Tag Archives: Christmas

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?”
Aish.com

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.

Nobody Ought to be Alone on Christmas

aloneThings are different since you’ve been here last, Childhood dreaming is a thing of the past

Maybe you can bring us some hope this year, Visions of sugar plums have disappeared

I’m all grown up but I’m the same you’ll see, I’m writing you this letter ’cause I still believe

Dear Santa, I’ve been good this year, Can’t you stay alittle while, with me right here?

Nobody ought to be alone on Christmas

-from the song All Alone on Christmas (1992)
Written and arranged by Steve Van Zandt
Recorded by Darlene Love with members of
the E Street Band and the Miami Horns

This song is one of my guilty pleasures. I love it. I didn’t particularly like the film Home Alone 2 (1992) in which the song is featured, but it has a killer sax solo. No, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I still like the song.

But I can’t listen to the song this year without tears welling up in my eyes (particularly embarrassing, since I’m at work as I write this). I can’t remember which news story I read it in, but I keep remembering something a reporter wrote about how some children’s Christmas presents will never be opened this year in Newtown, Connecticut because the light of those children’s lives was removed from the world last week. Because someone found it necessary to kill 26 children in Newtown, there will be parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and friends who will feel all alone this Christmas.

Imagine anticipating the “thumping” sound of little feet coming down the stairs before dawn on December 25th to see if Santa had brought the presents and then never hearing that sound. Imagine having wrapped each gift for your little boy or girl with care, decorating the package, and writing something loving and special on the Christmas card…but now there’s no one to rip open the wrapping paper and scatter it all over the living room in glee. As a parent, could you bear to unwrap the new toys and donate them to Toys for Tots? What would you do with them?

What would you do with “Christmas?” As a parent and a grandparent, the deaths of these 26 children tears me apart. In my imagination, I’d pull down the Christmas tree and burn it, rip all of the lights from my home and shatter them, eliminate any trace of this “festive season” from my environment, and perform the modern, moral equivalent of putting on sackcloth and ashes (whatever that might be).

But what if your small missing child has brothers and sisters? What do you say to them? How can you “celebrate” with them, or can you? Do you destroy their Christmas because of your grief? What about their grief? How can you comfort your other little ones and your spouse when pain and anguish crowd out everything else in your heart?

I’m normally pretty neutral about Christmas these days but this year, I hate it. I hate all of the expectations people have for “the season to be jolly.” In retrospect, I probably should always have hated it. Who is happy and cheerful now? Doesn’t every home know death? Don’t thousands of children die all over the world every day? Aren’t their tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of hearts in the world right now who feel alone and empty for so many reasons? This “season” tells you that you must be happy and joyful and festive.

Eat heaping plates of turkey or ham on Christmas this year if you so choose. I’ll be dining on ashes.

No, that’s too cruel.

I don’t celebrate Christmas but maybe you do. Maybe you have many reasons to be happy and grateful (I’m grateful that my family is alive and safe this year). I have no right to take that away from you. I have no right to believe that the victims and mourners in Newtown haven’t come together to comfort and console each other. I have no right to believe that anyone will be alone this Christmas in Newtown, though I know without a single doubt that there will be an emptiness in each of those homes.

Today, we observed a moment of silence for the victims. Also, bells tolled 26 times, once for each child who died. On Christmas, if you celebrate Christmas, I don’t want to take away from your joy, but in the midst of your joy, take a moment, or two, or twenty-six, or twenty-eight.

And remember them.

Charlotte Bacon, age 6, Daniel Barden, age 7, Rachel D’Avino, age 29, Olivia Engel, age 6, Josephine Gay, age 7, Dylan Hockley, age 6, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, age 47, Madeleine Hsu, age 6, Catherine Hubbard, age 6, Chase Kowalski, age 7, Jesse Lewis, age 6, Ana Marquez-Greene, age 6, James Mattioli, age 6, Grace McDonnell, age 7, Anne Marie Murphy, age 52, Emilie Parker, age 6, Jack Pinto, age 6, Noah Pozner, age 6, Caroline Previdi, age 6, Jessica Rekos, age 6, Lauren Rousseau, age 30, Mary Sherlach, age 56, Victoria Soto, age 27, Benjamin Wheeler, age 6, Allison Wyatt, age 6.

