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Jewish Festivals and Feast Days

Fall is a beautiful time of year and a wonderful transition of seasons with vast amounts of colorful changes. It marks the beginning of many gatherings and celebrations with family and friends.  The nation of Israel was commanded by God to partake in specific feast days in order to honor Him and commemorate certain events in their history.  Several of these feast days take place during the autumn season, and the remainder are celebrated in the spring.

The most important celebrations from the Old Testament listed in order are: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles or ‘Ingathering’). Along with that, Israel kept the Sabbath weekly and had a feast for every New Moon.

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These events did many things for the people of Israel. It gave the people a chance to come together and enjoy a common link. It was an act of honor to remember and show others the story of God’s help through the exodus and sojourn. It was a way of teaching many lessons learned from doing wrong, judging and forgiving. It was an act of thanks towards God and showed trust in him as opposed to relying on material value. It also gave a promise for the future in greater things to come. The festivals were so influential that it is no wonder the biggest feasts were all somehow mentioned in the New Testament. Keeping in mind that over celebrating or tainting the holidays attracted God’s displeasure and foreboding from the prophets. (Isa 1:13-14)

Feast of Passover (Pesach) and Unleavened Bread (Mazzot)

The barley-harvest festival eventually combined the dedication of the Exodus, when the Hebrews were freed from Egypt. It started out as a celebration inside the home where a perfect lamb was killed and then eaten. Then it’s blood was put on the tops of the doors with a branch of hyssop. (Exodus 12:1-13, 21-28, 43-49; John 19:29) This was done on the 14th of Nisan/Abib (‘Day of Preparation’). The Passover meal was done right after the sun went down which was the start of the 15th day according to the Jewish calendar.

The Unleavened Bread feasts lasted 7 days and can be linked to the Exodus as well because the Hebrews were not allowed time to let the bread rise when they were departing Egypt (Exodus 12:14-20; 13:3-10). Putting both events together turned it into a huge event where many traveled to the Jerusalem Temple in order to offer a sacrificial lamb (Leviticus 23:4-14; Num 9:2-5; 28:16-25; Deut 16:1-8).

In today’s Judaism all of the ‘Song of Songs’ is spoken inside the synagogue at the time of Pesach.

Feast of Weeks (Pentecost or Shavuot)

            The original ‘Wheat-Harvest’ celebration was at some point scheduled to occur 7 weeks (50 days for the Hebrews) after the Passover (Leviticus 23:15-21; Numbers 28:26; Deuteronomy 16:9-12; 34:22). Eventually, it evolved into a dedication towards the gift of the Torah on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20).

Today’s Judaism read the Book of Ruth at the time of the Feast of Shavuot.


Firstfruits This occurred at the start of the harvest and symbolized Israel’s thankfulness towards and reliance on God. (Leviticus 23:9-14). Firstfruits can mean two things resit gasir (‘beginning of harvest’) or bikkuim. Resit can translate into ‘first’ such as ‘the first to appear’ or ‘best’. Bikkurim makes it clearer from its definition ‘firstfruits to appear’ similar to bekor or ‘firstborn’. Firstfruits is mentioned in Leviticus 23:9-14 along with the Feast of Unleavened bread and was primarily about the barley harvest. However, there was an offering of firstfruits linked with the Feast of Weeks (Numbers 28:26-31) focusing on the wheat harvest. It appears that the Israelites took the ‘firstfruits’ of the harvest to the Lord and different occasions throughout the growing seasons, and that there was a specific firstfruits celebration each year linked with the Passover, 7 weeks prior to Pentecost (Lev 23:15). This festival was a declaration of trust and gratitude for all he had done for them in freeing them from Egypt and providing them with food.

‘A Western depiction of the Pentecost, painted by Jean II Restout, 1732.’

The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost)

            Seven weeks after Passover (Lev 23:15; Deut 16:9) Pentecost was celebrated. This was at the end of the grain harvest. Similar to firstfruits it occurred right after the Sabbath. Deuteronomy 16:10 asks participants to give an offering according to the amount of harvest they had gathered that season with Leviticus 23:17-20 and Numbers 28:27-30 listing directions for priests who were directed to offer in the name of the nations.

