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Can I Light a Menorah Next to My Xmas Tree?

Can I Light a Menorah Next to My Xmas Tree?

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Question:

My daughter attends a private school where there are many Jewish children. She so much wants to light a menorah. We already have an Xmas tree, is okay to light a menorah next to it?

Response:

Interesting--usually we get letters asking if it's okay to have a tree next to the menorah. I hadn't realized the question can be reversed.

Well, first of all, it sounds like a bit of a fire hazard. But there's a deeper issue here: I wonder if for you, lighting a menorah might have exactly the opposite meaning that it has for me.

What does a menorah mean to me? It's a statement of who I am. It says, there were these people came to our land and tried to assimilate us into their mega-culture, but we resisted and retained our identity. They took all we had to offer, along with odds and ends from the Athenians, Spartans, Persians, Parthians, Armenians, Assyrians, Egyptians, etc. and homogenized it all into a mushy Hellenist stew which eventually became our modern world. Yet, of all those ancient peoples, we alone remain, the only tribal entity to have survived into modernity.

The place I feel Chanukah the most is in Wal-Mart. In Wal-Mart, you get that subliminal sense of desperate anomy, of "do I really exist, or am I just another customer shopping in just another Wal-Mart that sells exactly the same stuff to the same people everywhere else in America?" Really, Wal-Mart and its sort truly represent the Hellenists of today, flattening and mixmasterizing everything unique and special in the colorful geo-demographics of America into a blurry, mind-numbing experience of today's favorite competitor sport, namely shopping. Wal-Mart is not friendly to tribal culture.

But today I walked into a Wal-Mart and saw a ten foot menorah burning there. I felt that same sense of relief as when opening Google Maps and finding my own house. That public menorah is a defiant act of the modern Maccabees--as is every act to establish the unique value of the individual in the face of global McCulture.

So what does it mean for you and your daughter to light a menorah? Isn't that just more of the same mushy unculture? Wouldn't it be more meaningful for you to find something of your own heritage that has real meaning for you, something you received from your parents and grandparents and want to pass on to your daughter?

That's one thing our Ask-the-Rabbi team here at Chabad.org repeat over and over: Torah has a message for everyone, but it's not that you have to be Jewish. Torah comes to shine light on everything in the world, to show you what is wise and meaningful there, so that you can discard the husk and enjoy the fruit. Torah provides basic laws of monotheism and human dignity for all humankind, so that we can all live together in the same playing field. But then it says, now go out and be who you are. Look in your own backyard, there are plenty of truths, all you need to do is throw out the junk to find them, and then to cherish them.

Yes, the message of Chanukah is universal. Like they say, Jews are just like everyone else, only more so. The experience we went through in the Greek Empire back then has meaning to every human being on this earth--especially in our globalized society now. It says that what's divine about us is not only that which makes us the same, but much more, it's that which makes each of us different and unique.

So find what unique truths there are about you, your family and your heritage. Use the Torah, G‑d's message to all humankind, to find them. Then celebrate them. In your own way, you'll be celebrating Chanukah.

Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel January 4, 2017

9 Branches not 7 Thank you Miriam Levinson for calling it by its proper name (at last). A menorah has 7 places for the wicks and lights, It was used in the Temple and is today the symbol of our State. A Hanukiah is not the same. It has places for 8 lights or possibly one more for the shammas. Reply

Michael Ch. Jerusalem December 31, 2016

Amen. Reply

Miriam Levinson Philadelphia December 29, 2016

Christmas for Christians? The response has all the elements of political correctness. But, when I was a Christian, talking to a Rabbi, I didn't want to hear, "Just go back to your heritage and be a good Christian." Christianity isn't monotheism. Christianity is worshiping that image of a baby in a manger. People need help getting out of the darkness, not reassurance to just be a good person when there is no comprehension of what the Torah says is good. Maybe Christians should reflect on their gospel saying that their Jewish messiah was in Jerusalem observing Chanukah, the Feast of the Dedication. Maybe they should understand that they too will join in on the dedication of the third and final Temple. My three-year-old grandson made me a Hanukkiah in his mostly Jewish day-care school. He's too young to understand why he has a Jewish grandmother, but I'm happy that someday he will think about the meaning of our holy days,even if he lights a Hanukkiah next to a tree. Chag Chanukah Samaech. Reply

