Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish year 5767, begins at sunset Friday, Sept. 22. It is the first of 10 days of repentance, leading up to the holiest of days, Yom Kippur, sunset Oct. 1 through nightfall Oct. 2.
The Jewish holy days and festival days are central to Jewish life and to Judaism. On these special days, the Jewish people relive their history and remind themselves of and recommit themselves to the truths and values established in the ancient events commemorated in the observances.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year occurring in the early fall, is the beginning of the Days of Awe, which are climaxed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. These 10 days are a time of reflection on one’s life during the year past, of seeking of forgiveness from man and God, and of resolving to pursue a better life in the coming year.
Jews and Baptists are alike in many ways. Both practice congregational government. Congregations of each select their own spiritual leader, rabbi or pastor. Both have suffered persecution for religious beliefs and are firm supporters of the principles of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Jews and Baptists alike hold to the ethical teachings found in the prophets of Israel, beginning with Moses and continuing through Isaiah and the other great messengers of God.
There are differences, however. One can truly say that Jews and Baptists believe in and worship the same God, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament. There is one major difference in their understanding of this God. Baptists believe that the full revelation of God came only in His incarnation in Jesus, the Christ. This is totally unacceptable to Judaism.
There is also a marked difference in the view of sin. In Judaism, a person is born good, and sin is something that one does. In Baptist belief, although one does commit sin, the most serious aspect of sin is that one is born with a sinful nature, a nature that must be changed, or, as Jesus said, must be born again, if one is to enter the Kingdom of God.
Throughout the millennia, Jews have worshipped and loyally served their God, and have suffered at the hands of a hedonistic, polytheistic, intolerant world for their refusal to forsake Him. As they have resisted and resented efforts to turn them from their course, so today they resist and resent Christian efforts to tell them of Jesus.
And yet Christians, if they are to be obedient to their Lord’s instructions, cannot do other than faithfully witness to all people of the One who is God’s way of salvation (Jn 14:6) and who has delivered to His disciples the responsibility for sharing the good news.
A Christian witness is not a call to “become a Christian,” that is to leave one religion and affiliate with another. Jewish people have experienced too much evil at the hands of people calling themselves Christians for that name to appeal to them.
Following the Holocaust, a young Jewish woman, seeing the windows of an office building lighted in the form of a cross at Christmas, said, “That cross makes me shudder. It is like an evil presence.” Because of its misuse by cruel and wicked people, the victims of that cruelty have an understanding of the cross contrary to its real significance of love.
Christian witness arises out of a relationship. The relationship is marked by love, respect, appreciation, friendship and caring. It endures and is not exploitative. It involves listening and learning, seeking to know the most meaningful things in the other’s life, and then being sensitive to them.
It means helping with life’s problems. It provides the opportunities in life’s everyday experiences for a verbal sharing of the gospel. The love in this relationship validates, gives credibility to verbal sharing. It endures beyond even a final rejection of the gospel, just as Jesus’ love for people was not conditioned upon their becoming His disciples, and continued without end.
–Be a real friend. Do not exploit this friendship.
–Understand the problems, anxieties and concerns (for example, anti-Semitism, assimilation, Israel, as well as personal needs) and be supportive.
–Be ready to engage in a mutual sharing of your deepest convictions in an atmosphere of openness and respect.
–In prayer seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of the relationship.
–Exchange visits to synagogue and church.
–Seek enlightenment on religious subjects by mutual study of the Scriptures.
–Make clear that you understand that all people are sinners and in need of salvation, even every member of your own family, and that you are not singling out Jewish people as especially sinful and in need of salvation.
A. Jase Jones retired in December 1978 after 22 years with the Interfaith Witness Department of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board. This column is adapted from a “Belief Bulletin” he wrote after retiring in 1988. It is used with permission of the author and is courtesy of his son, Bill Jones of Plano, Texas.