September means summer is winding down and fall is at your doorstep. You might feel the temperature start to drop as you break out a jacket for the first time in months and look forward to the golden colors of fall. The beginning of this season brings warm, cozy thoughts to mind for many of us. But if you’re Jewish, this time of the year means something more.
The Jewish month Tishrei, which corresponds with September-October, kicks off the busiest season on the calendar. The three-week whirlwind of observances begins with two days of Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets), the Jewish New Year celebration. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), a day of solemn prayer and repentance, comes a week later. This is followed by a celebration of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) in which observers dwell in outdoor booths or tents for a week.
These feasts make up part of the distinct fingerprint of the Jewish people, the incomparable tapestry of culture specific only to them.
More than just a time of celebration, these three holidays were ordained by God as one of the many ways He called and set the Jewish people apart as His Chosen People. We find the biblical origins for all three feasts in Leviticus 23. God instructed Moses to proclaim them as holy convocations (v. 2) to the people of Israel. As they are unique to the descendants of Israel, these feasts make up part of the distinct fingerprint of the Jewish people, the incomparable tapestry of culture specific only to them.
The way these holidays are observed doesn’t come naturally to most people. Gentiles have no equivalent holiday for living outside for a week or praying and fasting for a full day. But these celebrations are just as important events on the calendar to observing Jewish families as Christmas and Easter are to believers. We would do well to have a knowledgeable and empathetic heart for the Jewish people concerning these feasts.
What Is Rosh Hashanah?
Here are a few things to know about what Rosh Hashanah means to Jewish people:
• It’s the start of a new year—a chance to renew hope and enjoy a fresh start.
• It’s a time for happy feasting, with sweet foods like apples, challah (festival bread), and honey headlining the hearty meals.
• It’s a time to become pure, as Orthodox observers empty their pockets into the nearest body of water to cast away their sins in a practice called Tashlich.
• It’s a time to repent of sin and perform good deeds for the purpose of earning a spot for their name in the Book of Life.
• It’s a time to hear the shofar (ram’s horn), a reminder of the future regathering of all Israel back in their land and the future coming of the Messiah.
What Is Yom Kippur?
Here’s what you should know about Yom Kippur and its role in Jewish lives:
• It’s a day to pray, repent, and do good deeds to atone for sin in lieu of Temple sacrifices.
• It’s a day to rest from work in order to “afflict [their] souls” (Leviticus 16:29).
• It’s a day the Jewish world seems to slow to a halt to recognize people’s total dependence on the Lord.
What Is Sukkot?
And here are the highlights of Sukkot in the Jewish world:
• It’s sometimes called “The Holiday,” recognized as the greatest Jewish feast.
• It’s a week when Jewish observers build temporary booths outside where they eat their meals and often spend more time than in their own homes.
• It includes Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of the celebration when worshipers carry willow branches around the platform where the Torah scroll is read seven times, then beat them against the ground five times.
• It’s a week to commemorate God’s provision in leading the Israelites through the wilderness.
What Do These Things Have to Do With Your Jewish Friends?
If you want to be a true friend to them, you’ll find that reflecting the same joy and sincerity they have during the month of Tishrei will go a long way.
If you’re not Jewish, everything listed so far may never cross your mind in the fall months because they’re not part of your culture. But while they might not mean much to you, they mean a lot to your Jewish friends. It’s the holiday season they greatly look forward to. If you want to be a true friend to them, you’ll find that reflecting the same joy and sincerity they have during the month of Tishrei will go a long way.
In a time where it’s fashionable to hate Israel and the Jewish people (but let’s face it—it’s been open season on them for most of human history), learning about and participating in the fall feasts can go a long way. They’re part of a world that doesn’t exist for most Gentiles. Taking part in that world makes your Jewish friends feel recognized, heard, and appreciated. Take the extra step this month to immerse yourself in these holy days. Not only may your Jewish friends take notice; you also might find yourself learning more about the Lord who instituted these days and fall deeper in love with Him. L’Shana tova!