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Standing Tall

It’s the time of year when intermarried Jews are lectured against Christmas trees. Given marriage trends, the lecturers should learn to pipe down.

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(Illustration: Tablet Magazine; tree: Gregory Marton/Flickr; arm:

Now is the time of year when my wife and I renew our annual, uncomfortable conversation about why we will never have a Christmas tree in our home, despite her having grown up with one. I’m fairly crummy at explaining my reasoning, but we eventually remind ourselves that all marriages require give-and-take, and this is one time where she’s giving and I’m taking.

However, I’ve never felt more like getting a Christmas tree than this past week, thanks to the trend in Jewish media of non-intermarried Jews telling intermarried Jews not to have Christmas trees. Articles like these make me want to put up a Christmas tree just to symbolize my defiance of self-appointed assimilation police. Of course it wouldn’t work, because their very point is that I don’t get to decide what my own Christmas tree would symbolize. These writers assume that what the tree—or even “celebrating Christmas”—symbolizes to them is what it represents universally and objectively, beyond the touch of actual humans who make decisions and appoint significances based on their own needs, interests, and complex familial relationships.

Thankfully, I hear these recriminations about interfaith families less frequently than I used to. I’d be shocked if there is a single Reform rabbi out there who’d admit to an anti-Christmas-tree sermon in the past decade—and that’s not, as some cynics might argue, out of fear of unemployment. It’s because they know that the intermarried families they’d be chastising are within earshot only because they’ve dedicated countless hours and thousands of dollars toward raising Jewish children—often with the non-Jewish partner as the driving force. We should be thanking these folks, rather than pushing them away.


My wife is from Japan, a land of 127 million mostly secular Buddhists and Shintoists and almost no Christians. Yet almost all Japanese families put up Christmas trees and teach their kids to believe in Santa Claus. Try explaining the concept of Jesus as messiah to Japanese people and most will look at you politely but baffled. If my wife and I were to have a tree, would that represent “Christianity,” even though there are no Christians in our home?

Believe me, I get the objection. I understand the fears of assimilation. In many cases, it can be confusing for young children being raised Jewish to also celebrate Christmas in their home—which is why, in fact, I don’t feel like such a Grinch denying the tree to my own future children: Even though it was a part of my wife’s childhood experience, it’s not really a part of her true cultural heritage—and our kids will be confused enough being 100 percent American, 100 percent Jewish, and 100 percent Japanese. But after working with literally thousands of interfaith families as a Jewish communal professional over the past decade, I feel that I’m in a much better position to suggest what a Christmas tree actually symbolizes than those critics. The answer is: It depends who you ask.

There are well over a million intermarried Jews in the United States and likely more intermarried than single-faith households. There are more Americans under the age of 20 with one Jewish parent than there are with two. To make blanket statements about anything related to intermarried families is about as helpful as making blanket statements about “The Jews.” Can you imagine how many different responses you’d get if you put 20 Jews in a room and asked what the Hanukkah menorah symbolizes? If the math from the old Jewish joke holds, you’d have 30 opinions. Interfaith families are no different.

For many Jews looking in from the outside, a Christmas tree might represent the threatening, monolithic assertion: “Christian Household.” But for vast swaths of the intermarried population who put up Christmas trees but still successfully raise strongly identified Jews, that’s just not factually correct. And it’s why Tablet’s Marc Tracy drew the wrong red line when he wrote on the Scroll that the flexibility of identity requires some limits “and celebrating Christmas is beyond that limit.”

Really? Why does anyone get to decide that limit for someone else?

The overwhelming majority of Jews pick and choose which Jewish laws they find meaningful and which they reject. Keeping kosher all the time? Rejected by 85 percent of American Jewry. Believing homosexuality is an abomination? Thankfully, rejected by a growing majority. When we start telling each other that our own individual red lines are the universally accepted “Jewish” red lines—and if you cross them, you’re a bad Jew—our community descends into recriminations. Those of us working to actually grow the Jewish community understand that the message of “our way or the highway” more often than not results in the highway. Rather than telling people what they shouldn’t do, why not provide more ways for them to express their Jewish identity?

To me, the message of Hanukkah continues beyond the victorious Maccabees’ oppressive enforcement of Jewish ritual to the following decades, when it turns out that Judaism actually did “assimilate” many aspects of Greco-Roman thought, and that doing so made Judaism stronger. I believe Jewish ideas are strong enough today to survive comparisons to other religions, even within the same household. And that’s why I defend the right of interfaith families to acknowledge the heritage of their non-Jewish relatives’ traditions, including by putting up Christmas trees—even if I don’t endorse celebrating Christmas or exercise that right myself. (Sorry, honey.)

Hanukkah has only grown bigger year after year, even in many interfaith homes, which demonstrates that most American Jews don’t want to assimilate away into the warm embrace of tinsel and eggnog but instead are proclaiming their Jewish identity loudly and proudly. That is a miracle worth celebrating.

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Dear Paul,
You may celebrate the holiday season in any manner your family sees fit and you are correct that no one should tell you how to do so. But at some point or other your children, now or later, are going to ask why is that star on the top of the tree? And they will learn that it is the Star of Bethlehem placed there to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah whose Gospel of Love replaces the archaic Old Testament of Legalism and Ritual, and that those who subscribe to that ancient text without accepting Christ’s mission have rejected the Truth of Christianity.
There are many roads to a meaningful religious experience,
Christianity is one, Judaism another, Shintoism, another still. Some of them are more inclusive, some less so, and some are mutually contradictory. This does not make them any less meaningful for their adherents. But they are distinct, as are Judaism and Christianity. To confuse the two does neither justice. Take the Star off the Top of the Tree and you have a pagan winter festival. Only celebrate the gifts at the foot of the Tree and you’ve built an altar to Consumerism.
I enjoy visiting my Christian neighbors and take pleasure in their celebration of Christmas. It is their path to God and a beautiful one. It is simply not mine nor that of my children who know the difference between appreciating the belief of others and observing what is their own, and not confusing the two.
You’re right that Judaism always borrowed from the greater world, just as it contributed to it, as Christianity attests,
but it did so while maintaining its own core values which are not to be confused with the basic beliefs of other faiths, most particularly one that, for millennia, challenged the legitimacy of Judaism. Christianity never posed a threat to Shintoism but it did so to the Judaism. Let us hope those days are past, but let us remember that there are basic differences in how we approach the Divine and not confuse them.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

respectfully- Judaism and Jewishness does not have to be an inclusvie experience. The picture is offensive.

Ruth Chell says:

There is no reason to deprive the child of an intermarried couple the joy of having a Christmas tree. If the religion was not good enough or important enough for the Jewish spouse to choose to marry a Jew, why should the child be forced to carry the burden of belonging to a people that does not fully accept him or her? It is hard for Americans to accpet, but sometimes we have to live with our choices, not paper them over. Having a menorah is a symbol of a Jewish household, not the making of one. The author’s grandchildren will not be Jews, regardless of whether he has a tree or not. That is his choice.

Paul Klein says:

I immigrated from South Africa to Canada and that’s when I discovered the many varieties of Jewish options which exist. In South Africa we had Traditional Orthodox and a very small Reform. My background was German Reform.
Today I am deeply involved in Chabad Orthodoxy. Why? First, because I wanted Jewish descendents. The statistics show that if I were to bring my kids up non-Orthodox my chances of having 4th generation descendents who identified themselves as Jewish was 10%. For Orthodox that increases to 90%. Simple choice.
Chabad would probably not have an opinion on the Xmas tree. They are focused on the positive reasons to remain Jewish. Putting up a tree does nothing to instil Jewish values. As Emmanuel Levinas would put it, ritual and symbols conditions morality. Improving our character and moral response to others is our essence as Jews. As Jews we have our own symbols and need to learn from those. This does not mean we cannot learn from others, but we need to understand our own.

