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December 20, 1985 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-12-20

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Art By Giora (farm

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS Friday, December 20, 1985

'Why Can't WE Have
A Christmas Tree?'

Which means,
"why can't we
be like everybody else?"

Special to The Jewish News

For Jews, Christmas time is not
quite the season to be jolly. Not that
they begrudge their non-Jewish
friends the joys of Christmas — but
that they feel themselves closed in,
pressured by carols and presents and
trees associated with christological
meaning. For those Jews, Christmas
brings on a form of claustrophobia —
"Santa Claustrophobia."
And always there is the ap-
prehension that the child may ask,
"Why can't we have a Christmas
tree?" What, after all, is there in
Jewish theology that stands in such
obdurate opposition to a pine tree, a
sprig of holly, a green wreath and
red berries? Have we lost our
aesthetic sensibilities?
Some parents avoid the issue on
allegedly ecological grounds. They
are, they claim, opposed to cutting
the evergreen from its roots. It is, of
course, an evasive device. Would
they consider an artificial tree in
their home at this season? Others
capitulate to the child's request by
dismissing the whole Chanukah-
Christmas debate as too trivial to

Columnist Schulweis is the rabbi of
Valley Beth Shalom in Encino,

stand on ceremonies. Scholars say
that the Christmas rituals are rooted
in paganism. Should paganism be
more acceptable in a Jewish home
than Christmas? Still, they insist
that the Puritans of New England
railed against Christmas trees and
tinsel and we Jews aren't Puritans.
Must we act like Scrooge? Let the
child have his tree.
Other pacifying parents invent
syncretistic compromises. Parental
figures dress up as Uncle Mordecai,
mask their faces with Chasidic be-
ards, don a blue suit, carry a bag
full of toys wrapped with menorah-
figured paper, and place them
around the Chanukah bush which is
brightly lit with blue and white
blinking lights (the colors are au-
thentically Jewish) — announce
cheerfully — Ho, ho, ho; Happy
Chanukah! Christmas is but one
night; Chanukah lasts for eight. So
on each night the child is plied with
gifts. With eight to one odds, the
fidelity of the Jewish child to
Chanukah is a sure thing.
But the child's question is not so
simple, nor is it simply the question
of the child. "Why can't we have a
Christmas tree?" means, "Why can't
we be like everybody else? Why can't


we be like the majority? Why can't
we be Christians?" And if the an-
swer is because Jews don't accept
Jesus as God or the son of God or as
the God-man Messiah who has come
— the further question is, "Why
The question in effect is not
ecological or aesthetic, but theologi-
cal. It deserves a more serious, age-
appropriate response. It affords an
opportunity to engage the family in
some religious reflection. To begin
with, notice that the question is
asked in such a way that the Jewish
response appears negative and anac-
hronistic, e.g., "Why don't we . . .
why can't we?" They must be given
to understand that Judaism preceded
Christianity and it is through in its
affirmation, not its negations, so
that its belief system may be under-
stood. It is not Jesus or Christmas
that is singled out for non-
From its outset, Judaism affirms
that every human being is created in
the image of God. This biblical
understanding sounds the major
chord running throughout Jewish
belief. Every human being is gifted
with an inviolable dignity, an ability
to think, feel, believe, pray, to ap-

proach God by himself or herself.
God is no more accessible to anyone
than He is to the self in its integrity.
The human being can imitate God,
can become like God; but no human
being who has walked the face of the
earth is God. This belief is not di-
rected against Jesus. Neither Ab-
raham nor Isaac nor Jacob, nor
Moses nor Aaron nor David is infal-
lible, immortal, perfect or divine.
The Bible goes out of its way to ex-
pose the clay feet of its greatest
heroes. David, the king, psalmist
from whose loins the messianic fig-
ure is said to emerge, is revealed to
be an accomplice to the murder of
Uriah, and an adulterer. It is
Nathan, the prophet, who extends
his accusatory finger towards the
king declaring, "Thou art the man."
As the Book of Ecclesiastes states
forthrightly: "There is no righteous
human being who has done good and
has not transgressed."
From a Jewish perspective, the
freedom of the human being is com-
promised once another human is re-
garded as God or as possessing the
exclusive passage to God. No rabbi,
priest or imam can make that claim.
Consider the Jewish holidays, all an-

Continued on Page 28


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