BECAUSE I'M A Jew in Bethlehem, Pa., also known as “Christmas City USA,” I spend December celebrating Jesus’ birth. Representations of other religions are largely absent, but with evergreen trees adorning lampposts, the nativity scene at city hall, and 6-foot-high electric Advent candles, Christmas here is both beautiful and unavoidable.
Given Christianity’s dominance in the United States, similar examples extend into other seasons and across the country. Christian holidays and Sunday receive scheduling deference, Christian worship options are varied and plentiful, and debates over public “religion” focus almost entirely on Christianity. In contrast, Jews use vacation days to observe holidays, Jewish religious communities are far fewer, and there is no movement advocating Jewish prayer in schools.
Even in interreligious settings intended to be neutral, Christianity retains primacy. Exchanges emphasize concepts in Christianity, such as belief and faith, and downplay the Jewish stress on action, behavior, and ritual. When interfaith interactions turn to biblical texts, they rely on Christian hermeneutical approaches such as using English translations without acknowledgment of their underlying Hebrew and eschewing the Jewish practice of viewing the Bible through subsequent commentaries. To me, these verses look discomfortingly naked when not swaddled with sages’ centuries-old wisdom, and Christian translations often conflict with how I understand the original language.