As Spring approaches, every store reminds of us Easter is right around the corner with bright displays featuring bunnies and chicks down abundant candy aisles. Christians around the world start a series of holy days and weeks to commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ, extending past the secular Holiday of Easter Sunday. For those studying the Jewish faith, the question arises: do Jewish people celebrate Easter, and if not, why?
The best answer to this question lies in the historical dissecting of this holiday and its differences and possible similarities with Passover observances by the Jewish people. This is an abundance of information that will be presented in an abbreviated blog; thus, some additional training resources will be presented at the end of this post for additional learning opportunities for those wishing.
A History of Easter
While Easter(s) full origins in pagan festivals or other possible roots has been debated for ages, everyone can agree that it eventually became a moveable holiday to be celebrated the first Sunday following the March equinox in the Christian church to align with Jesus’ resurrection in Scripture. The origins of modern Easter celebrations are founded on a promise from God to send His only-begotten Son, and through the death of this son in the human form given as a sacrifice, the entire world might find salvation.
This promise came to fruition on a cross in what historians and biblical scholars agree was the ninth hour in the afternoon of the Jewish Passover, thus forever weaving his death to the Passover celebration of the Hebrews and celebrated down to this day.
The Last Supper, during which Jesus had prepared himself for his death while celebrating with wine, and unleavened bread, alongside his disciples, added further to the history of the Passover celebration.
Historians had alluded that this telling of events could not have been predicted by the apostles to continue as an observance through the ages in what is known to be part of the Easter season of the church. The Good Friday solemn commemoration in Christian Church’s worldwide is observed in the remembrance of Jesus dying on behalf of those whose blood he would save.
Messages of Easter
The basis of Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s promise of what his resurrection symbolizes for all that come to believe in him gives hope wings in the Easter sermons worldwide. Any person following Jesus has been promised death to be swallowed up and new birth in the hope of their eternal salvation, providing them a dwelling in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Many believe that while this season is marked in solemn traditions, it culminates in the Sunday of Easter being marked with great joy earmarked by the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. There is much rejoicing in Christian churches around the world, and the celebrations of Easter have transformed throughout the world down through history to what we all recognize today.
There are some movements though that choose to forgo said light celebrations, in lieu of Nisan 14 observance and celebration of the Christian Passover and a more somber memorialization of this event in history. No matter how it is observed as a time of bright colors and joyous gatherings or somber observant ceremonies of some denominations, the message remains nearly unchanged.
Symbols of Easter
Many equate Easter with candy, and much of these holiday favorites have additional historical meanings. For instance, the Easter egg is a symbol of the empty tomb, but in ancient times it was also a symbol of rebirth. For the Israelites leaving Egypt and Jesus raised up from the dead, this symbolism is strong through Passover and Easter celebrations among many cultures.
The Easter egg associated with Jesus’ crucifixion and tied so closely to Easter occurred in Mesopotamia when they would stain eggs red in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice. The first manufactured Easter egg occurred in 1875 by the British candy company Cadbury, who sponsors the annual Easter egg hunt that occurs in over 250 National Trust locations throughout the United Kingdom.
Additionally, Poland and other Slavic countries have a process of pisanka, which produces colored eggs. From 1886 to 1916, Faberge created exquisite jeweled eggs for the Russian Imperial family. Whatever the tradition in the part of the world celebrating this holiday, eggs are central to the symbolism. None of this gets closer to the question of Jewish people celebrating Easter; maybe we need to home in on another aspect of Passover to get clarity.
The Passover History Before Jesus became the Sacrifice for Humankind
Passover, back in the times of the Jerusalem based Temple, was a spring festival celebrating the first fruits of the season; thus, the Jewish festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot were agricultural and seasonal feasts tracing back to ancient times.
Forward to the time of the Israelites, and the book of Exodus tells the story of their escape from Egypt and the ten plagues that Christian and Jewish children alike can tell tales of afflicting the lands prior to this great march out of Egypt.
The final plague was death to the first-born son, and only those that marked their doors with the blood of a slaughtered lamb would be spared as the spirit of the Lord delivered this final blow.
This act of faith on behalf of the Hebrews led the way for a nation to be delivered out of the land of Egypt and is commemorated yearly to this day as commanded in the Bible.
Thus, Jesus commemorated this event in his Last Supper and would go on to become the sacrificial lamb to save those who believe upon his death. Again, Passover and Easter so closely tied begs the question then: do Jewish people celebrate Easter?
Easter Celebrations and the Church Conflict
Some early churches did not condone the celebration of Easter, such as the Puritans who believed any tradition not directly referenced in the Bible should not be experienced, and obviously, Easter celebrations can not be found anywhere in the pages of the Bible.
The Quakers didn’t celebrate a single day commemorating Jesus, as they believed every day was the Lord’s day, and by minimizing other days could open people up to ungodly acts on said other days. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Quakers were openly persecuted for not observing Holy Days.
