The following article from Breaking Israel News is a fascinating read. It is written from the view point of an Orthodox Jewish Theologian. The article is a good faith effort to point out the differences in observance between Judaism and Christianity as seen by the author in regards to the holiday of Shavuot/Feast of Weeks/Pentecost.
The stumbling block is none other than Jesus Himself. The work of Jesus is the fulfillment of the Spring holidays in His death, burial, and resurrection. And because of these events, humanity was blessed with the Holy Spirit at the advent of the church at Pentecost. The author of the article recognizes the event takes place on the God ordained appointment of Shavuot but draws no connection.
This notion of Jesus in the Mosaic Law Appointments is considered Replacement Theology in Judaism. Jewish Scholars understand the implications if Jesus is the Messiah. They have thought about what if Jesus…
Judaism does not believe Jesus is the fulfillment of the Spring Feasts. They do not believe Jesus is the Messiah. Yeshua HaMashiach is not, so they say…
Romans 11:25-27 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
Although Christianity’s Pentecost occurred during Shavuot, the assumption that the two holidays are directly linked should not be made by Christians, according to Orthodox Jewish theologian David Nekrutman, who heads the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) in Israel.
“Christians may intend to connect to the Judaism practiced by Jesus by celebrating Shavuot but it is important to understand the uniqueness of the Jewish holiday and its theological ramifications prior to partaking in it,” Nekrutman noted.
Holiday Divide: Shavuot vs. Pentecost
With Judaism celebrating Shabbat on Saturday and Christians on Sunday, the divide separating the two faiths is further intensified by their vastly disparate observance of holidays: Christianity’s Christmas, Easter and Pentecost commemorating the Crucifixion, the resurrection of Jesus, and the birth of Church. Christian holidays are centered around Jesus. With the advent of Jesus, according to mainstream Christian teaching, the holidays mentioned in the Torah such as Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot as well as Chanukah and Purim (not mentioned in the Bible) became obsolete.
A movement within Christianity is now advocating for a more Hebraic roots approach to their faith which includes incorporating Jewish holidays and other practices into their journey with God, it should be noted that this is a relatively recent phenomenon and considered quite controversial in Christian circles. Some Church leaders are concerned the Hebraic roots approach is Judaizing Christianity but the major concern is that Jewish practice will eventually become essential in the salvation of a Christian. Those within the Hebraic roots movement of Christianity feel that practicing aspects of Judaism is emulating what Jesus did in his life. This approach is not about salvation but, rather, living a life of sanctification and holiness.
What is Shavuot and What is Pentecost?
To begin, it is important to understand the basics of the two holidays. Shavuot is an annual Jewish holiday, one of the three Biblically mandated pilgrimage festivals when, in Temple times, Jews ascended to Jerusalem. It is observed after the Jews complete the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of counting seven complete weeks.
You must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to Hashem. Leviticus 23:16
An agricultural festival, Shavuot comes at the end of the winter during the grain harvest and as such, is observed in the Temple by an offering of two loaves of bread. Shavuot was also the beginning of the period in which the bikurim (first fruits) were brought to Jerusalem.
In comparison, Pentecost, according to Christian tradition, is the birth-day of the Church as recorded in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. It commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit onto the early followers of Jesus. According to the New Testament, this occurred fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, during Shavuot holiday. This epiphany bestowed upon each of them the authority to spread the Gospel to the world. The phenomenon that took place included a sound from heaven like the blowing of a violent wind and “tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them,” allowing every believer in Jesus to witness to others.
The Apostle (disciple of Jesus) Peter interpreted these signs as a fulfillment of a prophecy in Joel.
After that, I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; Your sons and daughters shall prophesy; Your old men shall dream dreams, And your young men shall see visions. Joel 3:1
“Peter requested the followers to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus,” Nekrutman said, explaining the Christian New Testament. “Afterwards, 3,000 people were added to the beginnings of the early Church on that day which was greatly expanded following this event.”
“Though Pentecost happened on Shavuot, it is clearly not related to Shavuot for the Jews,” Nekrutman said. Nekrutman explained that Shavuot in Judaism and Pentecost in Christianity are completely different in their essence.
Replacement Theology and Shavuot Cannot Coexist
“For a Christian to celebrate Shavuot with the Jewish people would entail a paradigm shift of seismic proportions,” Nekrutman said, noting the Temple based origins of the holiday. This aspect of the holiday is incompatible with Christianity which had obviated the function of the Temple service in the belief that Jesus serves the purpose of the sacrifices.
“In Replacement Theology, Jesus fulfilled everything so there is no longer any reason for sacrifices. For a Christian, the Biblical Temple-based aspect of Shavuot is no longer relevant,” Nekrutman explained.
But Shavuot is also an agricultural holiday deeply rooted in the land of Israel and the study of the Bible.
“For mainstream Christians who subscribe to Replacement Theology, Jesus not only replaced the Temple, but he also replaced the Land,” Nekrutman explained. “For Christians, Jesus also replaced the Torah. For those within the camp of Replacement Theology, the Torah was simply a band-aid approach until Jesus arrived to replace it. Even a biblically based Shavuot would no longer be relevant since these laws have been fulfilled in Jesus.”
“Without the concept of Israel, the nation, and the land, at its core, Christians cannot fully grasp Shavuot in its Jewish sense,” he explained.
