Responding to charges that the Christian-owned chain is anti-Semitic because it declines to stock Hanukkah merchandise, Jewish writer Yair Rosenberg contends that this is not anti-Semitism, but rather an honest religious difference:
For a traditionalist Christian like [Hobby Lobby owner David] Green, that Judaism denies Jesus is no trivial matter–it is the very heart of his religious faith. In other words, because he takes his Christianity seriously, and because he takes Judaism’s own theological claims seriously, he doesn’t feel the two are compatible shelf-stockers. For Green, attempting to profit off both religions would be deeply dishonest. Many Jews, by contrast, view their Judaism more as a cultural rather than theological accessory and are thus mystified and offended by Hobby Lobby’s exclusionary policy. For them, Hanukkah trinkets have little connection to a broader worldview that negates Christianity. What we have here, then, is not anti-Semitism, but mutual misunderstanding.
That’s an interesting point. Read the whole thing. It would not have occurred to me to have thought that a general merchandise store owned by a devout Jew or Muslim who refused to stock it with Christian paraphernalia out of religious concern was therefore an anti-Christian bigot. It would not affect my willingness to shop there one bit; if anything, I would be more likely to respect a merchant who took religion that seriously — provided, of course, that I was convinced that he had not made that commercial choice out of genuine hatred.
According to the big Pew survey out this week (Rosenberg cites it), almost two-thirds of American Jews think being Jewish is a matter of ancestry and culture, excluding religion. Only 19 percent believe obeying Jewish law is necessary to being a Jew. Religion is “very important” in the lives of only 26 percent of Jews surveyed, and not important at all in the lives of 44 percent. According to Pew, only 23 percent of American Jews go to religious services at least once a month, compared to 75 percent of Evangelical Christians like Hobby Lobby’s owner. Thirty-two percent of Jews put a Christmas tree up in their house last year, including 27 percent of “Jews by religion.”
Clearly Rosenberg is right: American Jews by and large have a very, very different view of what religion and religious observance means than Evangelical Christians. If I owned Hobby Lobby, I would sell Hanukkah merchandise, but it’s simply wrong to call David Green a bigot and anti-Semite for not doing so out of religious conviction. (And in any case, updated reports say it may simply have been a misunderstanding, not a reflection of official store policy.) One of the ugliest aspects of American popular culture is this knee-jerk reaction that is eager to see bigotry instead of mere difference.