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Q & A: On The ‘Evergreen Tree’ In A Jewish Home


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QUESTION: I am active in kiruv work in a neighborhood where there are many Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately, these people were kept ignorant of their Jewish heritage.
Lately I’ve noticed a new phenomenon. At this time of year, many of them seem to be bringing evergreen trees into their homes. They claim that they always did this in Russia in celebration of the “winter festival”.
What should my attitude be as a kiruv professional?
Name Withheld
Brooklyn, NY
ANSWER: Your work is vital, and by all means you must keep the channels of communication open and explain to them, individually or as a group, that this is not appropriate. Contrary to what you refer to as being a new phenomenon, this problem has been with us for many years.My uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, was asked this same question thirty years ago, before the latest large immigration of Russian Jews to America.

His answer specified: “It is prohibited for a Jew to use any religious object or even a symbol related to another religion on their holiday. Christmas is a day on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.

“Different customs and symbols are observed in various countries. Such symbols as a star, a yule log, mistletoe, a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, etc., are related to the Christmas holiday. That holiday has always been, and is, a religious festival but many people have made it into a secular holiday because of its impact upon industry and commerce, when millions of people buy products of all kinds as gifts. Merchants sell more of almost every kind of merchandise during this season than at any other time of the year. Stores in the United States and other countries depend on Christmas shoppers for a fourth of the sales they make during the entire year.

“But this does not detract from the fact that it is a Christian holiday and we must not use any of its symbols.

“The Gemara (Avoda Zara 6b) tells us that a certain official once sent to Rabbi Judah Nesiah II (who lived in the middle of the 3rd century) a Caesarean denar (a coin engraved with the image of the Emperor in commemoration of his coronation, as many emperors considered themselves gods to be worshiped) on his festival day. Resh Lakish happened to sit before him. Rabbi Judah asked him, ‘What should I do? If I accept the coin, he will go to praise the idols for it; if I don’t accept it, he will be displeased.’

“‘Take it,’ answered Resh Lakish, ‘and drop it into a well in the messenger’s presence.’

“But this will displease him all the more,’ said Rabbi Judah.

“I mean that you should do it as if by accident,’ Resh Lakish replied. (This way he will not be angry and you will not have accepted a gift bearing a symbol of their religion on their holiday).”

My uncle concluded that it amazed him that we seek to follow other people’s practices when we ourselves have many beautiful holidays, such as Chanukah, Sukkot, etc., and our religion is the source of all worship of G-d.

Indeed, our Father Abraham, who came to the unusual understanding of his Creator at age three (Nedarim 32a), is today the undisputed source of true belief in G-d. Other nations subverted that belief, in contrast to Abraham who destroyed his father Terach’s idols because they were the vehicle that fostered the denial of G-d’s existence (Bereishit Rabbah, Parashat Noach; Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Noach).

As stated by Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 7:10-11), idol worship trees such as the ashera – pagan symbols adapted by Christianity – are a violation of the prohibition of idol worship. A Jew is forbidden to derive any pleasure from it, much less possess anything that is part of it. The only way we can combat lack of Torah practice and at the same time promote the removal of all vestiges of idol worship in any form is by providing a true Torah education for every Jewish child and adult.

This was how Abraham, who was entrusted by his father to watch and run his idol “shop,” sought to prevent his customers from purchasing and worshipping idols. He tried to explain logically to the customers the futility of the idols.

You are now in the same situation Abraham was. Just as Abraham’s wisdom, patience, and caring were rewarded with a great nation that would follow his beliefs, so may you be rewarded for the merit of seeking to rescue his children and restore them to the true belief in Hashem that their fathers sought for them.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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