Hey guys! So in Leviticus chapter 23 of the Old Testament, the Lord instructs the Israelites to observe 7 feasts or festivals every year. Four of these holy days, or holi-days, took place during the Spring harvest season, and the remaining three during the Fall harvest. These are still Jewish holidays celebrated today, but they also have significance for Latter-day Saints and other Christians.
It’s important to understand why these holy days exist. Christianity was born from Judaism. So understanding some of these ancient aspects of Judaism can help us better understand our own heritage. But also, it’s just good to learn more about the traditions of our Jewish friends and family. In this episode we’re going to briefly describe each of these holy days, and maybe connect some dots you might not have known were there before.
Alright so before we get into this it’s important to understand that neither the Bible for Christians nor the Torah for Jews gives very many details on how exactly these feasts are to be celebrated. We’re going to focus more on current Jewish traditions, but understand that these holy days can mean different things and be observed differently by different groups of people at different times.
Let’s begin with the Spring holy days. Today, the Passover feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and a Feast of Firstfruits are all generally considered part of “Passover Week.” The Passover meal occurs on the 14th or 15th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar, which falls in either March or April of our calendar. The meal commemorates when death “passed-over” the Israelites enslaved in Egypt and when they were delivered from Egypt as per the Old Testament and the Torah.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is celebrated for the next 7 days after the Passover meal. During this time, participants make sure that the bread or grains they eat are unleavened. There’s a lot of symbolism in this. After the first Passover, the Israelites high-tailed it out of Egypt. There wasn’t time to let the bread rise, so they baked unleavened dough. This feast calls to remembrance that journey out of Egypt. Yeast or leaven is also sometimes compared to sin in scripture. In preparation for Passover week, Jews scour their homes, removing any and all leavened foods or leavening agents. Getting rid of these foods can represent removing sin from your life, and the difficulty of it calls to mind the need for God in that process.
A couple of days after the Passover meal, during the week-long feast of Unleavened Bread, anciently, Israelites celebrated another feast called the Feast of Firstfruits, during which they would offer as a sacrifice at the temple their first bushel of grain from the season’s first harvest as a show of gratitude. This was called a wave offering. This festival isn’t observed as strictly in modern Judaism, but 7 weeks or 50 days after Passover modern Jews do celebrate the summer harvest during the next feast, called the Feast of Weeks — also known as Shavuot, or Pentecost, which is a word derived from the Greek word for fifty. In addition to the harvest, this holy day commemorates the giving of the Law to the Israelites by Moses on Mt. Sinai.
These Spring Jewish holidays also have special significance for Christians, as they each are types or shadows of events from the New Testament. Just as a sacrificial lamb saved the Israelite slaves during Passover, Jesus Christ was the sacrificial lamb who was killed on Passover, and was resurrected 3 days later as “the firstfruits of them that slept.” 50 days after Christ’s death when disciples celebrated the summer harvest during Pentecost, there was a great outpouring of the spirit which led to thousands of baptisms — a harvest of souls.
Next, we have the Fall holy days, which begin with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Ha-Shanah, or the Feast of Trumpets; also originally known as the day of remembrance. This holy day occurs on the first day of the 7th month in the Hebrew calendar, or in September or October on our calendars. On this holiday you might hear the occasional blast of the ram’s horn, or shofar. The sounding of the shofar and the different blasts are symbolic of several different things. Latter-day Saint scholar Lenet Read noted four purposes of the Feast of Trumpets as outlined by Jewish Scholars: “It signifies (1) the beginning of Israel’s final harvest, (2) the day God had set to remember His ancient promises to regather Israel, (3) a time for new revelation that would lead to a new covenant with Israel, and (4) a time to prepare for the Millennium.”
Interestingly, in 1827 Rosh Ha-Shanah fell on September 22nd — the very day that Joseph Smith received the ancient Book of Mormon plates from the angel Moroni. Considering what this holy day signifies, and considering the purpose of the Book of Mormon, I tend to think this is far from coincidental.
The Feast of Trumpets also marks the beginning of a 10-day period known as the “Days of Awe.” These are days of repentance in preparation for the next holiday which occurs at the end of the 10 days, called the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. On this day anciently, the Israelite high priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the temple and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the lid of the ark of the covenant as an act of atonement for the sins of Israel. In Judaism today, this day is treated with great reverence, prayer, fasting, and synagogue attendance. Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur are considered the “High Holy Days” of Judaism.
The final Fall feast occurs a few days after Yom Kippur and is called Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles. During this week-long celebration, participants live in makeshift tents or shelters in commemoration of the 40 years the Israelites lived in temporary dwellings before inheriting their promised land. Latter-day Saints may recall from the Book of Mormon when the people of King Benjamin all gather around the temple and set up tents while they listen to the King — this was probably a Feast of Tabernacles of sorts.
But anyway, there’s a quick rundown on some of the major Jewish holy days. There is really so much more to say about each of these. If you want to learn more, check out the resources in the YouTube description, or better yet, talk to your Jewish friends. Have a great day!
- “Passover,” (or Pesach) from Jewish Virtual Library: https://bit.ly/2QEmEm2
- “First Fruits,” from Jewish Virtual Library: https://bit.ly/3yrbime
- “Shavuot,” (or Pentecost/Feast of Weeks) from Jewish Virtual Library: https://bit.ly/341P2S0
- “Rosh Hashana,” (or Feast of Trumpets) from Jewish Virtual Library: https://bit.ly/3wqmrSL
- “Yom Kippur,” (or Day of Atonement) from Jewish Virtual Library: https://bit.ly/3wkmuzl
- “Sukkot,” (or Feast of Tabernacles) from Jewish Virtual Library: https://bit.ly/2Rr1Z5q
- “Ask the Expert: Why Blow the Shofar?” by MyJewishLearning: https://bit.ly/348NyoZ
- “The Golden Plates and the Feast of Trumpets,” by Lenet Hadley Read: https://bit.ly/3hFF154 “Joseph Smith’s Receipt of the Plates and the Israelite Feast of Trumpets,” by Lenet Hadley Read (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies): https://bit.ly/33Z1a6s
- “Why Did Moroni Deliver the Plates on September 22?” by Book of Mormon Central: https://bit.ly/3vfvsOp
- “Passover,” in the Encyclopedia Britannica: https://bit.ly/2Ryu8r9
- “Rosh Hashanah,” from History.com: https://bit.ly/3oC7ESi
For a more in-depth fantastic explanation of each of these feasts from a Latter-day Saint perspective, I highly encourage you to check out the YouTube channel, “Messages of Christ.” Here are a few relevant videos from that channel:
- “Understanding Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah”: https://youtu.be/g9wDnsjMtW0
- “Understanding the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur”: https://youtu.be/4UYT-0AmlnA
- “Understanding the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkoth”: https://youtu.be/u6PmxypqZ9I
- “Understanding the Pentecost and the Feast of Weeks”: https://youtu.be/ubPKLDF_G6E
- “Jesus Christ: The Passover Lamb”: https://youtu.be/g7lewy22t4M
Also, a colleague of mine of Jewish heritage has written a helpful book that covers the subject of this video (and much more), if you’re interested: https://amzn.to/3u8Fz6e