When Yeshua/Jesus Was Born and What Not To Do About It

When I was a kid, and there were still knights in shining armor,  Maid Marian was kid Marian, Robin hadn’t gotten his hood, and the Sheriff of Nottingham was just learning to think scurrilous thoughts, no one ever said, “It’s just not biblical to celebrate Christmas, and Jesus wasn’t born in December anyway! He was born on Sukkot!”  At that time, pretty much everyone realized that December 25 was just a time when it was traditional for many to celebrate the birth of Jesus, although the Eastern Church does so on January 6.

Nowadays, though, I occasionally run into people for whom this is a BIG deal. Not only is celebrating His birth on “the right day” considered important, and not only are arguments about Sukkot being for sure the right time zealously championed, but celebrating  Christmas according to the church calendar is rejected as if rooted in the Whore of Babylon, something from which we must all come out.

This kind of discussion appeals to some people, and is even of interest academically. That is fine. The problem is when we find people for whom a pet date for Yeshua’s birth is a non-negotiable article of faith, obliging the enlightened to correct or reject those who don’t hold to that date, while judging them to be, if not simply misinformed, then surely deceived, and indifferent to the contaminating effects of grieving God with their unbiblical calendar.

To which I say, HOLD IT!

Now for starters, I am not big on Christmas. I don’t have a tree, don’t wear a Santa Claus suit, don’t have a creche, and don’t conduct an inquisition about over who does and does not do these things.  But I will say this: whenever people get nostril-flaringly adamant about this day, that day, or the other, I get the creeps.

And of course we all know that Paul reminds us not to get all steamed up over such things (see Romans 14:5, for example), but that is not my line of argument here. My concern is over what kinds of communities we are forming.

Here’s the problem.

When we form communities that get hot and bothered over the right day to celebrate the birth of Messiah, especially when they view those who disagree with them to be defectors from the True Faith, or to be defective in some manner; when we have people who pride themselves on being “more biblical than thou” on such matters; when we form communities fixated on such issues, we are very much in danger of creating sectarian looney bins, marginal groups for marginal people, which will attract no one but the religiously fixated. But don’t believe me: ask yourself: What kinds of people are such hyper-intense religiously preoccupied groups likely to attract?  Will such groups attract normal Jewish people who see modeled for them sane and balanced Jewish community that honors Yeshua as Messiah? Will these groups attract healthy everyday people? Or won’t they rather attract the religiously fixated looking for an elite religion?

The answers are not only obvious: they should concern us greatly because they point to reasons why our movement fails to win the respect, interest, and faith of many Jews.  Am I wrong? I wish I were!

Here is how I would quickly refute this date-preoccupied mentality. Those who feel that it is crucial that we not celebrate Christmas because it is a pagan-rooted holiday should immediately forsake the common calendar, because  the names of the months are all modeled after pagan gods, like January, which is named after the Roman god, Janus. Furthermore, such people must as soon as possible also forsake using the names of the days, because all of them are pagan too. No more Monday because that is Moonday, etc.  Are any of you prepared to live this way? And will people flock to your gates because you are so compellingly “biblical?”

This whole preoccupation with avoiding “the pagan roots of Christmas” is based on what is termed the genetic fallacy–that something should and may be fairly evaluated on the basis of its origin.  This is FALSE.  Things should be evaluated on the basis of their use, not their origin.  The Star Spangled Banner’s melody was taken from a pagan themed song which said “entwined (is) the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine.” And Wikipedia reminds us that “the song (titled ‘To Anacreon in Heaven’), through its bawdy lyrics, gained popularity in London and elsewhere.”  Now obviously we can’t continue to sing the Star Spangled Banner because of its pagan roots.  Then, if we practice the genetic fallacy, we should, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, cease having birthday parties, because the only birthdays celebrated in the Bible are those of pagan kings, Pharaoh and Herod.

The ultimate disproof of the genetic fallacy is Solomon’s Temple,  which was built on the floor plan of Phoenician temples where children were sacrificed to idols to the sound of pipes and drums (remember Solomon had the aid of Phoenician builders).  Yet the Temple was a place where God was pleased to manifest His presence over the Mercy Seat because it is use rather than origin which determines something’s sanctity or lack of it.

And here’s another refutation. Most of us are big on celebrating the seventh day sabbath. But suppose we ran across scholarly arguments “proving” that the world began on a Tuesday, and that therefore the seventh day would be a Monday.  Would that rightly result in people bailing out on Saturday as shabbat because it wasn’t biblical?  Would that rightly result in groups splitting off and beginning to celebrate the true and biblical seventh day sabbath, from midnight Sunday to midnight Monday?  I sure hope not. I hope we all agree that the key here is that the sabbath should be celebrated, NOT that if you’ve got the day wrong nothing else counts.

