The Jewish Fall Holidays – Why Are They Important?
While there is absolutely no requirement for Gentiles to observe the Jewish holidays, there is much wisdom, meaning, beauty and revelation when we choose to learn more about the Jewish foundation of our faith in Jesus!
Can you feel it? Can you smell it? Fall is just around the corner! The annual overindulgence on all things “pumpkin” has descended upon Western Civilization. Football is back on the weekends. And, more importantly, the Jewish fall holidays are here!
Here’s a quick overview of this year’s fall holidays and dates:
- Rosh Hashanah – September 15-17, 2023
- Yom Kippur – September 24-25, 2023
- Sukkot – September 29-October 6, 2023
- Simchat Torah – October 7-8, 2023
(Pro-tip: all seven of the yearly Jewish holidays/feasts are listed in Leviticus 23, and are always celebrated during September-October in the Hebrew month of Tishrei.)
This is literally translated “Head of the Year,” the Jewish new year on the Hebrew calendar! The Biblical name for this holiday is Yom Teruah or “Day of Trumpets.” Blowing the shofar is commanded on this holiday, as a reminder of God’s mighty deliverance over one’s enemies, but also as a wake up call to repent and turn to Him.
Traditionally, apples and honey are eaten on Rosh Hashanah. This is combined with the greeting L’Shanah Tovah which means “a good (sweet) new year!”
For us as followers of Jesus, it is a time to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, who taught that a mighty blast of the trumpet (shofar) will be heard as Jesus descends from heaven for His second coming, bringing with Him the resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor. 15:52, 1 Thes. 4:16)
Anyone who has heard a well-played shofar in person knows the powerful spiritual resonance that is felt with Paul’s prophetic predictions when the blast goes forth!
This is the most-observed Jewish holiday of the year. Yom Kippur literally means “Day of Covering (aka Atonement).” It is a 24-hour day of fasting, prayer, and sober self-reflection. Nearly every Jewish person makes an effort to observe Yom Kippur each year, even if they would not enter a synagogue for any other holiday.
Biblically, this was the one day of the year where the High Priest would offer an atoning sacrifice in the Holy of Holies for all Israel’s sins. (Leviticus 16). As followers of Jesus, we’re reminded of the words of Hebrews 9:12, which teach us that Jesus himself was the perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins of those who put their faith in Him.
The typical greeting on Yom Kippur is Gmar chatima tovah, which literally means “a good final sealing.” This emanates from Exodus 32:32-33, where those whose sins have been forgiven are written (or sealed) in the Book of Life. In the New Testament, John references the Book of Life five times in Revelation (chapters 13, 17, 20, 21).
Yom Kippur is an annual day for all followers of Jesus (Jewish or Gentile) to be introspective of our past year of life. And as we allow the Holy Spirit to search us, we can be confident in the atoning work of Yeshua (Jesus), sealing us in His Book of Life for eternity.
You might be reading this strange Hebrew word, wondering what on earth I’m talking about. First of all, it is pronounced “Sue-coat.” The Biblical name of this holiday is the “Feast of Tabernacles” or “Shelters.” Sounding more familiar, now?
Sukkot is a seven-day celebration. In fact, the Bible commands the Jewish people to rejoice during this holiday (Lev. 23:40). This is a time for Jewish people to remember their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness in temporary shelters. Because of this, Jewish people will construct a sukkah, or temporary shelter, on their patios or balconies. They will eat all of their meals in the sukkah to remember that we are only temporarily dwelling on this earth, that our true home is with the Lord in the “World to Come.”
For believers in Jesus, we’re reminded of the words of Revelation 21:3, which tell us that (in that day), “the tabernacle of God will be with men and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God.”
Sukkot is also the only Jewish holiday that includes Gentile participation. In Zechariah 14:16, we see that the Nations (Gentiles) will ascend to Jerusalem to worship the King and celebrate the holiday with our Jewish brothers and sisters. What an amazing picture of unity in Messiah Jesus!
Immediately after the conclusion of Sukkot is a Jewish holiday that is not specifically mentioned in Leviticus 23, Simchat Torah. It literally means “Joy of the Torah.” This holiday is connected to or combined with a holiday called Shemini Atzeret, or “eighth day of assembly” in Lev. 23:36. This holiday observes the rolling back of the Torah scrolls, so the Jewish community can again start re-reading the first five books of the Bible for the next 12 months.
As a Gentile, I (Nic) was completely unaware of this holiday until Tabatha and I moved to Jerusalem in the fall of 2014. Living in downtown Jerusalem on the main walking/shopping street, we had our apartment windows open one evening, enjoying the amazing mountain breeze. I started hearing loud shouts and screams. After just coming off an intense summer war with Hamas, I was immediately concerned for our safety.
To my relief, and humor, the sounds I was hearing came from the procession of group after group of Jewish people parading to the Old City carrying Torah scrolls. They were dancing and celebrating the joys of God’s Word as they observed Simchat Torah!
As a follower of Jesus, I could not remember such a stunning outward display in a church. Sure, we all love and cherish the Word of God as Christians, but we have no yearly celebration that coalesces our deep love for God’s instruction. I was moved watching the Jewish dancing and parades on the streets of Jerusalem that evening.
Practical Ideas for Gentiles
Most of us reading this are Gentiles, so what should we do during these fall holidays? Here’s a quick idea or two:
Pray for Jewish people!
- On Rosh Hashanah, pray for protection for Jewish people around the world. Pray that the sound of the shofar (trumpet) would stir and awaken their hearts to look to heaven and see the love of the God of Israel.
- On Yom Kippur, pray that Jewish people would see God’s Son, Jesus. That they would experience the amazing freedom that comes from acknowledging that He (Yeshua) is the atonement for their sins.
- During Sukkot, pray that Jewish people would live safely on earth, that God would “shelter” them.
- Pray that during Simchat Torah, they would see that Jesus, Himself, is the very Torah of God! (John 1:1-3)
Learn about your Jewish foundations!
There is absolutely no requirement for Gentiles to observe the Jewish holidays (Acts 15). But there is great wisdom, meaning, beauty and revelation as we do learn more about these feasts/holidays. Open your heart to the Lord and take time to learn more about the Jewish foundation of your faith in Jesus. For instance:
- Eat apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashana to symbolically ring in a “sweet new year” while encouraging yourself with the promise that the trumpet will soon sound at Jesus’s return!
- On Yom Kippur, set aside special time to pray over the salvation of Jewish people as they are opening their hearts on this most solemn day of repentance. You may even choose to fast in some way, too, or examine your own heart (Psalm 51).
- Consider setting aside the days of Sukkot to truly “tabernacle” with God in a new way during your quiet time. After all, you’re just getting to practice for the “Age to Come” when we’ll all visit Jerusalem to do this! :)
- And on Simchat Torah, learn to celebrate the Word of God in your own life in a new way, too!
Hopefully this article has helped you understand the Jewish fall holidays in a new way. If you have any questions, or would like more in-depth teachings on these holidays, shoot us an email and let us know! You can also visit our library of online messages from Gateway Jewish Ministry.
Chag Sameach – Happy Holidays!