December 8th, 2009 10:50 EST
Towards a More Jewish Christmas
I want to thank, wholeheartedly, HMRD Cesidio Tallini for his "Comment on Article by Geoff Dean, Christmas: A Jewish Holiday?" It`s always nice to know that someone has read your work and his articulate and well-thought out response gave me some delicious food for thought. I would like to respond to some of his points.
Mr. Tallini sums up his hypothesis by saying that "Jesus was a Jew, but there were also sides of Jesus that were not Jewish at all." He lists a number of reasons for this view, starting with the praise of a Roman`s faith. Jews hated Romans and still do, said Tallini (my Italian rabbi might diagree by the way). And yet, the Jewish elders recommended Jesus to help this particular Roman because he had built them a synagogue (Luke 7:5) So Jesus praising and helping the man was totally in line with the thinking of the Jewish leadership.
Furthermore, the Roman said he was unworthy to have Jesus set foot in his house. This was because the Roman was a Gentile and Jesus was a Jew. While Jesus praised the man`s faith, he did not reject the premise that Jesus should not enter his house. After all, Jesus was an observent Jew.
Next, Mr. Tallini pointed out that Jesus did not "come down" on the Samaritan woman of John 4, even for her beliefs. I agree completely that Jesus did not come down on her but he did reject the Samaritans heretical worship on Mt. Gerazim instead of in Jerusalem (4:20) and said that "salvation is of the Jews." (4:22) This is a very Orthodox Jewish position, to this day.
As for meeting a Samaritan, and dining with tax collectors, prostitutes, and the like, which Mr. Tallini sees as decidely un-Jewish behavior, Jesus defended his behavior by pointing out that Elijah was sent to a widow in Zarepath (a Gentile) and Elisha to heal Naaman the Syrian (another Gentile).(Luke 4:26-28) In other words, meeting Gentiles, healing outcasts, rescuing sinners, etc. was part and parcel of Old Testament Jewish practice. said Jesus. Many disagreed and violently, but Jesus claimed to be acting as Jews always had.
"Jesus didn`t believe women should be put to death for commiting adultery," continues Rev. Tallini. Really? He said that "he who is without sin should cast the first stone", not "stones should never be cast." He pointed out the inconsistency of the application of Mosaic law to be sure but did not reject it. His approach to the Sabbath and ceremonial hand washing were similar. He rejected gross abuse of the practices and called for reform but as a Jew, a progressive Jew to be sure, but a Jew, nonetheless.
He sounded like the "World`s First Feminist...inside the Bible". I am afraid I must disagree again. Judaism is not the misogynistic religion that Rev. Tallini suggests. In the Old Testament, Israel was judged and led into battle by Deborah. Ruth, a woman and Gentile, converted to Judaism, so to speak, and became a direct ancestor of King David. Queen Esther saved all the Jews in Persia in the book of the same name. Or as my Rabbi pointed out, not just Abraham`s name was changed from Abram. Sarah`s name (from Sarai) was changed as well. She partook of the promises as much as Abraham did.
As far as Jesus being a "Jewish Calendar Fundamentalist", I`m not sure exactly what is meant but Jesus did celebrate Sabbath, Hanukkah (John 10:22), the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37) where he made his "living water" speech on Hoshana Rabbah, the day when water was poured on the altar in Jerusalem and rain was prayed for. Jesus spent his last night before the cross, celebrating a Passover seder (The Last Supper), including blessings over 4 cups of wine, a "hamotzi" blessing on the matzo, dipping, and finishing with hymns of praise, almost exactly the way seders are celebrated by Jews of today.
Yes, it`s true that Jesus was rejected by some Jews at Nazareth and elsewhere. What did Jesus say about that? "Prophets are always rejected in their hometowns." In other words, "what is happening to me, namely rejection, is what has always happened to Jewish prophets." Jesus was claiming his place in Jewish tradition. To this day, rabbis and reformers are often rejected by fellow Jews.
Finally, it was pointed out that "most Jews don`t accept Jesus as their Messiah." This is undoubtedly true and people have the right to accept or reject Jesus for whatever reason they choose. Still, I can`t help but feel one reason for this rejection is that many Jews have failed to recognize Jesus as one of their own. Christians have played a major role in this by trying to make Jesus into a figure of Western civilization and taking the Jewishness out of him. Christmas plays a similar role. That`s what I want to see the holiday reformed. I just want Jesus to be presented in the way he intended, that is, as a Jew.
It is "not surprising" that Jesus was given a Greek name (as was Christmas), we are told. Not surprising, perhaps, but also, not accurate. Was Jesus Jewish? Were his teachings within Jewish tradition? I can`t help but say "Yes". Should Christmas be revamped to be more Jewish? I can`t see why not. If anyone can, please let me know and let the conversation continue.