Messianic Terminology

If you’re new to the Messianic Movement, there can be a lot of new and unfamiliar vocabulary or concepts. Here we briefly explain some of that terminology and lightly delve into a few of those concepts.  (This is a working and living document, so it will continue to be updated over time!)

Feasts of the Lord: A Prophetic Expectation

From Passover to the Feast of Tabernacles, Elim embraces the calling that God gave to the people of Israel. We see the prophetic message that God established in these feasts about Yeshua’s first and second coming, and we celebrate them, trusting in God’s awesome promises!

Also referred to as Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Chag he-Aviv , (the Spring Festival), Chag ha-Matzot , (the Festival of Matzahs), Z’man Cheiruteinu , (the Time of Our Freedom)

And this day shall become a memorial for you, and you shall observe it as a festival for the Lord, for your generations, as an eternal decree shall you observe it. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes … you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day for your generations as an eternal decree. – Exodus 12:14-17

pesachPesach begins on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. It is the first of the three major festivals with historical, agricultural, and spiritual significance. (the other two are Shavu’ot and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel. The primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery. This story is told in Exodus, Ch. 1-15. As Messianic believers, we find deep significance in its connection to our Messiah Yeshua’s death and resurrection.

The name “Pesach” comes from the Hebrew root Pei-Samekh-Cheit, meaning to pass through, to pass over, to exempt or to spare. It refers to the fact that God “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. In English, the holiday is known as Passover. “Pesach” is also the name of the sacrificial offering (a lamb) that was made in the Temple on this holiday.

On the first night of Pesach (first two nights for traditional Jews outside Israel), we have a special family meal to remind us of the holiday’s significance. This meal is called a seder, from a Hebrew root word meaning “order,” because there are details and information to the meal that is carried out in a particular order. It is the same root from which we derive the word “siddur” (prayer book).

Pesach lasts for seven days (eight days outside of Israel). No work is permitted on the first and last days of the holiday (first two and last two outside of Israel).

Rosh Hashanah

Also referred to as the Jewish New Year, The Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah), The Day of Judgment (Yom ha Din), The Day of Rememberance (Yom ha Zikkaron)


Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. One of the most important observances of Rosh Hashanah is hearing the sounding of the shofar in the synagogue. A total of 100 notes are sounded each day.

In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, “head of the year” or “first of the year.” Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. No work is permitted on this day. Many Jewish believers spend most of the day in  a service, where the regular daily liturgy is extended. 

Another popular observance during this holiday is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of having a sweet new year. Another popular practice of the holiday is Tashlikh (“casting off”). This involves walking to flowing water, such as a creek or river. At the water, you then empty your pockets into the river, symbolically casting off sins. Traditionally, you put small pieces of bread in your pockets, and that’s what you throw into the water. 

Tashlikh is normally observed on the afternoon of the first day, before afternoon services. The common greeting at this time is L’shanah tovah (“for a good year”). This is a shortening of “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem” (or to women, “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi”), which means “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) or the Days of Repentance. This is a time for serious introspection, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and to repent. Traditionally, during this time people often seek reconciliation with those you may have wronged during the course of the last year.

Yom Kippur

yom-kippurAlso, referred to as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri. Yom Kippur is a day set aside to fast and pray in order to atone for the sins of the past year. Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It is well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. 

Traditionally, Jewish believers will spend the entire day in the synagogue. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar. It is customary to wear white on the holiday, which symbolizes purity. For Messianic believers, we’re reminded that our sins are made white as snow when we believe that Yeshua is our Messiah and that He’s died for our sins.

The evening service that begins Yom Kippur is commonly known as Kol Nidre, named for the prayer that begins the service. “Kol nidre” means “all vows,” and in this prayer, we ask God to cancel all personal vows we may make in the next year. It refers only to vows made between a person and God, like “If I ace this Math Test, I’ll pray every day for the next 6 months!” Perhaps the most important addition is the confession of the sins of the community, which is included in the Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah) prayer.

Note that all sins are confessed in the plural (“we have done this” or “we have done that”), emphasizing communal responsibility for sins.There are two basic parts of this confession: Ashamnu, a shorter, more general list (we have been treasonable, we have been aggressive, we have been slanderous…), and Al Cheit, a longer and more specific list (for the sin we sinned before you forcibly or willingly, and for the sin we sinned before you by acting callously…) 

There’s also a catch-all confession: “Forgive us the breach of positive commands and negative commands, whether or not they involve an act, whether or not they are known to us.”


