October 03, 2019 by Jesse Lebus
Greetings St. Luke’s, friends and family!
For those of us who are members of St. Luke’s, Jewish Holidays may mean only one thing: no school. Often that translates to a long weekend, as it did this week when Rosh Hashana fell on Monday and Tuesday. Growing up in Kentucky, I certainly had Jewish friends and classmates, but I never had the opportunity to give thanks for their holidays: I had to go to school on Rosh Hashana.
Here in New York (in part because the schools are closed) my awareness of Jewish holidays has increased and I think, in some ways, I’ve been inadvertently drawn into the rhythm of the Jewish calendar. Weeks like this leave me wondering… did Jesus keep these holy days?
The first of the two High Holy Days listed in Leviticus (Yom Kippur being the second), Rosh Hashanah is at once a joyous celebration and a time of solemn reflection. Originally a “memorial of blowing of trumpets,” Rosh Hashanah became a “Day of Judgment.” The holiday - and the Ten Days of Awe that fall between it and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) - provide observant Jews with an opportunity to make amends for past wrongs in preparation for the new year.
Scholars believe that Rosh Hashana began to be celebrated as a holiday in its own right during the time of the Second Temple (516 BCE - 70 CE), after the Isrealites returned from exile in Babylonia. This means that Jesus might have kept this holiday with his family, friends and neighbors.
We may never know exactly how he observed, but what we can discern from contemporary practices is that what mattered to Jesus matters to our Jewish brothers and sisters: an awareness of others, repentance of alienating and unkind behavior, and reconciliation with God and neighbor. It reminds us that what we consider Christian virtues are rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures and in Jesus’ Jewishness.
Some years ago, I walked up and out of Penn Station onto 7th Avenue. There were two young men, about my age, asking every man they could, “Are you Jewish?” I approached them and one asked me the same question. “Well, I’m mostly Jewish,” I said. “What do you mean? Is your mother Jewish?” “No,” I said. “I’m a Christian and 75% of my Bible is your Bible.” They brushed me away with a laugh that was partly a scoff. Even if the point I made was only to myself, it was worthwhile: Christianity owes a ton to Judaism.
So, next Wednesday observe Yom Kippur in some way. Give thanks for the holiday, remind yourself that Jesus was Jewish or maybe make amends with someone you’ve hurt. Just remember... there’s no school.
Your Brother in Christ.