Morphing the Torah

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on David’s Tent, a ministry of Israeli believers Avner and Rachel Boskey. The Boskey’s have ministered at Tabernacle of David, and we consider them trustworthy and Biblically sound.

Approximately 2,930 years ago, the ten tribes of Israel rebelled against David’s family and dynasty (1 Kings 12:1-19). Led by Jeroboam ben Nevat (1 Kings 11:26-40), a special forces commander, 84% of the Jewish people rejected YHVH’s chosen and anointed king. The Bible lets us in on the secrets of Jeroboam’s heart:

  • Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin ... And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi. Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in JudahThen he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel and went up to the altar to burn incense (1 Kings 12:25-33)

Rebellion against David’s House led to rebellion against David’s city Jerusalem. It then morphed into rebellion against God’s divine calendar (see Exodus 12:2; Leviticus 23:1-2).

This same dynamic gnawed its way into mainstream Judaism 1,000 years later, when rabbinic authorities changed the Jewish New Year from its biblically mandated place just before Passover, to today’s so-called Rosh Hashanah (‘Head of the year’) in the Fall.

The Jewish New Year

According to the Bible there is only one Jewish New Year and it is not in September. “Now YHVH said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you … On this day in the month of Aviv, you are about to go forth’” (Exodus 12:1-2; 13:4).

This God-mandated Hebraic calendar (with the New Year being at Passover) was observed in the days of Esther and Mordechai. The casting of lots (the purim) began “in the first month, which is the month Nisan” (Babylonian name for biblical Aviv; Esther 3:7). The  Jews of the Persian Empire in Queen Esther’s day still celebrated the biblical Jewish New Year in the Spring, fourteen days before the Feast of Passover.

But the influence of Babylon and the Babylonian Exile waxed great. Diaspora Jews gradually moved away from biblical foundations in a number of areas ( The Hebrew calendar was one of those areas. Babylonian calendar names (based on Babylonian demons) were substituted for biblical Hebrew names. The first month in the Hebrew calendar Aviv was renamed Nisan (from the Akkadian nisānu, meaning ‘sanctuary’ or ‘sacrifice’, or possibly from Sumerian nisag meaning ‘firstfruits’). The seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, Eitanim (‘the strong ones’), was renamed Tishrei (from the Akkadian word tašrītu or ‘beginning’). This process of replacement is acknowledged in the Jerusalem Talmud: “For Rabbi Hanina said, ‘The names of the months came up with them from Babylonia’” (TJ, Rosh Hashanah, 1:2, 56d).

By the Second Century AD the rabbinical authorities codified the timing of the Jewish New Year, moving it from the biblical Spring date to an Autumn date in order to better fit in with politically correct Babylonian social trends. Rabbi Judah the Prince (the editor of the Mishnah) made a valiant attempt at justifying an obvious departure from the biblical New Year date, when he proclaimed circa 200 A.D. that there are actually a whole bunch of New Years. He explained that there are “four New Years – on the first of Nisan is the New Year for kings and festivals; on the first of Elul is the New Year of the tithe of cattle…; on the first of Tishrei is the New Year for years, for release and for jubilee years, for plantation and for tithing vegetables; on the first of Shevat is the New Year for trees” (TB, Tractate Rosh Hashanah, Mishnah 1, 2a).

The dynamic of doing plastic surgery on God’s heart and commandments is all too human. In the days of Jeremiah, YHVH warned of this trend: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

  • The decision of Israel’s spiritual leadership to first rebel against David and then to abandon aspects of the biblical calendar was a violation of Scriptural guidelines. Amazingly, Messianic Jews have by and large bought into rabbinic and Jewish community traditions regarding ‘Rosh Hashanah.’ It is becoming increasingly chic for some Evangelical Christians to do the same.

