Samira Mehta: Judaism Unbound Episode 144 - Beyond Chrismukkah


Continuing their exploration of the families Jews are creating in the 21st Century, Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg are joined by Samira Mehta, scholar of American religion and author of the book Beyond Chrismukkah: The Christian-Jewish Interfaith Family in the United States. [1]

 Image Credit: Samira Mehta

Image Credit: Samira Mehta

(0:01 - 17:05): To begin the episode, Mehta describes the phenomenon known as “Chrismukkah” in order to lay the groundwork for moving “beyond” it. [2] She explores the origins of the “December Dilemma,” [3] a framework that has been applied to interfaith families’ observances of winter holidays, and the meanings that such families ascribe to their celebrations. To further examine some of the premises of her book, she tells the story behind the image on its cover. She then lays out a few specific case studies, of how interfaith families have navigated questions about Christmas trees, creches, and other symbols and traditions.

(17:06 - 28:43): Mehta looks at a variety of examples of Jewish-Christian interfaith relationships as portrayed in movies and on TV, [4] and she examines how those portrayals have shifted over the decades. She opens up a conversation about the framing of “religion” and “culture,” arguing that “all religion is culture” and challenging the commonplace assertion that Christianity is exclusively built around religious belief and not cultural traditions. [5]

(31:30 - 45:52): Continuing the conversation about religion and culture, Mehta looks at the role of food — and, specifically, kosher food — as it is often framed by Jewish communities and individuals. Spotlighting the book Miriam’s Kitchen, [6] she asks whether it would be beneficial to complicate the manner in which kosher practices are discussed, in which Orthodox practices are privileged as most authentic. She addresses the different ways in which she would respond to the book’s arguments — on the one hand, as a Jew, and on the other hand, as a scholar of religious studies. She then contrasts the tensions inherent to Jewish-Christian relationships that do not manifest as much for Jewish-Hindu or Jewish-Buddhist relationships, for example, and closes the episode by calling on institutions to act out their values — not their fears.

[1] Learn more about Samira Mehta at www.samiramehta.com, and purchase Beyond Chrismukkah by clicking here.

[2] Hear more from Mehta on other podcasts by listening to her appearance on New Books in Jewish Studies and/or on Sexing History.

[3] For early articles on the “December Dilemma,” see this 1986 piece in the New York Times or this 1991 Washington Post article.

[4] Mehta cites the plots of two movies (“Annie Hall” and “The Way We Were”), along with two TV shows (“The Nanny” and “thirtysomething”). For more information on each of those movies and TV shows, to gain context, click any of the following links: Annie Hall, The Way We Were, The Nanny, thirtysomething

[5] In exploring Jewish culture, Mehta cites the idea of Ashkenormativity. Learn more about it (Ashkenazi normativity), and its ramifications for Non-Ashkenazi Jews, by clicking here.

[6] Engage further with the book Miriam’s Kitchen here.