Should we celebrate the Jewish New year instead? 


By BibleAsk Team

What is the Jewish New Year / Rosh Hashanah?

The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. It falls on the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which usually corresponds to September or October in the Gregorian calendar. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, or Yamim Nora’im, which culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, ten days later. It’s a time for reflection, introspection, and prayer, as well as joyful celebration and the sounding of the shofar (a ram’s horn).

The Jewish New Year is given in the following Bible passage: “Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:1-2). According to this passage, “the first month of the year” (Exodus 40:2, 17; Leviticus 23:5; etc.), is also called Abib (Exodus 13:4; 23:15; 34:18; Deuteronomy 16:1). Abib, usually fell in our month of April, which means “ear-month,” because grain was then in the ear.   

After the captivity, Babylonian calendar names were used by the Jews, and Abib became Nisan (Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7). The Israelite year since then started at a different time, perhaps with the month later called Tishri, which equal to our September or October. Later, two calculations were used, one for holy use and the other for civil use. Abib, “the month of ears,” became the first month of the ecclesiastical year, and Tishri became its seventh, also held in great respect by important holidays given at Sinai. The civil year, starting with the month of Tishri, was never forsaken by the Israelites and is still being used today. 

Should Christians Celebrate the Jewish holidays?  

Christians are no longer obliged to keep the months of the Jewish calendar or the holidays that are attached to them (including the Jewish new year) according to the following passages in Colossians and Ephesians:   

“Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:14-17). 

“Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:15).  

There were seven yearly holy days, or festivals, in ancient Israel that were also called sabbaths (Leviticus 23:6–8, 15, 16, 21, 24, 25, 27, 28, 37, 38). These were yearly ceremonial sabbaths of the Mosaic Law.  All the things that the apostle lists in Colossians 2:16 are “shadows,” or types, symbolizing the reality that is Christ. For a shadow has no matter; it is cast by something substantial. The Jewish ceremonies were shadows cast by heavenly realities. Christ’s life, and death are the reality. The yearly holidays’ main importance was in foreshadowing, or pointing to the cross and these ended at the cross (Ephesians 2:15).   

The yearly Sabbath holidays were in addition to, or “besides the Sabbaths of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:38), or the weekly seventh day Sabbath (Exodus 20:8–11) of God’s moral law (Exodus 20:2-17). These yearly holidays (also called Sabbaths which means rest days) are different and distinct from God’s weekly seventh-day Sabbath.

The weekly Sabbath of the Ten Commandments is a memorial of the creation event at the beginning of earth’s history (Genesis 2:2,3). It was made before Adam’s sin and could foreshadow nothing about deliverance from sin. That’s why Colossians 2 differentiates and specifically mentions the sabbaths that were “a shadow.”  

Therefore, while the observance of the yearly Sabbath holidays or feasts is not binding on the New Testament believers, the observance of the weekly seventh day Sabbath is still binding on Christians today (Hebrews 4:9). For Jesus, all the prophets and the disciples before and after the Resurrection, kept that day Holy.

Additional FAQs on the Jewish New Year / Rosh Hashanah:

What do Jews do on Rosh Hashanah?

On Rosh Hashanah, Jews engage in a variety of religious and traditional practices to mark the occasion:

  1. Prayer Services: Jews attend synagogue services, where special prayers and liturgy are recited. The central theme of these prayers is the recognition of God as King and Judge, and the desire for a good and sweet year ahead.
  2. Shofar Blowing: One of the most distinctive customs of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn. It is sounded multiple times during the service, serving as a call to repentance and awakening.
  3. Tashlich: Many Jews participate in a ritual called Tashlich, which involves symbolically casting away sins by tossing pieces of bread into a body of water, symbolizing the cleansing of sins and the renewal of spiritual intentions.
  4. Fasting and Prayer: While not as strict as Yom Kippur, some individuals may choose to fast partially or completely on Rosh Hashanah as a sign of repentance and dedication to spiritual renewal.
  5. Feasting and Celebration: Rosh Hashanah is also a time for joy and celebration. Families gather for festive meals featuring traditional foods such as apples dipped in honey (symbolizing a sweet New Year), round challah bread (symbolizing the cycle of the year), and foods representing abundance and blessings.
  6. Reflection and Repentance: Rosh Hashanah is a time for introspection, self-examination, and repentance (teshuvah). Jews reflect on their actions over the past year, seek forgiveness from those they have wronged, and resolve to improve themselves in the year ahead.

Is Yom Kippur the celebration of the Jewish New Year?

No, Yom Kippur is not the celebration of the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, occurs ten days after Rosh Hashanah. While Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, repentance, and prayer, considered the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It is a time for individuals to reflect on their actions, seek forgiveness for any wrongdoings, and reconcile with both God and their fellow human beings. Yom Kippur is characterized by intensive prayer services, fasting from food and drink, refraining from work, and focusing on spiritual growth and renewal.

Additional resources:

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