When in Rome

Followers of Yeshua tend to honor the national customs wherein they live. It’s commonplace for believers to celebrate the calendars of those nations. Today the Western world follows the pagan Roman calendar (Gregorian version), and most believers have no problem acknowledging the Gregorian New Year. In the same way Jews living in Israel acknowledge the secular/religious celebrations here connected with the rabbinic New Year.

But that doesn’t mean that followers of Yeshua, whether Jewish or Gentile, should forget the biblical calendar and abandon our biblical foundations.

  • We should not forget our prophetic hope – YHVH is restoring not only our Jewish people to the Land, but He will also be restoring biblical order, names and emphases to our presently-morphed calendar and feasts (see Isaiah 33:20; Ezekiel 44:24; Zechariah 8:19).

If it’s Jewish, it must be kosher!

There is a proverb, “A specialist is someone fifty miles from home.” To some Gentile believers, anything coming out of Israel or the Jewish people must automatically be ancient, revered, deeply spiritual and worthy of imitation. But a problem exists here: many Jewish traditions were established and made legally binding by those who rejected Yeshua’s Messiahship, the original Messianic Jewish apostolic leadership and the New Covenant teachings.

Here are three examples:

The language of rabbinic blessings

After the destruction of the Second Temple, a theology of blessings (berachot) was crystallized requiring Jewish men to pray only in the words of approved liturgical texts. The immediacy and value of spontaneous Jewish prayer was submerged. This eventually morphed into the modern Siddur/prayer book. Rabbinic theology sees merit and reward in praying these fixed prayers (similar to liturgical patterns in some Church streams) and discourages personal spontaneous prayer. Amazingly, this Orthodox tradition has been adopted by some Messianic congregations as the ‘authentic Jewish’ way to pray.

The prayer shawl/tallit

The God of Israel commanded the Jewish people under the Mosaic covenant to make fringes (tzitzit) on their everyday garments. Every Jew’s clothing had fringes. This was to remind all Jewish people of their national calling and responsibility, as well as the real possibility of spiritual failure. It was to be worn on every garment that Jewish people wore on a daily basis. It was not a special item of clothing to be worn only at prayer. 

YHVH also spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of YHVH, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God” (Numbers 15:37-40)

The centuries of Jewish exile morphed the carrying out of this commandment into a smaller prayer shawl worn only in synagogue, and/or a four-cornered tasseled undershirt. Today most Jews see this tallit as the fulfilment of the commandment, and are unaware of God’s original intentions. This is also true of many Messianic Jews and Israel-friendly Evangelicals. Wearing a rabbinically approved tallit is concerned a necessary expression of Jewish spirituality in some of these circles.

The divine commandment in Numbers is of course part and parcel of the Mosaic covenant. Fringes are not mentioned anywhere in the New Covenant as a requirement. If Jewish believers choose to wear fringed garments or even use fringed prayer shawls, that is part of our freedom to do so in Messiah. But it is not a necessary or required expression of Jewish or biblical spirituality.

Legally binding traditions and spiritual emphases

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., rabbinic authorities meticulously determined how sabbaths, feasts and fasts were to be kept. New theological accents were introduced which bolstered rabbinic authority. For example, Shavuot/Pentecost would now be rabbinically connected to the giving of the Mosaic covenant, even though no biblical evidence exists for this tie-in. The Mosaic emphasis here was probably a counter-reaction to Acts 2 and the inauguration of a New Covenant “not like the Mosaic covenant” (See Jeremiah 31:31-32). Similarly, the Feast of Trumpets would be morphed by rabbinic thought from a biblically joyous feast to one of mourning and dread or awe.

The Bible does not connect the Feast of Trumpets to sadness, mourning or incipient danger. Numbers 10:10 refers to it as “the day of your gladness in your appointed convocations.”  These were actually happy celebrations of great joy. Psalm 81:1-3 refers to singing aloud, making a joyful shout, raising up a song by striking the tambourine, harp and lyre – and all this on the Feast of Trumpets. The shofar blast was a reminder to YHVH of His promises over the Jewish people (Numbers 10:10). The Hebrew word teru’ah (from the root ru’a) has another secondary meaning in Hebrew – a powerful shout-out of rejoicing – as used in the following passages: “Shout to God with a voice of joy!” (Psalms 47:1-2);  “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth!” (Psalms 66:1); “Shout joyfully to the God of Jacob!” (Psalms 81:1).