You can find out more about each of them at wptv.com.

Not everyone on that list celebrated Christmas but that’s not really the point. The point is that each of them had the right to live. The point is that each of them was someone’s son or daughter and that each one of them was loved. The point is that there are people left behind to grieve and to mourn and to cry. And the point is that, in spite of all the multi-colored lights that sparkle on homes and businesses and trees right now, the little more darkness has entered our world and a little more light has been taken away from each of us.

sandy-hook-victims

And nobody ought to be alone.

Tasting Chicken Soup

chicken-soup-with-matzah-ballsPicture the scene: Dead, feathered birds are lying on the kitchen counter; a bag of flour has spilled onto the floor, along with a orange juice—and so, the two-year-old is having a lovely time creating edible mud pies from the mix. From upstairs, a scream shakes the house—it’s the little one furious at the big one for making her bathtub too hot. Meanwhile, the big one is kvetching at the top of her voice because “there’s nothing for me to wear.” The father of the house is hiding somewhere, in full knowledge that if he shows his head, he’ll be sent out again on another urgent, last-minute errand.

At this point, the doorbell rings. It’s the nudnik guest, delivering his gift bottle of wine in advance, certain that the lady of the house has nothing better to do this afternoon than stand at the door and chat. She is careful to open the door only a slight 20 degrees, wedging herself into the space—first, so that the guest won’t see the state of affairs within; but also to prevent the little one who has just escaped from his hot tub from running out naked into the street.

The guest sniffs the air, and sighs, “Ahhh . . . Shabbos!”

Shabbos? Shabbos is a day of rest! Of peace! Of harmony! This is a total disaster zone!

But the guest smells what is coming. And the inhabitants of this house know as well. They know the dead birds will become a sumptuous chicken soup, the remainder of the flour will become fresh-baked challah, the children will be neatly dressed in their finest clothes, the father will turn up again, and they will all sit together at the table, singing in harmony and telling the stories and words of Torah they learned in school that week.

When you know the story, the scene becomes a different scene. The gadget in your pocket, the news on the tab before this one, the financial chaos and the promises of technological breakthrough, the void of leadership and the medical miracles that keep failing to come—think of those as the dead, feathered birds on the kitchen counter, soon to become a sumptuous chicken soup.

Science has opened our eyes to the awesome harmony of our world. The Kabbalah of the Ari, explained in the language of Chabad, can open anyone’s eyes to the G‑dliness behind that harmony. Shortly, we will sit at the Shabbos table with Moshiach, who will show how the earthly wisdom and the heavenly wisdom complement one another. While we are yearning for that knowledge, what is stopping us from tasting a spoonful of the soup right now?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Last Day of History”
Chabad.org

This is the climax to a rather lengthy and challenging article my wife shared with me the other day. I must admit to having skimmed over much of the content, but this portion is not only straightforward but rather the point of it all. I don’t mean that it’s the point of the article, although I suppose it is, I mean that it’s the point of everything.

For we who have believed enter that rest…

Hebrews 4:3 (ESV)

The writer of Hebrews and Rabbi Freeman seem to be drawing their respective audiences to the same point: that we will one day enter into that final rest with the Messiah. What is especially attractive about Rabbi Freeman’s perspective is that a foretaste of that rest exists right now. Jews experience a small sampling from the “menu” of the Messiah’s table every Shabbat. Some Christians who are attached to the traditional Jewish community, Messianic Judaism, or Hebrew Roots, also have the opportunity to experience that “rest” and sample from the “menu” to varying degrees.

As far as I can tell, most Christians don’t.