Jack, I have some friends who are Bukharian Jews (orthodox) who emigrated from Uzbekistan. In talking about Christmas one day, my friend mentioned how they always had a Christmas tree for their kids in Uzbekistan. Why? I asked incredulously. Because the kids like it, she said matter of factly. It hit me at that moment that the meaning of the Christmas tree to Jews in America versus other places might be very different. And different between Jews in America as well. In other words, you’re applying the lens of your own American Jewish experience to the meaning of the tree. To my friend’s family, it really had little meaning. If they don’t believe in it and don’t feel threatened by it, what’s the harm? They know who they are. For you and your values, I would say you shouldn’t have a Christmas tree since it has different meaning for you. But I think Paul’s whole point is that it can mean very different things to different people, especially intermarried couples, and that’s for them to decide. Not for us to judge. There are too many other factors that go into one’s connection with Judaism. The tree is not the root of the problem (so to speak).

George One says:

Christmas trees do not in fact have a religious message – but a cultural one. And where is the harm in adopting the dominant culture of the country in which one lives?

Paul Golin presents a cogent argument for tolerance of ” Christian” tradition,the ubiquity of the Christmas tree at the yuletide season. Where his argument falls down in my view is his lack of tolerance for the Jewish tradition of mindfully distancing oneself from Christian tradition.he
He seems to be suggesting that there is something stupid or nefarious about Jews rejecting Christian tradtion where accepting it is the price they must pay for having their partner’s on side to raise their “jewish’ children.
I would opt for a third option which requires openness , sensitivity and understanding of many different often competing tradtionsIinstead of either Hannukah vs Christmas, ( and I am not equating the two) let’s celebrate all tradiitons under one roof with mutual repsect for all preferences That would require not only compromise on the part of all present but knowledge and insight about the complexity and diversity of pepole and their backgrounds, and it owuld be appealing to a heterogeneous rather than to a h
As someone who has rejected Christian tradition and consequently has two broken marriages, a cost benefit analysis would suggest that intermarriage demands too high a priuce from the jewish partner. Expuning the “jewish’ individuality of the jewish partner to placate Christians whether secular , religious or hypocritical is too much like sacrificing oneself for the sake of peace to leading an inauthentic existence.
My idea of a multi tradition celebration where each individual celebrates in his or her own way seems to me to be from my own experience beyond the ken of spouses and their families whether secular or religiously Christian.If we dont create a generation of people who embrace the value of pluralism from an early age we will have only witless capitulation to the dominant cultural preferences.Admittedly paying the price for remaining true to one’s own convictions and preferences is at times unbearable, but necessary.
John Sanders, Toronto ,

ChanaBatya says:

My husband is not Jewish and I was more or less forced to accept a Christmas tree every year since our marriage. Our children are 100% Jewish, Hebrew school, kosher home, b’nai mitzvah, the works, but we have that tree in our home every year. I hate it thoroughly and never has there been someone who enjoyed taking down a tree as much as I, but it’s there every year nevertheless. I do a pretty good job of ignoring it, but it gives my husband great pleasure and our children are not confused whatsoever. They understand that the tree is Daddy’s tree, and Christmas is not their holiday. Although they do get presents and all on Christmas, never once have they been to church or participated in the religious aspects of Christmas. We have taken the Christ out of Christmas, which pains my husband quite a bit, but he has his tree and I have my sanity more or less. It’s an American compromise. I approve of the compromise but not the tree. I think the only possible justification for Jewish children having a Christmas tree is to teach them about compromise, shalom bayit and respect, which is what I have tried to do.

JCarpenter says:

There’s nothing inherently Christian or faith-based about the Christmas tree, other than Martin Luther used it as a teaching tool. The holly, the ivy, the evergreens are assimilations of old pre-Christian winter solstice festival accoutrements; the religious aspect of Christmas is found to be found in the Mass and church services. Santa Claus is so far removed from St. Nicholas; the reason for the season is so far removed from actual observance by a nominally “christian” culture. I once attended on invitation a midnight Christmas Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Denver; we sat behind a family who obviously had no clue or connection with events, as the teenage son kept asking his mother “what’s going on now?”—give the kid credit for at least curiosity rather than disaffected boredom—but would his mother’s faith have any more meaning expressed through holiday decorations? As if Dr. Seuss’s “Grinch” story is christian catechism or liturgy. Religious christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, plus festivities; non-religious persons of vague christian heritage celebrate the festivities and toast the New Year. I hold with Steven’s and Paul’s comments above. Happy holidays people–and celebrate along with others, inviting them to celebrate along with you. Enjoy each others’ joy.

Jonathan says:

Well said. As someone who similarly does not have a Christmas tree in the home (nor observes traditional kashrut), this articulates just what I felt in reading Marc Tracy’s piece. Judaism and Jewish peoplehood can certainly withstand a lighted tree in the living room one week out of the year.

For me it’s quite simple. Christmas isn’t a religious holiday, it’s long been devoid of it. It’s become, not for all but for most, an orgy in consumerism.

Still, in the quiet space of the family, it can be very homely.

In the end, however, it’s actually a pagan ritual and frankly, it’s a cultural event. It’s not religious.

One cannot compare it to religious Jewish holidays, since it’s a cultural event for the entire nation, Christian or not. I’m personally Jewish by ethnicity but an atheist. I have a strong, but secular, Jewish identity.

Just as I pick and choose the things I like from Judaism, so should others. I celebreate Christmas with my girlfriend, who is a hindu, because we see it as a cultural event. We do not feel religious attachment of any sort.

And I think a lot of Jews feel the same. The outrage over Christmas is more like a proxy for something different: paranoia about assimilation. Sorry folks, it’s been a losing battle. Jews won’t disappear, but we’ll get to become much less numerous in America as the years go on.

And it’s not wise to attack a Christmas tree for that. It’s more about Jewish education, depth of commitment to Jewish culture and the like. But it’s harder to be critical there without blaming yourself, so why not scapegoat Christmas trees?


Nice Jewish Girl says:

Bottom line: If my non-Jewish husband really felt strongly about having a tree, I’d take his feelings far more seriously than some author (or commenter) on Tablet or Kveller. Shalom bayit, y’all. (And this is from someone whose kids attend Jewish day school and who works for a Jewish philanthropy.)

Jay A Friedman says:

If an intermarried couple wants to have a Christmas Tree, go right ahead. I’m totally indifferent. You can have wreaths and stockings and Santa and Sunday Ham and all the trimmings. You can sing carols and feel sentimental thoughts.

It makes no difference to me.

And if you live long enough, you’ll be able to attend your grand-child’s communion.

Mazel Tov

I don’t understand this assumption of confusion. There *is* a problem related to future Jewish observance to children of interfaith marriages, and that’s a lack of Jewish education. The existence of a Christmas tree in an intermarried home may be correlated with not providing a Jewish education, but it doesn’t cause it.

Kids aren’t so easily confused. They can work it out, especially if you speak with them about it.

There’s nothing religious about the tree, if there’s no star on top and no manger scene below. In fact, when the trees became popular in the 1850s, American Christians often proclaimed they would not have one because they did not “worship the tree.”

Nowadays there’s Shield of David toppers, and Hanukkah menorah ornaments for the tree if you want to make a Jewish statement for whatever reason. But Christmas (despite the name) remains far more secular than otherwise.

My mother grew up in the Bronx as Santa Claus Jewish. It sounds kind of like the author’s observation of Christmas in Japan. They liked the lights, the tree and the magic a fat red-suited fellow who brought presents, I guess. Wreaths– word on the street is that that form predates this Jesus character by quite a while.

And you know what? They smell good. Personally, I am an atheist from a culturally but non-religious Jewish family. I have a tree now, with no Jesusy stuff on it. It does have a Moravian star on top, but to me that represents where I grew up (PA Dutch Country) even though I know it was adopted as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem, I see it as the Star of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Otherwise, it has candy canes, because I like candy, and cooking implements, because i like cooking. And some snowflakey stuff because I miss snow where I live now.