Now I am not ridiculing or minimizing the right of people to have convictions on which day is best for the celebration of Messiah’s birth. Each should be persuaded in his/her own mind, and is more than entitled to his/her own convictions. In fact, some of the arguments about the Sukkot date sound pretty convincing, and the shepherds certainly weren’t tending their flocks by night in the fields in December! That is a good point!

But when we become nostril-flaringly adamant about such things, when we patronize or denounce others whom we deem to be “less biblical” or less pure than ourselves, when we derive a sense of the rightness of our group because of our championing of such issues; when we become distressed over whether we’ve got the absolutely “right” position on these things, then we are very much in danger of becoming sectarian and even borderline cultic. Under such influences, the Messianic Movement would become an even more marginal movement, to be judged the lunatic fringe by most balanced people, including the Jewish people who are supposedly of special concern to us.

So have your convictions. But please don’t major in the minors, because doing so brings no health or blessing to anyone.

But more to the point, it looks downright strange.  Even to God.

About Stuart Dauermann

The blog of Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, teacher, mentor, radio talk show host, denizen of Los Angeles, and a visionary with a long career in Messianic Jewish activism. You can hear Rabbi Dauermann as he hosts Shalom Talk, a weekly radio show, and even listen online at ShalomTalk.com. Rabbi Dauermann spends time traveling nationally and internationally, and throughout the year is in Israel as a Scholar in Residence at the MJTI Jerusalem Center. He has plenty to say about Jewish-Christian relations, the need for shalom in the world, and the agenda of Messiah, the Son of David.
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8 Responses to When Yeshua/Jesus Was Born and What Not To Do About It

  1. Zuzu's Petals says:

    If the date when Yeshua was born was important or otherwise notable, the New Testament writers would’ve told us. It’s as simple as that.

    • Michael H. says:

      I believe that in the gospel of Luke the date IS knowable, assuming a normal gestation period of nine months. I would rather celebrate the day in Tevet as His conception fitting nicely into my pro-life beginning at conception viewpoint. This year that date comes to the Feast of Tabernacles, which I believe IS his birthdate and on the 8th day of the 7 day feast He was circumcised…all in the Brit Hadeshah / New Testament. Detailed teachings have been made to this end and all points to the above. As to the winter soltice date, a clear pattern of false messiahs claim, amoung other charateristics this SACRED date, I for one would like to make a distinction.

      • And how is it that you know the date of Yeshua’s conception? And how is it that you know that his birth was on the eighth day of Sukkot? Beware: just because something is spiritually satisfying does not in any manner make it true. Sometimes the tightest arguments are the most fallacious, and those arguments that bring us to what we find to be pleasing conclusions are not therefore true: they are only pleasing.

  2. I’d differ with R. Dauermann on this; it seems to me celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th only adds to assimilation into gentile Christianity. And, as he concedes later in the post, it’s quite likely that date is not the date of his birth.

    Dauermann is right that we must not be religiously fixated on it, however. It’s a minor issue.

    • Assimilation is not heightened by proximity. A man who is truly a secure heterosexual will not be tempted to be homosexual by association with them, while a man unsure of his sexuality may be so influenced. Similarly, a person secure in their Jewish loyalities and identity could be the Pope’s chauffer without assimilating. It is all a matter of strength of identity, not proximity or the avoidance of same.

  3. Phyllis says:

    Jesus’s birth was important enough to be included in the Bible -God loves remembering events so i feel it is ok to celebrated it-with that said, dates have never been a big thing to me-if my birthday came on a date that i had to work-i just celebrate it on another date- it is the remembrance that is important-like your point on the Sabbath – it is the remembrance that is important not the date, or day.

  4. Alan Levy says:

    RE: my posting above….in the interest of full disclosure, I want to note that my family puts up a Christmas Tree each year along with celebrating Hanukkah. While of Jewish origin, I served as a pastor in a major Christian denomination for 20 years. My late wife was not Jewish and it was VERY important for her to affirm her own roots at Christmas, even after our transition to the Messianic community. Our three children find it very important to have both celebrations. I have “tutored” them since they were born on the interconnectedness of both occasions…often “ad nauseum”…to the point they have said, “OK, Dad, we GOT it!!”

    I personally know “purist” Christians who are appalled by my hanukkia (menorah) and that I am still “under the Law” by practicing Hanukkah (their knowledge of Torah needs strengthening!) and I know “purist” Jews and “messianics”who think I’m practicing AVODAH ZARAH (idol worship) by having a Christmas tree.