Shabbat-Made-Easy-paintingI think that “Christ’s rest” is something that is more conceptual within Christianity. Most Christians anticipate being “raptured” and going up to Heaven of course, but there’s no idea that you can get a preview of the event before the event, at least not very frequently. There’s no manner of experiencing such an event in the material world because the “Messiah’s rest” is thought to be wholly spiritual.

More’s the pity.

I miss even the tiniest sliver of Shabbos observance in which my family used to participate. Hopefully, by God’s mercy, my wife will desire to observe the Shabbat again as her life calms down, and our home will be illuminated and warmed by the Shabbos candles once more.

I’m sure what I’m saying seems totally alien to most Christians. How can we experience the return of Jesus Christ before he returns? It must seem ridiculous.

But think about it.

In the U.S., we’ve recently celebrated Thanksgiving and most Christians are anticipating Christmas in just a few weeks. One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the aroma of delicious foods in the kitchen. I traditionally barbecue the turkey in a Weber on the back patio, so in tending to it, I get to enjoy the smells of the slowly roasting bird as the smoke curls into the air. These smells all by themselves are highly pleasurable and also herald the grand feast that is to come.

And that is Shabbat. We know the feast will come but we also have a role in preparing for the feast. How many “feast” metaphors did Jesus use to describe the preparations for his own return and King and Bridegroom? Here’s just one of them.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:1-14 (ESV)

There’s preparation. There’s work to be done. There’s waiting. And then finally, sometimes unexpectedly, the Prince arrives and the feast begins.

But in cooking a meal, how many chefs manage to taste a bit here and a bit there, making sure the seasoning is just right, adding a spice or an herb to enhance the flavor?

I suppose that’s what Christmas is to most Christians…celebrating the birth of Jesus and his first entry into the world in anticipation of the second. That’s probably why Easter is also observed with such zeal (and a meal), to rejoice over the risen Jesus and to pray that he returns soon.

But while Judaism also has its great festivals, they also have Shabbos, the weekly reminder. Going to church on Sunday just doesn’t compare.

challahFor a Jew, six days of the week are spent in pursuit of the mundane, taking care of business, and sometimes letting life take over or overwhelm. Shabbos is bringing order to chaos and peace to turmoil. Even the preparations for Shabbos can seem maddening, much like life itself, but the result is wonderful, much like Messiah’s coming.

In God’s wisdom, He gave the Shabbat to the Jewish people as a sign of His covenant with them. Alas, it did not transfer to we Christians when we were brought into the fold. But sometimes you need rest and refreshment in order to summon courage for what is to come and to lay down the burden of what’s already happened. I don’t observe Shabbat these days, but I hope I will again. You may not observe Shabbat either, but it’s something you can access if you choose.

Messiah may come today, tomorrow, next year, or a thousand years hence. But Shabbos comes every week. Why wait? The Challah is rising in the oven and pots are steaming and bubbling on the stove. Have a taste of chicken soup now. It’s delicious.

The Tzedakah Life

tzedakah-to-lifeThe Code of Jewish Law (YD 248) states: “Every person is obligated to give tzedakah, even the poor who themselves are recipients thereof.” Maimonides writes that nobody ever became poor from giving tzedakah. In fact, the Talmud (Ta’anit 9a) states that when you give Ma’aser properly, it actually earns you additional wealth. “Which Charities to Give to?”

-From the Ask the Rabbi series
Aish.com

The Tzemach Tzedek writes: The love expressed in “Beside You I wish for nothing,” (Tehillim 73:25) means that one should desire nothing other than G-d, not even “Heaven” or “earth” i.e. Higher Gan Eden and Lower Gan Eden, for these were created with a mere yud…. The love is to be directed to Him alone, to His very Being and Essence. This was actually expressed by my master and teacher (the Alter Rebbe) when he was in a state of d’veikut and he exclaimed as follows: I want nothing at all! I don’t want Your gan eden, I don’t want Your olam haba… I want nothing but You alone.

