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December 26, 2010

"The little-known Jewish holiday of Christmas Eve. Seriously."

The little-known Jewish holiday of Christmas Eve. Seriously. - By Benyamin Cohen - Slate Magazine
The Talmud, with its share of rabbinic repudiations against Jesus, was never a big fan of Christmas. Call it the Grinch. Indeed, the rabbis looked at it as a day of mourning—perhaps due to the suffering that Jews encountered in Jesus' name throughout history. And Christmas Eve—named "Nittel Nacht" by Jewish scholars in the 17th century—took on a life of its own. Some Jewish mystics were under the impression that many apostates were conceived on Christmas Eve (which is one reason the rabbis forbade sex on Dec. 24; more on that later). In Europe, the Jewish community was victim of more acts of violence on this night. All in all, it didn't end up being a festive evening for Jews. And so the rabbis decreed that the public study hall be closed and that no Torah learning take place on this night. I guess it's our version of "Silent Night"—literally. The edict came about partially because of pogroms, but the leaders were also concerned about the popularly held belief in Judaism that studying the Torah brings spiritual benefit to the world at large. Many didn't want to make this positive contribution on what they considered a "pagan" night. Although there is no exact demarcation as to the genesis of this odd holiday, the renowned Talmudist Rabbi Samuel Eides (commonly known as the Mahrasha in Torah circles) observed Nittel Nacht as early as the late 1500s. The Baal Shem Tov, a famous Jewish mystic and the founder of Hasidism, popularized the holiday in the 1700s. Many rabbis after him added on their own special rules. By the mid-1900s, when Judeo-Christian relations matured, the Christmas Eve customs fell mostly by the wayside as the Jewish community wanted to show their support for their Christian neighbors. While there are still some Orthodox groups that observe Nittel Nacht, these are not widespread customs among modern Jews. Indeed, in doing research for this article, I found that asking for information on Nittel Nacht was sort of equivalent to asking for directions to the nearest Freemasonry. . . .

December 24, 2010

Garrison Keillor is your Christmas Douchebag

Sometimes people wonder why I dislike Garrison Keillor so much. I guess they hear his folksy voice on NPR and assume he's a good person or something. But he's a serial adulterer who often says pretty nasty things about gays and women and non-Christians, like here. Garrison Keillor Christmas - Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone - Page 2 - Baltimore Sun
Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't. Christmas is a Christian holiday - if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.

December 22, 2010

This is why Catholic Hospitals are evil

How do you resolve "First do no harm . . . " with "let the mother die"? No loss. No loss at all. : Pharyngula
St Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Arizona was a Catholic-affiliated institution, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has just made a major strategic error: they have stripped the hospital of its affiliation. There are two reasons this was a bad idea for the church. One is that it exposes them as callous, evil bastards who don't care for their patients as much as they do their invisible, nonexistent souls. The reason the church took this action is that doctors there performed an emergency abortion on a woman who was 11 weeks pregnant and dying. The choice was to stand by and do nothing while watching the mother and fetus die, or abort and treat woman and let her live. The Catholic Church believes the doctors should have taken no action and allowed her to die. . . .

December 20, 2010

Merriam-Webster on Xmas vs Christmas

[via Laughing Squid]