Thursday, December 17, 2009

Banning Christmas in Jerusalem

A group calling itself "Lobby for Jewish Values" is handing out fliers condemning Christmas, pushing for a ban on all public displays of Christmas trees and other "foolish" Christian symbols and asking the public to boycott restaurants and other public institutions which do so. I guess it's really true - the abused often grow up to become the abusers.

I completely appreciate that for almost two thousand years, Christmas was a very scary time for most Jews living in Christian cultures. I even appreciate that one response to that pain and fear is to lash out at any expression of the holiday. But the fact that such behavior is understandable does not make it acceptable. An explanation is not an excuse, especially for such a small-minded and mean-spirited response to the desire of decent people to celebrate a holiday sacred to their community and much of the world.

It's especially painful and sadly ironic that in the name of Jewish values, Jews would do to others precisely what was done to us for millennia. But I guess the seduction of getting to be in that role is why the Torah repeats the teaching that we are obligated to remember that we were slaves in Egypt, more than other single teaching.

And while nobody should think that attitude of this "Lobby for Jewish Values" represents the thinking of most Jews in Israel, until people can make a real Jewish case for allowing the public celebration of multiple traditions in Israel, the majority will be susceptible to being held hostage by such religious totalitarianism. So to that end, I would share a few additional Jewish values which might make that case.

First, all people are created, according to Genesis, in the image of God. According the Rabbis in the Mishnah, that means that we are all equally valuable and unique. In other words, expressions of faith not our own, can be both genuinely not ours, and truly authentic expressions of faith.

Second, having been commanded by Leviticus to love others as we would love ourselves, and by the sages to refrain from doing to others what is hateful to us, we are obligated to secure the very religious freedom which we were denied.

Third, Jewish tradition does not teach that others must be like us to be present with us. In fact, the gerim mentioned throughout the Hebrew Bible are not, as often mistranslated, converts, but fellow travelers i.e. gentiles who shared the life of the ancient Israelite community.

Fourth, we should take the prophet Isaiah at his world when he teaches that god desires that God's house will be "a house of prayer for all peoples". If the longed-for Temple will welcome the many discreet peoples, amim in Hebrew, who will worship there, it seems that welcoming them to Jerusalem should be a no-brainer.

I could go on, but why bother? The truth is the "Lobby for Jewish Values" can also footnote its position, probably as effectively as I can mine. The real issue is what we want. Did we wait two thousand years for nothing more than the opportunity to do the same terrible things to others that were done to us? I just don't think so.

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