The Pentecost was highly regarded as the day that the ‘Spirit was poured out on the church’. It started around the Book of Joel when there was a disastrous locust infestation that devastated Israel. Each kind of farming, even the grapes, olives, wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, and apples were consumed. (Joe 1:7-12) The livestock had nothing to eat, and the extent of the damage was highlighted by drought (1:19-20). Despite this, Joel called everyone together to repent and pray (2:12-17) then foretold of a recovery (2:21-27). He then announced that the Spirit would be ‘pour out’ over everyone despite gender, age or social standing (Joel 2:28-32). He combined the analogy of farming and material prosperity to ‘spiritual restoration’.

The Feast of Trumpets

There was a law for the first day of the seventh month (Tishri) to be a holiday and holy gathering for sacrifice (Lev 23:23-25; Num 29:1-6). Numbers 29:1 calls it ‘a day of trumpet blast’ which is why it is referred to as The Feast of Trumpets. Even though every new moon was celebrated with the Israelites, the new moon of the seventh month was particularly accentuated. It is theorized that the Feast of Trumpets was a type of New Years Day, and Autumn might have been the start of the New Year.

‘Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, by Maurycy Gottlieb (1878)’

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)

This was a very somber day to be respected and focused on ‘atoning for the sin of the people’. It is written about in depth in Leviticus 16 and punctuates the point of the holiday ‘The Lord spoke to Moses ‘after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord’’(Lev 16:1). It was held on the tenth day of the seventh month. Those who took God lightly were punished such as Aaron’s son were. A priest performed a ceremonial sacrifice as an offering of atonement for his people and even though it is not well known how the sacrifices were done; it is apparent that such acts left a strong feeling of following God’s commandments or facing his anger. Read more about this holiday in this article: Rosh Hashanah.

Feast of Booths (Tabernacles of Ingathering)

This occurred in Tishri 15, 5 days following the Day of Atonement which might have been the middle of October. It is referred to in Leviticus 23:33-43 and Deut 16:13-15. The most account of how the week transpired is found n Numbers 29:12-40. For a weak the people of Israel gave gifts to the Lord and stayed in huts created from palm fronds and leafy trees. The reasoning being doing so was in remembrance of their travels before coming to Canaan. (Lev 23:43) The sacrifices offered to the Lord during this time were vast: 71 bulls, 15 rams, 105 lambs, and 8 goats; where they were entirely burnt with fire and no man was allowed to eat of the meat. This accentuated the lesson that everything from the ‘promised land’ was given to them by God and that they should become prideful or ungrateful.

The Frequent Holidays: The Sabbath

            This day occurred every 7th day in honor of the creation (Exod 20:11) and the Exodus (Deut 5:15). This was a very special time and something to not be forgotten or overlooked. (Num 15:32-36). With time it would evolve into a subject of disagreement from the Jewish leaders against Jesus (Matt 12:1-14; John 9:16). However, the Sabbath was the foundation of significant religious progression inside the New Testament (John 5:16-30; Heb 3:7-4:11).

The Feast of the New Moon

On the first day of every new moon there is a celebration with trumpets and a dedicated sacrifice (Num 10:10; 28:11-15). Since it is a frequent day of worship it is frequently brought up in conjunction with the Sabbath (2 Kings 4:23; Amos 8:5).

click here for a list of fun ideas to keep fall Christian centered.

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2 thoughts on “Jewish Festivals and Feast Days

  1. I appreciate what you guys are doing for the glory of God keep up the good work.
    In prayer until He comes,
    Rev.David Atkins

  2. Excellent article, and thanks for the research. I can’t help but note, though:

    Isaiah 1:13-14
    Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
    Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

    The Law of Moses, or the traditions of men?
    Interesting your finding on the Passover, that which God commanded Israel in Exodus 19, was supplanted by: “Eventually, it evolved into a dedication towards the gift of the Torah on Mount Sinai.”
    Man’s tradition replacing God’s commands for which the People said 3 times, “everything you tell us will we do (and be obedient)”. And even the children of Israel, not unlike, on each side of the Jordan River! Moses and Joshua.
    But, had they obeyed, it would have been a very short book.

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