How Sukkot Can Help Christians Appreciate Jesus More

By Tirzah Frank, Editorial Assistant

As noted in my previous posts on Rosh-HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I’m an editorial assistant at Hendrickson Publishers, and I’m reading through (and reporting on) The Complete Jewish Study Bible’s topical articles about the three upcoming Jewish holidays. Sukkot is the third and final holiday. Its practice is interesting and fun to read about, but the most exciting information was in the third topical article: “New Testament Observance.” I have three main takeaways:

  1. Jesus Understood the Importance of Timing

This article discusses an instance in John 7 where Jesus’s behavior was directly related to Sukkot. The CJSB explains it better, but basically, by Jesus’s time Sukkot had come to involve pouring water over the altar in the Temple. The water symbolized the Holy Spirit, which the people hoped the Messiah would bring, and Jesus chose the day of that outpouring to speak of himself as the bringer of living water, and thus the Messiah.

  1. Cultural Context Is Crucial to a Better Understanding of Jesus

It seems like an overstatement to say that learning this made me newly impressed by Jesus, but it did make me realize just how well he knew what he was doing, how in tune he was with his culture and with the best way to make his point clear at any given time. As a modern reader without a lot of background knowledge of Judaism, I feel like I could have gone my whole life without making this connection, never fully understanding what Jesus’s actions meant. So the article filled me with a mix of relief and fear: I was glad to learn about the layer of meaning I hadn’t noticed, but concerned about how many other things I’m missing when I read the Bible.

  1. Knowledge of Jewish Holidays Is a Great Avenue into Cultural Context

Throughout the process of reading about these holidays, it’s become clear to me that Jewish history and practice, especially regarding holidays, has more direct relevance to modern Christianity than I thought. Everyone who understands the customs of Sukkot would understand the multilayered significance of Jesus’s words in that specific time and place, but the average Christian alive today (myself included) is so out of touch with Jesus’s cultural context that she or he might never figure it out. Unfortunately, most of us can’t devote our lives to researching the connotations of every event and speech in the Bible, and in the face of that reality, I can only be grateful for the CJSB.

The Complete Jewish Study BibleFor more information about The Complete Jewish Study Bible, check out this video explaining what it is, this blog post about the CJSB’s beautiful cover design, or this review of the Bible! Visit our website for a full description as well.

What Yom Kippur Can Teach Christians about Atonement

By Tirzah Frank, Editorial Assistant

As I mentioned in my post on Rosh-HaShanah, I’m in the midst of reading The Complete Jewish Study Bible’s topical articles on the three major Jewish fall holidays, approaching them from a position of complete ignorance. While reading about Rosh-HaShanah gave me confidence in the constancy of God, reading about Yom-Kippur made me think about necessary changes.

Ritual: What Do You Need?

I studied abroad in Greece last year, and one of my classes was about ritual. Many of my non-Christian professor’s ideas weren’t helpful to me, but our final assignment, which was to design and perform a class-wide ritual of our own, gave me pause. My professor kept saying: “Design a ritual that you need.” While that seemed like a wishy-washy directive, especially because I felt like Christianity was already meeting my needs, ritual-wise, I did find it helpful when constructing the ritual at the end of the semester. Reading about Yom-Kippur reminded me of that experience, because the way Yom-Kippur is practiced has changed a lot over time, shifting to reflect what different Jews needed at different times.

Alterations in Ancient Practice

When the Temple was intact, Yom-Kippur involved the sacrifice of two goats. One would be slain to cover Israel’s sins. Then the priest would place his hands on the head of the other, confessing the people’s sins and symbolically transferring them to the goat, which would then be freed and sent into the wilderness, carrying the sins of Israel away. Thus, the repentance begun on Rosh-HaShanah would culminate in this ritual of atonement on Yom-Kippur. But after the Temple was destroyed, it was no longer possible to practice Yom-Kippur like that, and the practices of charity, prayer, and repentance replaced the sacrifice of the goats. Difficult though it must have been, the Jews were able to preserve the holiday they needed by shifting the way that it was practiced.

Responding to New Needs

In the Middle Ages, the practice of Yom-Kippur changed again with the addition of a prayer requesting that participants be released from inappropriate vows, because many Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism. At first, I thought it was an odd transition—from literal sacrifice of goats to prayer and repentance to forgiveness of and freedom from forced conversions—but then I thought about the evolution of what people coming to celebrate Yom-Kippur needed most. If they had been forced to deny their true faith, then of course the atonement-based holiday would be the time to rededicate themselves and receive forgiveness.

It was difficult to read about the need for such a prayer, and it brought home for me how little I know about the historically troubled relationship between Christians and Jews. I was glad to learn, however, that the Jews of the Middle Ages were able to apply a day and a tradition that was already important to them to their circumstances, preserving the focus on atonement while adding what they needed in their historical moment to traditional practice.

Complete Jewish Study BibleFor more information about The Complete Jewish Study Bible, check out this video explaining what it is, this blog post about the CJSB’s beautiful cover design, or this review of the Bible! Visit our website for a full description as well.

What Rosh-HaShanah Can Teach Christians about God’s Changelessness

By Tirzah Frank, Editorial Assistant

I work as an editorial assistant at Hendrickson Publishers, which means that I help with books in a variety of stages (and indeed worked on The Complete Jewish Study Bible), but I don’t often get to spend time looking at our finished products. So it was with excitement that I read some of the CJSB’s topical articles in preparation for this blog post on Rosh-HaShanah.

The Passage

I’m Protestant, and while I have a Jewish ethnic background and grew up celebrating Passover (Pesach) in conjunction with Maundy Thursday, I started on the CJSB articles in a position of complete ignorance about the fall holidays. Instructions for these holidays are outlined in Leviticus 23:23-44, which is further into Leviticus than I’d ever chosen to read on my own. It was hard to see how rules I don’t follow and explanations of festivals I don’t celebrate could be relevant to my life or my faith, so I approached the passage and its articles warily, unsure that I would find anything I could use. The verses regarding Rosh-HaShanah (23-25) are brief, and left me no closer to understanding the full purpose and meaning of the holiday.

The Articles

That’s where the resources in this Bible came in. The Complete Jewish Study Bible’s topical articles regarding Rosh-HaShanah (titled “Historical Background,” “Traditional Jewish Observance,” and “Prophetic Fulfillment”) are rich and informative, and reading them helped me find a different perspective.

Familiar Themes in Practice

My major takeaway was about God’s consistency. Like many Christians, I sometimes struggle to see the connections between the Old and New Testaments, and the articles made those connections stand out. Rosh-HaShanah’s focus is on taking stock of one’s life and behavior and returning to God, confident in his forgiveness. While the holiday includes unfamiliar elements, like the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn), I was struck by the familiarity of pairing repentance with confidence in God’s mercy. Because I associate the emphasis on assured forgiveness so strongly with Jesus, I was surprised to find it in an article on Rosh-HaShanah, even though I knew cerebrally that God’s character is constant. Noticing that so many people have lived in awareness of his forgiveness and mercy for so long heightened my understanding of God’s changelessness.

I don’t expect to celebrate Rosh-HaShanah this year, but I’m glad to know enough about it to see it as a natural expression of God’s consistent character and behavior toward his people.

Jewish_study_biblesFor more information about The Complete Jewish Study Bible, check out this video explaining what it is, this blog post about the CJSB’s beautiful cover design, or this review of the Bible! Visit our website for a full description as well.