A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish

By Joshua Eli Plaut | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

In his 1962 Christmas message to the nation, President John F. Kennedy declared that “Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, as well as Christians, pause from their labors on the 25th day of December to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace.” He concluded that “there could be no more striking proof that Christmas is truly the universal holiday of all men.”1

Kennedy, who was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, just blocks away from a large synagogue, should certainly have known better. Even in his day, as many as one in five Americans never celebrated Christmas as “the birthday of the Prince of Peace.” December 25th is the only American national holiday rooted in a specific religious tradition that a significant minority of Americans fail to share.

Nevertheless, as Joshua Plaut demonstrates in this volume, Christmas has become a national holiday in the United States. Those who do not observe it religiously, like America’s Jews, cannot ignore it and may even enjoy it. If, as a famous advertisement once declared, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye,” then by analogy you don’t have to be Christian to love Christmas. And even if you do not love Christmas (the more common Jewish attitude), there are still distinctive ways to mark the day. Filling in for non-Jews who have to work, celebrating culture at a Jewish museum, searching for love at a Jewish singles dance, laughing at Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, escaping to a movie and a Chinese restaurant— for Jews, these too are contemporary Christmas rituals.

Joshua Plaut explores these rituals and more in this extraordinary volume, the first to examine the subject of Jews and Christmas historically, ethnographically, and dispassionately. The fruits of many years of careful research, it teaches us more than we ever knew before about the multiple

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