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Op-Ed: Bid to ban Christmas in Jerusalem is wrong

OP-ED

NEW YORK (JTA) — A group calling itself Lobby for Jewish Values is handing out fliers in Jerusalem condemning Christmas. They are pushing for a ban on all public displays of Christmas trees and other “foolish” Christian symbols, and asking the public to boycott restaurants and other public institutions that show such displays.

I guess it’s really true — the abused grow up to become the abusers.

I appreciate that for nearly 2,000 years Christmas was a very scary time for most Jews living in Christian cultures, and that one response to that pain and fear is to lash out at any expression of the holiday. But the fact that such behavior is understandable does not make it acceptable. An explanation is not an excuse, especially for such a small-minded and mean-spirited response to the desire of decent people to celebrate a holiday sacred to their community.

It’s especially painful and sadly ironic that in the name of Jewish values, Jews would do to others precisely what was done to us for millennia. But I guess the seduction of having that role is why the Torah repeats more than any single teaching that we are obligated to remember we were slaves in Egypt.

And while nobody should think the attitude of Lobby for Jewish Values represents the thinking of most Jews in Israel, until people can make a real Jewish case for allowing the public celebration of multiple traditions in Israel, the majority will be susceptible to being held hostage by such religious totalitarianism. So to that end, I would share a few additional Jewish values that might make the case.

First, according to Genesis, all people are created in the image of God. The Rabbis in the Mishnah said that means we are all equally valuable and unique. In other words, expressions of faith not our own can be both genuinely not ours and truly authentic expressions of faith.

Second, having been commanded by Leviticus to love others as we would love ourselves, and by the sages to refrain from doing to others what is hateful to us, we are obligated to secure the very religious freedom that we were denied.

Third, Jewish tradition does not teach that others must be like us to be present with us. In fact, the gerim mentioned throughout the Hebrew Bible are not converts, as it is often mistranslated, but fellow travelers, i.e., gentiles who shared the life of the ancient Israelite community.

Fourth, we should take the prophet Isaiah at his world when he teaches that God desires that God’s house will be “a house of prayer for all peoples.” If the longed-for Temple will welcome the many discreet peoples, "amim" in Hebrew, who will worship there, it seems that welcoming them to Jerusalem should be a no-brainer.

I could go on, but why bother. The truth is, the Lobby for Jewish Values can footnote its position probably as effectively as I can mine. The real issue is what we want. Did we wait 2,000 years for nothing more than the opportunity to do the same terrible things to others that were done to us?  I just don’t think so.

(Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, the president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism.")
 

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