“Today’s Day” Wednesday, Kislev 18, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

In yesterday’s morning meditation I mentioned that Christian financial adviser James W. Rickard was a special guest speaker last Sunday at the church I attend. As I was listening to what he was saying (the vast majority of which I was quite familiar with), I couldn’t help but think of how “Jewish” it sounded. For instance, he talked about being content with what one has and quoted New Testament scripture to back it up (I don’t have my notes handy, so I can’t tell you the exact verses). And yet, how much does that echo the sages?

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated: “If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you” ; “fortunate are you” in this world, “and good is to you”—in the World to Come. -Pirkei Avot 4:1

Of course, Rickard’s “source material” is all Jewish (though he probably doesn’t think of it in those terms) so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that his financial advice and comments on charity should sound Jewish as well. For instance, he also said that the Bible does support God providing for us when we give to charity, but unlike those folks who preach a prosperity theology, he didn’t say that God would automatically return material goods and money to us in exchange for our generous giving to the church. He said that God could provide many spiritual gifts such as the ability to show abundant grace, mercy, compassion, courage, and so forth. In fact, Rickard didn’t have many nice things to say about some “Preachers” who urge their audiences to send in their “seed money” with the promise that those folks who do will become wealthy materially. In that scenario, usually the only one to become rich is the Preacher collecting the money.

But you can see that giving is a value that is shared by both Jews and Christians and that even those people who have very little can still provide something to those who have even less. It’s so hard to even think about giving when we’re in the middle of tough financial times. It seems this “recession” or whatever it is, has lasted longer than other, similar recessions of the past 20 or 30 or 40 years or so. When times are tough, the natural tendency is to reduce spending and to try to save up. kindnessOK, Americans are addicted to credit card debt, but imagine instead of being able to use a credit card, you have to hand over cold, hard cash. Now, you’ll see the reluctance to part with money that is “real” and not just a bunch of digital information traveling over a network. If all you had was cash, you’d want to save.

The simple reason I believe all people should give charity is that we are put here to serve God. Even an atheist may serve God unknowingly by giving to charity or providing some kindness to the poor and disadvantaged. If we wait for someone else to do it or for God to provide some sort of miracle to help the needy, we may miss out on the fact that God created you and me to be “the miracle.”

Lead a supernatural life and G‑d will provide the miracles. -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman “Be a Miracle” Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org

What is a supernatural life? Perhaps one composed not only of “practical” or “common sense” but one that also utilizes faith and trust in God as its tools. It’s expecting God to be more faithful to us than we are to Him, and if we’re faithful, even within the bounds of human limitation, He is certain to be abundantly faithful. This doesn’t mean spending ourselves into debt, even for the sake of charity, but it does mean trusting that investing in another human being is not a waste of resources, nor will it cause us to suffer loss. No, you can’t give five bucks to every panhandler you encounter, nor can you write five dollar cheques to each and every charity that mails or emails you a request, but you can find a particular need and choose to satisfy it.

Many people will spend themselves into debt to satisfy the “requirement” of Christmas, with all of its gift giving, social obligations, and so forth. If instead, you took a sizeable sum of the money you would otherwise spend on gifts that people probably don’t need (still gift them if you must, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant) and bought food for the local food bank, purchased and donated clothing and blankets to a homeless shelter, or donated funds to a worthy cause in the name of a loved one, how much more would your giving really mean?

acts-of-kindnessIf you are a person of faith and trust, then God will allow you to do what He considers good, but have a care. If you’re giving in order to cause God to give back to you, then your motives are shot through with holes. True, the needy will still be provided for, but you may be cheating yourself out of drawing nearer to God if what you want from Him is dollars and cents. If December seems too much like the stereotypic month to give for the sake of the Christian holiday, there’s no law that says you can’t give in January or in some other month. People get hungry and need shelter every day of the week, fifty-two weeks out of the year. And God is always there.

