Friday, June 29, 2007

I'm continuing a series of reflections from my reading of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's Jewish Literacy. Some of these reflections, like this one, take us far afield from the topic of the book, but I have found many of his comments and stories to be applicable elsewhere. Case in point today. In the section on "Destruction of the Temple", Rabbi Telushkin notes:

The Temple’s fall, more than any other loss, signaled to the Jews the final failure of the revolt. The Talmud speaks of Jews who went into a permanent state of depression, who “became ascetics, binding themselves neither to eat meat nor to drink wine. Rabbi Joshua got into a conversation with them and said to them: ‘My sons, why do you not eat meat nor drink wine?’ They replied: ‘Shall we eat meat which used to be brought as an offering on the altar, now that the altar is no more? Shall we drink wine which used to be poured as a libation on the altar, but now no longer?’ He said to them: ‘If that is so, we should not eat bread either, because the meal offerings have ceased.’ They said: ‘[That is correct, and] we will manage with fruit.’ ‘We should not eat fruit either, [he said] because there is no longer an offering of firstfruits.’ The ascetics responded that they would manage with other fruits. Rabbi Joshua said, ‘But we should not drink water because there is no longer any ceremony of the water libation.’” To this they had no answer, whereupon the pragmatic Rabbi Joshua advised them: “My sons, come and listen to me. Not to mourn at all is impossible, because the blow has fallen. To mourn overmuch is also impossible, because we do not impose on the community a hardship which the majority cannot endure.”
There are some Christians, Jewish or not, who believe that it is wrong to observe Christmas or Easter because of their alleged pagan origins. I happen to be Jewish, and there is much about Christmas and Easter that is foreign to the Jewish culture. But to observe the birth and the resurrection day of the Messiah can be a wonderful thing. And actually, the pagan connection was likely that the church took over -- co-opted -- the pagan holidays to sanctify them. Nevertheless, some will insist that by virtue of a pagan connection in the first millennium, they are off bounds today.

To that, I offer a variation on Rabbi Joshua's argument:

"We shall not celebrate the Messiah's birth and resurrection because they were transformations of pagan holidays."

"If that is so, we should not call the names of the days as we do (Sunday, Monday, etc.) because they are named after pagan gods and celestial bodies."

"That is correct. We will manage with saying, 'first day,' "second day,' 'third day'" [as is actually done in modern Hebrew].

"We should not say that either, because English was a language that developed among pagans."

To this they had no answer.

From my mouth to God's ears. I'm sure though, that the anti-Christmas folks will have an answer even to that.


Laurie T said...

I am a Christian that sometimes had concerns about the pagan roots of our holidays. I appreciate your wisdom in this area. Thanks.

Beseder said...

Rich, please keep writing. You have much that would be helpful for others to think about that you could say.

You are a blessing!