I do understand the frustration with the general assumption of Christianity that we face daily. And I absolutely understand those wrestling with the idea of getting a tree. But for me, the tree was something we had over Winter (cough) vacation, and while I’m not going to go all woo-woo, hey look at my solstice greenery, I can enjoy my tree and the presents that are underneath it for the small children of friends who do celebrate it (none of whom are actively Christian or believe in Jesus as anything beyond a story in a book) and not have to put any religion on it.

It smells like winter in the country to me. And tonight the piney smell in our house will get covered up by the delicious smell of fried stuff. Yeehaw!

My husband & I are both Jewish. I have studied in Israel & teach Hebrew school. I would never want a Christmas tree in my house because it has nothing at all to do with my religion, tradition or culture. But when a couple of different faiths marries, they are pledging to share not only in sickness & in health, but also in matzah balls & in Easter eggs. No one should be asked to “give up” a treasured cultural tradition. I think it’s very special to share & learn each other’s faiths, but to be respectful not to pressure to accept the parts that are especially sensitive (eg., hanging a cross over the bed). My beef is with Jews who have a “Hanukkah bush” which is a poorly-concealed case of Christmas tree envy & shows a lack of understanding & appreciation of their own wonderful culture. Have a beautiful holiday season!

Golin’s confusion about the christmas tree being a Christian symbol is based on a false premise – the christmas tree is not a Christian symbol. It’s origins lie in pre-Christian Teutonic pagan seasonal ritual. It’s current appearance in homes in many parts of the world is simply a commercial manifestation.
By the way, the star at the top of the tree was put there by a fairy, and who believes in fairies these days?

For the conflicted, may I propose getting the tree and then sending it to the Jewish National Fund to be planted in Israel?

its amazing how a group of Jews can turn a non-issue like a Christmas Tree into crisis of faith. It is a decorated tree! It has no religious meaning. Simple…

babawawa says:

As an orthodox Jew, I say go ahead and have a tree in your house. You married a goya, your children are goyim, so what’s the the big deal? Why bother raising your children Jewish – it’s a waste of time and money. If you wanted Jewish kids you would have married a Jewish woman. So lose the chip on your shoulder. Truly, I don’t think anyone really cares what you do. Maybe the pressure is on two Jews who are married, or a Jewish woman married to a non-Jew to not bring a tree in. And in terms of the Jewish people, your branch in that tree is dead.

Thank you for this eloquent post.

babawana – i agree with your statement. however, as a chistian i find the terms goy, goya, and goyim truly offensive.

lyle ryter says:

What an idiot. His reasoning is so flawed that it ultimately concludes that there should be no religious law, just a cultural feel good about your self and that everyone should design individual feel good religious practices. It is the slippery slope of relativism that permeates liberal Jewish non think

For all the comments about how Christmas is a ‘secular’ or ‘cultural’ holiday, is to expose their own ignorance.

Sorry, but to Christians, the holiday is one of the two major ones (Easter being the most significant).

Christmas, celebrates the birth of Jesus, who Christians, view as the ‘Christ’ (hence the part of the word in all the references) or messiah.

Indeed, to cut through all the fluff, one need go only as far as the Charlie Brown Christmas special and the speech given by Linus: Here is the link to the speech.

That’s the heart of the holiday, whether you coat it in a trip to Rockefeller Center or douse in in eggnog.

Add in the issue of the Trinity, and there is a core split between the two faiths. The tree, is a central symbol of that holiday and the underlying faith.

I agree with the two Orthodox posters that by the time the issue comes up in an interfaith family, it’s all but a dead issue. Families that have little interest in their own background are unlikely to see their children and grandchildren have any identity as Jews and even less of a connection to its religion. Indeed, the families keeping kosher and sending their kids to a Hebrew day school are likely the rare exception rather than the rule.

That however, is a decision made by the families themselves. But to declare that the presence of a Christmas tree and/or celebration of this holiday is innocent, or has no impact on the identity of their children, doesn’t match with reality.

Maybe drawing “red lines” leads to recriminations. But without red lines, there is simply no objective Judaism; it belongs within the realm of each individual. Eat bagels? You’re Jewish! Watch Seinfeld? Welcome to the tribe! Of course, most bagel-eaters and Seinfeld-watchers are not Jewish.

You may be indifferent to the evisceration of a community that has survived for thousands of years and myriad attempts at liquidation, but don’t be offended that others actually care.

Sorry–but can I ask what seems like an obvious question. Why cut down a tree, bring it into your home and decorate it, clean up after it sheds, then work on taking it down, for no particular reason? Why not spend the effort on something that you actually hold near and dear?

Eliraz says:

A nice thought – but the Christmas tree has one common denominator in every instance: it does represent a Christian religious custom – albeit, one that has been watered down, perhaps invested with new meaning, etc. Also, not a fair comparison between breaking Jewish laws, and taking outwardly “other” customs upon yourself. For instance, not keeping kosher is one thing. Deciding not to eat meat on Friday because that Catholics don’t – that’s another. And so it is with the end of the year holiday dilemma. It’s one thing to choose to ignore your own traditions. But to put on somebody else’s…

Enjoy reading the comments! Can’t help but be reminded of the philosophical differences between Shammai and Hillel.

What a sad story. Always having to justify something you know deep down you shouldn’t be doing.

I have made a study of Christmas trees and I will just quote what the Bible says. Deuteronomy 12:2 Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: If you study the Bible, you will find out that God is against any celebration with green trees. This is a form of idle worship and is no change today. The Bible is full of idolatry and green trees. Study to show yourselves aproved unto God. Don’t believe everything you hear, see, or other wise come in contact with, run it through the proof test the Bible. The Bible is true and should be the light used in our life. ed

    baltasar almudárriz says:

    Yeah – especially those passages where God tells Moses and Company to kill every living thing before entering the land of Cana’an. Lovely instruction manual.

Bianca says:

Oh wow!

Such vitriol among the comments!

This article was by one person, musing about the situation in one family, and politely requesting that others butt out!

I am Jewish – born of 2 Jewish parents and 4 Jewish Holocaust-surviving grandparents. (At least 1 of whom had Christmas trees in pre-war Poland.) I adore singing Christmas carols, and so I do. I know perfectly well that the carols celebrate the birth of Jesus, who has nothing whatsoever to do with my religious beliefs.

But I love carols and the joy of carolling… The meaning of the words is, by and large, immaterial.

To participate in carolling is my choice and co-exists perfectly easily with lighting the Chanukiah etc. I join my neighbours in their joyous ways of celebrating, and they join me in mine.

How dare anyone criticize the choice I make that works for me, or the choice that Paul Grolin makes that works for him, or the choices that others make for themselves?

Find meaning where you can, and your life will be enriched.

    Oh Bianca so nicely put! I am the child of 2 Jewish parents and 3 Jewish grandparents. We lost our Judaism during the civil war I guess out of fear. We have never been Christian but we did celebrate secular holidays. Since we found out our heritage we have all returned to Judaism and each year learn more and more. My grandchildren will be raised as Jews. As you said “the vitriol” makes it hard to feel loved by my own community.

Ziva D. says:

What I think is being assumed here by some is that Christmas and its cheery cultural adornments must be seen as secular because the United States is a democracy, and therefore enjoys an appreciated separation of church and state. Please note our government does not declare a national holiday for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Mail is still delivered on Passover (or Ramadan, Beltane or Risson, for that matter). No one thought to protest, or were too afraid to, the idea there should be a declared “World Trade Center Cross”, as if all the victims and their families recognized that shape as a symbol of peace and healing (and why did we as a culture even see a “cross” a.k.a. crucifix in the ruins as opposed to simply crossbeams?). There is a reason why Catholic/Christian military serviceman have not had to fight for the right to be buried with the iconic symbols of their faith on their headstone, as servicemen of other faiths have had to. Like it or not The United States has been and remains a theocracy, albeit a (mostly) tolerant one. And in such a framework a Christmas tree can never never lose its appropriated religious roots.