To a fool, that which cannot be explained cannot exist. The wise man knows that existence itself cannot be explained. -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman “The Inexplicable” Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org

28 Days: Trying to Get Used to Church

mfbc

Boy, you miss one day of church and you certainly hear about it.

I say that tongue-in-cheek, but I was surprised to find that people actually noticed I wasn’t in church last week. It caught me a bit off guard.

Today (as I write this), we had a guest speaker who delivered the “sermon,” the combined adult Sunday school class teaching and, if I’d have stayed, more teaching during and after a pot luck lunch (I knew nothing about this which is what I get for missing a week of church): James W. Rickard. I guess he does the taxes for a lot of the Pastors across the Northwest. Since my wife is so good managing finances, nothing he said came as a huge shock (credit card debt is bad) but I stayed for the “Sunday school” portion of his talk, just to see what he’d say.

This meant that Pastor didn’t give his sermon on Acts this week and of course, we didn’t meet in Charlie’s class to discuss Pastor’s sermon. And I had my brand new, ESV Study Bible with me and everything (because the battery in my Kindle Fire went toes up…replacement Kindle Fire will be shipped out soon).

Doug, the Music Director, who is over-the-top cheery and expressive at 9:30 in the morning, pointed out that the Christmas decorations are up in the church (I honestly hadn’t noticed until that moment) and one of the hymns he lead us in this morning (again, as I write this) was “Joy to the World.” Yes, I sang my first Christmas Carole in many, many years in church this morning. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Still, I haven’t gotten to the point where I have to tell anyone at church that I don’t celebrate Christmas, so we’ll see how that goes.

I don’t really have a focus for today’s “morning meditation” slash “report on church.” I was just thinking though that it didn’t feel quite so strange this time. Almost exactly in between the end of service and the beginning of Jim Rickard’s class, my wife phoned me. She thought I was home and wanted me to look at the shopping list she’d left behind. I mentioned that I was in church (and listening to my voice say that out loud was an interesting experience). She quickly apologized and told me to have fun.

Did I have fun?

Not exactly.

I did sign up to participate in the church’s “challenge” to read the Bible through in one year or less (not like I haven’t done that before). That’s actually not much of a chore since I read the traditional Torah and haftarah readings each week, plus the traditional Psalm, a portion of the Gospel, and several of the Proverbs each Shabbat. I’ll just add a little more each day.

Why am I telling you all this and why should you care?

Consider this.

I bought a brand new Bible. I signed up for a church “activity.” People at church noticed that I had been absent last week. I can feel myself becoming more committed, bit by bit to going to this church. So far, my offerings when they pass around the plate (it still blows my mind that giving money is actually part of the religious service) have been cash, but I guess I should start making more formal arrangements if I’m going to continue attending. Am I starting to get used to the “church culture?”

Well, maybe a little bit. I’m choosing to redefine Christmas as a cultural event and a church tradition to make it easier to absorb when I attend services this month (though now that I think about it, I’m surprised Rickard didn’t mention Christmas and credit card debt in his teachings this morning…they seem like a natural fit).

kosher-foodsBut I still can’t get away from how much more integrated Judaism is (or can be) in terms of a relationship with God, as the Aish Ask the Rabbi column testifies in answering the question, “Why Keep Kosher?”

It is good that you are grappling with this and trying to acquire your Judaism as your own.

The ultimate answer to your question is “because God said so.” Beyond this, however, there are practical, observable benefits to keeping kosher today:

1) Spirituality: The Torah teaches that non-kosher food has a negative effect on a Jewish soul. The soul is like an antenna that picks up waves of spiritual energy. Eating non-kosher food damages the capacity of the soul to “connect spiritually.”

2) Self Growth: If you can be disciplined in what and when you eat, it follows that you can be disciplined in other areas of life as well. Kashrut requires that one must wait between milk and meat, and we may not eat certain animals or combinations of foods. (Even when you’re hungry!) All of this instills self-discipline, and enables us to elevate our spiritual side, by making conscious choices over animal urges.

