Anniversaries, Refreshment, and Renewal

My wife and I just got back from celebrating our first wedding anniversary. We found a nice little hermitage up in the mountains and spent four days enjoying each other and the wonders of the Eternal One’s creation. And while it was sad in its own way to have to return to the real world with all its responsibilities, we really needed that time of refreshment and renewal: Refreshment because we were able to step out of the business of everyday life and just enjoy what our Father had given us; and renewal because it became a reconfirmation of our wedding vows and devotion to each other.

Ask the couple of any successful marriage and they will tell you how important taking these times out are to preventing the marriage from becoming stale and opening the door to disatisfaction and even adultery and/or divorce.

If we acknowledge the necessity of having scheduled times of refreshment and renewal in our marriages, how much more should we acknowledge the necessity of having schedules times of refreshment and renewal in our covenant-relationship with the Almighty?

And if our schedule of those times in our marriage is dictated not by whim or arbitary assignment or–even more absurdidly–by the calendar of events of another’s marriage, but by the natural history of the relationship–anniversaries, birthdays, etc.–how much more should the schedule of our covenant-relationship with the Eternal One be set according to the history of that Covenant rather than by arbitary dates set by old pagan celebrations? Could we imagine that our spouse would see it as love that we ignore the date of our anniversary with him or her to instead celebrate the anniversary of a previous marriage?

At Beth HaMashiach, we have long understood it to be a basic principle that a person is held accountable only for the light they are given. That means that those who are honestly convinced that Shabbat, Passover, etc. are not binding on them for whatever reason will not be considered guilty by the Just Judge, as we understand it.

However, when I correspond with some of my Messianic brethren who fall under what I’ll call the "Two-Law Camp" (in contrast with "One Law" Messianics like myself), I have to wonder if they have really worked out the ramifications of their position. They are effectively saying either

  1. that it is right for Gentiles to celebrate the anniversaries of their ancestors’ covenant-relationships to pagan gods rather than the anniversaries of our Covenant with the True Bridegoom, or
  2. that Gentiles are not expected to have anniversaries to celebrate, so they may as well make up whatever they want.

Option 1 dishonors the Holy God. Option 2 partitions the Body and dishonors the Father’s adoption of the Gentiles. If someone has a viable option 3, I have yet to see it. (Note: Simply minimizing the problem is not a viable option.)

Shalom.

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7 thoughts on “Anniversaries, Refreshment, and Renewal

  1. I’ll give it a shot! :-)

    3. According to the ruling laid down in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15, 21:25), Gentiles are not bound and obligated to observe the Torah, including Israel’s holy days. The liturgical year that was adopted by the Gentile church oriented instead around the life of Messiah. Just as Israel’s liturgical year recapitulates key events such as the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the church’s liturgical year commemorates key events in the life of Messiah such as his annunciation, birth, baptism, temptation, miracles, triumphal entry into Jerusalem, crucifixion, and resurrection. These moments in the life of the Savior continue to shape the life of his church–they are one way that we who are members of His Body can be conformed to His image, and they allow us to continue to relive the experiences of those who first followed and believed in Him.

    Thoughts?

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    • Hi Yahnatan,

      The Jerusalem Council is widely misunderstood. The fact is that it was instituted in the first place because the Gentiles were already coming into the synagogues on the Sabbath. They weren’t telling the Gentiles, “Okay, you have faith, you’re saved, please stop observing the Sabbath now.”

      As for your calendrical argument, I’m afraid that doesn’t quite work. Yes, the intent is to honor the key events in Messiah’s life, but the dates are either arbitrary or taken from reworked pagan holidays. As it turns out, we know the time of Yeshua’s birth, and it isn’t in December. Luke gives us the details necessary to know that John the Immerser was conceived in mid-summer and Yeshua six months later. His conception (the annunciation) was probably around what is today Christmas (Hannukah on the Jewish calendar), which is probably why the Winter Solstice was settled on. However, most likely He was born on the first day of Sukkot and circumcised on the eighth day of that same Feast.

      In fact, Yeshua’s entire life, both First and Second Coming, follows the pattern of the Feasts of the Holy One. By not being allowed to keep the Feasts, the Church has had their understanding of the Eternal One’s plan of redemption blurred.

      In any case, if indeed the Apostles believed that Jew and Gentile together should be one Body, how could it be that they would exclude the Gentiles from those parts of Torah that we as Jews have always taken the most joy in?

      Shalom, and thank you for taking the time to respond.

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  2. Dear RoB,

    I don’t read Acts 15 as telling Gentiles to stop going to synagogue. It’s important not to confuse permission with obligation. The council makes it clear that they’re not laying the same yoke on the Gentiles which they themselves (as Jews) had not been able to bear.

