On Christmas Eve, Christians will be gathering with families, feasting and opening presents and maybe even attending church services. Meanwhile, what will Jews be doing? Some will be tearing toilet paper. In a 2009 piece, Benyamin Cohen explained the history of Nittel Nacht. The article is reprinted below.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, Jews were playing dreidel, being celibate, and tearing toilet paper. Allow me to explain. Please.
The Jewish community has long had a tense relationship with Christmas. You wouldn’t know it by the two main customs observed by many 21st-century Jews on Dec. 25: eating Chinese food and being the first to see the Christmas blockbuster. But less well-known are the more historic—and, to be blunt, more bizarre—Christmas Eve customs that Jewish communities have kept secret, even from most Jews. As a public service announcement, I’m here to let you in on what the rabbis thought about Christmas Eve. Gather round, little ones. This is a scary tale.
The Talmud, with its share of rabbinic repudiations against Jesus, was never a big fan of Christmas. Call it the Grinch. Indeed, the rabbis looked at it as a day of mourning—perhaps due to the suffering that Jews encountered in Jesus’ name throughout history. And Christmas Eve—named “Nittel Nacht” by Jewish scholars in the 17th century—took on a life of its own. Some Jewish mystics were under the impression that many apostates were conceived on Christmas Eve (which is one reason the rabbis forbade sex on Dec. 24; more on that later). In Europe, the Jewish community was victim of more acts of violence on this night. All in all, it didn’t end up being a festive evening for Jews.
And so the rabbis decreed that the public study hall be closed and that no Torah learning take place on this night. I guess it’s our version of “Silent Night”—literally. The edict came about partially because of pogroms, but the leaders were also concerned about the popularly held belief in Judaism that studying the Torah brings spiritual benefit to the world at large. Many didn’t want to make this positive contribution on what they considered a “pagan” night.
Although there is no exact demarcation as to the genesis of this odd holiday, the renowned Talmudist Rabbi Samuel Eides (commonly known as the Mahrasha in Torah circles) observed Nittel Nacht as early as the late 1500s. The Baal Shem Tov, a famous Jewish mystic and the founder of Hasidism, popularized the holiday in the 1700s. Many rabbis after him added on their own special rules. By the mid-1900s, when Judeo-Christian relations matured, the Christmas Eve customs fell mostly by the wayside as the Jewish community wanted to show their support for their Christian neighbors. While there are still some Orthodox groups that observe Nittel Nacht, these are not widespread customs among modern Jews. Indeed, in doing research for this article, I found that asking for information on Nittel Nacht was sort of equivalent to asking for directions to the nearest Freemasonry.
Although Torah study was forbidden, some privately studied what’s called Toledot Yeshu—a medieval manuscript that tells the story of Jesus from a non-Christian perspective. A few didn’t even sleep on Christmas Eve for fear that they might dream about Torah study. It’s probably the only time the rabbis would prefer visions of sugarplums dancing in your head. Hassidic legend says that dogs, often and quizzically seen in ancient Jewish texts as a symbol of evil, appear to those who study Torah on this night.
Jaws dropped in Springfield’s Court Square Tuesday afternoon when Springfield City Councilor Bud Williams offered his take on the annual city menorah lighting ceremony.
“Jesus is the reason for the season,” Williams said during remarks at the ceremony that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
Following short speeches by Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield and Mayor Domenic Sarno, who both touched on the history of religion in Springfield, Williams was handed the microphone and uttered the line that had people talking long after the ceremony ended.
Williams no doubt was referencing Jesus Christ, whose birth is celebrated every Dec. 25 by Christians worldwide … but not by Jews.
City Councilor Bud Williams said he wasn’t engaging in religious triumphalism when he uttered “Jesus is the reason for the season” at Tuesday afternoon’s Hanukkah menorah-lighting ceremony in Springfield.
