Why l Never Celebrate Christmas and Why I Disagree with Prominent Orthodox Rabbis and their Views of Christianity.
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the declaration issued in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council, which marked a watershed in Jewish-Christian relations. In language unusual for its day, Nostra Aetate stated that “God holds the Jews most dear,” stressed the great “spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews,” and condemned “hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
Well it appears that Christianity has finally forgiven the Jews. They have absolved us from all guilt associated with not accepting Jesus. They have also pardoned us for subjugating ourselves to their will for the past two millennia. They no longer demand we prostrate ourselves and act subservient. They seem sufficiently comforted by our collective history of humiliation. I, however, find it difficult to reciprocate their kindness. I find little comfort in being granted absolution nor can I accept a skewed revision of a history that held my ancestors accountable for wrongdoing.
Rabbi Steven Riskin and other prominent Orthodox Rabbis from the United States and Europe made a public statement affirming that Christianity is “the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations” and urging Jews and Christians to “work together as partners to address the moral challenges of our era.” Furthermore, they expressed that “Jesus brought a double goodness to the world,” the statement reads. “On the one hand he strengthened the Torah of Moses majestically” and on the other hand “he removed idols from the nations,” instilling them “firmly with moral traits.”
After reading the letter from prominent rabbis, I am still trembling. I cannot fathom the perilous state of affairs in the modern rabbinate that would warrant giving credibility to those who caused more death and destruction to the global Jewish community than Hitler and the Third Reich. And then have the Chutzpah to refer to them as “the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.” What divine outcome are they referring to? Was our expulsion from Spain, Portugal, England and numerous other countries a divine outcome? Could it be that those who tormented my ancestors are now referred to with accolades trumpeting them as a gift unto the nations? The same Jesus who in conjunction with removing idols demanded that his followers abandon the Torah and all its values is now placed upon a lofty pedestal? They assume we should ignore and forget that priests (galachim) representing all Christian sects fomented such a vitriolic hatred against Jews that their adherents gleefully pillaged, destroyed and stole billions of dollars of Jewish properties and monies. The radical imam who shouts “death to Israel” is merely a reincarnation of the collared class; both promoted libelous slander that sought to wreak havoc and chaos in Jewish communities. The involuntarily forfeiture, theft or expropriation of Jewish owned properties in the past century was commonplace in Christian Europe and followed the same path as their ancestors. The radical Muslim may be an eternal enemy but at least they are honest about their hatred. In relationship to the brothers of Joseph it states: v’yisnau o’to v’lo yachlu dabro l’shalom – they hated Joseph and couldn’t speak nicely about him. The rabbis deduce that the brothers were at least honest and refused to speak hypocritically. They said what they thought and didn’t hide behind platitudes and conciliatory statements. Yet todays rabbis seem so focused on being recognized as ecumenically- minded that they ignore the ramifications of an alliance that seeks first and foremost to bring the world under the banner of Christianity.
To say that I am shocked that prominent rabbis proclaimed their support for Christianity is an understatement; to make a statement that absolves two millennia of murder, forced conversion and pogroms is morally reprehensible. Perhaps I am misguided, but I find it unconscionable that rabbis are willing to absolve the church for the myriad of sins committed against us. Even more so, I wonder how the hundreds of thousands of Jews brutally murdered during the inquisition and the crusades would feel knowing their executioners were exonerated. Personally, I am unwilling to overlook the millennia of anti-Semitic propaganda perpetrated in the name of Jesus and his followers. I find assurances and declarations meaningless in the light of missionary activity targeting college campuses with large Jewish enrolment. I also cannot turn a blind eye to the myriad of Jews for Jesus churches with large Magen David’s infiltrating predominantly Jewish neighborhoods. Neither can I ignore the plethora of missionary groups that try to embrace Jews from the former Soviet Union with food, shelter and a small pamphlet expounding on why Jews should accept Jesus as their savior. It seems to me that the Christian claims are disingenuous and I ask the rabbis to reconsider if they really have a friend in Jesus.
I continue reading but I am none the wiser. Echoing recent words by Pope Francis, the document states: “We are no longer enemies, but unequivocal partners in articulating the essential moral values for the survival and welfare of humanity.” I would be delighted to hear these words if they paralleled his actions. If only he acted like Stephen Harper, the former Prime Minister of Canada, whose friendship and support of Israel and the Jewish people was palpable. I may have missed it, but did the pope and the Vatican state unequivocally that they support a Jewish homeland? Those who express a deep love and admiration for our mutual commonality should be open to and supportive of the State of Israel as a country for Jews. He has no problem touting the Vatican as a country for Christians. Did I miss the Pope’s proclamation supporting total control of the Temple Mount for only the Jewish people? If anyone knows the Jews’ historical claim to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple it would be him. The church was complicit in its destruction and celebrated in victory the spoils of war. Did the Church ever show remorse or try to make amends by returning all the stolen art, gold and priceless artifacts? Did they ever repay the Jewish community for thousands of synagogues burned to the ground in the name of Jesus? Did the Pope offer to open the catacombs of the Vatican to retrieve and return precious Hebrew books and relics from the Holy Temple? Somehow I am reminded of the words of my Bubby in her accented Yiddish, “Yankele”, she would have said, “with friends like that who needs enemies?”.
In this week’s Torah portion, as Jacob nears death, he demands an oath from his son Joseph, to ensure that posthumously his body will be taken to Israel. Although Pharaoh was still kind, warm and friendly with Jacob and Joseph, they knew better than to place their trust in him. They knew all too well that many who have embraced us with love tend to have chameleon like traits; with the blink of an eye their true colors come to light. So I apologize if I remain resolute and my conviction remains unwavering, but this humble Jew has little interest in celebrating the birth or Circumcision of Jesus. Whoever he personally may have been and whatever he may have done, I can never forget that his name has been used to denigrate, dehumanize and delegitimize my people.
Rabbi Jack Engel