Tomer ben-Galil says:

Where to begin? Christmas is to many Christians a religious holiday. Since President Grant made it a national holiday, it has been a secular holiday or day off. On the one hand, it stems from the pagan winter solstice celebrations (as most historians believe Jesus was born in May) that were adopted by early Christians to merge with the pagan masses. In all reality, it celebrates the birth of a Jewish rabbi and was a minor festival until commercialism took over. The rise of presents and gift giving, cards, and decorations make this much like the Japanese idea behind their embrace of Christmas — it is a time to celebrate the prosperity of a good year by giving presents to others. It is also a time for charity and helping those less fortunate than ourselves, a la the Dickens Christmas Carol view. All told, it is an American secular holiday marked by celebrations of good will and charity, as well as family togetherness and giving. I don’t see how any Jew cannot embrace those qualities in any holiday. Celebrating Christmas is no more going to turn a Jew into a Christian than using a KitchenAid mixer will turn Mom into a Chef. The constant kvetching about “the December dilemma” is getting old and tired. We don’t seem to complain about Thanksgiving, though it was a holiday started by Christian settlers in America, why complain about such an overwhelming cultural tide in America as Christmas. Why deprive yourself of the fun. No one is forcing you to go to Midnight Mass and no one is forcing you to become Christian. Put a Magen David on the top of your tree and string it with blue and white lights. Heck put a Nativity Scene on your lawn. It depicts a Jewish family, doesn’t it?

Joan Greenberg says:

After many years of struggling with this issue, because I work in an environment where celebrating Christmas and having a tree is as universal as having your morning coffee. I have had to explain not having a tree, because – can you believe it, that was virtually unheard of when I started working there 23 years ago. Why was this – because they were so provincial they had no idea that any other tradition really existed or was valid. Since that time there has been an influx of other Jews, little by little my co-workers have come to understand my tradition and, I believe, developed a deeper understanding of their own. I see this as a process, and a good one; although sometimes difficult.

I find it unfortunate that the authors response to the process was just to put up a tree and get over it. I think this attitude detracts from both traditions. Please do not misunderstand, I do understand the deep pain that this issue can bring, and certainly would respect any compromise that families have to make to keep peace in the home, but the authors attitude seems cavalier, and maintaining one’s Jewish identity and traditions in the diaspora is anything but that.

Xmas Trees are a symbol people attach such huge importance to. I find it hilarious, actually. Plenty of Jews have tooth fairies. They dress up for Halloween. They hand out Valentines, BUT THE TREE SCARES THEM. Even though it is not THAT important, actually, in any religious way.

The tree feels like a threat, most of all, in a home where Jewish identity has not been hammered out. The more confused a household is, the more “important” the tree feels. Inmarried or intermarried, if kids understand themselves to be Jewish, a tree is just a tree.

regina winters says:

Christmas trees are a symbol of Christmas. And Christmas is a foundational theophany in Christianity. If Christmas trees had not become a Christian symbol why are they not put up at Thanksgiving or St Valentine’s Day?

We Jews,however, have a problem. That all the feel-good, PC erasing of cultural and religious distinctions already has weakens Jewish particularity.

Christians do not get a “Jewish education”, and American Jews have not stood firm on popular assumptions such as that we “know” Jesus is the messiah but refuse to accept this; that Easter has the same message as Passover;that Jews should be pleased with, even attend, mock Seders hosted by churches, that Kashrut is a dietary choice like going vegan, and so on.

Jews should not to have Christmas trees to keep Christians from thinking one’s home is a Christian one! Mar’at ha’ayin!

And a question: Commercial Christmas trees are harvested around Thanksgiving. If it truly is believed that the children should have a tree, and that the tree is not a Christian symbol, why not get one in early December and take it down a few days before Christmas.

And to the person who resents the word “goy”. It is means “gentile” and has no other meaning.

shushan says:

an xmas tree is one of the dominos in Jews leaving Judaism, fisrt you stop observing kashrut shabbos mitvos then you date a goy, then marry a goy, then have interfaith kids(whatever that is) then an xmas tree then your interfaith kid grows up marries another goy in a church ceremony and you have finished hitlers yimach shemo’s job.
Mazal Tov!

    baltasar almudárriz says:

    Pretty repugnant to compare what is presumably a harmonious relationship with or without children to the death camps. Sickening.

JCarpenter says:

To Ed: here’s some green tree celebration, apparently promoted by God—-you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the fields will break forth before you; there’ll be shouts of joy and all the trees of the field will clap their hands—from Isaiah 55
Be glad joy and peace is hoped for, by the devout and the secular; let your Light shine as well.

Not three weeks ago American Jews were complaining about an Israeli campaign that featured a Jewish child happily exclaiming ‘Christmas’!

What nonsense, said the American Jews.

I guess the Israelis as usual are right.

How lovely for you Paul. If you want, you can put little stars of David on your Christmas tree & call it a Chanukah Bush if you want. While you’re at it, you should suggest to your temple that they should place a Chanukah Bush at the entrance to your temple. That sounds very modern & progressive. While we’re at it, maybe we should cancel the Shabbat this week as it conflicts with erev Christmas. Just thinking out loud.

James More says:

I like the pine smell of an evergreen and I like to see a living evergreen outside in the snow growing tall and thinning the trees helps promote growth of taller trees, so what is the shame in making use of those culled trees. What I don’t like is to go to a Christian service and listen to them slandering the Jews because I know that their christian religion is an adaptation to the Jewish religion, and I don’t like going to a Jewish service and listen to them slandering christians because I know that the christian religion is an adaptation to the Jewish religion. Things do change in 5700 years–thank Gd. I find evergreen trees not offensive and an adaptation to the lights and symbols of the menorah and we all should learn from our history.

Judith Ginsberg says:

Right on!!

Mama E says:

1. Christmas trees are a big waste of resources, especially if they are real.
2. Too many excuses already: a Christmas tree is a sell-out of your Jewish roots. You are making excuses. it is not the same as donning a costume for Halloween.
3. On the other hand, I like how some of us have appropriated the idea of stringing lights and other decorations for Hanukkah. I have blue and silver strands lit up on my lawn. Yes, it is a waste of electricity but it is the festival of lights. We have a cute electric menorah on the front window too.

Jessica says:

As a non-Jewish woman who has dated mostly Jewish men in my life, I have had it up to the eyebrows with men who have the attitudes displayed by the writer of this article: Jewish men who are oh-so-willing to have sex with non-Jewish women but who don’t want to respect the rights of those women to their own religous and cultural traditions.

It is simply wrong to deny people the right to express their culture. If you can’t handle a Chrismas tree in your house, then don’t marry or have sex with non-Jewish women. Stick to Jewish women. That way, this issue will never arise.

But speaking of give-and-take, I hope your wife pulls that line on you when and if your son is born and she objects to a bris which is, after all, painful surgery performed without anesthetic on a non-consenting newborn. Now that is something to object to–much more so than a Christmas tree.

Samuel says:

Jessica, your point is valid to some extent. On the other hand, if Jewish men are so troublesome, why do you keep seeking us out?

If you stick with Christian men, you do not have to be as frustrated as you seem to be.

Note: I am not denigrating the sexual abilities of non-Jewish women, who I find appealing and enticing.

Indeed the Xmas tree is really not a big issue. I myself grew up in a 100% Jewish traditional family and we had a Christmas tree until we decided, my sister and I, when we where still kids, that as Jews we don’t want to celebrate this Christian festival.

The real issue is intermarriage. Dear Paul – you decided to marry a goya (that is not a derogatory term). You are a free man and you do whatever you want. But you chose to have non-Jewish kids and to leave the Jewish people. Assume your choice. You can’t eat the cake and have it too.

Jessica – just don’t date Jewish men. Date a Christian or whatever you will clearly be more comfortable with. Problem solved.

