in Greek, which means to hand over, or hand down (the word comes from “paradidomi,” which means essentially the same thing, or, to deliver — that’s where Young gets “deliverances”).
So, a “tradition” is something which is handed down, or delivered to another person or generation, etc. This is why I say in Bearing the Standard, “Whether they be family traditions, cultural traditions, or religious traditions, the handing down of beliefs and customs is, in fact, morally neutral.” The task, then, is to determine from the Scriptural context what kind of tradition is meant.
In Yeshua’s case, every time that He says “tradition,” He is referring to Jewish (“religious”) tradition — and always in a negative context. Indeed, In Mark 7:9, he clearly juxtaposes the putting away of “the command of God” in order to keep “the tradition of men.”
The only other uses of the word are by Paul.
In Galatians 1:14, Paul uses “traditions” to refer again to Jewish tradition, and, again, with a negative connotation.
In Colossians 2:8, it is again put in a negative context, warning his readers about being carried away by the “traditions of men,” and not “according to Messiah.”
In 2Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6 and 1Corinthians 11:2, however, “tradition” is used in a positive light, and refers to “traditions that you were taught, whether through word [of mouth, or] whether through our letter.” So, in this context, “paradosis” is that which was handed down from Paul and his cohorts that instructed the believers with regard to their behavior. There is no indication in theses contexts that Paul was teaching the believers to follow (or modify) Jewish traditions. Indeed, 2Thessalonians 3:6-9 is most helpful here.
“And we command you, brothers, in the Name of our Master Yeshua, Messiah, to withdraw yourselves from every brother walking disorderly, and not [following] after the tradition [of behavior] that you received from us. For [you] yourselves have known how it is necessary for you to imitate us, because we did not act disorderly among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread for nothing, but in labor and in hardship, working night and day, not to be a burden to any of you; not because we [do] not have authority, but [so] that we might give to you ourselves [as] a pattern, to imitate us.”
The “tradition” here was not to be disorderly and lazy. Paul was not trying to get the believers to imitate him in his Judaism (which he had left behind, Galatians 1:13-14), but to imitate his behavior among the brothers.
All that to say, that to infer that Paul means “Jewish religious traditions” when he tells the believers to “hold [to] the traditions,” is to ignore the context of Paul’s letters.
As to the remainder of your comments — about the days of the week, Christmas, Chanukah, etc. — your observations are very insightful. Again, from Bearing the Standard, “We need to realize that tradition, though presenting the face of certainty and stability, is actually wildly erratic. In contrast with Scripture, tradition is self-determining and self-governing. It can choose to indulge in its slow reconstruction over time, potentially setting itself at odds with its own past and predecessors. What tradition then puts forward as authentic and confidence-worthy may in fact be in conflict with itself. But more than that, it may find itself standing against the only certain and stable guide and instructor we have: the Word of God.” I agree that we can’t “wrench” the religiosity out of religion, but perhaps, with all due respect to Dr. Stern (whom I love), we need to pursue a non-religious faith — one without religious traditions that exceed Scripture. Rather than modifying man’s traditions, as Stern seems to think is okay according to rest of his commentary on this passage, we need to clear everything off our proverbial desk, open up our bibles, and ask, “What do the Scriptures say?”
(As a side note, I do understand Stern’s motives to communicate to Jewish unbelievers that they don’t stop being Jewish when they come to believe in Yeshua; hence, they don’t have to give up the traditions. But as you pointed out, “many Jews, not having been raised with religious tradition, can’t hold fast to something they never practiced.” I don’t believe for a second that Jews need Judaismish tradition in order to find and maintain a relationship with Yeshua. On the contrary, we just need God’s perfect Word — it tells us Jews exactly how to be “good Jews!”)
I’ve read my Bible at least 7 times since I became a believer 17 years ago, and I am so shocked by the fact that one word, “tradition” can throw me for such a loop. I feel as though I don’t know how to read my Bible!!
But that may be a good thing. Thank you Kevin, for your time and effort. I’m learning a lot here, and it is invaluable to me and my husband David. May Adonai continue to bless and annoint you.
If it’s not authorized by God it’s going to burn up!
Ahh, once again He teaches me through the comments here. I’ve gone to a Tradition filled messianic synagog. That was my start to following the WHOLE bible and not just Matthew-Maps. A severe illness late last year into the beginning of this year led me to an online congregation that I now worship with every Shabbat. Refreshing is the scriptural teaching and so far, not so much on the tradition side. I am also learning much through your materials, Kevin. I don’t have this resource. I will order it soon. I have much to learn. Shalom!
I also use an online congregation, namely BethAdonai, with Scott Sekulow, brother of the well-known Jay Sekulow.
But I am leary of any congregation, to be truthful, because as you yourself say, I have so much to learn- and I don’t want the lines between scripture and tradition to become blurred.
I would hope that the Messianic movement would stop referring to itself as “Messianic Judaism” because in fact, religious Judaism is not the equivalent of Scripture. However, I can see that it is instrumental as a vehicle to attract non- believing Jews, and serves to explain that one is not to lose his/her Jewishness by accepting Yeshua.
Elayn, would you be willing to name that online congregation, so that I may look into it? I would appreciate it, but understand if you don’t care to tell me.
Shalom Aggie. I don’t mind at all. I worship at Beth Yeshua, Macon, Georgia, USA
Click on media
Click on Live Stream
Erev Yom Kippur at 7pm
Yom Kippur at 10:00 am
I will definitely check it out.