The Restored Church of God refused to celebrate this holiday due to the belief that it was simply a pagan holiday taken over by the Roman Catholic Church. And Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate the Last Supper and Christ’s execution in the form of “The Memorial” each year in a somber and church service observance but refrain from the candy and other trappings of Easter.
Passover Celebration History
First recorded in William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible, and later in the King James Version is the term “Passover.” This term was first introduced when God gave strict instructions to the Israelites on how to show their observance of his commands as he passed through Egypt for the tenth plague, bringing death to first-born sons.
A Paschal Lamb or unblemished lamb or goat was to be slaughtered, roasted and eaten with unleavened bread (matzo) and bitter herbs (maror) the evening 15th of Nisan. The next morning nothing from this feast was to be consumed, but all destroyed by fire.
Strict instructions for garb to be worn, and how the blood was to be presented was given the Israelites, and the commandment to keep this Passover in observance for years to come was written down in Leviticus and reiterated in Scripture in other books.
The unleavened bread requirements, offerings, and observances God dictated are clearly laid out in Leviticus 23: 5-8, and while some small changes to the sacrifice and blood requirements have been made, Jewish faithful to this day observe the Passover as intended to commemorate their ancestors initial actions before being delivered out of Egypt between March or April of the Gregorian calendar.
Passover and Easter Converge
The Last Supper, where the apostle Paul referenced Jesus as the Passover Lamb, brings the Passover into direct correlation to this observance by the Jewish religious throngs. That must mean that Jewish People celebrate Easter by extension, right? And finally, we have the answer to our question, do Jewish people celebrate Easter. Wrong!
The simple commemoration message by these two celebrations or observances reflects the vast difference. Passover heralds the birth of the Jewish people as a force for good in the comity of nations as it started with the Exodus out of Egypt. Passover reflects a worldview that devalues life after death and privileges the community over the individual.
Jesus’ Last Supper observance of this Passover tradition with the symbols of wine and blood that would come to symbolize his own sacrifice, was on behalf of the individual. While he provided the vehicle for salvation, and his risen self heralded the fulfillment to Christians of God’s promise to deliver them through the sacrifice of his son, this atonement is an individual by individual blessing not communal.
Themes of Hope Intertwine
Hope is interlaced with both Easter and Passover, both in its placement in the heart of Springtime with blossoming nature all around, but also in the historical contents, they help to commemorate. Both are relying heavily on the historical recounting of events: Jesus’ death and resurrection, and recalling the exodus from Egypt and yearning on the part of Jewish descendants for future restoration make these solemn but hopeful celebrations.
Imagine not only being released from slavery and the sheer exhilaration that would have brought the Hebrews but the fact that this momentous occasion was so symbolic to the world at large, impacting all future generations. Or those that sat waiting for Jesus to rise, and the goosebumps that would have been present when he did fulfill God’s promise of salvation to Christians everywhere.
The symbolism is there, and the historical events to commemorate, but as we have guessed by now, the religious, solemn occasion of Passover observed by the Jewish devote is not Easter for many reasons. They may intertwine among shared faith lines, and the Passover cross into Easter and messages of that Christian and secular holiday into the Passover observance, but that is where it ends.
Israel Institute of Biblical Studies
This brief overview of Jewish people and the Easter holiday is hard to contain within a few short paragraphs. The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies in Partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem brings together a historical and academic approach to in-depth learning of biblical teachings, in online formats to further the education of students worldwide.
Their tradition of excellence is a billing point they strive to maintain through every lesson, mixing Old and New Testament learnings with teachers in the Holy Land today using original languages and interpretations to further the education of students around the world.
Classes that fit in with this subject matter could be classified into the Biblical Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, and Yiddish courses. These course outlines include:
Biblical Hebrew Courses – This course consists of 5 progressive Hebrew alphabet and biblical syntax courses. It will explore the earliest texts and historical relevance and direct translations of said texts. Also, it will discuss translation decisions that were made along the way and the subtle changes that the Bible has undergone throughout the centuries.
Modern Hebrew Courses – This course consists of 8 progressive Hebrew language courses laying a foundation of learning the Hebrew alphabet, and then progressing through reading and writing of texts. The highlight of this course is bringing Israel to you and allowing better communication with the family that may still reside there but also a deeper understanding of roots born in that Holy Land. The most beneficial of all aspects of this class is the ability to read texts yourself in this language with such historical implications.
Yiddish Courses– Ever wanted to phonetically understand Yiddish words and terms, uncovering Yiddishkeit and Jewish Ashkenazi culture? This is the course that provides this educational opportunity. Yiddish is intertwined in Jewish culture, literature, and spoken by European Jews for over 600 years, and comprehension of Yiddish direct from teachers in Israel brings this language straight to you and draws you again closer to the roots of Jewish culture.