Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Jews don’t celebrate Christmas, but it feels like everyone else does. And this “December Dilemma” forces us, as Jews living in a Christian country, to confront some difficult questions.
This article is not long – you should have a look. It is filled with interesting things. I am going to quote some of these and comment.
“I can remember my own children at a young age asking me, in their own words, ‘why did the Jews reject Christianity?’”
The rabbi’s only answer to this intriguing question is that, while at one time “many rabbinic thinkers considered the Christian Trinity to be idol worship” during the middle ages Jewish teachers “eventually accepted Christianity as a monotheistic religion.”
I wish the rabbi had said more about this. Jesus was, after all, Jewish. I think that, in the end, the answer why the Jews rejected Christianity is that they rejected Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God. But the children’s question is a bit loaded. Not all of “the Jews” rejected Christianity, just some. The gospels make this very clear. I’m very thankful that some of the Jews – for example, the Apostles – did NOT reject Christianity.
“December Dilemma is not just about theology. Jews at Christmas feel like an uninvited guest at a party, the man stuck outside in the cold pressing his face against the window.”
In fact, rabbi, you are very much invited to Christmas in its very best sense. We would all love for you to come into the Christ house. It’s what He wanted and wants. You are “stuck” outside only in the sense that you refuse to come in. Are you just a bit embarrassed to admit that you have been invited to this party for many years, but have always refused to show up? If you decide to come in, you are most welcome. Feel free to bring Hanukkah with you, if you wish. It sounds like fun.
“This is what Christmas can teach us about being Jewish. During the holiday season, Jews can dedicate themselves to helping others . . .”
In the end, it is amazing how much this sounds like what a lot of Christian preachers say. Does it seem like no one is listening to you? Then go do some good deeds.
Good deeds are, by definition, good. But they will never solve what are basically theological issues. Good deeds are to be done precisely because theological issues have been settled.
“How will Jews maintain their identity in the face of a seductive and embracing culture? Ironically, a religious tradition that has heroically triumphed over persecution and oppression is finding it ever more difficult to overcome acceptance and tolerance.”
Is it not intriguing that the rabbi sees our culture as “seducing” Jews with Christianity? Is he really talking about our culture?!?
After my initial shock at that idea, on further reflection I will admit that he could have a point. Yes, our culture and its version of Christmas the cultural holiday is diluted by many to the point of being barely Christian at all. But it is also the case that the culture in which we live bears the after-shocks, faint as they have perhaps now become, of that earth-quaking event that was the birth of Jesus the Christ. I suppose one could be influenced by such an event and its consequences, no matter how distant they have become.