The concept of the High Holidays being a season when one’s name is inscribed in the Book of Life had no biblical basis. That once and for all event is really connected to the bloody atonement made by Messiah Yeshua (see 1 Peter 1:18-20; Revelation 7:14; 12:11).     

For many Gentiles who love Hebrew roots, it’s worth considering that the modern celebration of Shabbat celebration owes the majority of its traditions to later rabbinic decisions and not to Scriptural commands.

Messianic Jews and Gentiles who love Jewish ways should know what the Scriptures say. They should understand how rabbinic traditions have developed. That includes understanding how some of these traditions actually fog or distort the biblical focus of the feasts.

The numbers game

The Scriptures do not establish the date of Creation with anything approaching crystal-like clarity. But rabbinic authority has decided on such that date, and traditional Jews use that rabbinic dating system. According to that dating, we have entered into the year 5780. Most Messianic Jews and Gentiles who love Jewish faith expressions also tend to use the rabbinic dating.

But, as in the days of Jeroboam, it is essential to make this point clear: the rabbinic dating system regarding the date of Creation is not God-breathed, nor is it accurate, When believers blindly use this rabbinic dating, an unwittingly spiritual dependence on rabbinic authority is set in motion – and that rabbinic authority denies Yeshua’s deity and Messiahship, the authority of the New Covenant, etc.

  • There is no divine authority – prophetic or otherwise – which empowers us to validate these aspects of the rabbinic calendar

Another Jewish tradition used by some is tied in to kabbalah (Jewish black magic). This reveals itself in the use of gematria. It is becoming fashionable in certain Messianic and Christian prophetic circles to use gematria as a form of ‘Christian fortune-telling.’ This involves making proclamations about hidden meanings in the coming rabbinic calendar year, based on the numerical-alphabetic value of the year in question. This mystical and occult interpretative technique removes logic and biblical discernment from the interpretative process. Instead, a squirrely hermeneutic is substituted which seemingly appeals to superior Hebrew knowledge, but which in fact lacks biblical basis and kosher qualifications.

These dabblings into Jewish mysticism are sometimes trumpeted by some Gentiles believers who lack sufficient ability and discernment in these matters. Unfortunately even some Messianic Jews are getting on the same rickety bandwagon. These abovementioned rabbinic influences can exert an unhealthy pull on believers who may have started off positively inclined toward Jewish subjects.

  • These abuses have a real potential to confuse and fog believers’ spiritual discernment, and to open up doors of deception in the name of Jewish roots.

It is our heart’s prayer that all dear believers stay far away from these non-kosher aspects of rabbinic theology, tradition and mysticism. They are not only spiritually unclean. They also come from a worldview that denies the reality and power of Israel’s Risen Messiah.

What’s in a name?

The biblical name of the Feast of Trumpets holiday is Yom Teru’ah, the day of blowing/trumpeting/sounding of the shofar or ram’s horn (Numbers 29:1). It is also called zichron teru’ah (a memorial of blowing) in Leviticus 23:24.

Suggested reading

If you would like more in-depth consideration of these issues from a biblical standpoint, get the book “How to Messianic without becoming meshuggeh” available at Happy reading and happy belated Feast of Trumpets!

How should we then pray?

  • Pray for believers who appreciate the Jewish roots of our faith to cleave to the Scriptures as our foundational authority
  • Pray for believers to treat rabbinic authority with healthy caution, and to not grant it spiritual influence over our faith
  • Pray for Messiah Yeshua to be revealed to and accepted by many hungry Jewish hearts
  • Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth

Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.

In Messiah Yeshua,

Avner Boskey

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