A very Jewish Christmas
Likewise, this Christmas looks to be the most aesetic we've had yet. We didn't put up BG's small fake tree this year, but instead went Zen by turning on the fake bonsai with fiber optic lights that BG's brother gave him last spring when BG's whole famiily got together. Although at the time I thought it was way tacky, it is actually quite beautiful, with different colored fiber optic lights slowly changing colors and flowing into each other. I think of it as a Zen Christmas tree--simple and elegant. If my camera's batteries worked, I would have tried to capture the "real" fake tree, but here is a real one instead. Awesome, no?
In any case, for some reason, last night on Christmas Eve I started to think about the connection between Christianity and Judaism--maybe because our little Zen bonsai looks more like a Chanukkah bush (lol)--if there really is such a thing. Not to mention the fact that my mother was Jewish, which makes me automatically one of the tribe by Jewish law. One caveat: I'm writing this off the top of my crazy head, so if any details are innacurate, feel free to chastize me if you care to.
From what I understand, Jesus was a learned Jew, and was likely referred to as a Rabbi in his day. In Judea, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their faith and in essence govern themselves. In matters of civil and criminal law, the elders of the Temple prevailed above all. The emergence of Jesus was a threat to this authority, as well as an affront to their religious traditions and rituals.
Jesus was far from the first or last man claiming to be the Messiah, and I'm sure the elders saw him as just another false prophet. Although it may not be politically correct to say this, I have no trouble with the notion that the Jews rather than the Romans were ultimately responsible for killing Christ. However, it was his destiny to be betrayed by his own people, for he was the ultimate sacrificial lamb.
In the Jewish tradition of old, as in other ancient religions, offerings were made to the Lord, including animal sacrifices. The story of Abraham and Issac demonstrates how crucial this ritual was for the Jews, and how seriously they took any edict from a demanding God--even if it meant (potentially) sacrificing their own son, as God did Jesus.
There is an old saying, profound in its simplicity: "It's hard to be a Jew." The Jews have been persecuted since time immemorial. They were slaves in Egypt, and perpetually wandered the world trying to find a hospitable home. In modern times, the Holocaust and the rabid anti-Semitism of many Muslims proves that the most virulent and unreaoning hatred of the Jews is very much alive and well. Just as the Elders of the temple viewed Jesus as a dangerous blasphemer, mocking their traditions, so some gentiles still see Jews as an affront and a threat.
For me, Jesus was the ultimate Jew--he was persecuted and martyred, but by his own bretheren. More ironic still is that rather than follow his simple teachings during the centuries that followed, some Christians made it their mission to convert the Jews or kill them if they failed to comply. It is indeed ironic that some Christians forget the simple fact that Jesus was Jewish, and the sacrifice he endured was the logical culmination of what it meant and means to be a persecuted minority.
Although Chanukkah is now associated with Christmas, it is a relatively minor Jewish holdiay. Passover, however, is both a major Jewish holiday--a celebration of the Jews' escape from the bondage of their Egyptian captors--and a holiday with a vital connection to Christianity. It is more than notable that the Last Supper was, indeed, a Passover seder, which traditionally included a Pascal lamb as part of the feast.
If the Jews were the "chosen people," they were, I believe, chosen to suffer as part of the price for being so, because their God, like a demanding father, expected obedience and sacrifice from his most favored children. Jesus, to me, was the ultimate chosen one of the chosen people--God's only begotten son--and those who adhere to their Jewish beliefs continue to be maligned and persecuted to this very day, much as Jesus was centuries ago.
One of the most moving films I've even seen is the Last Temptation of Christ, which explored the notion of Christ as half-human and half-divine. Because of his humanity, he suffered as any man would suffer; experienced pain and doubt and fear. This is one reason his sacrifice is so meaningful, and why to me Christ represents the essence of what it means to be Jewish as well as Christian.
I'm writing this in the wee hours of Christmas morning. I doubt that too many of you will be surfing the Web today, but nevertheless I wanted to wish-- to all who celebrate it--a very merry Christmas.