Williams, a Baptist, made the remark during a Court Square event attended by Mayor Domenic Sarno, Congressman Richard Neal, city dignitaries, and leaders of the greater Springfield Jewish community, all of whom gathered at the downtown park to mark the Dec. 16 start of the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights.
“I thought it added something to the service, it didn’t take away,” Williams said Tuesday night.
The city councilor said he referenced Jesus Christ, whose birth is celebrated every Dec. 25 by Christians worldwide but not by Jews, after participants in the ceremony mentioned “the bright light” of 2,000 years ago - an allusion to Christ, according to Williams.
“They said it,” Williams said.
The councilor said his remark wasn’t meant as an expression of religious superiority or “dominance,” but rather as a simple reminder about the “reason for the season.”
“Jesus was Jewish,” Williams said. “To me, Jesus is the messiah … I thought I was being very positive.”
Williams said some people thanked him for his remarks. “A couple of the rabbis walked up to me and said, ‘Great comments, Mr. Williams.’ “
ROCKVILLE, Md. - Montgomery County Public Schools will remove religious labels from school holidays, but members of the Islamic community say the adjustments to the school calendar do nothing to gain parity and a day off for the Muslim holiday of Eid.
The school board approved the school calendar for the 2015-2016 school year Tuesday. The calendar will no longer reference specific religious holidays but rather state simply that school will be closed on dates that correspond with holidays like Eid, Yom Kippur and Christmas.
Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of Equality for Eid, was not happy with the board of education’s action Tuesday.
“Equality is really what we’re looking for,” Ali said. “Simply saying we’re not going to call this Christmas, and we’re not going to call this Yom Kippur, and still closing the schools, that’s not equality.”
School board members said they were sympathetic to the desire to have Eid recognized and close schools but that legal precedent in Maryland bars them from closing for religious purposes.
“We can’t close for religious holidays. We can only close for operational purposes,” like high absenteeism, school spokesman Dana Tofig said.
That explanation doesn’t sit well with Zainab Chaudry, with the Council on American Islamic Relations. “What’s really concerning to us is that similar conditions weren’t placed on any other faith community.”
In the 1970’s school officials decided to close on Jewish holidays because of high absenteeism.
But school board member Michael Durso said that the schools effectively close for a religious reason: the schools had high absenteeism because of a religious holiday in the community.
Noting the attempt to move away from favoring religions by instead referring to school days off as “winter break” and “student holidays,” Durso said as long as the Islamic community’s concern for parity wasn’t somehow addressed “it comes off as insensitive, and I just think we cannot afford to be in that light”.
Read more: wtop.com
I think this is really, really stupid. Wingnut rage erupting in 4…3…2…1…
Rush Claims the left wants to destroy Christmas, Ignores the Fact That Most US Liberals Celebrate It
Here’s the audio from Media Matters of Rush Talking about the Left’s “War On Christmas” which I can prove beyond reasonable doubt does not exist.
Okay, Than Mr. Limbaugh why do so many people On the American Left Celebrate Christmas? These don’t look like people who “hate Christmas”
President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Celebrated it.
Christmas First Families: Clinton 1995 via whitehouse.gov
See that big Christmas tree in front of the capital building only a few years ago?
Senators argued over Christmas and no it wasn’t over whether or not we should celebrate it, but whether or not they should stay to get more important work done. Via politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com
Wow looks like Obama and his family really “hate” Christmas. Why aren’t other liberals complaining if they really want to destroy the holiday, eh Rush?
The first family with children dressed as elves, who are or were patients at Children’s National Medical Center. via nydailynews.com
Also why do we hear about things like this
Happy Holidays From the Democrats. No matter What Holiday You Celebrate and that includes Christmas
The Senate Democrats have also set up a “Capital Christmas Tree Webcam”
CAPITOL CHRISTMAS TREE WEBCAM via democrats.senate.gov
Hardly sounds like the left has an anti Christmas agenda does it?