Also referred to as: The Feast of Booths, Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Ingathering

SukkotThe Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It’s a very drastic transition, from the most solemn holiday to the most joyful!

Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it’s commonly referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as Z’man Simchateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing. Sukkot is the last of the Shalosh R’galim (three pilgrimage festivals). Like Passover and Shavu’ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural.

Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif, the Festival of Ingathering. The word “Sukkot” means “booths,” and refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to live in during this holiday in memory of the period of wandering.

Sukkot lasts seven days. The two days following the festival, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are separate holidays but are related to Sukkot and are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot. No work is permitted on the first and second days of the holiday. 

Another observance during Sukkot involves what are known as the Four Species (arba minim in Hebrew) or the lulav and etrog. Jewish believers are commanded to take these four plants and use them to “rejoice before the Lord.” The four species in question are an etrog (a citrus fruit similar to a lemon native to Israel; in English it is called a citron), a palm branch (in Hebrew, lulav), two willow branches (aravot) and three myrtle branches (hadassim).

The six branches are bound together and referred to collectively as the lulav, because the palm branch is by far the largest part. The etrog is held separately. With these four species in hand, one recites a blessing and waves the species in all six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down), symbolizing the fact that God is everywhere.

Why these four plants? There are two primary explanations of these plants’ symbolism: they represent different parts of the body, or they represent different kinds of Jews. According to the first interpretation, the long straight palm branch represents the spine. The myrtle leaf, which is a small oval, represents the eye. The willow leaf, a long oval, represents the mouth, and the etrog fruit represents the heart. All of these parts have the potential to be used for sin, but should join together in the performance of mitzvot (commandments).

According to the second interpretation, the etrog, which has both a pleasing taste and a pleasing scent, represents Jews who have achieved both knowledge of Torah and performance of God’s commandments.

Here, as Messianic believers we can add the knowledge of Yeshua as our Messiah and King. The palm branch, which produces tasty fruit (but has no scent), represents Jews who have knowledge of Torah but are lacking in following God’s commandments. The myrtle leaf, which has a strong scent but no taste, represents Jews who perform God’s commandments but have little or no knowledge of Torah. The willow, which has neither taste nor scent, represents Jews who have no knowledge of Torah and do not perform God’s commandments. We bring all four of these species together on Sukkot to remind us that every one of these four kinds of Jews is important, and that we must remember to pray for Israel.



Also referred to as: temporary dwelling booth

sukkahA Sukkah is a structure consisting of 2½, 3, or 4 walls with a roof made of an organic material which has been disconnected from the ground (the s’chach). It should be at least three feet tall, and be positioned so that all or part of its roof is open to the sky (only the part which is under the sky is kosher.) A sukkah can be built on the ground or on an open porch or balcony. Portable sukkahs are available for those who have little space, or for those who are travelling (in order to have a place to eat one’s meals).

In practice, the walls of a sukkah can be built from anything ranging from wood to canvas to aluminium, and the roof material can range from pine branches to palm fronds to bamboo. The walls may also be part of a house or fence.

Many people hang decorations such as dried or plastic fruit, streamers, shiny ornaments, and pictures from the interior walls and ceiling beams of a sukkah. Families may also line the interior walls with white sheets, in order to recall the “Clouds of Glory” that surrounded the Jewish nation during their wanderings in the desert.

Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah

Also referred to as: rejoicing with/of the Torah

simcha_torahTishri 22, the day after the seventh day of Sukkot, is the holiday Shemini Atzeret. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is also the holiday of Simchat Torah. Outside of Israel, where extra days of holidays are held, only the second day of Shemini Atzeret is Simchat Torah: Shemini Atzeret is Tishri 22 and 23, while Simchat Torah is Tishri 23.

These two holidays are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot, but that is technically incorrect; Shemini Atzeret is a holiday in its own right and does not involve some of the special observances of Sukkot.

Here the annual cycle of reading the Torah is completed and started over again. First, there is a festival parade of the Torah scrolls with singing and dancing! Then, the last section of Deuteronomy and the first section of Genesis are read, one after another. 

Other Recommended Resources

For a better understanding of the holidays we recommend reading God’s Appointed Times by Barney Kasdan, Jewish Roots – Revised Edition by Dan Juster, and Growing to Maturity by Dan Juster.