Daily Alert

24 December 2008

Bah - Enough 'Interfaith' December Dilemma Stories

{this post is dedicated to the thousands of Jewish children (many of whom both you and I know personally), holy and pure Jewish neshamas, who have been placed into the world in the custody of parents who know not what they do and will be tested both this year as in previous years and future years to overcome the environments in which they live. HaShem should have rachmonus on them and put into the hearts of their Jewish parents wisdom and knowledge but mostly the ability to do teshuva}

The first lesson that a Jew really should learn about Chanukah is that the "holiday" exists because Jews were willing to fight for Torah at all costs. That is the revealed understanding of the holiday. At a deeper level, the more important understanding is that Jewish commitment to Torah drew down divine intervention in the war against the Assyrian Greek occupiers and sanctioned the war as holy. HaShem gave the oil miracle to the Jewish people when the Temple was re-dedicated to Jewish rites and thus presented an enduring symbol of Jewish redemption to the world. After having been used by the Helenists for pagan worship, true and authentic Jewish worship returned to Jerusalem.

In America today, Chanukah has become a holiday to celebrate religious freedom. This idea fits very nicely with American culture. Our Jewish ancestors, the Maccabees however did not really care whether or not Taoists could be Taoists. They only cared that the most holy place on earth, the Temple's sanctuary - had been defiled, that the holy Torah was being re-interpreted to fit within a Helenistic framework and the socially popular thing to do was to act like the goyim who were occupying Judea.

In December, it is very common to see articles in print and to see and hear stories in the electronic media with titles such as:

All of these were uncovered merely by searching on Google News "interfaith families". If you do a Google News search on "December Dilemma", the list is too long to reproduce.

Quite honestly, I really would like these stories to go away. Trying to make interfaith couples (which means out of faith thanks to the wonders of the English language) comfortable with the life choices they have made is not really on my agenda. I have no intent while writing this to offend anyone mind you. If you are Jewish and living with or without a legal arrangement to a person of a religious tradition different than your own and feel offended thus far, please choose a different article or blog to read.

Some people are concerned that one religion or another loses out in out of faith relationships. But, its not the religions that lose. Religions are religions - larger entities made up of believers. Its the children who lose. If you try to have everything you end up with nothing. Whether you are "more Jewish" or "more Christian" (whatever that means), it is not possible in a meaningful way to mix holiday observances. The children grow up with a minimal understanding of either religion because in their minds, the religious aspects are merged. To find a universal message consistent with both Jewish and Christian teachings and then make it the focal point of the season is doing justice to neither religious tradition, certainly not to the Torah or yiddishkeit.

Respecting others rights to observe what they want to does not mean assembling a family tradition of selected observances, sort of a 'best of' collection from various cultures or religions. Observance without the underlying meaning is game playing and a symptom of a society of takers - a society which demands acceptance not just the right to do as you please or believe what you wish, but a demand for acceptance -just because. The message is I will make my observance the way I want it to be and it is every bit as legitimate as any other. The one creating the observance will become it's adherent; religious creativity/creating religion. One could easily envision ornaments for idol trees in the shape of a chanukiah and dreidels or sufganiyot served as a dessert option at a big family Christmas dinner, freshly cooked latkes in the morning to accompany present opening before church. How could this empty symbolism be meaningful? After all, every Chanukah symbol has to do with Torah and Judaism overcoming the enemy, an enemy which sought to strip faith in the Giver of the Torah away from the Torah itself.

What was forbidden by the Helenists? To the extent that certain Jewish practices could be removed from the 'religion' such as bris milah, Shabbos, and Rosh Chodesh, Judaism would be allowed to co-exist with the Greek culture - be a working sub-set even. Essentially, the belief that Torah was given by HaShem and that man must be subservient to his Creator (note here the illogical premise that Creator and created could be the same being) was the problem. These rites all testify to the fact that HaShem is in charge, not Greek logic. Greek gods would not equate to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for the heroes of the story.

Now, let's take a look again at how Chanukah and Christmas are being merged. Chanukah, as anyone reading the above undoubtedly understands is about upholding the Jewish way of life even against the odds, even if it means heading for hills as the Maccabees did. That way of life is defined by and interpreted through Torah lenses.

Adding Christian observances and recognition of non-Jewish rites runs 100% contrary to the message of the Maccabees and Chazal. To the extent that Chanukah can be understood solely as a holiday of religious freedom and Christmas about presents, idol trees and fat guys in red suits there is no problem merging the two except that the season is as empty as the red suit without the extra padding. The real Chanukah cannot co-exist with Christmas and still carry with it the light of Torah. Chanukah must be about bringing the light of Torah into the world even to a world which resists its message. The Chanukah lights must carry the message as portrayed in what is now a Chabad classic the Fifth Candle story as having the ability to illuminate even the deepest darkness. Christmas observers may try to make the same claim as to their holiday. But for Jews, as it is attributed to the Rebbe in the Fifth Candle story - 'every Jew is like an only child of G-d'. Torah observance, Judaism cannot be compartmentalized. The Maccabee's war was to rid compartmentalizing from Judea and the Jewish future. A Jew must illuminate the world with the radiance of Torah, not put out its flame. Chanukah and Christmas cannot co-exist in one home. Christmas is for Christians. Chanukah is for Jews.

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