Thursday, December 22, 2005

Column 63 - Christmas

With the coinciding of Christmas, Chanuka, and a National Column day, Jim suggested we write parallel columns commenting on key issues of the day from a Christian and Jewish perspective. Because Jim was going to be out of town, he wrote his column early and sent me a copy. and I was inspired to at least try to match his effort, although if you read his column today you’ll see that that’s not going to be easy – it’s one of his best ever.

I would not expect to find too much difference between what I would call a mainstream Jewish perspective and Jim’s answers to the question “What would Jesus do?” After all, Jesus was Jewish, and at a time when much of what we now consider Judaism was formed, and when I read Jim’s analysis, I didn’t find much to differ with.

Capital punishment has never set well with Jews as a whole – we’ve been unjustly on the receiving end of it too many times, and our involvement in its administration where Jesus was concerned has been a source of unending grief for us. For me personally, I can’t make it make sense from any perspective that I consider civilized, and I can’t reconcile it with modern Judaism, so here Jim and I are of one mind.

Jim seems to think Jesus “would not have much use for unions.” Jews were instrumental in the creation of the trade union movement, and were disproportionately affected by some of the worst labor disasters. In the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, for example, 146 people died, leading to the formation of the ILGWU. But unions today are not what they were 100 or even 50 years ago, and if the Jewish value that led us to support them was protection of the under protected, I’m not sure they still deserve our support.

The big question, of course, is war. Here the modern Jewish perspective is colored by the case of Israel, which has fought both defensive and offensive wars in its short history. In Israel’s case, I don’t think many Jews would advocate turning the other cheek. The commitment to the destruction of Israel is absolute in much of the Arab world, and it is fundamental to Judaism that the land is ours, promised to us by God. On the one hand, I think most Israelis and most Jews worldwide would prefer to live in peace side by side with our Arab neighbors and with a Palestinian state. That said, if forced to fight to retain what we believe is ours, the past 57 years shows that we fight we will, so I guess I’m more definite here than Jim is.

On issues of hypocrisy, lying, power grabs, and corruption, I don’t think there is any difference at all between the Jewish and Christian perspectives. Similarly, Jim says Jesus was a true believer in universal access to medical care, and I think most Jews would agree. I can’t imagine that any of the prophets would hesitate to take a stick to today’s health care system and drive it out of the temple in favor of easy and universal access.

If you’ve read Jim’s column, you know that he ends it with a twist worthy of Hitchcock on the question of who Jesus would vote for for President. That’s an interesting one. I was brought up to support any Jewish candidate for office just because he was Jewish, and so Jim’s proposal has a certain appeal to me. At the same time, I don’t think that Joe Lieberman just being Jewish is sufficient for me or Jesus to support him. So from a Jewish perspective who should be President? The Prophet Micah said that all that is required of people is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. For me, that narrows the field down a lot, I just don’t know to whom.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Eid al-Fitr, and to all of us, a happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful new year.

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