Of course many leftwing non Christians Americans don’t celebrate Christmas, but that hardly constitutes a war on Christmas by the left or even those leftists that don’t celebrate the holiday. You’d then have to also ignore the small number of conservative Americans who also don’t celebrate Christmas. Rush and the “War On Christmas” nonsense have been debunked yet again, as if it hadn’t been already. I could have even done a much better job if I wanted to really take my time with this.
This is a few days old, but still a big *facepalm*
The old urban legend about a school banning red and green is back, this time directed at an elementary school in Texas.
An elementary school in Frisco, Texas is believed to be the first in the state to violate “The Merry Christmas Law” after they banned Christmas trees and the colors red & green from an upcoming “winter” party.
Except, no they didn’t. From the same article, just five paragraphs down:
The school district released a statement to myfoxdfw.com noting:
“The school was unaware of this and it was not an official PTA correspondence either. There have never been any limitations on what students wear, what they bring to share with their classmates on party days … what greetings people exchange with each other.”
But hey, why let a little thing like reality get in the way.
Here’s the schools offical statement from their website: friscoisd.org
‘Tis the season to war upon Christmas. In Bellevue, Kentucky, however, the war isn’t church vs state or even Christians vs everyone else.
It’s church in-fighting on display.
BELLEVUE, Ky. —A decades-old holiday tradition is at the center of controversy.
Churches in Bellevue are saying no to the nativity scene procession.
The pastor organizing the annual event is having trouble getting other congregations on board this year.
He believes part of the issue is that his church accepts gay members.
With the star of Bethlehem shining bright on Fairfield Avenue, Bellevue’s nativity scene has a new home in front of St. John United Church of Christ.
Mayor Ed Riehl explains that after 42 years in a community park, the display had to move off of city-owned property
But the other churches in Bellevue aren’t pleased about the change.
“We welcome everyone, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and he felt so strongly about this that he said to me, we don’t feel like you follow the teachings of Christ,” Rev. Keith Haithcock said.
Haithcock said that as an openly gay pastor, it hurts that another Bellevue congregation will not participate in the procession because of his beliefs.
Out of the five churches in Bellevue, St. John is the only one participating in the procession.
It’s almost that magical time of year, where Americans engage in vertical food distribution, cheer the Cowboys getting in the end zone, and trample over one another in their quest to celebrate the birth of the flat screen TV. It’s also a time where mega corporations are supposed to be somewhat less a-holes. Well, maybe not if you’re McDonald’s. McDonald’s, in partnership with Visa, runs a financial planning website with a very Hallmark-y message for its low paid employees: eat smaller meals and sell those annoying Christmas gifts on Ebay.
Just when you thought McDonald’s learned its lesson after previously urging its employees to seek food stamps, the purveyor brightly colored crap that’s bound to not make your colon “not love it” appears to have simply tweaked its message. The McDonald’s website cares so much about your well-being, it doesn’t want you to waste your time eating a full meal. After all, who has time for that in these stressful times.
But what should we do about the upcoming holidays, ever-so wise McDonald’s website?
McDonald’s pays you enough to invest in a lovely one room dog house, so they certainly know how you can manage debt. Just in case you were thinking of either buying or receiving presents this year for Christmas, don’t. You work for McDonald’s; you should he happy enough. With that in mind, the McDonald’s website wants you to stop your complaining and sell your stuff on Ebay.
The American Family Association’s annual Naughty Or Nice list of companies is out. And as always, the annual renewal of War on Christmas panic is an opportunity to revisit how quick conservative organizations are to sell out their own purported values when the opportunity arises for them to get some publicity by doing so.
First, the measure of whether a company is pro-Christmas is hilariously divorced from any theoretical Christian values or expression of the Christmas spirit, and determined solely by marketing. “BLUE: An AFA ‘5-Star’ rated company that promotes and celebrates Christmas on an exceptional basis,” the list’s key explains. “GREEN: Company uses the term “Christmas” on a regular basis, we consider that company Christmas-friendly. YELLOW: Company refers to Christmas infrequently, or in a single advertising medium, but not in others. RED: Company may use “Christmas” sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company, does not recognize it.”
