The Folk Beliefs That Made Christmas a Time of Fear for Jews

Today some ḥasidic communities, keeping alive a venerable Ashkenazi custom, refrain from studying Torah in the evening on December 24, usually staying home and playing chess or cards. Itzik Gottesman examines various explanations as to why:

Older Jewish religious texts instructed all Jews to stay home on Christmas Eve because Christians might attack or even kill them. Historically speaking, however, far more acts of violence were committed against Jews during Easter, when Christians mark the day Jesus died, than during Christmas, when he was born.

Over the centuries, these dangers generated a substantial folklore. Jews believed that on Christmas Eve, the Christian deity flew around and controlled the night. If any Jew were to open a Jewish holy text that night, that spirit could appear at any time and defile the holy book.

Jews also had fears and traditions surrounding the winter solstice, which falls a few days before Christmas. . . . Jews believed that on this night when the seasons changed, the earth was left unprotected. An old tradition connected to the winter solstice was to cover all pots that held well water so that the water would not be contaminated.

Much, but not all, of this changed when Jews came to America. Indeed, Gottesman notes, even the religiously conservative Yiddish newspaper Morgn Zhurnal published numerous advertisements from local businesses wishing their Jewish customers freylekhn (happy) Christmas.

Read more at Forward

More about: Christmas, Jewish folklore, Judaism


Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy