To start out, we should agree that the argument over Christmas trees is not a theological one, for Christians or for Jews. Christianity does not require pre-Christmas tree decoration, a tradition with obscure origins but definitely with no connection to Jesus. Meanwhile, lots of Jews feel icky about Christmas trees, but only the very religious make a theological case against them. They would cite the principle of marit ayin, "in sight of the eye," according to which some things that are technically kosher should still be avoided, so as not to mislead people. (Entering a church, for example, could give the wrong idea. Some rabbis say eating "fake crab" in sushi rolls is impermissible, because it could cause an ignorant observer to think eating crab is OK.) But most Jews don't know from marit ayin.
So our discussion is not about religion, exactly. And indeed I have other reasons for barring Christmas trees from passing o'er the threshold of Oppenheimer Manor. To begin, one of the great things about America is difference, and we Jews are part of that difference. I would even say that we, like other tiny minority groups, have a calling to be different.
This is not immediately apparent to children, who are rightly charmed by all that is amazing about mainstream Christmas culture: carols, baroque and classical music, Miracle on 34th Street, Rudolph, mufflers and sweaters and rosy-cheeked ice-skating wintertime shiksas like Thereal McCoy in Portnoy's Complaint. Menorahs are OK, but it is hard to deny the power of the full, multifaceted Christmas-season experience.
Yet how much blander America would be if the broad, largely secular, and increasingly materialistic Christmas season were everyone's tradition. If Muslims, Jews, the Amish, the Hindus, and all the rest of us sideshow communities just went all Christmas-tree, Americans would be so much more homogeneous—like Sweden, but with less paternity leave.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Christmas Trees and Judaism
In this interesting article in Slate, one Jew writes to another about why she should not succumb to the Christmas tree: