Here’s a pop quiz: It’s almost time for that holiday—you know, the birthday of the guy at least two-thirds of Americans believe is the son of God. If you happen to meet one of them between now and the 10th of Tevet—or, as they might know it, December 25th—what should you say?
Answer: You wish them a Merry Christmas.
I know this because I’m a human being who understands basic human communication. I also know it because I’m a Jew who takes his own religion seriously. I pray three times a day, I forgo numerous delectables to appease the particular culinary requirements of my angry desert God—including oysters (sob)—and, when one of my sacred holidays rolls in, I like it when people smile at me and say something like “hey, man, have a happy Hanukkah” or “I sure hope Tzom Gedalia goes smoothly this year.” It’s a simple, cost-free recognition that faith matters, and that your right to practice your particular faith is both protected and cherished here—two propositions on the basis of which this great, good nation was built.
But don’t you dare say any of this to the attorney general of the state of Michigan.
“I remember the first time I was at a store with my son and an employee said ‘Merry Christmas’ to us,” Dana Nessel tweeted recently. “My son looked devastated as he asked ‘Are we the only people who don’t celebrate Christmas?’ I answered ‘No, and we are just as American as everyone else.’ Glad @JoeBiden knows that.” She later deleted the tweet.
This one, as a wise cultural commentator would say, has everything: In 280 characters or less, it manages to misunderstand America, Christianity, Judaism, the concept of religion in general, and also what it means to live with other humans. Like scoring a perfect zero on a multiple-choice test, you actually have to know a lot to get things this wrong.
If you believe that even a greeting that mildly smacks of religious belief has real power to harm minorities, you must then also believe that such niceties ought to be censored for the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors. Which, of course, means that you now giddily support banning more or less all forms of religious expression in anything that could even remotely be understood as the public square, or, in other words, that you find the whole “freedom of religion” thing as troubling as, say, the freedom to own firearms.
Indeed, it’s starting to feel a little strange to keep avoiding the obvious truth: The problem on the left is with religion qua religion, and, too often, they are using Jews to broadcast to everyone else how unnecessary—even toxic—religion truly is.
Don’t believe me? Let’s head over to The New York Times, which rarely misses an opportunity to defend its godless dogmas. Over the weekend, the paper of record published an astonishing piece, titled “Saying Goodbye to Hanukkah.” The premise is simple: The author, Sarah Prager—whose father was Jewish but whose own childhood experiences involved growing up in a Unitarian Universalist meeting house that treated religion much as a strip mall treats T-shirts, offering a different design and size in every room, from Kwanzaa candle dipping to gingerbread-house decorating—will not introduce her own kids to Hanukkah at all.
Why? Because religion is, like, bad.
“Each of those eight nights we’d recite the Hebrew prayer about God while lighting the menorah,” she writes. “We memorized the syllables and repeated them, but they had no meaning to us and my parents didn’t expect, or want, us to believe what we were reciting ... My kids may end up playing dreidel sometimes, but they won’t learn the prayer that begins Baruch atah Adonai, sacred words that are nonetheless empty to them.”
Like Nessel, Prager decided to solve her core identity problem by draining her Judaism of its life force and using it instead as a puppet in the service of the only virtues that her caste recognizes. Unlike Nessel, she and her editors were smart enough to attack not Christian displays of faith but Jewish ones, which, coming from a Jew, sounds like progress, away from religion’s benighted mists and toward the great light of our intersectional sun.
Follow the logic of arguments like Nessel’s and Prager’s, and you’ll see how wildly dangerous their proposition truly is: In the vision of the new left, American Jews are to be tasked with turning ourselves into the flag-bearers of a war not just on Christmas but on religion in general. That way lies ruin, my friends—for others, but also for us.
Thankfully, all we have to do is continue to celebrate the timeless lesson of Hanukkah with joy, and when we bump into friends or neighbors who delight in the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us wish them, from the very bottom of our hearts, a very, very merry Christmas.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.