Avrohom Kaufman Monsey December 29, 2016

Now I understand Now I understand what people have against Walmart. Great insight Rabbi Freeman! Reply

Helen Dudden Bristol December 29, 2016

I've got nothing that resembles the Christian faith in my home. No cards, no tree, no baubles. Yet I'm Converting, not a born Jew and I felt this involvement with Christianity had to stop many years ago. I'm a grandmother and my family know I don't send Christmas, give gifts at Chanukah in just pretty paper. We all accept my way is the way I believe.
Of course, we are free to make our own path, but I can't see the point in not following the path of Hasten if it crosses both faiths. Mixed relationship, is perhaps another point, but then another issue. Reply

k richmond December 29, 2016

McCulture That says it all. However in e pluribus unum what can be expected, especially when it comes to supporting or marketing to everyone. Thank you.
Respectfully,
k Reply

Anonymous uk December 28, 2016

Staying True To Who You Are Thought provoking article. Thank you.

I was looking at the picture of the Menorah above the article behind a background of what appears to me many different coloured baubles, the ornaments usually hung on Christmas Trees. It occurred to me that this picture is very representative of what it means to retain your Jewish identity and faith in the context of Jews living in the diaspera.

All around us are glittering shiny symbols hung on trees to lure us, tempt us away from our own religion.

Having a celebratory tree hung with shiny baubles that symbolises the Christian faith; a faith that worships a man as G-D is almost like a lure. It is an enticement.

All that glitters is not always gold. It can be fake.

The gold in this art is the Menorah; for me a symbol of faith in One G-D and One G-D only. The glittery, colourful baubals behind it is that which seeks to diminish or compete with this belief, indeed over-riding it, perverting it, which is Christianity and Messianic Judaism. Reply

Devorah Fraser LEEDS, WEST YORKSHIRE December 28, 2016

Non Kosher Trees! One of the first things I did 15 months ago after renouncing and giving up being a Jewish believer in JC for 42 years was throw out my three Christmas Trees and all the associated bells, jingles and whistles.

Christmas is not a festival for the Jew to rejoice in or celebrate.

As a Jewess I want no symbol in my home celebrating a festival that believes G-D came to earth as a man, died for the sins of the world and who rose from the dead.

Christians worship JC as G-D. This is good enough reason for me not to have any tree or ornament in my home at this festival time that is anyway associated with the non-Jewish festival of Christmas.

Forget the drivel of Jews for Jesus about JC being Jewish, a nice man who wears a yarmulke and likes bagels. The fact is all Messianic Jews worship JC in the same way you worship G-D at Shul.
When you say the Shema you think of G-D, when Messianic Jews say it they think of G-D and Jesus. There is no difference in their eyes. Reply

DOLLY HEWETT COOLIDGE December 28, 2016

Excellent answer. Good thoughts to ponder. Shalom Reply

Esther Weinberg Israel December 28, 2016

It never ceases to amaze me how many people read their own agenda into other people's views. I think the letter is respectful honest and reflective of authentic Judaism and therefore refreshing.
Happy Chanukah to fellow Jews and happy holidays to everyone else. Reply

william makin bedfordshire December 28, 2016

the Christmas tree can be seen as a pagan symbol. but in the deep subconscious of humanity is it not a mirror of the tree of life? To me the glittering balls are like so many reflections of the Sephirot. surely the point about the Maccabees is that they rose in arms because of the compulsion to abandon the faith by law and the transformation of the temple into compulsory demonic worship. any historian will tell you that the Maccabbee rulers and high priests adopted many features of Greek culture once the true worship had been restored. but these things are a matter for individual conscience rather than rabbinical ruling. I don't agree with the ban on trees in hotels in modern Israel. Reply

Leah Israel December 28, 2016

To: Emma You write that you are the only Jew in your family. You then mention your daughters and grandchildren. Unless they are not your biological daughters, your daughters and their children are themselves Jewish. It doesn't matter whether they consider themselves as such or not. They have Jewish souls.

