A Rabbi Who Has Something to Say About Christmas...

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Dec. 21, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight, we hope you visited billoreilly.com to hear my interview with Hannah Rosenthal of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. It is well worth listening to.

Some dishonest individuals have tried to make the Christmas controversy this year a battle between Christians and Jews. It is not. Most Jewish-Americans respect Christmas, in my opinion.

Joining us now from San Francisco is Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine, a liberal publication.

All right. So you weighed in on this. Why don't you let — I'll let you define what you said in your article for the audience. Go ahead.

RABBI MICHAEL LERNER, TIKKUN MAGAZINE: Well, first, let me say that many of us in the Jewish world deeply respect Christmas and deeply respect the message of hope of a young child born in — essentially in a homeless situation— in a manger who brings into the world the message of transformation against the large power of Rome.

And we identify with that. And, in fact, most spiritual traditions affirm in the dark moment of December, in the short — the time when there is darkness, that light can come, that hope can come in a world where the powerful run everything and the powerless have very little power.

And there's a beautiful message of Christmas that transcends all religious — all religions and all spiritual traditions or permeates all religions and spiritual traditions.

On the other hand, we also recognize that there has been an assault on that spiritual message, but it's not the Jews or the secularists who are undermining Christmas. The undermining of Christmas takes place by the capitalist marketplace which has turned Christmas into an orgy of spending and materialism.

And when many people feel upset about what's being lost in Christmas, they should instead focus on the tremendous impact of capitalism and the valuing of money and power over all else that manifests in this orgy of spending and consumption, of buying and buying in which each individual is only valued for how much they can spend or how much they can receive.

O'REILLY: All right, but isn't that an individual decision on how to celebrate Christmas? I know people who don't spend a lot of money on the holiday, and they are very moderate in their gifts. But I know other people who do spend a ton of dough. But they are trying to make other people happy by doing it. So I'm not...


O'REILLY: I know — I know the commercialization has diminished Christmas and the Christmas spirit. I agree with you there. But I don't agree with you in the sense that secularists haven't done a lot of damage or tried to do to the images of Christmas. And the ACLU (search) will sue you if you do something that they don't deem acceptable or politically correct.

For example, you can't possibly, Rabbi, agree with taking — as what happened in Florida, taking a Menorah and putting it up on a public property and then denying a citizen that wants to put a creche up. You couldn't agree with that, could you?

LERNER: No. In fact, I'm very much in favor of bringing all of the different religious traditions into the public sphere so that they can all present and all teach their shared spiritual messages. I think...

O'REILLY: Wow. That's — now I'm agreeing with you twice. That's two things you and I agree on.

LERNER: Right.

O'REILLY: This is the real Christmas spirit going on here.

LERNER: Yes. Absolutely. I think that we need to affirm that a central message of this period is of love, of caring and of generosity. But ask what...

O'REILLY: But don't spend any money.

LERNER: But let's ask what undermines that. What undermines that is the competitive marketplace. What undermines that — see, and I hear very little talk about this from the...

O'REILLY: Because I don't see it as a big problem.

LERNER: ... from some of the right-wing Christians.

O'REILLY: I mean, I see — I see what you're saying, but I think that if people want to give a gift to make someone else happy, that's a good thing.

LERNER: Oh, nobody's against — nobody's against — no, I'm not against giving — now I'm not against giving a gift, and, in fact, one of the things that I'd like to see is the transformation both in Hanukkah and in Christmas from gift giving as buying things to gift giving as giving time to other people.

In other words, I have a capacity to babysit for you. I have a capacity to help you with home repairs. I have a capacity to teach you some skill I have, maybe in sports or maybe in music or whatever, to give cards that offer your time as opposed to this frenetic buying, buying, buying.

O'REILLY: That's nice.

LERNER: And I'm saying to you that one of the reasons why people feel that they — Christmas is under attack is because they feel that the loving feelings that used to dominate Christmas have been replaced by a frenetic assault on them by the media, largely by the media, but by the corporations...

O'REILLY: But the media doesn't force you to go to the mall. You know, it doesn't...

LERNER: Well, let me tell you...

O'REILLY: ... force you to be preoccupied with materialism. That's a personal choice.

LERNER: If your child — if your child is subjected in two hours of watching television to 10 ads that tell them here are the gifts that they must have...

O'REILLY: Well, that's the parents' fault for letting the kid being a vegetable, who don't monitor what their kids are seeing.

LERNER: Well — and that's why I think when you — in your statement — in — your show last week seemed to suggest that it was either secularists or Jews who were undermining Christmas. That's nonsense since Christmas...

O'REILLY: I never said — look, that was a left-wing — and you know that's not true, Rabbi. I mean, come on. I never said it. I never implied it. It never happened. So don't be spreading that around.

LERNER: The...

O'REILLY: Go ahead.

LERNER: What's undermining Christmas cannot be blamed on Jews, on secularists, on anybody outside. If inside your family you are having a loving connection, if you are affirming that the world can be based on love and not on power, then you're in touch with what Jesus' message was.

O'REILLY: All right. Well...

LERNER: Jesus was a great Jewish teacher.

O'REILLY: ... I — Rabbi, I don't disagree with you there.

LERNER: A great Jewish teacher with a message of love and kindness and generosity.

O'REILLY: OK, but you can do me a big favor by quoting me accurately. That would be your Christmas gift or Hanukkah gift to me.

Rabbi, we appreciate you [coming on "The Factor."] Thank you very much.

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