Is It Proper…? Is it okay to enjoy Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells” if one happens to hear them playing in a store or on the street?

Israel

Photo Credit: Jewish Pres / 123rf.com

Is it okay to enjoy Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells”
if one happens to hear them playing in a store or on the street?

Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier
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While listening to and enjoying these type of jingles seems innocent enough – especially since [Christmas] has largely become a retail holiday – nevertheless I find it very problematic for a number of reasons.

One is simply the amount of pain the Jewish people have suffered at the hands of the Church from the advent of Christianity till very recent times. Is there a part of European soil that isn’t soaked with Jewish blood? So I think it behooves us to remember the message behind these innocent-sounding tunes.

On a deeper level, these songs are but one more reminder that we are in a land where we don’t belong under a rulership that we shouldn’t be under. We Jews belong in our land under Hashem’s direct reign, and [the ubiquity of these songs at this time of year] is but one more reminder of the fact that Moshiach is not yet here and we aren’t where we should be.

— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz

* * * * *

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

The question presupposes that there’s a distinction between Xmas music and other non-Jewish music.

Music is a deep expression of the soul. There are songs articulated through words, which reflect the thinking and feelings of the singer. These are known as shiros – which is what Moshe, Devorah, David HaMelech, and others sang. And then there is an altogether different kind of song that transcends words. It stems from somewhere very deep, when our feelings are too delicate or too intimate for others to hear. This type of song is known as a nigun.

Neither of these kinds of songs is typically reflected in non-Jewish music. Music is meant to uplift, but most – if not all – non-Jewish songs contain lyrics that are really more corrupting than uplifting.

That said, if one walks into a store and suddenly gets caught up in a beat, one need not drop one’s bags and head for the hills or reach for earplugs. And hearing an Xmas song that might make you put your right foot in, or your left foot out, doesn’t constitute an endorsement of idolatry.

It’s when you walk out of the store and are still humming the tune, dancing to the beat, or determining where you can try to replay the song that there’s a problem.

— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue

* * * * *

Rabbi Zev Leff

Secular songs such as “Jingle Bells,” which have no religious significance (they are merely songs about the winter season), are obviously not problematic. Songs, however, that have a religious theme and refer to the Christian holiday are forbidden to intentionally listen to and surely forbidden to sing (see Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah vol. 2, #56). Hence, deriving pleasure from these songs borders on deriving pleasure from idolatry.

As an interesting side note: Here in Israel, most religious indigenous Israelis are unaware of the Christian holidays since the non-Jewish population is mostly Moslem. Hence, on Purim I have seen charedi Israeli children dressed as Santa Claus (they think it’s some rebbe with a red bekeshe), and I have heard “Jingle Bells” played to signal the end of classes in a charedi girls school (I made them aware of what the tune was).

Sukkah decorations in their original package that say “Merry Xmas” are also sold in Geulah and Mea Shearim. Israelis are totally oblivious to what they are. I [wouldn’t be surprised if one year] I see a sukkah in Mea Shearim decorated with a mother and baby surrounded by wise men and shepherds, and a Yerushalmi says to me, “Look, a whole mishpacha except we can’t find the father.”

Happy Chanukah.

— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav
Matisyahu, popular lecturer and educator

* * * * *

Rabbi Yosef Blau

If the question of whether or not it is permissible to enjoy the music of songs associated with Christmas is strictly halachic, then specific questions need to be answered: Is the song used in religious services? How specific are the Christian references?

In America where holidays, even religious ones, have become commercialized, it is often difficult to separate the religious from the non-religious elements.

Assuming that a particular song has no intrinsic religious meaning, there are still concerns. Santa Claus, presents under a tree, etc. have no real religious significance, but emulating the overtly Christian significance of the day is clearly an expression of assimilation. Adopting non-Jewish practices is in itself problematic.

It’s true that enjoying music may not technically constitute deriving forbidden benefit, but it puts one in the holiday (Christian) spirit. Practically, it may be impossible to avoid hearing these songs whose melodies are catchy, but one should avoid listening when one has a choice.

This is one of those unusual situations where the world of smartphones – which allow one to tune out the rest of the world and only listen to music of one’s choice – is actually helpful.

— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at
YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary

* * * * *

Rabbi Marc D. Angel

During December, it’s fairly common to hear Christmas music and see holiday decorations if one goes to a store or walks through a business district. Some of the tunes are catchy and some of the decorations are beautiful. If we find these things enjoyable, that’s fine. If we prefer not to open ourselves to enjoying these things, that’s also fine.

It isn’t fine, though, to create excessive chumrot that will entail unnecessary feelings of guilt. We should be able to live in our society in a healthy way, without needing to plug our ears every time we hear “Jingle Bells” or covering our eyes every time we come across a Christmas tree.

We all understand that these songs and decorations are not relevant to our own religious lives. Even if we find them enjoyable, they do not enter into our religious consciousness.

The seasonal songs and decorations remind us that we are still in golah. It has been pointed out by sociologists that the day of the year that American Jews most feel their Jewishness is… December 25.

— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of
the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

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