Happy Chanukah! Reply

Leah December 28, 2016

All very simple and clear. The answer is clear. It is simple. The answer is: No. The menorah is not an ornament. The flame of the menorah's candle (or oil) represents the Jewish soul striving to learn more and do more good in the world each day. Anyone, Jewish or not, who builds on their good deeds, day by day is a living breathing menorah! No need to light the menorah in an ornamental way. Traditions without meaning are not Jewish. Reply

Anonymous December 28, 2016

If you really feel that way about Wal-Mart, should you be supporting it with your patronage? Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel December 28, 2016

Dangers of a combined celebration Be careful that the Chanukiah is not too close to the tree. It might start a fire. Reply

Cindy Roberts S.A. December 28, 2016

I come from an Interfaith Family and My husband's Jewish Cousin brought me a Menorah all the way from Israel. He encouraged me to light it. I believe that non-Jews can celebrate it as another one of G-d's miracles. Dare I say it, I love the Jews and everything Jewish, but feel that there is a wall separating Jews and non-Jews and that although years of History of abusing the Jewish people, non-Jews want to try and change that. Let them in, please open your hearts, break down the walls, let them show you how many love you. Reply

Jeannette Israel December 28, 2016

There is a tale from the 18th century of a sailing vessel that was out of water, about 100 miles from the coast of South America. They saw another ship, not close but close enough to send it a message. They asked for water. The other ship sent back a message: "Drop your buckets where you are". They did and got buckets full of fresh water - the fresh water was a stream in the ocean which emanated from the Amazon. I think Rabbi Freeman is advising the questioner to "drop her buckets where she is" - to enrich her daughter's life with beauty from their own tradition.

That said, if the child really wants a Menorah like her Jewish classmates, perhaps the mother could arrange for them to go over to a Jewish friend's house for candle lighting. Reply

Anonymous December 27, 2016

Sometimes I feel we worry too much on these issues, when the goal is to bring Torah to all peoples.
And oh, btw, both Holidays have their roots in Israel, one in Beitlehem, the other in Yerushalayim. Reply

Gerard USA December 27, 2016

Scott But as far as observing Chanukkah, you would need to talk to a Rabbi about that and how it pertains to a non-Jew keeping the Seven Noahide Laws.

The wording of a bracha indicates who the mitzvah is given to - for instance, looking at the Chanukkah blessings - which can be found here, but I am unable to share links as a commenter - all three are clearly talking about Jews.

Who is commanded to sanctify themselves with the mitzvos? The Jewish people.

Who had forefathers in the land of Israel that witnessed the miracles of Chanukkah? The Jewish people.

Whose lives were preserved in the Chanukkah events? The Jewish people.

I am not trying to be coy, Scott. I am just trying to be helpful. People misunderstand easily and become confused.

To Rabbi Freeman: If I am out of line to try and help others understand this, my apologies, I just was hoping to make things clear.

Be well everyone. Reply

Simcha HONOLULU December 27, 2016

Again and again My comment is about the way Chanukah is treated by my Christian friends and, unfortunately, by many Jews. As "Jewish Christmas". It's not and if you know the modern history, then you know that Chanukah has been used as a way to keep Jewish children from feeling left out and hurt during the larger community's Christian season. Good intentions don't always make for good deeds. In reality, it's a carrot on the stick to assimilation, and loss of Jewish religious identity. I've heard the argument that it's not the baby in the manger they're celebrating, but the traditions of their friends and community, so it's okay. Well, flying reindeer, the tree, the yule log, and all that seem to be the more secular aspects of the season, have pagan roots - and that's just as bad if not worse. You can call it a "Chanukah bush" and decorate it with dreidels and blue lights, but it still comes from pagan rituals. Reply

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