Merry Christmas! I’m a rabbi, and although I don’t personally accept Jesus as my Savior (though I absolutely believe he is the pathway to God for my Christian and Catholic friends), please don’t insult me by wishing me “Happy Holidays." This is a celebration of the birth of the Messiah for my friends who are not Jewish, and it is insulting, especially in these times when there is such a war on religion, to degrade such an important day by watering it down and saying "Happy Holidays."
Professor Zev Garber has written a number of books about the “Jewish Jesus,” and whether you accept Jesus as God, a prophet, or just an enlightened human being, there are a few things that are incontrovertible. He was born into a Jewish body, and lived and died as a Jew. He was a rabbi, healer, and teacher in his physical form. And he spent the last years of his physical life exposing the corruption of a government and “religious” leaders, many of whom had abandoned their principles of faith in favor of obtaining political power. In a time not that different than today, when “religious” leaders are championing causes that are antithetical to their faith such as abortion, gender confusion, immorality, and greed, Jesus reminded the establishment of his time of how far they had strayed. God or not, we could certainly use him and his teachings today more than ever before in the last 2000 years.
There is an antisemitic trope often repeated that Jesus is castigated in the Talmud. This is a point-blank fallacy. The name Yeshu is repeatedly used about different people at different times in the Talmud, but in reference to someone either 130 years before the birth of Jesus, or a century after his death. The only references about a character named Yeshu during the time of Jesus’ life are discussions about a teacher of the Torah, and refer to someone learning scripture from him (Avodah Zara 17a).
So let’s stop repeating a trope created by antisemites. Judaism does discuss Peter, the first bishop/pope of Rome, whose Hebrew name was Shimon Kipa. But Shimon/Peter is regarded with respect and even gratitude for what he did, and is called a “tzaddik” in certain texts, meaning "righteous man."
Besides, why would anyone, Jewish or not, be adverse to celebrating a holiday that is devoted to the best qualities of mankind: peace, joy, charity, kindness, et al.? Even for someone who doesn’t accept the theology of Christianity, the holiday of Christmas is magnificent and beautiful. The celebration, lights, community gatherings, and positive attitudes that arise during this season are spectacular, and I wish that these attitudes were practiced by everyone all year long. And let’s not forget about the amazing music. I love Hanukkah, but there is no Hanukkah song that can compare to "Silent Night" or "Little Drummer Boy" (especially the Bing Crosby/David Bowie version).
Although I am not a Christian scholar, I suspect that Jesus would be deeply disappointed about the corruption in government and religion today. Although a pacifist, the Gospels have him talking about future wars where Jerusalem would be besieged. Is this what we are dealing with in regard to the evil depravities perpetuated by Hamas? I tend to think that although a pacifist, Jesus also was a warrior against evil, at least demonstrated by his reaction to the corruption he perceived in the Temple.
So what’s not to celebrate? The birth of a spiritual warrior who made the world a better place, preached authentic Jewish values, and has opened the hearts and souls of millions of people for 2000 years. Christmas is a beautiful and important holiday, and should not be bundled in a “happy holiday” package as if it is equivalent to Halloween or Groundhog Day.
At its simplest level, Christmas is about celebrating God. Is there anything greater than that?
So, Happy Birthday, Jesus, and Merry Christmas to the world! May all people remember your teachings about peace and compassion, and may the world become better as a result. May people gloriously display their Christmas trees in the public arena, may we all strive to make the world a place where the lamb and lion can safely lie next to each other, and where we all really do try to embody love and peace.
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