    Same response to your closing question: it’s not about exclusing Gentiles–the apostles simply ruled that they should not be obligated. They are welcome to share our joy; but they are not obligated. I strive to uphold this ruling and the obligation/permission distinction which undergirds it. Do you?

    As for your two middle paragraphs: I fully agree with the third one. Regarding the second: I want to point out that I didn’t say that the church’s chosen dates were historically correct (i.e. to the day). But I find your arguments similarly unconvincing. They include some important observations (like that Zechariah was part of the priestly order of Aviyah), but ultimately they ask you to simply accept on faith necessary things like conception dates and pregnancy lengths, without any real proof.

    At best, I think those arguments can show that it is *possible* that Yeshua was born at Sukkot. I understand the deep theological significance of God “tabernacling” among us, and I agree that Sukkot is a perfect time in the Jewish calendar to commemorate this. But if the best we can say is that Yeshua was (in your words) “most likely” born at Sukkot, then we need to be honest and recognize that we’re choosing to observe it on that date because it fits with our tradition, not because we truly *know* (with historical certainty) that that was the date. And if that’s the case, then shouldn’t we extend the same liberty to our Christian brothers and sisters to choose a date according to their tradition?

    To put it another way: Sukkot, Hannukkah, and Christmas–the more joy, the merrier.

    -Yahnatan

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    • I agree that it is important not to confuse permission with obligation. However, there are numerous passages in the Tanakh that not only extend an invitation to the Gentiles to keep the Sabbaths and Feasts (cf. Isa. 56:6), but which speak of the day when such observance will be mandatory (Isa. 66:23, Zec. 14:16f).

      So why didn’t the Apostles simply go ahead and make the Sabbaths and Feasts mandatory? Simply put, because many or even most Gentiles would have found it impossible to do so. A slave cannot choose to take a day off, nor could many poor laborers. So you are correct that they extended the invitation as just that–an invitation–but that does not mean that they were splitting the Torah in two, or setting aside the Torah’s command that the foreigner within the gates of the Jews should also rest (cf. Exo. 20:10).

      Again, I don’t judge my Sunday brethren in their persons or station before the Just Judge on the matter of holy days. I do put forth the Feasts as an invitation rather than a compulsion or a threat. But having two sets of holidays inevitably and unavoidably keeps the Body of the Messiah divided by a middle wall of partition made of the dogmas of man–only this time, it is the Gentile dogmas that are the problem.

      You don’t really have a counter-argument to our articles on dating Yeshua’s birthday, so there really isn’t anything to address there. To say that Yeshua was not born at the time of the Fall Feasts you have to take it on faith that His natal period was unusually short or unusually long.

      Shalom.

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  3. Dear RoB,

    Re: not really presenting a counter-argument: Shmuel Safrai writes in an article from the Jerusalem School website:

    Abijah was the eighth priestly division. The priestly rotation began in the Hebrew month of Nissan (mid-March to mid-April), and therefore the division of Abijah would have served at the end of Iyyar (mid-April to mid-May) and again at the end of Marheshvan (mid-October to mid-November).

    Although Zechariah’s division finished its service at the end of Iyyar or Marheshvan, we have no way of knowing exactly when this was. The divisions rotated on the Sabbath, but the Sabbath rarely fell exactly at the end of the month. We can never be sure of the exact date when a priestly division began or ended its duty period. Priests of Abijah, for instance, may have ended their spring week of service from the twenty-eighth of Iyyar to the fourth of Sivan.

    Like the other divisions, the priests of Abijah served in the temple for one week twice a year. We cannot be sure whether the events connected with Zechariah mentioned by Luke took place during the week of his division’s spring or autumn service. We also do not know how the divisions compensated for the additional month of Adar that was placed into the calendar twice every seven years. Therefore, we have no way of knowing exactly when Zechariah served. For the same reasons, it is impossible to calculate the date of Jesus’ birth based on the time of Zechariah’s service.

    The “shifting Sabbath” point doesn’t really affect your argument, since (even though you overstate your conclusion–i.e. “Yeshua was most likely born on the first day of Sukkot and circumcised on the eighth day”) your article only really concludes that Yeshua wasn’t born in December but in September sometime around the fall feasts. You should update your article to take into account (a) the two shifts of service performed by each priestly shift and (b) the fact that in leap years there is an entire extra month (Adar II). These two facts would seem to branch the possible dates of Yeshua’s birth more drastically.

    The fact that your article doesn’t mention these facts (much less interact with what Shmuel Safrai, a well-known scholar from a well known school of Hebrew roots research, has written on the matter), frustrates me. It’s not like they’re hard to find (all I had to do was Google “Zechariah Abijah” and it was the first result that came back). What gives?

