No good deed goes unpunished
By John D. Turner
26 Dec 2009

It’s hard to believe that an entire month has gone by without writing a single article. But it has; to the day. It isn’t that nothing of importance has happened; there have been many important things occur in the past 30 days. Many of these things have made me want to sit down and dash off my opinion. The problem hasn’t been ideas or events; it’s been lack of time.

Work, getting ready for Christmas, getting ready to go on leave, cleaning house, wrapping presents, Church callings, being with my family – all good things, but all things that take time. Which brings up the topic of my article this time: the holiday season; a season that encompasses many different holidays.

For those of the Christian faith, the main one at this time of year is Christmas. For those not of the Christian faith, Christmas looms large, at least in this country. You can hardly be unaware of it even if you are not a believer. Christmas is both a religious and a secular holiday. It is religious in its celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the central figure in Christianity. It is secular in its celebration of Santa Claus, and the spirit of giving.

For those of the Jewish faith, this time of year is the time of the eight day celebration of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. It has nothing to do with Christmas or Christmas traditions, despite the attempts of some to equate the two, primarily based on their calendar proximity, and the tradition of gift giving that has sprung up in North America and Israel.

Hanukkah predates the birth of Christ. It is a celebration that marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of Syria. It commemorates the “miracle of the container of oil”.

At the time, Israel was ruled by the Seleucid Empire, which was a remnant of the Greek empire established by Alexander the Great. The importation of Greek culture had a profound impact on customs and practices of Jews as well as other cultures. This clash culminated in the banning of some Jewish religious rites and traditions by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, resulting in the Maccabean revolt, lead by Judah Maccabbeus.

The revolt succeeded, and on Hanukkah, the Jews regained control of Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple.

The miracle of Hanukkah is recorded in the Talmud. After the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, it was discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. Only one sealed container remained. The container contained only enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days; the amount of time necessary to have new oil pressed and consecrated.

One of the other traditions of Hanukkah is the singing of songs. Just like Christmas songs, there are Hanukkah songs. Like Christmas songs, some are good and some are bad. It turns out that many Christmas songs have, over the years, been penned by Jewish authors. Apparently though, not many Hanukkah songs are written by Christian authors.

Ten years ago, Jeffrey Goldberg, a noted Jewish writer, was interviewing Senator Orrin Hatch who at the time was running for President of the United States. They discussed political topics for awhile, and then Senator Hatch, obviously looking to insert a human interest side to the story, asked Mr. Goldberg if he had ever heard his love songs.

Who knew Senator Hatch was a song writer? Indeed, he has written many songs; love songs and Christian spirituals as well. After hearing five or six Christmas songs, Mr. Goldberg asked him if he had any Hanukkah songs. Hatch said that he didn’t but he would be glad to try, and asked Mr. Goldberg for some possible themes.

And there the story died until this year, when Mr. Goldberg was writing on his Atlantic blog about the time when Orrin Hatch nearly wrote a Hanukkah song for him. As luck would have it Senator Hatch (or someone who knew him) read the blog, and, to make a long story short, the song was written, scored, and recorded this year.

It’s a catchy tune. It is clearly meant to be a celebratory song commemorating Hanukkah; it is not meant to be snide, comical, or demeaning. Were it written by anyone else other than Senator Hatch, I doubt that it would have been newsworthy in the slightest. Were it written by Senator Lieberman, there may have been minor note; Senators are not normally seen as songwriters. But it probably would not have become material for a “comedy” skit by NBC on the Tonight Show.

So, after hearing about Hatch’s song, Conan O’Brien’s “resident Jew, drummer and bandleader Max Weinberg” wanted to “return the favor” to Utah’s senior senator and his “co-religionists of the Mormon faith”, with this profoundly stupid and ignorant performance.

While Mr. Goldberg may have appreciated the effort, apparently others did not. The consensus among Jews, at least those who write blogs or comments to blogs is pretty much “how dare he!” Mr. Weinberg’s attitude pretty much sums it up. It may be ok for Jewish songwriters to write Christmas songs, but when it comes to Jewish holidays, goyum need not apply.

Too funny. I don’t know of many Christians who are exercised by the religion of those writing Christmas songs. Perhaps it’s because they just assume that anyone writing a Christmas song is Christian; perhaps they just don’t care.

If you take a look at Senator Hatch’s song and then look at Max Weinberg’s you will notice a huge difference in tone and meaning. You may not like the lyrics Senator Hatch wrote, but at least they display an understanding of the topic, and were written from a position of respect. The same cannot be said for Mr. Weinberg.

It is pretty funny that someone would go on national TV with a song that says right up front that they don’t really know what they are talking about, and then go on to prove it by singing lyrics that demonstrate that fact. Perhaps Conan O’Brien should have a token Mormon on his staff as well.

Actually, I think Senator Hatch was hit with a double whammy. I think that Mr. Weinberg and others would have been less upset if the lyrics were written by a liberal Christian politician – Nancy Pelosi perhaps. But a conservative Mormon? Unthinkable!

When will the Jewish population in the United States wake up and realize that liberal Democrats are not their friends? I know that the Jews were handed a raw deal in the rest of the world, and often times it was Christians that were holding the torches. Perhaps that is why they love liberal Democrats so much; they trust secularists much more than they do Christians. But they need to know that secularists will throw them under the bus as fast as Christians ever did. Secularists think all religions are equally screwy, Judaism included.

I understand Jewish distrust of Christians, truly I do. What American Jews don’t seem to understand is that all Christians are not the same. In particular, American evangelicals and Mormons are probably the two best friends Jews and Israel have in the world. And most of them are conservative.

Goldberg describes Mormons (most of them anyway) as being philo-Semites. It’s a term I had never heard before, but it’s an apt description. The Mormon Church’s official position (and the personal belief of the vast majority of its membership) is that the scriptures proclaim the Jews to be God’s chosen people, a covenant people of God; something that has never been revoked. You don’t mess with the Lord’s chosen. Mormon’s are by and large Jew friendly and pro-Israel. Most would be shocked by some of the comments I read by Jews regarding Senator Hatch’s Hanukkah song; a little like they had extended a hand of friendship and been slapped in the face for their troubles.

I understand that there are large doctrinal differences between Mormons and Jews. That goes without saying. Still, there is more uniting us than dividing. It makes no sense to react so bitterly toward a group that not only holds no animosity toward you, but in fact holds you in the highest regard. But then again, as was so aptly demonstrated on NBC, most Jews, like most Americans have absolutely no idea of what Mormon’s believe.

Nor do they care.