Friday, December 04, 2009

Coke and Santa – Is it the Real Thing?

Once again the right wing obsession with symbolism shows up. Only this time it is on the opposite side of the coin. It is not about ‘our’ symbols but about ‘theirs’.

A letter to was written and published expressing exactly what the problem is. What is it that bothers this fellow? Is it the fact that we have not yet solved the sex abuse problem in our midst? Is it the lack of ethics of some Orthodox Jews? Is it the constant Chilul HaShem by Orthodox Jew in financial matters we have seen so much of in the media lately? Or perhaps it is the regular incidences of Chilul HaShem caused by the Jews of Meah Shearim?

No - it is none of the above. It is Coca Cola. I kid you not. This fellow seems profoundly affected by the image of Santa Claus on a bottle of Coke this time of year. He believes that one should - not only not bring it into the home - but that one should lobby that Coke be removed from the shelves of Frum grocery stores.

Why? Here is how he puts it:

Would you take your child to sit on Santa’s lap? This notion is too far-fetched; we all know the terrible affect it would have on the spiritual growth of our youngsters. Certainly we wouldn’t place a picture of Santa on our wall, even to make fun of it! But if Coca Cola utilizes this image to sell its product, not only will we buy it, but it will also be placed on the Shabbos table in front of the children! Why? We have to have Coke! Is it really that difficult to buy another brand or flavor?

Did you know that this picture symbolizes the holiday?

Did you also know that the affect of this tumah will cause you and your prodigy to learn Torah improperly and could, G-d forbid, influence your offspring to go off the derech!?

I at first just smiled at the notion. But soon after I realized that this attitude is the crux of what separates people like this writer – and I assume that there are many others who feel this (as apparently does – and most normal Orthodox Jews. And it is over focusing on this nonsense at the expense of bigger issues that is in large part why we are not doing a better job tackling those issues.

Let us assume that he even has a point. That Santa Claus is a symbol of Christmas. And that we should not bring these symbols into our home. I can agree with that. But a caricature on a bottle of pop?! (Pop is the real name for what New Yorker’s call soda). He thinks that is going to be to influence children to go ‘off the Derech’?!

If there was ever any evidence of why not enough attention is paid to serious problems facing Orthodoxy – writing and publishing articles like this is it.

I can’t prove it. But I believe with all of my heart that there never was and never will be a Jew who goes off the Derech because a Coke bottle has a picture of Santa on it. We in fact know why many of them do. And Coke – is not it!

The vast majority of Frum Jews in America on all sides of the religious spectrum were raised in this kind of environment. For a few weeks during the year, Christmas becomes the focus of the media and of almost all merchants. But what is Christmas in America? It bares little resemblance to any religious component. In fact Christmas has been reduced to almost a secular holiday. There is virtually no religious content in the public square.

Oh… every once in a while you will get a lawsuit about a religious display on public property somewhere. But that is about as religious as Americans get here – at least in public.

Think about the images of this time of year. It is about toys and Christmas trees, mistletoe and eggnog; charity and – good will towards men. But mostly it is about the ‘warm and fuzzy’ of spending time with family. These are all secular symbols that permeate our culture. And they have absolutely nothing to do with the religious aspect of the day. Zero. I rarely see references to the actual purpose of Christmas as celebrated in the Church. I rarely even see the name of Jesus mentioned. And yet if I am not mistaken this is their holiest day of the year.

In fact, I’m not even sure if bringing a tree into the house is a violation of Avak Avodah Zara – dust (0r peripherals) of Avodah Zara. It may still be Assur as Chukas HaGoy and for Hashkafic and Chinuch reasons. But it certainly not the same as - say -bringing a crucifix into the house. And then there is Santa Claus which is an Americanization of the pronunciation of St. Nicholas. He has been determined by the Pope and the Catholic Church to be a non existent fairy tale. As for Protestants - saints are not even a part of their theology. And yet he remains an integral part of this holiday season.

I’m not saying that we should embrace Santa Claus for ourselves. That would be ridiculous. And as I pointed out it would probably violate Chukas HaGoy. But to say that a image of a fictional character that has absolutely no religious connection with the holiday will cause people to go off the Derech shows just how ignorant some people can be.

I doubt that there is a Jew alive of any denomination or Hashkafa in America that has not heard of Santa Claus. And yet I tend to doubt that most Jews ever gave more than a fleeting thought to the fact that a bottle of Coke they bought has his picture on it. But now thanks to this fellow and – a great many people will now notice it. Well done, Matzav!

But still - to that I say: So what?

This fellow and all others like him need a Hashkafa adjustment. I am not saying he must become a Centrist. He can be as right wing as he wants. But it is high time that ‘troubling’ issues like Santa Claus on a Coke bottle are exchanged for the ‘slightly’ more troubling issues like sex abuse. That is the issue that causes young people to go off the Derech - and perhaps gravitate to another kind of Coke! This fellow’s claim that bringing home a bottle of Coke with a picture of Santa will do that - is nonsense!