The biblical holy days and religious festivals

Please click on the Festivals menu to see more about each individual festival.

 Why have religious festivals

There are quite a few festivals in the Israelite religion. We should be glad of it! How many times have you heard Christians complain regarding Christmas, “I wish we could do this more often!” Well, in the Israelite/Jewish community, we have the opportunity to be joyous and festive several times throughout the year!

Festivals serve several purposes. First of all, they bring people together. They bind a community to a common tradition and a common way of life. In ancient times, festivals were golden opportunities to see old friends again, to catch up on news, and to see how other people were doing.

Secondly, they were meant to be occasions to remember certain aspects of God and our spirituality and faith. Quite a few times, we are told that certain festivals are to be a “memorial” (Hebrew: zikkaron – see Numbers 10:10). A more accurate translation of the word in this context would be, “reminder”. For example, each Shabbat, the Talmidi home service reminds us of the Exodus from Egypt and the Covenant at Sinai; and the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread remind us what God did and continues to do for us, and that we are meant to be a free and independent people.

Festivals were celebrated to remind us of the various aspects of the Israelite relationship with God. Anything that diverts our minds, our souls and our hearts away from the centrality of YHVH in our religious faith is not Yahwism; the festivals should remind us of this.

Festivals calculated biblically, according to the rhythms of nature

When we divorce the calculation of our calendar from the rhythms of nature, we lose something of the sense of awe and wonder in YHVH who was its Creator. And we lose our sense that we are connected to everything and everyone in God’s Creation. This is one of the reasons why we insist on maintaining the biblically ordained calculation of months and festivals.

For example, the first day of a new month is always on the Hebrew day of the sighting of the first sliver of the New Moon, and the first month is always the month of the finding of aviv – ripe barley.

Festivals as reminders of the Covenant

Within our community, the place of the Covenant in our religious life has been restored and elevated to the position that it had in Israelite lives of ancient times. Its terms are recalled at Sabbaths and at festivals.

We are encouraged to read those terms for ourselves, and decide how each one of us can improve the quality of our Israelite spirituality by applying our understanding of the Covenant.

For example, on the first day of the Seventh Month, which we observe biblically as Yom Tru‘ah – the Day of Shout & Trumpet – we read the whole of the Book of the Teaching of Moses (Deuteronomy – see Neh 8:1 & 13:1), from sunrise to noon. We do this as an annual reminder of what God expects of us as Israelites and Godfearers, and as a people who have agreed to follow the terms of the Covenant forever.

Differences with Rabbinic Judaism

Because we follow the Torah & The Prophets, rather than rabbinical tradition, we have certain differences with mainstream Judaism with regard to the Festivals:

– we do observe New Moon festivals (they are biblically enjoined observances)

– our months begin on the day of the sighting of the New Moon

– we observe the New Year at the beginning of the first Israelite month, not the seventh

– New Year begins in Aviv (determined biblically by the sighting of ripe barley in Israel)

– Shavu‘ot always begins on a Sunday

– Shavu‘ot is the festival of First Fruits, not of the giving of the Torah

– we don’t wave a lulav – the “four species” of greenery – at Sukkot (Festival of Booths); we build our booths out of them

– the first day of the seventh month (Teshri) is Yom Tru`ah (Day of Shout & Trumpet), not Rosh ha-Shanah (New Year); this is the day we celebrate our joy in Torah

– we don’t have Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Law) (see Yom Tru`ah)

– we don’t observe non-biblical festivals (apart from Hanukkah, which is a national festival)


Non-biblical Festivals

There is one non-biblical festival that we do observe, and that is the Festival of Lights (Chanukkah). We observe it as a national festival, because it was part of Late 2nd TemplePeriod tradition that we are a part of and have our origins in.  We emphasise that it is not a biblically ordained festival by reminding people that there is no set way of observing it.

Apart from that, we do not observe rabbinically ordained festivals, such as ‘New Year for Trees’ or ‘Lag ba‘Omer’.

Please click on the Festivals menu to see more about each individual festival.