A thoughtful post on the Coffee Shop Rabbi blog about Jews and Christmas trees moved me to respond today. As I commented there, regular readers know that I put up a tree every year, for the past three years a Jewish-themed tree I term my Eitz Mo’ed.
Before I was Jewish, Christmas was secular for me, as it is for many. I have often found the idea of a secular Christmas hard for fellow Jews to understand, but just as Christians don’t get to define how Jews experience Jewish holidays, we don’t get to define the variety of ways Christmas can be experienced. Having “lived in both worlds”, so to speak, I know personally the experience of a Christmas that has absolutely nothing to do with religious concepts.
More importantly, though, I really don’t think Christmas trees are the issue when fellow Jews push back–sometimes virulently–about Christmas. If putting up a Christmas tree might somehow make a Jewish person or their children Christian, the problem has nothing to do with the tree. If you’re comfortable with your Jewish identity, whether you put up a tree, observe Judaism from a traditional standpoint, or live a completely secular life does not matter. You’re a Jew no matter what and you don’t question that fact. You certainly aren’t afraid of suddenly changing your own mind about that. And you know it does not matter at all how others Jews think you should be living your life.
And if you’re a Jew who somehow feels an inkling of being religiously moved by putting up a Christmas tree–that’s wonderful, too. Because the point is our relationship with Deity, not the path that that relationship takes. If you’re a Jew being tapped by Hashem on the shoulder about a deepened relationship with Deity down a different path, Judaism will always consider you a member of the family, but it is your right–and I believe your obligation–to follow the still, small voice where it leads you. I would rather share a holiday with a righteous ger than with a lukewarm Jew.
That’s me, too–in reverse, during my conversion process from gentile to Jew. A process during which several Christian friends expressed shock that I would consider living a life based around Jewish rituals equal to the shock so many fellow Jews express about Christmas trees in December.
Isn’t it amazing how we can all feel so right shouting at each other from the sidelines and yet come out so wrong?
It’s all ridiculous. Sometimes I think my fellow Jews who complain the loudest about Christmas are the ones who are terrified that they aren’t authentic enough Jews in and of themselves. That’s sad, because Jewish authenticity comes from being a Jew. Nothing less and nothing more. Someone will always be more or less observant. But observance isn’t what makes you a Jew.
Mind you, there is an official checklist to see if you’re “Jewish enough”. It only has one question:
1. Are you Jewish? (check one)
That’s it. And if your answer is “Yes”, then any decisions you make about holidays or observance or anything else are valid–for you as individual Jew, because you’re a Jew.
We make it so hard when it doesn’t need to be. Your relationship with Deity is a game. You’re a dot and God’s a dot. Connect those dots as you are so moved. If the resulting picture doesn’t make sense, erase and connect again. The miracle is that you’ll never run out of dots, and you’ll always have the chance to connect better and more deeply.
Best of all, you and only you have the right to connect your own dots. Born a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or beyond, or convert to or from, it’s your spiritual game board. The lines between those dots are for you to fill in. If anyone else draws a line for you, relax and remember one important thing…
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.