A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish

Overview

Christmas is not everybody’s favorite holiday. Historically, Jews in America, whether participating in or refraining from recognizing Christmas, have devised a multitude of unique strategies to respond to the holiday season. Their response is a mixed one: do we participate, try to ignore the holiday entirely, or create our own traditions and make the season an enjoyable time? This book, the first on the subject of Jews and Christmas in the United States, portrays how Jews are shaping the public and private ...

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A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish

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Overview

Christmas is not everybody’s favorite holiday. Historically, Jews in America, whether participating in or refraining from recognizing Christmas, have devised a multitude of unique strategies to respond to the holiday season. Their response is a mixed one: do we participate, try to ignore the holiday entirely, or create our own traditions and make the season an enjoyable time? This book, the first on the subject of Jews and Christmas in the United States, portrays how Jews are shaping the public and private character of Christmas by transforming December into a joyous holiday season belonging to all Americans.

Creative and innovative in approaching the holiday season, these responses range from composing America’s most beloved Christmas songs, transforming Hanukkah into the Jewish Christmas, creating a national Jewish tradition of patronizing Chinese restaurants and comedy shows on Christmas Eve, volunteering at shelters and soup kitchens on Christmas Day, dressing up as Santa Claus to spread good cheer, campaigning to institute Hanukkah postal stamps, and blending holiday traditions into an interfaith hybrid celebration called “Chrismukkah” or creating a secularized holiday such as Festivus.

Through these venerated traditions and alternative Christmastime rituals, Jews publicly assert and proudly proclaim their Jewish and American identities to fashion a universally shared message of joy and hope for the holiday season.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Christmas is our only national holiday founded on religious beliefs, and Plaut, a rabbi and Jewish studies scholar, describes the multitude of creative rituals, activities, and responses Jews have developed to counteract feelings of marginalization and “transform Christmastime into a holiday season belonging to all Americans.” American Jews have succeeded in getting broad recognition of Hannukah with postage stamps, a White House menorah lighting, and the Empire State Building set alight in blue and white. As individuals, Jews embrace the season’s family focus, but avoid Christmas-related activities, visiting Jewish museums, watching movies, and flock to Chinese restaurants on Christmas—a tradition that has spawned many parodies as well as San Francisco’s Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, a highly popular evening of Jewish standup comedy at a Chinese restaurant. Volunteerism on Christmas has become an established tradition, with Jews distributing food, clothing, and toys to needy non-Jews, filling in for colleagues at work so they can celebrate the holiday, and even donning Santa suits at stores, hospitals, and other venues. Although traditionalists may see this book as a cautionary tale on assimilation, Plaut offers a quirky, provocative, yet solid study of contemporary Jewish behavior and emerging new forms of popular culture. Illus. (Oct.)
New York Times Book Review - Elinor Lipman

"Fascinating. Plaut means so well and covers so much ground. After 207 pages, I am a Hanukkah maven. Ask me anything."
The Economist

"Hanukkah, a once-obscure Jewish festival that—conveniently falling in December—has been built up to become a response to the 'December dilemma', the puzzle posed for non-Christians by Christmas. The dilemma is no more, suggests Rabbi Plaut. December now features traditions that are both distinctively American and inventively Jewish. And one last Jewish Christmas custom—volunteering to work or help the needy so that Christian neighbours can enjoy the holiday—trumps the rest, distilling the essence of the season."
Ha'aretz

"In this short, informative and illuminating book, Plaut traces not only the changing attitude of American Jews to Christmas but the holiday’s symbiotic influence on Hanukkah as well."
Jewish Book World

"A Kosher Christmas is a unique observation of American Jewry and the ambivalence Jews face as we simultaneously try to integrate ourselves into American culture, while helping to shape aspects of it at the same time."
professor of law, Harvard University - Alan Dershowitz

"With humor and insight Rabbi Joshua Plaut, Ph.D. recounts the meaning of Christmas to American Jews. This 'only in America' account should be read by Jews and non-Jews alike but especially by those of us who have always felt a little bit guilty for enjoying Christmas."
Jerusalem Post Magazine

"A Kosher Christmas—full of entertaining and intriguing anecdotes and tales of Jews reconciling their traditions and values with the pervasiveness of Christmas culture—is a fast-paced read that anyone who grew up around holiday celebrations of all stripes will enjoy."
Choice

"Providing more than a Jewish cultural history, Plaut opens discussion on the way that the US Jewish response to Christmas, which he calls culturally unique, paved the way for the identity politics of other minorities to be expressed in the all-important December holiday season. Recommended."
New York Times Book Review
Fascinating. Plaut means so well and covers so much ground. After 207 pages, I am a Hanukkah maven. Ask me anything.— Elinor Lipman
playwright, theater critic, and recipient of the 2010 National Medal of Arts - Robert Brustein
"A Kosher Christmas is a richly amusing, well-researched present to American Jews, allowing them to wear their new cashmere sweaters to Chinese restaurants on Christmas day without being racked by religious guilt."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813553801
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 10/24/2012
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 1,140,605
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

JOSHUA ELI PLAUT, an ordained rabbi, holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Judaic Studies. He is the author of Greek Jewry in the Twentieth Century, 1913–1983 and has documented Jewish life and popular culture through photography, oral history, and ethnography.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Jonathan D. Sarna xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction Coping with Christmas: A Multitude of Jewish Responses 1

1 Coming to the New World: Can the American Jew Keep Christmas? 10

2 Hanukkah Comes of Age: The New Jewish Christmas 41

3 We Eat Chinese Food on Christmas 65

4 "'Twas the Night Before Hanukkah": Remaking Christmas through Parody and Popular Culture 87

5 The Christmas Mitzvah: 'Tis the Season to Be Giving 115

6 Chrismukkah and Festivus: Holidays for the Rest of Us 137

Conclusion Menorahs Next to Madonnas: Shaping the Future of Christmas in America 163

Notes 175

Index 201

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