As for the Bris, your comments are telling regarding your disdain for Jewish practice. Its commanded in the Torah and for practicing Jews is a huge mitzvah. It is the day your soul is revealed and you join your people. I’m not surprised you wouldn’t care about this. Besides, it heals after a few days and is rarely an issue.

Which brings up a bigger issue. Mr. Golin’s kids are not Jewish because the mother isn’t Jewish. Whether they do or don’t have a bris is actually irrelevant because being Jewish is passed through the mother. No amount of Reform and PC nonsense will change that.

Have a Chag Chanukah Sameach, everyone! And a Good Shabbos! :)

philip mann says:

By putting a tree in your house, you`re identifying with the Christian religion,whatever meaning the tree might have to Christians.You might be lovely people , but you have put your personal life above your faith,and no amount of ` it`s only a tree and it has a Jewish symbol` can change that.

After a Jewish marriage in which I raised two Jewish boys, I divorced and subsequently fell in love with a non-Jewish woman. I didn’t seek out intermarriage, it just happened. A my wife is a gift from Hashem. Of that I have no doubt.

The first time I awokeand went downstairs to find a Christmas tree in our living room I was surprised and a tad uncomfortable. but then again, this has been my wife’s tradition and her son’s. I came to accept this and even though I don’t particpate I respect my wife’s tradition the same way she respects mine.

I don’t know how she feels about seeing me in my tallis, or the yarhzheit candles or mezuzot, or menorah or any other manifestations of my (limited) observance. I suspect they feel as foreign to her as her tree does to me. But she accepts them and respects them because she respects me and loves me and vice versa.

So this is my take on the presence of the Christmas tree in an interfaith home. It’s about spouses loving each other and respecting and accepting them and their traditions and spiritual pursuits.

Chag Sameach and Happy Holidays!

Paul Golin – your wife isn’t Jewish, your kids aren’t Jewish! They want a tree? Well it looks like they have you outnumbered. I don’t see what the issue here is. I hope they enjoy their tree.

That said, maybe you can do something positive for the environment and NOT have tree this year. Instead celebrate Tu-Bshvat (in about 6 weeks) and PLANT a tree instead of cutting one down!

Check out what Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has to say on the topic and feel free to comment:

That link didn’t work. can you send it again

anti-intermarriage says:

It’s the usual pro-intermarriage propaganda brought to you by Paul Golin, founder of “Joi” a pro-intermarriage group.
He claims that more Jews are intermarried than inmarried and that the majority of young people who identify as Jews have only one Jewish parent.
There’s absolutely no proof for those claims. There is ample evidence, though, that Orthodox Jews are growing in numbers because of their high birthrates and low intermarriage rates.
Of course, Paul and his pro-intermarriage gang beat up on the Orthodox any chance they get. They claim that the Orthodox community is shrinking. It’s all lies to make intermarriage more acceptable in the Jewish community.

anti-intermarriage says:

I forgot to add that it doesn’t matter whether Paul and his family have a X-mas tree because his family is not Jewish. His claims of his children being a “100%” Jewish is ridicoulous. If the mother isn’t Jewish neither are the children.

Just another day in the Tablet comments section: More marginalization, more infighting, more judgement. Chastising those who observe differently, and especially the Reform branch, as practicing “fake” Judaism.

I believe that these are precisely the attitudes that will lead to a dearth of Jews in generations to come – much more so than assimilation or intermarriage: Is it any wonder that those who do not feel drawn to Orthodoxy may start to gravitate toward other religions that will welcome them with respect and tolerance? Or that those who do intermarry will feel unwelcome to bring their families to shul?

In my mind, Judaism should be like a glorious, multi-hued tapestry comprised of vibrant colors and myriad textures coming together, made strong by all of the inter-woven “threads” that are incorporated into the whole. Instead, there are so many who would prefer for our tapestry to be monochromatic and untextured, snipping away at any “thread” that does not exactly match those that lie next to it.

Sadly, many have already effectively locked the author’s children out of the “tribe”. You know, it’s possible that the author’s children will identify with the Jewish religion, attend shul, wind up going to Hebrew school, become b’nai mitzvah, etc. Yet, many commenters would still ostracize Golin and declare his kids “not Jewish” because they do not have matrilinear ties to our religion … and in the same breath, these same commenters will mourn the inevitable “death” of Judaism and the ravages that are perpetuated by intermarriage.

I’m so thankful for my Reform Jewish roots, that define a Jewish child as one born to a Jewish *parent*, period. We promote tikkun olam, acceptance(gay and “mixed” families), a love of Torah and G-d and the beauty of Judaism … even as we recognize that Judaism, like all things, must evolve as the environment around us changes. It is the organism that does not continue to adapt to its surrounding that is the one to perish.

    baltasar almudárriz says:

    And then there is the issue of conversions – which seems troubling to some.

anti-intermarriage says:

Jessica is absolutely right. Most of these Jewish men hate Jewish women and refuse to date them. They only date gentile women but can’t handle the fact that these women have their own Christian, or other, traditions.
Just last week I heard an intermarried Jewish radio sportscaster say that he will only be celebrating Hanukkah in his home. Regardless of the fact that he’s secular and an atheist to boot. Also his wife celebrated X-mas solo with her family before they had children. Why can’t they celebrate both in their home? His children aren’t Jewish so what’s the big deal?
Jessica is right. If Jewish men don’t want to deal with X-mas celebrations by their partners only date Jewish women. If you date or marry a gentile then be prepared to celebrate X-mas and to have non-Jewish children. Don’t attack Jessica but the interdating Jewish men who are being the bullies.
Btw Jessica is wrong about what a bris is but right about everything else.

anti-intermarriage says:

What RS advocates is the Unitarian Church and not Judaism. No Paul’s children aren’t Jewish unless they convert. Jewish women, and no one else, give birth to Jewish children. You claim to love the Torah which ironically for you forbids intermarriage.

With regard to the whole “tree” issue …

My husband, son, and I are Jewish Americans. We celebrate Jewish and American non-religious secular holidays (e.g., Thanksgiving, Halloween, July 4th). At xmas, we enjoy going to see the decorations around town and joining our gentile friends as they celebrate their holiday. I’ll sing a carol or drink egg nog.

However, our seasonal “decor”, and our beliefs and traditions, are rooted in being Jewish. We have neither tree nor exterior light displays; we don’t celebrate Christmas in our home. It’s not our holiday.

Despite the roots of the Christmas tree in paganism, I *do* equate it with the Christmas holiday. And – despite the protestations of many Jews and non-Jews that Christmas has become a predominately-secular holiday – I still consider it to somewhat disingenuous to think of Christmas as anything other than a holiday “belonging” to the various Christian sects.

HOWEVER, I think that the “rules of play” for intermarried couples are much different. It’s unreasonable to expect one party to capitulate entirely to the practices of the other’s religion unless that was specifically agreed-upon prior to their marriage. If my Judaism and traditions are important to me, their faith likely resonates similarly for them, as well – even if they would not consider themselves to be particularly “observant”.

So yes: There is most likely a tree. And there is also a Chanukkiah. And a mezzuzah. And dyed Easter eggs, and a seder plate. But before they have children, they make darn sure that they are in accord about which one religion’s *tenets* they will sow and nurture in those kids.

Having a tree doesn’t necessarily preclude one from being a “good Jew”. But being raised with a “hybrid” faith, or with the intention of being allowed to “choose when he’s older”, pretty much guarantees that kids will have no real foundation of traditions and rites that they can claim as their own as adults.

Tobias Engel says:

I remember reading that Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, always had a Christmas tree.

The small twinkling lights used on Christmas trees are great; 200 lights on a medium sized sukkah look fantastic. There are ways to decorate within a Jewish framework if you are raising Jewish children. If you are trying to teach both religions so the children can decide as adults then you are treating both religions wrongly and cheating the children out of any valid religion.

@anti-intermarriage – How’s the weather all way up there on that high horse? Your tone, and your words, only serve to further hammer home my point. Your beliefs have the common denominator of being exclusionary, and the degree of condescension with which you state those beliefs is rude and inappropriate; no one had belittled or disrespected you in any way.