3) Health Reasons: With its extra supervision, kosher food is perceived as being healthier and cleaner. After slaughter, animals are checked for abscesses in their lungs or other health problems. Blood – a medium for the growth of bacteria – is drained. Shellfish, mollusks, lobsters and crabs have spread typhoid and are a source for urticara (a neurotic skin affliction). Milk and meat digest at an unequal rate and are difficult for the body. And of course, pigs can carry trichinosis.

4) Moral Lessons: We are taught not to be cruel – even to animals. A mother and her young are forbidden to be slaughtered on the same day, and we “don’t boil a kid (goat) in its mother’s milk.” We must not remove the limb of an animal while it is still alive (a common practice, prior to refrigeration). When we slaughter an animal, it must be done with the least possible pain. And we are reminded not to be vicious, by the prohibition to eat vicious birds of prey.

5) Tradition: One of the keys to making a Jewish home “Jewish” is the observance of keeping kosher. When we keep kosher in the home, our attachment to Judaism and the sacrifices that we make become ingrained on our children’s minds forever. And with food so often the focus of social events, keeping kosher provides a built-in hedge against assimilation. For many, the bridge between past and future is the spiritual aroma of a kosher kitchen.

Ultimately, we cannot fathom the full depth of “Why keep kosher.” For as the saying goes, there is more to keeping kosher than meets the palate…

christian-coffee-cultureHere you have the Rabbi responding to a query delivered by a young Jewish fellow who had just left home and was struggling with how or if to create a Jewish home for himself. For Jews, being Jewish isn’t just something you do on one day a week, it’s what defines you in every aspect of your life, including eating. Technically, being Christian should also define you in every aspect of your life, but because being a Christian is a religious identity and does not also define a nation, a people group, and arguably, an ethnicity (that last one is complicated), it’s easier to compartmentalize the Christian part of a person’s life from everything else.

Actually, it was Rickard who said that Christians must not compartmentalize their (our) lives but that we must be Christians in every aspect of what we say, do, and think. Of course, Rickard was raised in a Christian home, “confessed Christ” when he was eight years old (I can only assume he reaffirmed his commitment as he got older and understood the adult ramifications of a Christian faith and life), was married as a Christian, established a Christian marriage, raised Christian children, and has Christian grandchildren. Sure, his focus in teaching was being Christian in terms of managing finances, but that covers a great deal of just plain living.

Although not nearly as formally defined as it is in Judaism, Protestantism does have its cultural and traditional aspects (and as I mentioned before, Christmas is a major cultural tradition in the church) and since I’m trying to make this commitment, I suppose I’d better “hunker down” and get comfortable (or as comfortable as I can be) with the idea.

However, I don’t think I’ll ever get comfortable with calling a voluntary financial gift to the Pastoral staff a “love offering.”

Yeah, I’m rambling. I guess as with everything else, the story is to be continued.

Mourning on Black Friday

Yesterday in the U.S., we celebrated a day when we are supposed to be reminded of all of our blessings and to give thanks. For most of us, that meant conspicuous consumption of a lot of high calorie foods and if we’re fortunate, spending time in the company of friends and family we truly love, as opposed to those people we only tolerate an association with because we’re related. Today is called “Black Friday” and it is supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year. It’s called “Black Friday” because it’s the day of the fiscal year for retail outlets that they will sell enough goods and services to put their fiancial books “in the black…” to become profitable. It’s the day untold millions of Americians will spend themselves into mindless debt buying goods that most people don’t really need for people they may not even like. This is all because in a month from now, we’re supposed to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace and Savior of the world.

But as the image above is supposed to remind us, what do we truly need and who is truly in need? For me, today is “Black Friday” because I mourn the loss of sanity, generosity, and compassion, all of which has been replaced by bald greed, consumerism, and the drive to be constantly pursue mind-numbing entertainment in a complete narcissistic orgy of self-obsession.

Good Shabbos and “happy shopping.”