Home for the Holidays
December 8th, 1974, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, a veteran Chabad Shaliach, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s representative in Philadelphia, inaugurated a public lighting of a giant menorah at the foot of Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell.
What was the Rebbe thinking? If Chanukah is the third most widely observed Jewish holiday after Passover and Yom Kippur, then wouldn’t Rabbi Shemtov’s efforts, energies and expenses be better served, if he had a table filled with Lulavim and Essrogim set up at the intersection of Walnut and 36th Street, during the festival of Sukkot, so that Jewish students at University of Pennsylvania be encouraged to participate in all too often overlooked mitzvah? That way Chabad would be much truer to their own philosophy of getting fellow Jews to participate in fulfilling mitzvahs.
By all accounts, the Rebbe was a most brilliant individual. His insight into matters was nothing short of breathtaking. Yet, insight is not foresight. Apparently the Rebbe didn’t realize that the time would come, where there would be a real possibility for Jews for Jesus to approach a supermarket proudly displaying a Kosher Experience sign and ask the management of that supermarket for permission to also proudly display a Chanukah menorah, where true to form, in addition to erecting a menorah, Jews for Jesus would also affix a nativity scene at the base of that menorah. I’m sure that their slogan would be along the lines of: No truer light has ever been brought into this world. If Fresser Supermarket doesn’t say no to a bunch of Rabbis with full bears and strange hats, why should Fresser Supermarket say no to a bunch of Rabbis with crucifixes and strange beliefs? For that matter, the Rebbe also had no way of foreseeing that the time would come where America would be facing a burgeoning Moslem population. If fair is fair, then every so often, when the 27th of the month of Rajab falls in mid or late December, then Moslem leaders would have every right to erect a statue of Muhamad and his horse Buraq ascending into heaven on the night of Miraj. Would the Rebbe and his shluchim (emissaries) have wanted that as well?
Far be it for me to go toe to toe with Chabad as far as understanding Jewish law, but it seems to me that the Talmud, in speaking about the mitzvah of Chanukah (Shabbat 21B) uses the phrase: Ner, Ish U’Veito – one candle for each man and his house/household. By my own admission, I’m light years away from being a Talmudic scholar, so I would be much obliged if anyone, especially Chabad, could show me, where in the Talmud or Shulchan Aruch there exists a Halacha, where mention is made of displaying the miracle of oil in town halls or shopping malls.
Please understand. As a Jew, as a Rabbi, I have no problem whatsoever with Christmas trees and nativity scenes at malls, airports, City Hall, State Capitol or the White House. I love listening to some Christmas carols. But Christianity is based on Christians bringing their message to the world. As such, any and all displays, provided that they are not on my property, are true to the Christian religion. Judaism on the other hand, is predicated upon making Jews into better Jews. This being the case, I cannot help but feel that if the Maccabees were to come back from the past, they would not so much as bat an eyelash at any and all Christmas displays, provided of course it was not on Jewish property. As far as giant Chanukah Menorahs on non-Jewish property, in all likelihood the Maccabees would stare in disbelief wondering how in the world a miracle occurring within the walls of holy Temple, finds itself being commemorated in places other than Jewish homes?