I already know what traditionalists/Orthodoxy proclaim about Jewishness being solely conferred along Matrilinear lines; and you likely know that the Reform movement has redefined and broadened the definition to include Patrilinear descent as well. We will have to agree to disagree about what constitutes a “real Jew” (much less “real Judaism”).

And you can disagree with intermarriage and point to the Torah to justify your beliefs until you’re blue in the face, but bottom line is that intermarriage is a reality that isn’t going away …

So what about those intermarried families who want to participate in synagogue life, to provide their kids with a Jewish education? We can either try to make them feel welcome and respected within our synagogues and encourage them to raise their children Jewishly … or we can reject them and guarantee that they go elsewhere. That’s part of the “evolution” to which I was referring in my earlier comment, and I think it’s vastly preferable to trying to procreate at a record rate to populate the world in my sect’s image.

And since Unitarian beliefs draw from both Jewish AND Christian sources – including a Sunday “Sabbath” and the teachings of Jesus – I respectfully disagree that I am “advocating” the Unitarian Church I am Jewish. Period. I am NOT a Christian, and Reform Judaism is neither a Christian sect nor “faux Judaism”.

I believe in one G-d. I believe that the Machiach is still to come, and I don’t believe that Jesus was the “son of G-d” or anything more than a man with some fervent followers. I believe a lot of other things, but you get the idea –

Chag Sameach.

@eema23 – Our (Reform) rabbi has said that we Jews should feel free to go crazy and knock ourselves out putting up an abundance of outside light decorations … During every month but December. ;-) Your illuminated sukkah sounds beautiful!

I concur with the rest if your comment: Bringing up kids with no religion or a hodgepodge of different beliefs does them absolutely no favors. Pick one, whatever it winds up being, and stick with it.

What’s so fascinating is the need for people in Reform and Conservative to defend the movement itself. Its almost like…they know…something’s off. I feel for our Jewish brothers and sisters who care so deeply but are misguided.

Yes, people are free to do what they want. Yes, people are free to intermarry. HaShem gave us free choice, we can exercise it as we wish.

But when you water it all down to the point of making it a nice cultural get-together, don’t act surprised when kids reject it. Either they will reject it and intermarry, setting off the inevitable 1-2 generation slide to full assimilation and no Jewish descendants. Or they reject it and become Baalei Teshuva and become Torah observant, whether through Aish-style Litvak, Modern Orthodox, Chabad, etc.

Kids pick up on the absurdity. If Shabbat is holy, then why do we drive to shul? If the Torah says to keep kosher, why do we eat cheeseburgers or pork? If we shall not bow to false idols, then what’s all this about social justice and not HaShem? It says I should have a bris but why don’t I?

Reform has failed to keep its kids interested. If parents like Mr. Golin can’t get excited, then why expect the kids to be excited? Daddy (or Mommy) intermarried, so can I!

Kids follow our lead. That’s how the Torah has been transmitted!!! Got it?!?!?!

Orthodox skepticism of intermarriage is straightforward. If you can’t find value in marrying a Jew, keeping in mind that marriage is the most important decision of your life, then its hard to believe you’ll have a kosher home, be shomer shabbat, etc. “Living Jewishly” happens in the home, not at shul. This requires 2 parents committed fully, not weekly Sunday school lessons which kids grow to loathe. 0 spirituality = 0 interest.

Judaism is about connecting with HaShem 24/7 (especially day 7). It means saying Mode Ani, not just patting yourself on the back for surviving another Yom Kippur, which for Orthodox is a spiritual high. You should try the original sometime!

    baltasar almudárriz says:

    Very sensible points … how can anyone lecture anyone about intermarriage when the person lecturing isn’t Torah-observant or minimally Jewishly active?

repost with new link:
Check out what Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has to say about the topic:

@Alex – Maybe some of us feel compelled to “defend” the Reform movement overall because so many people, in this comments section and elsewhere, insist upon painting all of us with the same broad brush strokes. And, frankly, we’re tired of the inaccuracies and stereotypes you insist on perpetuating.

You and many of your ultra-Orthodox cohorts view the world, and Judaism, in such binary terms; you even insist upon seeing those of is who observe differently from you in this black and white way.

I can reassure you that not all of us intermarry, have children who curtail their Jewish educations the day following their B’nai Mitzvot, or observe Xmas in any way (other than as a day off from work.). Some of us don’t even eat bacon cheeseburgers. We send our kids to Jewish (URJ) overnight camps, and encourage their involvement in synagogue youth groups. We attend Jewish continuing education courses and attend services on non-High Holy Days.

But we view the world – and, by extension, Judaism – as a full spectrum of swirling colors. So we may not believe that Torah and Talmud should remain static and unresponsive to societal dynamics, or that the integrity of words handed down orally for many centuries remained consistent.

Like you,we are Jews, and we love G-d and our faith. We are just not willing to close ourselves off from the larger world, or believe that “valid” observance can only occur one way.

But it us easier for some to de-personalize us as “Other” and focus on our differences. If you stereotype all of us as intermarrying, Xmas tree lighting, spiritually-conflicted individuals, it’s undoubtedly much easier to sell your children – and yourselves – on avoiding us and our “unsavory” influences. Or on the worth of learning about what more of us really believe, and how we really observe.

So your world can continue as black and white and reassuringly consistent as it has always been, and you can feel closer to G-d and “more Jewish” than the rest of us.

@RS: You’re not “less Jewish” than me. I’m not “more Jewish” than you. We’re both Jewish equally because being Jewish comes from the Neshama. It doesn’t come from anything else, period.

The Torah as it was given at Sinai and the Talmud, transmitted orally over generations and eventually written down, are our bedrock. Just because you can’t fathom something being done in such a manner for so long does not make it true. Stop to think why you feel the need to denigrate the veracity of both. If you feel they are untrue or can change at any time, then why bother with all this if its not the word of G-d?

Reform as an ideology is flawed because it presumes that we must change for the outside world. HaShem, the Creator, gave us all the tools we will ever need. There is a full spectrum of Torah observance and it is astoundingly colorful.

However, what I am addressing is a larger point and that is the future of the Jewish people. Who is engaging in intermarriage? It’s non-Torah-observant Jews. There has to be a reason for this.

Whoever you are, you have a strong Jewish identity and I commend you for that. Sadly you posted on Shabbos and if someone so connected Jewishly will do that, then many surely will too. Just don’t think for a second that such a construct can last in the long term. Look at all the Jews you know who have intermarried. Look at their kids, especially the ones who have a Jewish father. That is the clear result of unbridled assimilation. Mr. Golin made his choice and now he’s extolling the virtues of Christmas trees. That’s not happening with Torah observant Jews, no matter how misguided you think we are.

I wish you all the best in your spiritual journey. Should you return, you will be welcomed with open arms and not judged since every Jew is a precious Neshama from HaShem.

The results don’t lie and many kids are opting out. You can always return to your roots and give future generations a shot at continuing what you hold so dear: being Jewish.

David Srour says:

Although an interesting perspective, I found that I had a negative reaction to this article on a different levels.

On the positive side, I feel that interfaith families should not be lectured to. They likely have a hard enough time sorting out what they should and should not be doing. They can figure that out without me. But the article directly endorses the minor celebratory trapings of Christmas. The Buddhists in Japan do it and they are fine. The rational about keeping jews, intermarried or not, away from celebrating even minor elements of Christmas is about assimilation. Few would say that an interfaith couple that puts up a holiday tree but does not address christian religious aspects of the holiday is encouraging faith in Jesus. But joining in secular activities without the respect of their religious intent or source is just naive. Although one can say the same about, say, halloween – a clearly pagan then christian holiday currently adored by American secular culture. Christmas and its trappings is very different for two specific reasons. One, Christmas is clearly about Christ. Secular or not the message is present – Christ is lord, celebrate. Minimize it if you like, but this is not a holiday of pretty lights or adorned trees. Admire their beauty, of course. Celebrate it in the home without an understanding of the message is, as I said, naive. Second, our holiday of Hanukkah is the anti assimilation holiday. It is our holiday about the rededication of the Temple -in the face of the assimilating Hellenistic Jews of Israel. Those that had little issue with wreaths, zeus, and the other cultual trappings of Athens.

