Christmas / Solstice / Chanukah came early for Uncle Semite in 2006 in the form of the December 18, U.S. edition of Newsbeak and its "Holy Family Values" cover story by Lisa Miller.  In the article, Ms. Miller attempts to excuse a reviled Jewish custom of the past and credits Judaism - not Christ or his namesake religion - for the virtuous acts and attitudes of Jesus and his contemporaries.

Newsweek cover with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus

We'll start with something minor, but telling.  The article above begins with the following words:

"Sometime around the beginning of the Common Era, a nice Jewish girl comes to her fiancé with a problem.  She is pregnant; he is not the father."

"The beginning of the Common Era" is what most of the Western World refers to as "Anno Domini" (Latin: "In the year of our Lord") or simply "A.D."  Some people (usually Jews, but also others) object to using the word "Lord" (as in "Lord, Son of God") to designate calendar dates because of this reference to Christ, and they would prefer we all use "Common Era" or "C.E." and also "Before Common Era" or "B.C.E." when differentiating between dates before and after the Year Zero.

Uncle Semite would like to point out:

  1. Very few people actually read or write in Latin nowadays and Latin terms are easily recognized as historical or at least dated.
  2. People don't typically use the expression "Anno Domini"; they simply use "A.D."
  3. Outside of a historical context, "A.D." is almost always omitted when referring to dates (very few of us say "AD 2004").
  4. Four of our twelve months are named after Roman gods and goddesses (Janus, Mars, Maia, Juno), seemingly without objection.
  5. Five of our seven days of the week are named after pagan gods (Tew's Day, Woden's Day, Thor's Day, Frige's Day, Saturn's Day), again without objection.

Yet somehow we (they) must all be protected from this religious / historical, two-letter artifact.  Again, a minor point, but a sign of things ahead.  Highlights from the Newsweek article are continued below in red, and you may read the entire Holy Family Values article at

"On reflection, though, the man, who is profoundly decent - "righteous," as the story goes - decides that he cannot bear to inflict upon the girl the rare (but wholly legal) punishment for such crimes, which is stoning."

The author makes it sound like Joseph's "wholly legal" option to stone his [barely legal] wife Mary was simply a matter of criminal law and had nothing  to do with the Jewish Law under which Mary and Joseph lived (and lived as Jews, as we are reminded).

"As the world's 2 billion Christians prepare to commemorate the birth of the figure they believe to be the Son of God..."

Lisa MillerIn this context, an article extolling Jewish virtues written by a Jewish author in a predominantly Jewish magazine, the words "they believe to be the Son of God" seem a bit insulting.  Christians don't believe Jesus is the Son of God.  For Christians, Jesus is the Son of God.  Ms. Miller could have used words such as "Christians prepare to commemorate the birth of the figure they herald as  the Son of God" or simply "Christians prepare to commemorate Christ's birth" or other words available to a writer of her ability.  What shows up on the page is either a backhanded compliment or an insult.

"A woman's virginity, for example, was a sacred possession, to be given away or stolen at great cost... an unmarried woman who willfully had sex with a man other than her fiancé could be put to death.  In ancient Israel, this value was probably a matter of pragmatism more than theology; is assured men who lived in a culture that prized family above all that their children were their own."

In the article, the author credits Judaism as being benevolent at almost every turn, and thus chalks up killing an adulterous woman to "pragmatism"?  Was Deuteronomy not considered part of Jewish theology?
   "If a man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and then spurns her[...] because he did not find the tokens of virginity in her[...] And if the thing is true that the token of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones[...]" -- Deuteronomy 22:13, 20, 21

"In a culture so devoted to children, married sex was a blessing."

"If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear."    -- Deuteronomy 21:18-21
   "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." -- Psalm 137:9

"A Roman father could, for any or no reason, choose to kill his newborn infant either by cutting the umbilical cord too close or by leaving the baby outside, and the Jewish refusal to do this was seen as peculiar."

The way this is worded, one might think Roman fathers were running around killing their infants pell-mell while Jews were busy cherishing their own - at least until they were old enough to stone properly.  For the record, Romans found another Jewish custom peculiar - so much so that Emperor Hadrian outlawed it on pain of death.  (Let's just say the Romans thought the Jews were cutting the penis  too close [to the baby].)

"In a final act of human compassion, he called to his disciple John.  "And he said to his mother 'Dear woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.'  From that time on this disciple took her into his home."  At the end of his life, then, Jesus took care of his mother, the penultimate act of a nice Jewish boy..."

Oh Dear Lord...


Update: Kristen Fyfe of the Culture and Media Institute posted her own Holy Family Values critique from a conservative perspective.  Read her article for points Uncle Semite missed and for proof that liberals and conservatives actually can agree on a thing or two.