Listen: Bob Mendelsohn explains the Jewish High Holidays to Clare Chate
If you’re Jewish, and you’re reading this around mid to late September, Happy New Year to you!
If you’re not, here’s something to put in your calendar: right now the Jewish community is celebrating some of the holiest days of the year.
Rosh Hashina, beginning on the evening of September 13, was their New Year’s Day and Yom Kippur, starting on the evening of September 22, is their holy day known as the Day Of Atonement.
Bob Mendellsohn, the founder of Jews For Jesus Australasia, spoke to Hope Media about what these fascinating holidays mean.
The Holiest Holidays In The Calendar
Since ancient times, the Jewish people have celebrated several holy events each year.
One Rosh Hashanah, originally known in the bible as Yom Teruah, or the Blowing of the Trumpets. It’s the first day of the year on the Jewish civil calendar.
Yom Kippur, 10 days later, is the “Day of Atonement”. This is a day when Jewish people seek to be forgiven of their sins.
Bob explained that most Jewish people celebrate the Jewish New Year today with a number of traditions.
“We eat apples and honey, we have a Hallah, that’s a round loaf, to remind us that God is wearing a crown, He’s the king,” he said.
“All of our prayers are about God as king, the just one who will judge righteously.”
How Jewish People Seek Forgiveness
He said Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, used to be marked in ancient times by a dramatic set of rituals.
“It’s a fascinating drama with two goats, and blood sprinkled on altars, and white linen; the high priest only can go into the holy of holies, this special little compartment room, that’s pitch black.
“But it’s not done any more, because we have no temple, we have no high priest, we have no mediator, we have no blood.”
Instead, modern Jews say prayers and fast.
“Never Really Sure If It Works”
Despite their fervency, Bob says the prayers of Jews to be forgiven by God never really bring a deep sense of relief.
He said this was his own experience as a young Jew.
“We have this idea of fasting and fervency and litanising our prayers,” he said. “But it doesn’t work! And that’s the sad thing.
“You get so much energy and so much passion in the synagogue around the globe, not just here in Sydney, but worldwide among Jewish people, fervent to beat our breast and say, “I’ve sinned in this regard, in that regard…”
“It takes hours. Imagine listing your own sins, you would take hours. Me, I would take days. But on that day, we as a people announce all of our sins together, and then we hope we are forgiven.
“It’s a hope, kind of like a teenage girl waiting on a Saturday afternoon for the year 12 formal telephone call. It’s not coming. So it’s a hope that’s false hope, and it’s dashed, and it’s hopeless.”
A Greater Hope Found In Jesus
What Bob found after putting his faith in Jesus, is that his hope for forgiveness became very certain. He was no longer chained to rules and ritual.
“The scripture says “Hope is an anchor for our souls” and “Hope does not disappoint,” Bob said. “There’s no doubt in hope.
“Why? Because God, in Yeshua, has accomplished all that. He’s been the mediator of the new covenant. He is the one whose blood has forgiven us our sins, and into Him, not into some lofty ceiling, we have confessed our sins.”
Talking To Your Jewish Friends About Faith
For Christians, talking to Jewish friends about Christ is particularly easy at this time of year, because the issue of forgiveness is on their mind.
But the most important thing is to love them, said Bob.
“Firstly be in prayer for ‘Mrs Goldberg’ and ‘Dr Cohen’,” he said. “Make sure that you care about that person and that you know that God knows that He cares. And so you and God are praying together about that person.
He said it was also important to send Rosh Hashanah New Year’s cards to your Jewish friends.
“Why not? We do that in January, we say “Happy New Year” all the way until school starts,” he said. “So you can still do that, and I think that’s an appropriate thing.
“To say to the Jewish person, “being Jewish is not a sin from which you have to repent, it’s Ok. I love you, here’s Happy New Year to you”.
The Accountant Versus The Grace Giver
Bob said there were some simple ways to start a conversation about Yom Kippur.
“A hook line right now, might be this: “You’re going to pray on Yom Kippur, you’re going to fast, you’re going to want God’s forgiveness. Here’s a question: Honestly, at the end of the day, do you feel forgiven of your sins?
“And if a Jewish person will be honest with you, 95 percent of them will say, “Wouldn’t that be nice”, or “Yeah, that’s a great idea, I don’t know”, or “I don’t even believe in God”, or “I’m not sure that God exists”, or “God probably wouldn’t forgive me, I’ve done so much bad”.
“Basically, we as Jews in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur are looking to God as the accountant who will measure our good deeds versus our bad deeds, and distribute to us in measure,” he said.
“But if we’re honest about ourselves, we don’t want an accountant. We want a grace-giver. So that’s where I would say most Christians could start with their Jewish friends.”
Keeping Their Jewish Identity
Many Jewish people may be concerned about losing their Jewish identity if they put their faith in Christ.
Bob says he encounters this a lot.
“I remember a man named David who lives here in the north shore who gave his life to the Lord at a synagogue service that we ran some years ago on Yom Kippur,” he said.
“He had been studying with us, been reading the Bible with us, and his objections were all sociological, not theological.
“It wasn’t that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, or that He wasn’t the lamb of God or that he didn’t fulfil Messianic prophecy, but “am I still going to be Jewish? “
“That is a huge thing for most Jewish people.”
He said Jewish people can remain Jewish and put their faith in Jesus at the same time, and that believing in Jesus, the Messiah known to the Jews as Yeshua, was in fact “the most Jewish thing a Jew could do”.