So, I agree and understand that in our society, people can and should make their own choices without lecture. The point is that having a christmas tree is an activity for “them” not for “us”. Do it, or don’t, The issue is not the impact to jewish identity, but that it is just not Jewish at all.

Christmas trees are a symbol of Christianity. Christianity is a symbol of the Inquisition, pogroms,the Holocaust and the murder of millions of Jewish men, women and children down through the centuries for not believing in Jesus as the Messiah. Christians are very selective as to who they kill. They do not kill Chinese, Japanese, Indians or Muslims for not believing in Christ. They only pick on the weakest of the weak. Can you argue with history?

    SynicInSF says:

    That’s crazy. Everyone has been killing everyone for the last 40,000 years (that we have any idea about). And sometimes it’s really about religion, but mostly it’s about competition for resources. And Christmas Trees actually predate Christianity in Europe. My ancestors, who spoke of Odin, had trees in the house long before they ever met a Christian.
    As for this bit about Jewish mothers…the theory has been there. But all the blue eyed blond Jews came from somewhere and I just don’t think they came from Jewish mothers marrying blue eyed blond fathers. No, they came from blue eyed blond mothers marrying Jewish men, in patriarchal societies. Interestingly, some late research is saying that European Jews carry a lot of Roman in them…so then the question is, did the Jews accompany the Romans, were they the Romans or were they slaves of the Romans? Or all three. Just to mix it up a little. …
    One of my friends married a Christian woman and then told her she couldn’t have a Christmas tree in “his” house. That marriage didn’t last long.

      baltasar almudárriz says:

      There’s been MUCH intermarriage but it’s been hushed up. Rich Jewish men in the past must have married non-Jewish women and brought them into the fold.

        SynicInSF says:

        Thing to remember…people yesterday were much like people today. So lots of people married for lots of reasons. And they got up to hijinks you wouldn’t believe…in the middle ages some people would convert from one religion to another and back and collect money from pious groups of each. Naughty!

Jeffrey says:

I have so many problems with the point of view expressed in this column, I will just list my top few:
1. The writer jumps from the question of having a Christmas tree — presumably in a house where one parent is a non-converted Christian — to “celebrating Christmas”. If the writer’s definition of celebrating Christmas does not include acknowledging Christ the Savior, and all that entails, I believe he denigrates Christians and their religion. One might as well encourage non-Jews to have B’nai Mitzvot because they’ll have a great party when they turn thirteen, and get a bunch of terrific gifts.

2. There are many rites and behaviors (commandments) that Jews do not engage in, such as keeping kosher, etc. The same is true of Christians with their religion. However, there are certain tenets virtually all Jews acknowledge as being necessary to follow in order to be considered — religiously — a Jew. There is actually no commandment I know of that forbids purchasing a coniferous tree in December and hanging pretty ornaments on it. However, a Jew that worships Christ as God, and celebrates Jesus birth, is no longer a Jew — despite what Jews for Jesus claim.
3. Deciding, as an individual, what a religious icon, such as a Christmas tree, symbolizes, represents a thoroughly narcissistic point of view. Could I wear a cross or crucifix, or even a swastika, and assign my own meaning to it?? Of course not. We are all part of various communities that share a common symbolism. To deny this basic fact is to merely engage in the most extreme solipsism. I would add that virtually all Jews DO agree on what the menorah symbolizes on the most basic level, and on a higher spiritual plane, as well. The writer just made up that “fact” to support his argument.
4. Finally, one can be a Jew and respect, honor and even engage in a celebration with Christians, without becoming one. I’ve done it all of my adult life, and have encouraged my children to do so, as well.

Jeffrey says:

Bianca — I partially agree with your points, and disagree with some.

I, too, enjoy singing Christmas carols, and listening to them. I also believe there a many elements of Christianity that are beautiful, and deserve respect and appreciation.

I don’t even have a hardened negative attitude toward any Jew who feels the need to have a Christmas tree (or a Chanukah bush)in the home.

But the writer made a huge jump from having a Christmas tree (Christmas carols never came in to the discussion)to the larger question of celebrating Christmas. While one can, theoretically, strip any holiday of religious meaning — you can have a Passover Seder meal without reading the Haggadah — but what’s the point? Just to get together and have some good food? Maybe Paul is arguing for some sort of pantheism (which is kind of what Unitarianism has become). And that’s fine. Just be explicit.

Lastly, in this article the writer took a a very public position on several matters — not just a personal one. As such, we the readers are not only entitled, but obligated to respond.

Michele Clark says:

I belong to an unaffiliated, very liberal congregation in Montpelier Vermont. I don’t think we’re typical. I don’t know if we are. In any case, I was happy to hear from Paul Golin that the ranting about Christmas has decreased on progressive bimahs (bimot?). My husband is not Jewish. In fact he hates most ritual. When I was not actively Jewish I didn’t want a tree, we didn’t have a tree, we celebrated only Hannukah with our children. They had a tree at his parents’ home. For about 20 years now I have been actively engaged as a Jew and therefore I feel fine about having a tree and a celebration with my daughters and friends – celebrating not the Christ – not at all – but just hanging out, exchanging funny presents, eating too much. And also we do Chanukah celebrations. My daughter who is biologically 1/2 Jewish attended Hebrew School. She has married someone who’s biologically 100% Jewish and they think of themselves as having a Jewish home. I’m pleased, but go figure. Having a tree or not having a tree does not seem to have had an impact on her Jewish identity. But I think my involvement in Judaism has.

Paul Ansell says:

Excellent essay. Spot on. Thank you.

if they’re so sure then why not you, you are able to criticize without a title

Please.  You’re proudly married to an asian, at this point just do whatever the heck you want, who cares.

Why are people assuming that Paul’s wife didn’t convert? And Patrilineal decent is accepted by Reform Judaism. Whether they are Jewish or not is between them and their Rabbi not bloggers.

rinast, michael says:

my grandmother (who was not a friend of christianity) said: christmas is the one day of the year, when the nozrim are happy that a Jew is born. we can celebrate it. and she celebrated.

Articles like this make me want to weep. “Strongly identified” does not make a child Jewish. It breaks my heart that so many Jews care so little about our faith, and, traditions. This “rebellious spirit” the author is trumpeting is just a cover for not really caring about the laws of the Torah. And, for all those who will inevitably start shouting about anyone willing to identify themselves as Jewish, should be considered as such. No. The Torah says otherwise. And Judaism is about the Torah. Deal with it, or, continue living a lie. You may be fooling yourself, but, your not fooling anyone else. That includes G-D.

Christmas tree is not a canonical Christian tradition; it was developed in 15th century and may be traced to pagan rites (see ). I grew up in the former USSR where Christmas tree was called “New Year tree” without any religious connotation. For many people, it’s just a part of the New Year festivities.

brynababy says:

Ruth Chell, your hateful letter makes me ashamed as a Jew!

Dick Stanley says:

It’s ironic, in a way, that so many today believe Xmas trees somehow connote Christianity. They were always pagan (bad enough for some Jews, admittedly) such that when they began to gain in popularity in mid-19th century America, Christians were divided on whether to endorse them. “I don’t worship the tree,” was a common explanation of those who refused to have one.

