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When Christmas Eve and Shabbat Coincide

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

It’s a quiet night for the Jewish community tonight.  65% of the population in the United States identify as Christian and our neighbors are likely observing traditions that are important and meaningful to them on, perhaps, their holiest night of the year.  “All is calm, all is bright.”

For some of us, especially children, it is easy to feel left out.  It can seem like the whole world is having a party and you are the only one who was not invited.  In fact, it has been suggested that we use that exact analogy with children.  Just as they learn that when they go to a friend’s birthday party, they don’t get to blow out the candles, so, too, we can share our friend’s Christmas celebration while acknowledging that it is not our holiday.

As children grow, it is important that they experience a rich and full Jewish life, and come to understand the real differences between Judaism and Christianity.  Chanukkah is NOT the Jewish Christmas, and I Have a Little Dreidel can’t compete with Silent Night.  If we and our children experience a rich and full Jewish life throughout the year, if we build a sukkah, plant trees and hold a Tu Bishvat seder; if we dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah and end Shabbat with Havdalah; if we dress up on Purim and enjoy challah on Shabbat, then I don’t think we need to be overly concerned with a few weeks of Christmas lights and trees.  In fact, we can enjoy them!

Christmas can be especially challenging for Jews by Choice, one of the hardest things to let go of in joining the Jewish people.  As Randi Skaggs put it, “When people find out I’m a Jew by Choice. . . one of the first questions I get is, ‘Was it hard to give up Christmas?’ The short answer is yes.  Christmas seeps into your soul and is a primary part of every Christian person’s happiest childhood memory log.”[1]  It is good for us to be aware of this so that we can be sensitive to those for whom this season may be difficult and perhaps a little sad.

Christmas, essentially, celebrates the birth of Jesus, a nice Jewish boy who grew up to become a leading rabbi in his generation.  Most Jews accept the historical fact that this individual existed.  We do not, however, accept the Christian belief that he was the son of God in a way that is different from the way that we are all the children of the one God, and all made in the divine image.

Jesus is seen as THE messiah, as the lyrics proclaim, “Glory to the newborn king.”  Again, Jews reject this notion.  Had the messiah come, we would expect to be living in the messianic age, a time of universal peace and well-being.  That is clearly not the case.  Christians address this discord with the notion of a “second coming,” while we as Jews are all working towards tikkun olam, the repair of the world and a time of healing and wholeness.  We tend to emphasize action more so than faith.  From a Jewish perspective, we are judged much more so by our behavior than by our beliefs.

We believe that the righteous of all faiths have a share in the world to come, that you don’t need to be Jewish in order to be saved, as it were.  In fact, we wonder why anyone would want to take on SO many mitzvot and join a people with a history of being oppressed?  AND, we are grateful for and blessed by those who DO make that challenging choice.

You don’t have to be Jewish in order to be a good person.  Identifying with a faith group does not automatically translate into being a mensch, a kind, decent, caring person.  At the time of the Christmas holiday, it is important for us to be aware and appreciative of all the good that our Christian neighbors bring to our community and our world, and to be especially aware of and sensitive to the little bit of hurt that our Jews by choice may be feeling.

Let us all renew our commitment to rejoice in every celebration throughout the Jewish year, and know that it’s okay to enjoy Christmas lights and Christmas music and many beautiful Christian values.

[1] Skaggs, Randi, “How I Learned to Give Up Christmas,” Kveller via JTA

Christmas, Jews By Choice

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