    None of these “puritans” seem to have time to sit down and talk to me about what the EXISTENTIAL meaning of all this is to the Levy family, how it affects our simple faith in God, how it teaches us various lessons, all of which are rooted in Scripture in one way or the other, how or practices open the door for interesting conversations with others about the reality of God, etc….

    Some of the OCD “puritans” who rag on others and myself about these matters need to either (1) take a course on Ecumenical/Interfaith Understanding 101, or, (2) ask their shrink to up their meds, ’cause the dosage level they are now at isn’t working.

  5. Alan Levy says:

    RE: my comment above….seems that my first posting did not go through, which makes the one above rather meaningless…think I goofed in posting it…here is a summary:

    I like Rav Stuart’s analytical category of “genetic fallacy”. I often use the litmus test of “existential meaning” in determining the value/appropriateness of a practice. By “existential” I mean to ask: What does this mean to you NOW? Why have you appropriated this practice NOW? What meaning/value does it have in your life NOW?

    The “genetic” meaning may be one thing, but what is important to our current discussion is the “existential” meaning for a person TODAY .

    For instance, the months we currently use in the Jewish calendar are well-known to be of Babylonian origin and one of them is actually in honor of a Babylonian “god”! The month of Tammuz (lit. “taking/scattering of seed”) is named after the Babylonian deity Du’uzu.

    WHAT??? Are the Yidin (Jews) honoring a false god? Why hasn’t some Hebrew-speaker sat down and renamed these “pagan” months? Because the “existential” meaning of the names has changed profoundly for the Jews compared to their “genetic” meaning. Please note a selection from Chabad.org on the matter:

    {So why did we begin to use these names? Why didn’t we stick with the Biblical practice of referring to months by their number?……..

    ……After we were delivered from Babylonian captivity…we started using the names that we came used to using in Babylon. And now, these names served to remind us that G‑d has redeemed us from (the Babylonian) exile.}

    The “genetic” meaning was one thing for the Babylonians, but the “existential” meaning for the Jews, even today, is profoundly different.

    Same is true for Christmas trees, which get a very bad rap in some Jewish and “messianic” circles. Christmas trees are sometimes mistakenly identified with the medieval Teutonic practice of worshiping gods who dwelt in trees (hence the “Sacred Grove”). After military victories the Teutonic warriors would wrap the sacred trees with the intestines of their defeated enemies in thanksgiving for the “win”. (Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Honey, call the kids…it’s time to decorate the tree!”)

    However, my sources (Wikipedia, Oxford Encyclopedia of the Christian Church, Rashi, my uncle Sydney, et. al.) note that the decorating of “evergreens” for Christmas started in 19th century France as a symbol of eternal life in Messiah. It has NO connection with Germanic barbarism at all!! The “genetic” meaning meant one thing to the Teutons but something radically different to French Christians.

    Are godly Christians today worshiping a deity in the tree they bought at the corner lot? Do the gold or silver frilly streamers some wrap around the tree represent INTESTINES??

    Methinks not…..

    Same with “Christmas on Dec. 25 for most of the Church (some do Jan. 6). My sources indicate the date perhaps was chosen to replace (“Christianize”) the celebration of the Roman winter solstice, a pre-Christian “pagan” practice. Its “genetic” meaning to the Romans was one thing, but today the “existential” meaning of the celebration is radically different for very dedicated, believing Christians.

    This category of “genetic fallacy” noted by Rav Stuart is very important. I have been a part of a rather large number of congregations, due to my background in Judaism, having been a United Methodist pastor and being currently associated, to varying degrees, with both Messianic and mainstream Jewish groups.

    I have noted the presence all along in congregations of a certain “type” of person who insists on “majoring in the minors” as to origins, dates, celebrations, lifestyle, etc…and has little or no room for those who are “blind” to the TRUTH this “type” has discovered and endeavors to live by.

    These “purists” or “puritans”, if I might so designate, seem to find a great deal of meaning and, more importantly, emotional security, in their adherence to the “minors”. Any discussion contrary to their worldview immediately triggers a great deal of anxiety in them, often presenting as anger.

    While a rational discussion of ANY issue is desirable in the proper context, the “purists” often create a VERY bad vibe in congregations with their Theo-OCD disorder.

    This time of year is especially vulnerable to Theo-OCD disorder, as some “purist” Jews can’t look beneath the surface of Christian practices and some Christians still believe the “Jewish stuff” has been canceled by Jesus.

    It might help the world in general if we each purposed to examined the “kavana” (heart intention to do a mitzvah {commandment}, follow God fully, etc.) of another person and their observances before dissing them.

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