As a Jew who grew up begging for a Christmas tree, bush, plant, branch or stick of any kind–to no satisfaction–one might think that by marrying a non-Jew, I would be excited to finally have my chance! My husband (a non-practicing Catholic) came along with three children, also non-Jews, so having a Christmas tree at our house was a given. At first I liked it. There was a thrill of having something forbidden, and then the simple joy of choosing, claiming, and decorating a tree together, as a family. I was comfortable in my Jewishness, and the having the tree was no threat. Fast forward a few years, when we had children of our own. Children who we had agreed, long before we married, would be raised Jewish, and who were. They were enrolled in Jewish pre-school. We were members of a conservative (!) temple. And among all our friends, their friends, we were the only ones with a tree. Their friends asked–are you really Jewish? Why do you have a tree? And the kids asked–do we celebrate Christmas? Then why do we have a tree? And I started to give the tree the stinkeye. Then I stopped to think. We have a menorah. We had one even before we had Jewish kids. And back in the day, my husband and “the big kids” as we now call them, happily lit the menorah with me and in fact celebrated all the Jewish holidays with me, helping me to have a happy holiday. It didn’t convert them. It wasn’t meant to. And so, I told my kids, (“the little kids” as we call them), that we have a tree to help Daddy and the big kids have a happy holiday, just as they read from the Haggadah at Passover and light the menorah with us at Chanukah to help us have a happy holiday. The tree is about love and family and respect and togetherness in our home–our Jewish home.…/Christmas…

A. The Origin of Christmas Tree
Just as early Christians recruited Roman pagans by associating Christmas with the Saturnalia, so too worshippers of the Asheira cult and its offshoots were recruited by the Church sanctioning “Christmas Trees”.[7] Pagans had long worshipped trees in the forest, or brought them into their homes and decorated them, and this observance was adopted and painted with a Christian veneer by the Church.

…Many of the most popular Christmas customs – including Christmas trees, mistletoe, Christmas presents, and Santa Claus – are modern incarnations of the most depraved pagan rituals ever practiced on earth.

I think you can tell just by reading all the comments to this article that trees matter. People care – whether you’re for or against them, you are part of an entire army of people who agree with you. Paul G makes a common mistake by thinking having a tree is a solitary act. It isn’t. People will react and you will be living with their reaction whether you like it or not. Grow up Paul. Don’t be childish and say you want a tree because someone told you not to have it. A better approach to the issue of attacks on interfaith families (or Jewish families) and their trees is to ask, what good is attacking them doing? Does it make anyone give up a tree? Instead of being condemning let’s consider what we are asking of these families and how might we get it? So far being unkind hasn’t worked.

i appreciate the effort you spent to tell us that you favor x-mas trees in (semi)jewish homes, but……
the tree can be considered one of the ultimate symbols of christianity, like the cross hanging on necks or walls.
a x-mas tree does NOT belong in a jewish home!
it is an obligation to integrate into the gentile societies we live in, excellent, but no need to assimilate, please!
x-mas is explicitly a non-jewish festival and therefore keep the symbols outdoors.

Elaine Hannock says:

FEAR of assimilation? I have 6 nephews. 1 married a girl who converted to Judaism. 5 married non Jews and have children who are not being raised as Jews. One had his children baptized Catholic. It’s not fear, it’s reality. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so welcoming. Perhaps, we should have raised our children with greater expectations, that they raise Jews regardless of who they marry. My daughter married a non Jew, as did I. All the children are Jews, because my husband, and her husband, knew from the get-go that it was not negotiable; they respected us for that. It gives our children a solid sense of who they are, a foundation and a community. That being said, does she have a tree? Yes. And the children know it’s “Daddy’s holiday” and Grandmom doesn’t bring gifts or put anything under it. The children love getting a gift, but pay no attention to the tree, and the 7 year old apologized to me for having one- he’s a bit embarrassed about having and enjoying it. Hanukkah is our big holiday, and we celebrate it as a family, with much joy, food, gifts. Christmas has a movie and Chinese food, a tradition we love. I don’t even notice their tree. It’s fake, doesn’t smell, and it’s the only ornament in the house. If that is what makes a great son in law happy, when he goes out of his way to support our Judaism 364 days a year, it’s ok. My issue is when there’s no other Jewish identity because the Jewish parent is indifferent.

Nachshon says:

I can’t imagine marrying someone who didn’t have the same spiritual beliefs that I have. I’m a Jew and I don’t celebrate Christmas, so why would I want to be married to someone who does?

Eve Lunt says:

Growing up, I lived with my Jewish mother during the week and my Atheist (raised Lutheran) father on the weekend. I did Hanukkah with my mom and Christmas with my dad. However, my mom always had a Xmas tree too because her Jewish parents always had one and the pine smell was what she craved during the holidays. At my dad’s we never mentioned Christ but the beautiful Danish Xmas dinners and decorations and presents that he and my stepmom included me in every year were traditional family celebrations I would never trade for anything. And me? I retained my Jewish identity, married a man who converted to Judaism and am raising two Jewish boys. The Xmas trees and food and presents didn’t weaken my Jewish identity because they weren’t attached to any Xmas dogma. Both Hanukkah and Xmas in my families were annual holiday celebrations where family got together and shared light and love. I am so grateful for all of it, and I thank you Paul Golin, for giving me permission to keep hanging the mistletoe over the doorway, the one Xmas tradition that’s allowed in my house…hey, I’m no fool!

Dick Mulliken says:

For decades, as a gentile I encouraged my Jewish friends to please come join us in celebrating Christmas. Not for goodness sake, because I wanted them to convertor worship Christ. Rather, I wanted their company in the joyous good fellowship of the day; in our national celebration of family and children. And, I hated the thought of anyone being left out. A few years back, my new (Jewish) Daughter in law joined us for Xmas. She seemed to feel a little awkward. She said it was the first time she had been to an Xmas celebration. I was astounded, since hers is not a religious tradition. But, it made me think. I have come to realize that a Jewish wish to stand apart may be something I ought to respect. My compromise? I still say to any Jew or Hindu or whomever “Come celebrate with us! We Welcome you all!”. Yet i have new understanding of those who would stand aside. In some indefinable way I think the Jewish culture is a national treasure and resource for Americans. I hate to see it diluted. Meantime, I’m naturally delighted that my Jewish grandchildren have a tree and wish me Merry Christmas!

Aviva Herschel-Moretti says:

Mixed marriages should not require one partner to completely acquiesce by abandoning each and every practice that may have been part of earlier religious celebrations. We all know there is so much more to being Jewish or Christian than the Hanukkah/Xmas dilemma. I and my non-Jewish husband have raised two Jewish children in our ‘mixed’ household – a mix of habits, foods, languages, and family traditions. After our kids were born, he fully participated in promoting Jewish teachings in our home, and for someone with a solid Christian upbringing, this required considerable effort on his part. With Dad’s ongoing support, our grown son and daughter now recognize themselves as Jewish adults. But I can’t ignore that my husband was also close to his family of origin, so why deny him a symbol for just one week of the year that allows him to revisit the warmth and love of his childhood Christmases? My in-laws were remarkable people – should I simply pretend that I disliked their holiday practices as they happily welcomed me into their lives? I know many are very disapproving, yet, for me, this tree is a reminder of my husband’s commitment to my Jewish roots from Jan. 1 – Dec. 22. It smells nice, too!

Audrey says:

The Christmas tree is not Christian it was introduced to Britain by the German Prince Albert husband of Queen Vitoria it is a symbol of everlasting life because it is always Green unless it is dying. It is from a much older religeon tan Judaism and certainly much older than Christianity. It represents everlasting life. No Jew or Christian could gainsay that.

Dick Mulliken says:

This gentile has -what else? – mixed feelings on the issue. For decades I was strong on the notion that everyone should celebrate Christmas; sing carols, drink eggnog, and exchange gifts under the tree. I rather like loaning out the day of the Redeemer to all, including total unbelievers. Yet more recently I’ve come to see the value of separateness; especially for Jews. So I’ve more or less decided that both positions are correct. So welcome to any and all Jews who want to celebrate, and respect to all you who don’t.


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Standing Tall

It’s the time of year when intermarried Jews are lectured against Christmas trees. Given marriage trends, the lecturers should learn to pipe down.

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