Jewish Cultural Appropriation
If a non-Jew celebrates Jewish holidays, is that person practicing "cultural appropriation," or taking another person's ethnic heritage as his own? Gateway Center for Israel Director Nic Lesmeister tackles this important question.
One of the terms you hear about a lot these days is cultural appropriation where one person of an ethnic background essentially decides to take part in the life of another person, of an ethnic background or appropriate their ethnic cultures to their own. This comes up a lot when we talk about philosemitism or love for the Jewish people is where’s the line? Where in your love for Jewish people are you starting to appropriate Jewish culture and Jewish life as a non-Jewish person? And that’s a great question. Is keeping Shabbat cultural appropriation by having a dinner on Friday night and resting until Saturday night? Is wearing a kippah or wearing a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl, a part of cultural appropriation? Is taking part in a Seder cultural appropriation? I think these are great questions, and here’s what we think. Anything that is itself a Jewish custom, especially a modern Jewish custom that is done by a Gentile, it’s really important that as Christians, we involve Jewish people as much as we possibly can with our participation in Jewish customs or Jewish holidays or various things like that.
Jewish believers in Jesus, Jews who don’t believe in Jesus, just let them be a part of a Seder that you’re hosting, maybe teaching you how to do Shabbat, maybe teaching you about other feasts and so forth. I think this is where we can avoid this feeling of cultural appropriation, where we’re honoring the Jewish community and saying, hey, we’re not Jews and we’re not trying to be Jewish people, but we want to honor you and we want to learn from you. And I think that’s part of the mutual blessing that comes in Jewish and Gentile cooperation as we both seek to learn more about the God that we both love, the God of Israel, and his son, Jesus.