The only stated value, in other words, is how much retailers talk about Christmas. By this metric, a porn company, or one that kills Bengladeshi child laborers it’s stolen from their families as part of its production process, could issue a statement declaring its belief that Christmas is the most important holiday of the year, slap the term “Christmas” on all of its products, and earn at least a Green rating (though in the former case, the AFA would certainly step in to intervene). The AFA is ostensibly a Christian organization, but the way it determines what counts as naughty or nice rewards effectively companies for how intensely they commercialize the birth of Christ.
That potential for hypocrisy gets even clearer when we look at the list of “Companies For ‘Christmas’” in detail. Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Kmart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, and Toys R Us all get passing grades from the American Family Association. They’re also stores that are opening at 6PM on Thanksgiving Day to jumpstart their Black Friday sales, a grotesque invasion of the commercial spirit into a day that’s supposed to be a celebration of America’s beginnings, and has historically been a nearly-universally observed holiday that gives families times together. That’s not even to mention the ongoing campaigns to win better treatment and wages for Walmart workers, an issue that an Ohio Walmart tacitly acknowledged in holding a food drive to supplement the pantries of its own needy employees.
Then, there are the companies that count as “marginal.” They include Uncommon Goods, which donates $1 per purchase through the Better To Give program to charities of consumers choices, including anti-sexual assault organization RAINN and City Harvest, which fights hunger in New York City. The company also tries to limit its catalogue distribution and use sustainable paper for those it does mail as part of forestry conservation efforts, and sells sustainable, recycled, and organic products. Apparently responsible consumerism doesn’t count for much in the AFA’s book, even though there are growing conversations about Christian imperatives to conserve.
To hear activists on the Christian right tell the story, the conservative Christian American—especially the male conservative Christian American—is the most oppressed, victimized person in the country, and perhaps the history of the world. It’s all utterly disingenuous, of course: painting themselves as victims creates a cover to actually victimize other people, usually by imposing their fanatical religious views. Here’s a rundown of various ways Christian conservatives paint themselves as victims, and who the real victims actually are.
1) The issue: Whether or not states should ban “gay conversion therapy” for minors who cannot, by definition, give their consent.
Who the right claims is being hurt: Christian parents whose supposed “freedom of religion” requires that they be allowed to try to force their kids to be straight. Matt Stave of the Liberty Counsel denounced banning this practice, calling it a “slippery slope of government infringing upon the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs.”
Who is actually being hurt: LGBT youth, whose actual rights to be themselves are being threatened by parents whose poor parenting decisions are tantamount to child abuse. Gay conversion “therapy” isn’t therapy in any real sense; actual therapy is about helping people become whole and well, which can only be achieved by gay and queer people by learning to accept their sexuality for what it is. These programs don’t actually convert anyone, something that even prominent “ex-gay” organizations finally had to admit. At best, they shove young people into the closet. The American Psychologial Association came out against gay conversion in 2009, and cited its use as a contributing factor to depression and even suicide.
But even if therapists did “convert” young people from gay to straight, that would not justify these programs. Religious freedom is something an individual possesses; if a young person decides to reject her parents’ religious teachings on sexuality, that is her right. Gay conversion non-therapy is not just an assault on young people’s right to wholeness, it’s an assault on their right to determine for themselves what religious beliefs to hold.
2) The issue: The new HHS regulations requiring insurance plans to cover, without a copay, an assorted list of preventive care, including contraception.
3) The issue: Businesses and the government taking an inclusive or even secular approach to the holidays. The right objects to a wide range of inclusive or secular behaviors, from governments sticking to secular expressions of the holidays season (Santa and Christmas trees instead of nativity scenes) and businesses that stick with greetings like “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
4) The issue: Schools leading students in prayer, whether it’s the teachers or the students offering the officially sanctioned prayer. The Supreme Court bans it all.
5) The issue: Gay marriage.