The Days Of Unleavened Bread And The Problem Of Khol Ha-Moedim

Yesterday, when writing about the question of the tradition of Winter Family Weekends for those of us who eschew the worship of heathen festivals [1], I commented that I would deal with the question of the observance of the “middle days” of the Days of Unleavened Bread in another place.  Today I would like to address that issue.  In order to do so, I would like to begin with a quote of the discussion of these days by Joseph Telushkin in his lengthy book Jewish Literacy, which is entry #302 “Khol Ha-Moed” on pages 643 and 644 of the book:  “Khol Ha-Moed is the only Hebrew oxymoron with which I am familiar; khol means “secular” and moed means “holiday.”  The “secular holidays” referred to are the days that fall in the middle of Passover and Sukkot.  Both these holidays start and finish with two days of Yom Tov (literally “good day,” it is observed for only one day in Israel), during which work is forbidden and there are extended prayer services.  Between the two sets of Yom Tov come four days of Khol ha-Moed on Passover and five on Sukkot.  During these days, the prohibitions of work are greatly relaxed.  Aside from that, the distinctive features of each holiday remain in force; on Passover one must not eat bread or any leavened products, and on Sukkot one must eat all meals in a sukka.  At the conclusion of Khol ha-Moed come the final days of Yom Tov, during which the restrictions on work again apply.  In line with its unusual name, Khol ha-Moed days have both a weekday and holiday quality.  Although the rabbis of the TAlmud wanted the holiday quality to predominate, even most religious Jews regard Khol ha-Moed as more akin to weekdays than holy days.  Indeed, one reason the Khol ha-Moed period might have been mandated was to extend the sense of holiday without compelling people to refrain from working for more than a week.  In Israel Khol ha-Moed is a special time for children; schools are closed and joyous outings are arranged.  If a death occurs on Khol ha-Moed, the funeral takes place immediately, unlike on the Sabbath or Yom Tov, when funerals are forbidden.  Aside from funerals and burials, all other mourning observances (see Shiva) are suspended until after the holiday.  An entire tractate of the Talmud deals with the special laws of Khol ha-Moed.  The tractate’s name, Moed Kattan (Little Holiday), reflects the rabbis’ ambiguity about these days.”

Admittedly, much of what the author discusses in this passage is not something that readers of mine from the Church of God background will consider authoritative.  Nevertheless, the author’s discussion is worthwhile because it reminds us of the ambiguous position that these days hold.  Early in the days of the Radio Church of God, the Spring Holy Days were observed in a similar fashion to the Feast of Tabernacles, with services on every day of the period.  From the reminisces of others, since I was not around at the time, I have been told that there were two church services on the “middle days” or as Telushkin calls Khol ha-Moedim, and three on the high holy days at the beginning and end of both festivals.  In my own experience, when I lived in Thailand, we kept the middle days of the Days of Unleavened bread in a similar fashion to the middle days of the Feast of Tabernacles, only without traveling outside of the school where I taught and lived.  In my understanding, though, this experience is somewhat unusual, as I am not aware of these days being celebrated for the Days of Unleavened Bread within the Church of God tradition as a whole, and I am not sure of when the tradition stopped within Worldwide Church of God or for what reasons.

The Bible, of course, does not command assemblies on either the middle days of the Days of Unleavened Bread or the Feast of Tabernacles, but clearly commands that the first and seventh day of the Days of Unleavened Bread and the first and eighth days of the Feast of Tabernacles are high holy days with the full restrictions on work that apply to holy days.  As a practical matter, the observance of the middle days of the Feast of Tabernacles, although not mandated by scripture, is done as a practical matter quite naturally because of the travel to the place where the Lord has placed His name that occurs in this festival.  It should be noted, though, that the Bible commands assembly before Him on three seasons, the Passover, Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles, and it is worth examining the Bible’s comments on these feasts.  First, let us look at Exodus 23:14-17:  “Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year:  You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field.  “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.”  A similar statement is made in Deuteronomy 16, where at the Passover, Feast of Weeks, and Feast of Tabernacles, mention is made that these festivals are not to be celebrated within one’s gates but rather in the place where the Lord has set His name, where the tithes on the various harvests (barley, wheat, and general harvests respectively) were to be given to the priests and Levites for the support of the religious establishment of Israel.

During biblical times, these feasts were all festivals that required travel.  Indeed, an entire section of the Psalms, from Psalm 120 to Psalm 134 [2] was collected together as the Songs of Ascent to celebrate during the seasonal travels to these festivals at Shiloh and then at the temple in Jerusalem.  From what we can read in the Bible, this understanding was what led Jesus Christ himself and later the Apostle Paul to travel to the temple in Jerusalem during these various high days in accordance with the scripture.  To be sure, not all of the believers of the diaspora made the travel all the way to Jerusalem to attend these feasts, but many did.  It is lamentably not very clear how it was that the early Church of God kept this feast outside of the promised land, where it is stated that they attended temple services and engaged in religious meetings and discussions there (see Acts 2, among other places) on the high days, but we do know from Paul in at least one reference that these days were kept.  The reference, of course, is to 1 Corinthians 5:8, which tells us:  “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Given what the Bible has to say about the various festivals, it is clear that the middle days of the Days of Unleavened Bread and the middle days of the Feast of Tabernacles have the same standing.  Both are in-between days that have fewer restrictions than the holy days and that allow a great deal of normal activity but which still have a holy day flavor to them.  If the middle days of the Feast of Tabernacles are treated differently than the middle days of the Days of Unleavened bread, in that the first have services and generally require time taken off of work and school and the second do not, although they require the avoidance of leavened bread products, it is a matter of tradition rather than a matter of religious principle.  Indeed, it appears most likely that the change was made from the human reasoning that it was hard enough to take off one time a year for more than a week for the Feast of Tabernacles and that it would be too much to demand that this time be taken off in the Spring of the year as well for the Days of Unleavened Bread.  Yet the Bible speaks of both of these feasts, as well as the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost/Shavuot as being feasts where one travels to the place where God has set His name, wherever that may be, and places them on the same plane.  If we do not follow the tradition of the Talmud, we have our own traditions and rules that reflect the ambiguity of these days in our own religious customs and practices as well.


[2] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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