The High Spiritual Stakes of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’

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Well, we have a new member of the class of “opiners” who clutter what passes for the intellectual landscape today. It seems Ms. Green has listened to half a dozen renditions of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and judged herself ready to share her insights with the world. She revels in her discovery of Christmas’ “dark side,” which turns out to be the necessary flip side of Christianity’s comic vision of salvation. And who says that Satan’s presence is felt less powerfully today by the millions of Christian theological conservatives than it was when this carol originated.

Ms. Green’s feckless writing about the emptiness, commercialization and simple-mindedness of Hanukah shows not the tiniest awareness of the history of the holiday or the subtle theological interpretation of Hanukah’s symbols in the hands of the classical Rabbis. But I was hardly surprised: she showed familiarity with only three books about Hanukah, and that was knowledge enough for her.

The article led me to wonder if her disapproval of Hanukah was personal. Was she excluded from the Hanukah pageant at her Sunday school? Was she taken in by the mirage of Hanukah Harry and the Hanukah Bush? Did she feel betrayed by Jewish history, which has not always been noble or untainted by self-interest or cynicism? Whatever. We’ll just consign Ms. Green to that list led by Arnold Toynbee, the British historian, who believed that the Jewish People ought to simply disappear, as they had an obligation to do, along with other ancient peoples who had outlived their historical shelf-life. What audacity for the Jews to continually insist on re-inventing themselves, re-interpreting their stories and history so that they can survive despite the conventional predictions of their demise. This is an old story, of course, going back to the writings of Manetho, the Egyptian historian who wrote in the 3rd century BCE. Interpret Judaism not through the self-understanding of Jews, but through the prism of some extrinsic ideology or heuristic tool. What could the Jews possibly say that would illuminate Jewish history or theology? We’ll just erase them by ignoring what they say about themselves. —Rabbi Kerry Baker

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