Ask the rabbi

  • Family and Society
  • Attitude Towards Other Nations

Chistmas "Holiday Concerts" + Reason for Chanuka


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Kislev 8, 5775
I play and perform in a community orchestra. They are having a Holiday Concert. Last year it was all Christmas songs, and then, for my benefit, they added a Hanukkah Medley. (I don’t like when the other bass players lean over and say "This piece is for you"). While that’s nice, and I don’t want to be confrontation, I want to educate without alienating the conductor and members. Similarly, I wonder about a holiday concert. They have, with me as the only Jew, labeled it as a "Holiday Concert", however, in their EMAIL they call it The Christmas Flyer.PDF I complained about that. I believe that to be a violation. What are your thoughts? I have no problem helping my Christian musicians and audiences enjoy their holiday season but I don’t want to be part of worshiping. I also try to in a kind way try to educate the people of the orchestra, pointing out that Hanukkah was not a major holiday, that huge gift giving was an American custom. And what is most important is not that the oil burned for 8 days and not that the Macabees had probably the greatest military victory in history. The real meaning of Hanukkah and what we celebrate is unknown to Christians and frankly most Jews. We celebrate that the very appealing intellectual and advanced Greek society was rejected by the Jewish and they remained true to Judaism. Do you agree?
Regarding local questions and their inter-faith or possible anti-semitic ramifications, you’re better off asking a local rabbi. Despite the truth in Alan Dershowitz’s theory that Jews in America need chutzpa to preserve their democratic rights, there are always going to be sensitive issues of being a minority among a gentile majority. That’s one of the reasons I chose to move to Israel, where not only my religion but also my nationality and culture are clearly and un-apologetically Jewish. We celebrate several aspects on Chanuka, one of which, as you said, was our steadfast loyalty to our beliefs, and not to assimilate to be Hellenists. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with choosing and learning the certain aspects of good from each society (not from their religions but from their technology, culture, economy, etc.), including Greek or American, and applying it to the Jewish context. The problem is: how to accept influence without being “overrun” by that other culture, or “assimilating”? The solution of Judah Maccabee was to fight for an independent Jewish State, which is what we commemorate on Chanuka (Rambam, Chanuka 3, 1). In the context of a Jewish State, we need not be so worried about copying the good from others, for the general surrounding, culture and people are Jewish. Contrarily, when Jews come to live in the Jewish State from Russia, the Ukraine, Ethiopia, etc. they leave the ‘negative” aspects of their surroundings behind and positively “assimilate” into eating kosher, resting on Shabbat, and donning mezuzot, circumcision and eternal Jewish values and customs. The ingathering of the exiles into Israel, is to gather the positive "sparks" of light and harmonize them into the eternal Jewish light, without having to apologetically accommodate or offend other religions and people.
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