“For Judaism, Shavuot is part of a bigger picture of Israel’s identity that begins with the freedom from Egypt, which we express through Pesach, and continues when we receive divine instructions expressed in Shavuot. The identity of the nation of Israel is actualized in our mission in the Land of Israel since the fullest expression of Judaism can only be realized in the Land of Israel.”
The Rabbinic Tradition Implicit in Shavuot
“Even Christians who reject replacement theology need to work past everything they learned in order to understand any relevance of a purely rabbinic aspect of Shavuot,” Nekrutman said.
In a counterintuitive twist, removing the Temple elements of the holiday make it even more problematic for Christians.
“After the Second Temple was destroyed, Shavuot’s contemporary motif shifted from the rituals related to the Land and Temple to the notion of Z’man Matan Torahteinu – The Time of the Giving of our Torah,” Nekrutman explained.
The source of this aspect of the holiday, the sixth day of the month of the Hebrew month of Sivan being the day on which the Nation of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai, has no reference in the Torah. It is strictly a rabbinic tradition written in the Talmud. But it is this rabbinic aspect of the holiday that has become its focus since the destruction of the Temple.
“Not only are Jews mandated to stay up all night and learn the Bible, our synagogue services incorporate readings in Exodus, Ezekiel, and the Book of Ruth,” he explained.
These readings are focused on emphasizing specific themes; becoming a nation and receiving the Torah, the written and the oral tradition.
“The rabbinic tradition is not part of the Christian purview of learning,” Nekrutman said. “For a Christian to stay up all night and study Torah, which should be a positive experience for Bible-believing Christians, it is incredibly difficult to get to the point where they can take part in that rabbinic aspect of the holiday they think of as Pentecost.”
First Fruits and the Christians
“Even Christians who connect with the concept of a Jewish Temple have many difficult issues with Shavuot that will need to be worked out,” Nekrutman explained. “The aspect of Shavuot connected to Bikurim (first fruits) is even more problematic for Christians.”
Shavuot is referred to as Chag Habikurim (holiday of first fruits) in Numbers.
On the day of the first fruits, your festival of Shavuot, when you bring an offering of new grain to Hashem, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. Numbers 28:26
This aspect of the holiday is highly exclusive, focusing only on Jews living in Israel. Only first fruits grown entirely in the land of Israel are included in this mitzvah. Even first fruits grown by non-Jews inside the land of Israel are not considered bikurim. Upon presenting the first fruits to the Kohen in the Temple, the Jew recites an avowal from the book of Deuteronomy which begins with this self-identifying statement.
Since this description excludes non-Jews, they would not make this statement even if they brought first-fruits.
Christians and Jews Count 50 Days Differently
“Even the timing of the holiday is problematic for Christians since it is calculated by a rabbinic exegesis of how to count the weeks,” Nekrutman said. “Historically, this was a source of conflict even within Judaism, with Jewish sects.”
It is important to note that the counting of the fifty days from Passover to Shavuot is from a rabbinic interpretation taken from Leviticus
You must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to Hashem. Leviticus 23:16
“Although a fundamental reading of the Hebrew verse would indicate that the counting begins on the Sunday after the first day of Passover, the rabbis said the counting of the Omer begins on the 16th Day of Nissan, the second day of Passover,” Nekrutman said. “The date and the holiday customs of Shavuot are derived from Pharisaic traditions of Judaism.”
Shavuot: An Enormous Challenge to Christians Bearing Enormous Rewards For Those Who Succeed
“More than celebrating the theophany at Sinai, on Shavuot, we are also celebrating the Oral tradition – the revelation of our sages in its understanding and application of the Torah,” said Nekrutman. “It is an enormous thing to expect Christians to accept a holiday that celebrates the receiving of the rabbinic tradition. It is already difficult for Christians to accept the Hebrew Bible outside a Christological approach to it. To accept Shavuot as a holiday celebrating receiving Torah without any verse backing that up is a big leap for them.”
“Christians who celebrate Shavuot will be celebrating a Pharisaic holiday, not the Christian Pentecost which includes accepting the original rabbinic understanding of the Bible. Christians have a great deal to benefit since parts of the exegesis of the Bible they believe in were based on Midrashic, rabbinic, understandings of the Torah as well. This will help them as Christians to connect with the Judaism of Jesus.”
Author’s Note: The author and the editorial staff of Breaking Israel News are Torah Observant Jews with no personal theological connections to Christianity. The presentation of specific Christian and Jewish beliefs in this article were not meant to affect the beliefs of readers of either faith. It is our belief that Jews and Christians should connect for mutual benefit. It is our belief that his connection should be based on knowledge and understanding that lead to mutual respect. Christians have a belief in a Pentecost event and Jews have a congruent, though dissimilar, holiday called Shavuot. No disrespect was intended and any errors in understanding theology were unintentional. It is our hope that by understanding the differences, both sides can become stronger in their respective faith.
Note from David Nekrutman: While David Nekrutman does not advocate Christians taking on Jewish practices, he advises Jews who encounter Christians wishing to participate in Shavuot holiday to recognize and appreciate the theological hurdles the person had to overcome to reach to this point in his or her’s life. This should not be an opportunity for a Jew to convert a Christian to Judaism or marginalize mainstream Christianity. One must nurture this relationship with integrity and complete transparency, and make the Christian feel welcomed in the expression of Judaism’s Shavuot.
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