Cut Your Own

Blue_fire escapes_2012-08-04

2012-12-09 – Today is the day we go out to the country to cut our own Christmas tree. We go to a place near McHenry, IL called Pioneer Tree Farm. We’ve been going for more than 20 years. We’ve only missed once. This year will be the first year in 19 years that we will be going without Cal. He’s away at college. The last time, Nat was a baby dressed in a gray London Fog baby parka. It was extremely cold that day. We rode the flat-bed trailer that day out to the very first tree, quick cut it, and jumped back on the trailer for the ride to the warming house. Nat has dressed well ever since.

Today is also the first day of Hanukkah. Our Hanukkah celebrations have always been minimal. They are next to zero this year. Our Jewish celebrations are centered around Passover. I’m just hoping to get some potato latkes.

Hanukkah is technically a minor holiday for Jews anyway. It gets pumped up by its proximity to Christmas. Specifically, it is the commercialization of Christmas that has had the impact. I’m not very interested in the commercialization either of Christmas or Hanukkah. I enjoy Christmas Day with the family, but the gift-giving part is something to be endured. The highlight of the Christmas season for me, actually, is this annual trek to the country to cut the tree.

Hanukkah is about a miraculous restoration of the Temple cult in Jerusalem in 165 BCE. I was surprised to find it mentioned in the New Testament as the holiday of Dedication. Hanukkah means dedication and refers to the re-dedication of the Temple after the Greek desecration was removed.

My current project to read the New Testament has raised some interesting issues about that Temple.

First is Jesus’ relationship to two institutions that were functioning in Israel during his life. The Temple was in Jerusalem. But synagogues were scattered around the country. Jesus preaches at both, but mostly at synagogues.

As I was going through the first four books (I just finished reading John), I felt what I first thought was kind of an ethnic tension between North (Samaria and Galilee) and South (Judea, mainly Jerusalem but also Bethlehem). Jesus and his followers had a certain disdain for the Judeans. An interesting thing about my translation is that in John, Judean is translated as Jew (I got this from the notes). My question is whether, historically, the hostility of Christian toward Jew got started as a hostility only toward Judeans—though it is clear that the hostility was fairly quickly generalized to all Jews (or at least all Jews who did not accept Jesus as Christ).

Another dichotomy that seemed present in the reading was between synagogue and Temple. This, of course, was partly geographic, since the Temple only existed in Jerusalem, whereas synagogues were all over Israel. But where there were synagogues there were also Pharisees. I may be mistaken, but it seemed that the Sadducees (the other Jewish group) were present only in Jerusalem.

This makes sense, though, based on my understanding of the historical period. Sadducees were supporters of the Temple cult. Pharisees were separatists (which is the meaning of the word “Pharisee”). Synagogues and rabbis were pharisaic institutions. Temples and priests were Sadducee institutions.

In this sense, Jesus was himself a Pharisee. He was called rabbi (so he had the pharisaic title) and, as I noted here a few days ago, his beef with the Pharisees wasn’t doctrinal. Pharisees believed in doing good works for the poor, compassion, and, more importantly, they believed in resurrection. Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. Jesus didn’t like the Pharisees because they were hypocrites—they didn’t walk the talk.

The most interesting part of the debate between Jesus and the Pharisees centers around the permissibility of curing people on the Sabbath. Jesus takes what I consider a pharisaic position that acts of compassion trump the strictures of Sabbath observance. Now, I can’t point to a text from the rabbinic tradition that would support that position (maybe I’ll research that someday), but I do know that common teaching and practice would agree with Jesus against the Pharisees as a matter of the principle of leniency.

(All I know is that many years ago, when I had surgery performed by an Orthodox Jew on a Friday and I had unforeseen bleeding on the Sabbath, he was right there without hesitation to patch me up. He had pre-arranged with his service to contact him when such things occurred. But he didn’t schedule any visits or surgeries for the Sabbath. Only emergencies.)

If it turns out that, even if pharisaic doctrine was in agreement with Jesus, I could see the Pharisees asking: Why didn’t Jesus cure these folks on Friday? Or any day but the Sabbath? We don’t know if this question was ever asked.

One other thing: In John, Jesus responds to the Pharisees saying that God the Father doesn’t rest on the Sabbath. But the very first mention of the Sabbath in the Bible (Genesis) has God resting after six days of creation. Apparently, there was a rabbinic debate that asks this very question. I don’t know if I ever saw it.

So that’s enough of that for now.

In a couple of hours, we’ll be getting in the car for the ride out to Pioneer Tree Farm. Pioneer is owned by an older couple who are very committed to environmentalism. Their farm is part of something called an “environmental easement” that apparently protects the farm from encroaching development. (The place where we used to pick apples in the country was swallowed up by a subdivision.) They run the tree farm as an organic farm.

And the picking is subject to changes in the weather. The last few years, they have been open only two or three weekends after Thanksgiving because the weather a half dozen years ago was not very good for tree planting.

We get wispy white pines. Some people call them Charlie Brown Christmas trees because the branches are not compact. The needles are soft and so is the look. You can see lights through the tree, giving a three-dimensional effect, though the lights do cause the branches to sag some. We like it. If you don’t, you don’t have to come to our house. Or you can close your eyes.

There is a warming house at the tree farm where you can get cocoa or a cookie or some other baked goods and some hand-crafted ornaments and decorations. Outside the warming house a fire may be burning and you may see people making candles. You may get to make one yourself.

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