The High Holidays are the holiest time in the Jewish year. They begin on Rosh HaShana (head of or 1st of the year) and end on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). The full ten day period from Rosh HaShana through Yom Kippur is known as the Days of Awe. The Bible says little about Rosh HaShana. In fact, the day of Rosh HaShana is actually the beginning of the seventh month, not the 1st. The only real reference to this day is in Leviticus 23 which proclaims it the day of trumpets or Yom Teruah. Yom Kippur is covered more extensively, and originally was for the purpose of cleansing the Temple and the nation for the prior year’s sin.
Today the holidays are celebrated differently and for different reasons. It is believed that the Book of Life is opened on Rosh HaShana, and all are either included or excluded from the Book based on their behavior over the past year. For most God gives a respite for ten days to the Day of Atonement to enable as many to repent and perform good deeds for the purpose of inclusion in the Book of Life. Consequently, this period is known as the Days of Awe as Jews repent, ritually immerse themselves (primarily Orthodox), give to charity and perform good deeds (mitzvot). Unlike most of the year synagogues are packed during these days. A very familiar saying is “L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem” or “may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
Messianic Jews, of course, believe Yeshua the Messiah paid the price for their sins, once and for all, and thus the question arises as to whether Messianic Jews observe these holidays, and, if so, why. First, the Bible mandates Jews keep these holidays, and there is no place in the Scriptures, including the New Testament, that suggests they are outdated. Since Messianic Jews are Jews and are bound to the Laws of Moses, these days should be observed. Second, while Messianic Jews can and should fully participate in the practices and observances of these holidays, our reasons for doing so differ. This is not unlike other modern Jews, such as the Reform and Progressive movements, who often alter certain practices and the reasons therefore. In our case, rather than seeking to be inscribed in the Book of Life, a fact accomplished through the work of Yeshua, we, like other Jews, review our actions over the past year, repent for failure and ask God for mercy. Then, we rejoice in what our high priest, Yeshua, has done for us. In addition, we use the opportunity to pray for the larger Jewish community to experience the life-changing work of Yeshua the Messiah.
Jamie Cowen 2008