By Rabbi Shawn Zell
Calendar confluence aside, with the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet coinciding with the 25th of December, one would do well to ponder how very differently Jews and Christians mark significant events in the history of their religion. Jews fast, Christians feast. Name a Jewish holiday where Jews celebrate the birth of any individual, who had a profound effect on our people or our religion. Name a Jewish holiday where Jews fast, not because of what the enemy did, but because of what we Jews should have done or neglected to do. Jews fast – at least some Jews fast – on the Tenth of Tevet, because Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian emperor had no respect for Jews or Jewish holy places. We Jews should fast? Iraqis, the modern-day descendants of biblical Babylonians should fast, for the havoc wreaked and the carnage carried out by their blood-thirsty ancestors.
Jews suppress, Christians spread. Come Pesach, an unending debate continues to crop up as to whether Christians should be invited to a seder. Along those very same lines, can you fathom a billboard outside a synagogue in September, with the following announcement: Join us for Yom Kippur Services, Monday evening September 15th, and all day Tuesday, September 16th. People of all faiths welcome. Yet it is a mitzvah (sic) for Christians to spread joy to the world, to celebrate a Bethlehem birth. Right or wrong, there are those of us uncomfortable with non-Jews participating in religious rituals or in attendance at services any time of the year. Contrarily, Christian parishioners and clergy are in ecstasy when those of other religions, especially Jews, join them for a worship service, any time during the year.
Jews daven. Christians worship. Unless it is in private, or within the four walls of a sanctuary, most Jews are uncomfortable turning to G-d in worship. Say “let us worship” to a Jew, and you will elicit a reaction that is anything, but worship related. Say “let us worship” to a Christian, and immediately there will be a bowing of the head, as well as outstretching of the arm, as the Christian prepares to join hands in worship. But should it happen, that a Jew does turn to G-d in a most heartfelt, spiritual manner, the communication that ensues, is often within the framework of arguing or deal-making. There is precedent for this, in our tradition. Abraham had no qualms in telling G-d that He, G-d should be ashamed of Himself for even entertaining the notion of destroying the “Twin Cities”. Doesn’t G-d realize that innocent, guiltless people will also be swept away? Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, had no qualms in working out a deal with G-d. “Make sure that I have bread to eat and clothing to wear and I will cut You in for ten percent”. Any self-respecting Christian would be in shock talking to G-d in such a fashion. Christians view such remarks as sacrilege.
Last, but not least, it is vital that the relationship between the human and the divine be one that is anchored in belief. Both practicing Christians as well observant Jews maintain that belief is the sine qua non for their relationship with G-d. Christians differ however from Jews in the understanding of that belief. For Christians, it is crucial that they believe in G-d. For Jews, it is crucial that G-d believe in them.
Other than fasting in observance of the tragedy that befell our people in the year 586 B.C.E. and preparing for Shabbat, I have no idea what Jews in this country will be doing, December 25th.
An excellent opportunity presents itself, however, for us to stand back, reflect, and appreciate what defines us as Jews. As Jews fast and Christians feast, as we typically suppress our observance while they spread the good cheer of Christianity, as they attend Churches worship and we go to shul to daven and as they reaffirm their belief in their creator while we attempt to convince our creator to believe in us, perhaps this December 25th is an excellent time for us Jews to ask one another “do you see what I see”?