Progressively Speaking: As Christmas falls on Chanukah, can we celebrate it?
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Progressively Speaking: As Christmas falls on Chanukah, can we celebrate it?

Rabbi Miriam Berger reflects on a topical issue with a progressive Jewish response

“Oh I love Yom Kippur – it’s such a great detox day. Fasting, goal setting, mindfulness, 25 hours of me time. I know I’m not Jewish, but there’s nothing religious about Yom Kippur, it’s just what people do.”

I’d find it offensive if people told me there was nothing Jewish about Yom Kippur, so don’t tell me there is nothing Christian about Christmas.

Cultural appropriation is definitely a no-no according to Leviticus 19. Taking on the lifestyles of those around us isn’t a new problem and us rabbis raging against it is just par for the course.

Yet my predecessors didn’t preach for this to stop. In 1930s America, when the new Jewish immigrant kids wanted to fit in by drinking Coke to live the “all American dream”, Rabbi Geffen of Atlanta was charged with working with the Coca Cola company to ensure the drink was kosher.

They realised it would be easier to work with the most closely-guarded secret in the history of industry, the recipe for the drink, than expect the Jewish community to give it up.

The rabbis of the Talmud fought the same battle. Their flock were already celebrating bringing light into the darkness of this time of year and yet it had  a much more pagan feel than rabbis were comfortable with.

Did they insist they stopped celebrating? No, enter God’s miracle with the oil into the Maccabean revolt and hey presto you have a distinctly Jewish celebration, which coincides with the neighbouring celebrations.

The article I’d like to write is that sometimes it’s OK to “miss out”, to let others own Christmas and not try to take it on for ourselves because it is Christian, however many people tell me twinkling lights on a festive bush has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth.

I’d also like to get on my soapbox about there being “no such thing as a kosher turkey” if it’s eaten on 25 December (despite the parev brandy butter).

However, I am going to learn from my wise colleagues of old by telling you how wonderful it is that on 25 December we can celebrate Chanukah with even more gusto, because families will be gathered and with presents ready to exchange.

I can simply encourage putting the latke, driedel and candle lighting into the day others call Christmas and for us to have a very Jewish Chanukah on 25 December.

Rabbi Miriam Berger serves Finchley Reform Synagogue

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