So This Is Christmas

jewish-christmasAnd that “calendar conflict” seems to bother some Jews. Of course our problem with Christmas is nothing like the one that afflicted my parents in Poland. The only way we are assaulted today is by way of our eardrums, forced to endure the seemingly endless carols and Christmas songs that have become standard fare for this season. There are no attempts at forced conversions. No one makes us put up a miniature replica of the Rockefeller Center tree in our living rooms. No one beats us up because we choose not to greet others with a cheerful “Merry Christmas.” But still…

I hear it all the time. Jews verbalizing their displeasure with public displays of Christian observance. Jews worried that somehow a department store Santa Claus will defile their own children. Jews in the forefront of those protesting any and every expression of religiosity coming from those with a different belief system than ours. Christmas, they claim, is by definition a threat to Judaism and to the Jewish people.

And I believe they are mistaken.

-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
“Is Christmas Good For the Jews?”

Jesus has become a stranger to Jews just as he has become the property of Christians. What needs to happen is for many Christians to examine whether the Jesus of their faith has replaced Judaism or whether he is Judaism-friendly. It won’t be enough to say that Jesus was raised a Jew and that He kept Torah. The problem is that much Christian theologizing . . . and hymnody . . . enshrines a Jesus who outgrew or replaced Judaism. And as long as Christians think that way, don’t be surprised if Jews think of Jesus as at best a former Jew. And that is a concept as cold as a Brooklyn December.

-Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann
“Toward Making Christmas Once Again A Jewish Holiday”
The Messianic Agenda

“So, this is Christmas,” to quote John Lennon. You’d expect Christians to be blogging about Christmas left and right, but what about so many Jews blogging about Christmas? In America, you can’t avoid Christmas no matter who you are, but what could possibly make Christmas a good thing for a Jew?

I’ve been critical of Christmas lately, not so much on theological or historic grounds as on the expectation that is presented by Christmas; the directive that one must be happy and of good cheer because of the holiday. If you read all of Rabbi Blech’s commentary, you know that at one point in the lives of his parents, Christmas in Poland was not such a good thing.

My parents told me many times how much they dreaded the Christmas season.

Living in a little shtetl in Poland, they knew what to expect. The local parish priest would deliver his sermon filled with invectives against the Jews who were pronounced guilty of the crime of deicide, responsible for the brutal crucifixion of their god and therefore richly deserving whatever punishment might be meted out against them.

No surprise then that the Christian time of joy meant just the opposite to the neighboring Jews. The days supposedly meant to be dedicated to “goodwill to all” were far too often filled with pogroms, beatings, and violent anti-Semitic demonstrations.

Rabbi Dr. Dauermann writes on a somewhat overlapping theme, seeing as how the birth of the Jewish Jesus has not been good news for Jews for a very long time.

Besides conceiving of Jesus as Judaism-friendly, there is a second challenge for those Christians who would have their Jewish friends see him as not only good news for the Jews, but also Jewish good news. And that challenge is for fine and aware Christians to reconnect with how the Christ who was born in Bethlehem, died at Calvary, and rose from the dead, remains the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Son of David, the King of the Jews who one day will return to bring to fruition all the promises God made to that chosen nation. The many Christians who deny that this is how the story ends should not be surprised when there is no room for their Jesus in the Jewish inn.

But while Rabbi Dauermann’s apparent goal is to reintroduce Jesus as the Jewish Messiah King to multitudes of Christians, Rabbi Blech sees Christmas presenting a different opportunity for Jews.

To be perfectly honest, Christmas season in America has been responsible for some very positive Jewish results. This is the time when many Jews, by dint of their neighbors’ concern with their religion, are motivated to ask themselves what they know of their own. To begin to wonder why we don’t celebrate Christmas is to take the first step on the road to Jewish self-awareness.

My parents were “reminded” of being Jewish through the force of violence. Our reminders are much more subtle, yet present nonetheless. And when Jews take the trouble to look for the Jewish alternative to Christmas and perhaps for the first time discover the beautiful messages of Chanukah and of Judaism, their forced encounter with the holiday of another faith may end up granting them the holiness of a Jewish holiday of their own.

family-chanukah-mea-shearimChristmas lights and music and decorations may have a wide variety of meaning to you, depending on who you are and what you believe. Very often, the religious aspects of the holiday conflict with the politically correct priorities of the culture around us, and a battle ensues over something as simple as saying “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays.” But what Rabbi Blech points out as good news for Jewish people is actually good news for all of us. Christmas, even if we don’t celebrate it and even if don’t like it, offers us an opportunity, in observing those who do use Christmas as an overt expression of their faith, to take a look at who we are and what we believe. Even an atheist can take this opportunity to re-examine themselves and to either re-affirm their beliefs or reconsider their choices.

For those of us who are people of faith, we can do the same. If you’re a Christian, you can take Rabbi Dauermann’s advice and start viewing the Savior of the world as a Jew with good news for Jewish people. If the Christmas songs say “Born is the King of Israel,” then take the opportunity to look at Jesus as Israel’s King who will restore Israel as a nation above all other nations, and who will rebuild the Temple in Holy Jerusalem for the Jewish people.

If you’re a Jew who is not acquainted with the idea that there are Jews who seriously believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and are disciples of the “Maggid of Nazaret,” you might want to become familiar with some of these Jews, such as the Rabbi who loved Jesus (his identity and family line may surprise you).

If you are among the “Bah! Humbug!” brigade as I sometimes am, no matter how dismal you find the Christmas season, try to put that aside this year and see if watching those who truly do worship the “King of Israel” may, by example, have something to say to you. Take some time to ask yourself who you are, what you believe, and out of that, what you’re doing with your life.

If you don’t like the answer, then it’s time for a change.

Regardless of what you do or do not believe and celebrate about this day, may God grant you His mercy and kindness now and all the days of your life.

2 thoughts on “So This Is Christmas”

  1. Excellent post; You have address an issue that I have never been able to understand. It seems to me that of all people of faith that Christians and Jews should be kindred. Jesus was a Jew; the disciples were Jews; the majority of the church in the first several years were Jewish. The Jews are God’s chosen people; Christians have been grafted into Israel. It is so sad that history is replete with examples as to why Jews should fear Christians. It seems to me, as a follower of Christ, that Jews are like a family member that I earnestly want to hear and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, JD.

    While it is true that originally “the Way” was one of the numerous Jewish sects that existed in the late Second Temple period, over the centuries, Christianity and Judaism split and took divergent trajectories so that now, they have (apparently) little in common. Actually, at the core, we have very important things in common like social justice, caring for the disadvantaged, promoting knowledge of God (although Jews don’t evangelize, they still see their lifestyle as communicating knowledge of ethnical monotheism to the world).

    I live just off to one side of the intersection between Christianity and Judaism, since I’m a Christian married to a Jew. That’s what I write a great deal about. I hope you’ll come along for the journey, or at least visit from time to time.

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