    Of course, these facts only pertains to the question of when Yeshua was born–ultimately it doesn’t affect the question of Gentiles observing the Jewish feasts. I am glad that you don’t advocate for Jewish observances being mandatory for Gentiles. However, I’m afraid that when you teach that “man-made” Gentile dogmas are to be rejected, you end up with the same conclusion.

    Christmas isn’t a wall of partition between me and any other believer. I can commend Christians’ Christmas celebrations and share in their joy. Paradoxically, I think you are the one actually creating the “wall”. What do I mean?

    While I say that both Jew and Gentile may attend both Jewish and Gentile observances, you say that attending Gentile observances is not permitted. This, as you must have experienced by now, puts a wall not only between different communities, but even right through the middle of families. How many families follow what you teach only to experience a fracture with their extended family and friends when they stop celebrating Christmas?

    If it’s wrong to celebrate Christmas, then such fractures may be justified. But if Christmas is permissible, then these teachings are harming people needlessly. This is why these things are worth arguing about IMO.

    For Shalom,
    Yahnatan

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    • Nice info, thanks. However, the leap year doesn’t really affect the argument, since there is an indication in the Talmud that the shifts “reset” at the beginning of Nissan, which is to say the beginning of the religious calendar. (I’ll see if I can find the reference again; we discovered it after the article was written but never got around to updating it–and you’re right that it’s time for an update.)

      We ignore the 2nd shift for a pretty simple reason: The summer shift lines up Yochanan HaTivlei’s (John the Immerser’s) birth with the time of Passover, which is when our people have always looked for Elijah. I don’t think that a coincidence.

      You say, “While I say that both Jew and Gentile may attend both Jewish and Gentile observances, you say that attending Gentile observances is not permitted. This, as you must have experienced by now, puts a wall not only between different communities, but even right through the middle of families. How many families follow what you teach only to experience a fracture with their extended family and friends when they stop celebrating Christmas?”

      Actually, I have some personal experience with that. My parents, though they are very supportive of me and the synaogue, still go to church and still celebrate the holidays that they have for over sixty years and which they are emotionally attached to. This may surprise you, but I don’t give them a hard time about it. In fact, it is my custom to go to church with them from time-to-time, and I go every year for the candlelight service.

      Why? Simply put, because while I disagree with our Sunday brethren about the Feasts, I see no reason to condemn those who are trying to walk after our mutual King and who are simply misinformed. And by doing so, showing love and respect even where I think they are mistaken, I have been asked by the pastor of my parents’ church to assist him in taking the congregation through the Feasts in the coming year.

      I do not think that the Holy One cares where we are on the road so much as that we are on the road and walking towards Him. If someone is behind me on the road, I want to help them go forward, not berate them or ignore them. In turn, I hope that those further up the road from me will help me as well. My concern with your approach is that it essentially says there are two roads, and those on one don’t really have much to do with those on the other.

      Shalom

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  4. the leap year doesn’t really affect the argument, since . . . the shifts “reset” at the beginning of Nissan, which is to say the beginning of the religious calendar

    I’m not clear on why the leap year isn’t a factor. You say John was conceived in mid-summer. If it was a leap year, then Adar II would have placed his birth a month *before* Passover, instead of at Passover, no? You’re right that the leap year woudln’t affect the priestly “shifts,” but it still would affect the dating that depends on counting nine months…unless I’m missing something.

    We ignore the 2nd shift for a pretty simple reason: The summer shift lines up Yochanan HaTivlei’s (John the Immerser’s) birth with the time of Passover, which is when our people have always looked for Elijah. I don’t think that a coincidence.

    So you’re admitting that you depart from historical or textual evidence in making your assertions. That’s fine, but I think it’s dishonest to say “we can prove from the Scriptures that Yeshua was born at Sukkot” when you’re making that assumption. And the fact that you don’t even mention it–again, what gives?

    The second shift would place Yeshua’s birth in Kislev, right? So the best we can say is that Yeshua was born either sometime around the high holidays (or a month earlier) or sometime around the month of Kislev (or a month earlier).

    BTW, I also don’t think the shepherds argument is generally accepted. It certainly doesn’t help that your citation comes from a self-published pamphlet called “Babylon Mystery Religion” (hardly sounds like a work of reliable scholarship). I’d be interested to know if you can find a commonly acknowledge historical source for this assertion. Even more convincing would be if you could say, “I’ve searched high and low for a historian who says that shepherds would have been out, but I couldn’t find a single one.”

    My concern with your approach is that it essentially says there are two roads, and those on one don’t really have much to do with those on the other.

    All I’m saying is that Jewish people have an obligation where Gentiles do not. I believe Gentiles and Jews have much to do with each other–not least sharing the meal of Yeshua around a common table!

    Shalom!

    Like

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