A Christmas letter to my Jewish great-grandfather
November 24, 2008 · Updated 7:13 PM
For my great grandfather who lived in another place and in another epoch, Christmas was a time of terror; a time to hide and a time of suffering and loss.^kaThat was at another time in another place but still, Great-grandfather-Lapin is astounded today to see his great-grandson defending Christmas. For this reason I must address my remarks now to him rather than to you.
You must be puzzled, Great-grandfather, so I will give you three reasons why I believe Christians should celebrate Christmas publicly.^kaYou never expected a descendent of yours to stand before newspaper journalists, radio reporters, and television cameras (some other time, I'll tell you what they are) encouraging Christians to celebrate Christmas.^kaOnce you've heard my reasons I think you'll agree with me.
My first reason is going to be tough for you to accept. While you were on this earth, our people were usually threatened by malevolent theocratic regimes where ecclesiastical and political power were the same. The choice you faced back then was between those sinister theocracies and what many of your friends saw as the utopian vision of secular socialism. Naturally you chose secularism and socialism in preference to the theocracies.^ka
However, today in this blessed land, the choice is quite different. My choice is between living among people practicing aggressive secularism or living among benign and Bible-believing Christians. I am not only your descendant, I am also descended from our ancestors who stood at the foot of Mount Sinai just over three thousand years and promised God that they and their descendants would guard the Ten Commandments. How could I possibly ally myself with those who would make God's commandments irrelevant to society?^kaWorse, how could I stand by and say nothing, while those Americans who venerate the Ten Commandments are under attack?
What is more, we have now had enough time to evaluate secular socialism. We now realized that contrary to its promises in your day, it has become a sordid stain on society.^kaIt has acquired the characteristics of a religion but it is an aggressive religion of intolerant fundamentalists. In the choice between a society of secular Americans or one of Christians, it is not hard to see where Jewish values must guide.
My second reason is that anti-Semitism has been a scourge on the face of the earth for millennia.^kaIt is discriminatory and bigoted. Well, so is anti-Christianism.^kaIf anti-Semitism is evil and must be resisted, the same applies to anti-Christianism. Rabbi Weinberg, one of the greatest rabbinic scholars of the twentieth century wrote in 1965 that we are entering a period in which there is far more anti-Christianism than anti-Semitism. In order to retain both intellectual and moral integrity, Jewish values require Jews to protest anti-Christianism just as we have so often entreated American Christians to protest anti-Semitism.^ka
My third reason is gratitude. Judaism teaches that ingratitude is the natural human condition. Sadly, most people develop deep-seated antipathy toward those who do most for them. That is why the fifth Commandment explicitly counters this human tendency with the instruction, ``honor your father and mother.'' And we have all noticed how much easier it is to honor someone else's father and mother. We Jews owe gratitude to America, and particularly to those Americans who venerate Christian values.
We Jews have long enjoyed tranquility and prosperity in America of a kind that we have never been offered by any other society in the past two thousand years. Anyone with an ear for history knows that America has welcomed Jews not in spite of its Bible-based Christian values but precisely because of them. It was those Biblical values that ended slavery in America and it was those values that offered freedom to all immigrants. Judaism would expect all its devotees to express gratitude by standing alongside those Americans who take seriously the words, ``And I will bless those that bless you.''
I think that if you could still be with us, Great-grandfather-Lapin, you would be right here alongside me today, cheering me on and doing all you could to help defend the public celebration of Christmas in America.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, an Orthodox Rabbi, is an author, and President of Toward Tradition.