Thursday, December 23, 2010


15 Tevet, 5771
December 22nd,
     Staples, like every other retail outlet in the U.S., is now playing nothing but nonstop Christmas carols in their stores. I’ve long since resigned myself to the corporate connection between “holiday spirit” and buying as much as humanly possible, so I’ve learned to tune these out.*
      But then Neil Diamond starting singing Christmas carols. Not a foofy one either, like “Jingle Bells,” but a real one: “Hark Hear the Angels Sing.” And my ears perked up. For two reasons.
      The first is because of that inimitable warble he’s got (you know what I’m talking about). And the second is because he’s Jewish.  
      How to relate to Christmas in this country will always be a question, for we are a minority. And because interfaith families who are active and full members of our community confront it head on, it is a particularly poignant one.
      The question is a difficult one. I readily confess that I enjoy Christmas. Not retail Christmas, religious Christmas. I was on a peace march that coincided with Christmas in Nazareth, no less. It was beautiful. Hearing Neal Diamond sing about the virgin birth, however, grated against me, which means that I have some internal line drawn in the sand. 
      I have no straightforward answer about how Jews should or should not engage Christmas, especially not for interfaith families. Rather I have a question, which has helped me in a world where identity is so malleable. Our Talmud teaches that one should bless over not only miracles that have happened to our entire people, but also over miracles made for individuals. The question is asked: who should bless over such individual miracles: the person him/herself? That person’s family? That person’s friends?
      The Rashba, a brilliant teacher of the Talmud, teaches that one should bless if one was as a partner in that miracle – if, as a result of that miracle, you are here. So this, I think, is the question as we engage the world around us: is this my miracle? Is this my children’s miracle? If yes, then we have the obligation to bless it, to celebrate it, to let its light shine. If not, then we celebrate the devotion of others, living their own lives of meaning.

Shalom u’Vrakha,
Peace and Blessing,
Rabbi Scott Perlo

*For those interested in the longstanding connection between conspicuous consumption and religion in this country, Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism remains a classic. For a lighter but still profound take, check out Reverend Billy and the Church of Life After Shopping –

1 comment:

  1. Many Jews have been involved in Christmas music. The best selling Christmas album of all time is by Kenneth Bruce Gorelick , better known as Kenny G. Robert Zimmerman put out a Christmas Album recently. He's better known as Bob Dylan. "White Christmas" , "Happy Holiday" and "Easter Parade" (not to mention "God Bless America") were written by cantor's son Israel Isidore Baline, known in America as Irving Berlin.

    We can't tell for wjhat reasons Jewish musicians create Christian music, but I have known of Jewish synagogues that pay christian singers to fill out their High Holy Day choirs, which is far more problematic to me as this is a prayer service.

    I also have no problems with Christians exchanging gifts to remember the gifts of the Magi, but I take offense when I am pressured in the work place to participate in these gift exchanges. I am surprised christians don't hear themselves when they "explain" to me it is not a religious thing - its just giving gifts.