I had kind of a wonderful thing happen tonight.
A former student of mine called, a young lady who must now be in the 11th grade in the Orthodox Jewish school in which I taught. I haven't seen her in months. Her question: She had agreed to babysit for a Christian family on Easter Sunday and to help prepare their Easter dinner, and then had begun to wonder whether her participation in a Christian meal could be construed as supporting or promoting the Christian faith and, therefore, a violation of halacha (Jewish law). She had already consulted a rabbi, who had told her to find out whether Easter dinner constitutes a religious celebration.
We talked for quite awhile. I explained that for most people, an Easter dinner is merely a family-and-friends event, with no religious overtones and certainly no ritualistic aspects. On the other hand, if the family were religious, there might be a prayer, and the prayer would likely be an expression of gratitude for the risen Christ, and that would likely be a problem for her. I suggested that she ask them about their practice.
Then, as we continued to discuss various scenarios, I began to reformulate the problem. "You know," I said to her, "this is THE celebration of the Christian year. This is what it's all about for us, and this is also the day on which the distinction between Christianity and Judaism is grounded. This is the day most like Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur in its centrality to our religion, and this is the day on which we claim the belief with which you completely disagree."
"So," I continued, "even if the family in question is not what you would term 'observant'; even if there is no ritual, no prayer, and no other acknowledgment of the religious significance of the day; even if it appears on the surface to be an entirely secular occasion ~ the belief underlying it constitutes the foundation of the Christian faith. The question then becomes whether, recognizing the significance of the day, even if the family does not, is it acceptable for you to participate in any way? That's what you need to ask Rabbi B."
"I feel so bad," she said. Hmm, backing out of a holiday babysitting job with only four days notice is not good. That's what I thought, as a once-mother of small children who knows how hard it is to come by a reliable babysitter. "I think you need to honor your religion," is what I said out loud.
I was honored to be brought into the discussion, and I asked her to call and let me know how she and the rabbi resolve it. I have to say: it's pretty cool to be trusted by a Jewish teenager to provide the discussion and straight answers (and more questions) that she needs to resolve a religious dilemma that is no doubt difficult for her to pose.
Not a bad prelude to the holiest days of our year.