Ask the Rabbi: Cards, Christmas, bowing and blessing

Ask the Rabbi: Cards, Christmas, bowing and blessing

Ask the RabbiAsk the Rabbi with Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

Playing your cards wrong

Dear Rabbi,

For many years I’ve got together with friends for a poker evening during Chanukah at my house. With the food, drink and entertainment it is enjoyed by all. My cousin joins us by my invitation. However, last year I decided not to invite him because I don’t think he gels well with my other friends.

We are a close-knit group. Most of us see each other every week in shul and hang out during other times of the year. He is much more reserved, is not a shul-goer and not as traditional as we are. In fact, I find him rather needy. When he asked why he wasn’t invited, I was brutally honest. He told me he thought I was a horrible person, which only confirmed my suspicions about him. This year I’m hosting the party once more and want to avoid another confrontation. What is the least offensive way that I could let him down as I really want to be a mensch about it?


Dear Amir,

Let’s get one thing straight: your cousin is right. You are a horrible person. How dare you behave the way you have and then look to justify it by pinning all kinds of issues and excuses on your cousin? You invited him all those previous years and then one year you decided to stop. That’s just plain and simply not nice. There is not a “less offensive way” to let him down. You really want to be a mensch about it? Go to your cousin, apologise for what you said and did last year and invite him back again this year. Other than that, don’t expect me to placate your conscience.

A christmas celebration?

Dear Rabbi,

I have several Jewish clients who are secular and probably celebrate Christmas more than Chanukah. The question is, do I buy Chanukah or Christmas presents – or does it not matter?


Dear Claude,

While buying a Christmas present doesn’t suggest an endorsement of the holiday, giving them something for Chanukah certainly turns their mind to Chanukah and, if nothing else, makes them think about it even if for a fleeting moment. Why don’t you give them Chanukah presents and include a card that says Happy Chanukah rather than season’s greetings? More than anything, it’ll trigger a kinship between yourselves as fellow Jews celebrating a mutual holiday together. Of course, what I can never get my head around are the many Jewish families who actually celebrate Christmas with their children in lieu of Chanukah. I mean, why celebrate a special Jewish occasion when you could celebrate the birth of a nice Jewish boy, right? And then they wonder why, years later, those same children grow up with imbalanced Jewish priorities, including life choices such as marriage. Come on people. If you’re reading this, do your children a favour, put away that Christmas tree or Chanukah bush, take out the Chanukiah, light some candles and illuminate your kids’ souls in the process.

The protocols of bowing

Dear Rabbi,

My son and I were talking about meeting the Queen. I explained that women courtesy and men bow. He asked me why Jewish people are allowed to do this as we are only allowed to bow to God. He reminded me how, in the Purim story, Mordechai even risked his life when he refused to bow to Haman. How is this, then, allowed in modern times?

Debbie and Eyal

Dear Debbie and Eyal,

It’s heartwarming when a parent and child are sharing in a nice cultural and religious discussion. It means he’s not on his iPad and you’re not on your iPhone. Haman wore a form of idolatry around his neck with deliberate intent that those who bow to him will effectively be bowing to the idolatry. The Queen, bless her cotton socks, doesn’t wear idols. Moreover, the little bow that one might typically do is a slight tilt – little more than a sign of respect. The sort of bowing prohibited would involve kneeling like we do on Yom Kippur. If you did that before the Queen, chances are you’d be arrested before you hit the ground. Keep up such discussions and tell Eyal I’m proud of him.

A blessing for 60th anniversary

Dear Rabbi,

My wife and I are looking forward to celebrating our 60th wedding anniversary next month. Is there a prayer I should be saying in honour of the occasion?


Dear Pete,

Yes. “Blessed is He who bestows kindness upon the culpable, for He has bestowed goodness to me.” It’s a blessing that we recite for all kinds of survival. Otherwise, you can express a personal thanksgiving to God for having been blessed all those years of being together. But be sure to say it like you mean it!

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