Christmas Lights

Dear Rabbi Fried,

At this time of year I see such pretty lights and decorations all around and I feel like I want to add some sparkle to my home! Would this be considered avoda zara (involvement with another religion)? What are your thoughts?


Dear Liora,

This time of year is one of the greatest challenges to our Judaism, and especially that of our children. The astounding allure of the magnificent sound and light show taking place in every mall and store, the glitter and catchy Christmas carols (many of which were written by Jewish composers!), fill the air and, inadvertently, our heads, making it difficult not to be swept up in the dazzle of it all. The streets often feel like airport runways with all the lights glittering on many homes. (My favorite was one house in our neighborhood lit up with so many lights flashing and twinkling that it could rival Times Square; the house next door had a sign lit with an arrow pointing towards their next door neighbor which simply said ‘ditto’!).It is quite clear that if we try to match what they do we don’t stand a chance. If we will simply try to add more dazzle into our holiday, our modest Chanukah lights ‘don’t hold a candle’ to their mega-watt light show! The way to go is not to attempt to outdo our hosts, especially by allowing their celebratory items to enter our homes during this time. We should rather show our families that we’re very comfortable saying that our neighbor’s decorations are beautiful, but are proud that we possess something deeper, even more beautiful internally. In order to successfully convey this message, it challenges us to search more deeply into our tradition and understand what Chanukah truly represents. We can’t express it if we don’t understand it!  We need to recognize what the battle with the Greeks was really about; what was it about our belief system that they were challenging? We should contemplate how the Macabees succeeded, despite overwhelming odds, to defeat the most powerful army in the world. We should attempt to understand what it was about the Temple that was so important, making it worth fighting for. Why such a great celebration for getting it back? What was really that significant that some oil burned longer than it should have? Is that the celebration really about the oil or about winning the battle, or both? If the main miracle and celebration is about the battle, why do we celebrate with candles? Maybe it would be better to have a type of Seder, like on Pesach, retelling the story of the war with the Greeks?These questions and more could become a family Chanukah project to research and discuss, with an emphasis on how the lessons learned apply to us today. This would open our hearts and the hearts of our children to connect to something deeper, sublime, which transcends the glitter and sparkle.If we could acquire, through study and learning, a deeper understanding of what we’re doing in our Jewish homes during this time, we will be able to pass on to our children the strength of Jewish character. This is the type of character needed to retain their Jewish pride during a time when it seems, by all that surrounds us, that our belief system is second-fiddle to that of our hosts. Many wonderful websites exist today in which, by the click of a mouse, you can greatly enhance your understanding of Chanukah. Check out, for example,,,, and many other wonderful sites that can provide new insight year after year. We will offer a bit of insight as a small taste of what can be learned from the story of Chanukah. By all accounts the core of the battle between the Macabees and the Greeks was about assimilation. The Assyrian-Greeks sought to impose their Hellenistic culture upon the vanquished Jews, rendering their Torah and observances obsolete and coaxing them to melt into Greek society. Unlike other conquerors, the Greeks saw no need to physically destroy the Temple; they had no problem with letting it remain standing like some sort of museum of the ancient, outmoded Jewish past. They defiled its holiness -then let it stand. They had no problem with Jews as long as they were “Greek Jews”, with no walls separating them from their hosts. The Macabees saw this as an existential danger to Jewish survival and were willing to fight to the death to eradicate this peril. The miracle of the oil revealed that their conquest was truly miraculous, not that they were simply better soldiers or fought harder. One reason that the oil was the illustration of their success is because when you mix oil in water, after a while the oil combines and rises to the top. When we remain loyal to our Torah, (its light represented by the Menorah), even when disbursed among the nations we are able to stay together and rise to the top!To decorate our houses with Christmas decorations would run quite contrary to this message. The miracle of Chanukah shows that, although we may be fully integrated and successful players in our society, we still retain our separateness. We need to beatify our homes and deck our halls, not with boughs of holly, rather with the timeless messages of our past which accompany us into the future.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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