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A Very Jewish Christmas: Toledot Yeshu, A Jewish Anti-Gospel

(New York, NY) – For the fourth year in a row, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research will delve into how Jewish culture developed around Christmas. 

On Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m.,  both in person and on Zoom, YIVO will present “A Very Jewish Christmas: Toledot Yeshu, A Jewish Anti-Gospel,” a talk by Azzan Yadin-Israel on the history of this ancient book followed by an English-Yiddish bilingual reading of it by Shane Baker and Eleanor Reissa. 

While the “December Dilemma” is a familiar challenge to Jews today, it has its origins in antiquity. Jews in the early days of Christianity encountered Christian traditions and sought to distinguish themselves and their beliefs. One result of this is the ancient book, Toledot Yeshu, a satirical, carnivalesque anti-gospel telling the story of a magical but not divine Jesus. It was, in some Jewish communities, a tradition to read this story dramatically on Christmas Eve similar to the way that the Megiles-Ester is read on Purim. The text, shrouded in mystery, is extant in a variety of versions, and is believed to contain narrative traditions that are over 1,500 years old. Renditions exist in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo Arabic, Judeo Persian, Ladino, and, of course, Yiddish. Rare versions were saved by the Paper Brigade from Nazi destruction and recently digitized as a part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections Project. 

For reservations: yivo.org/JewishChristmas2021

In-person admission: $25; $20/in-person YIVO members/students. There is no cost to joining the talk live on Zoom:.

A kosher Chinese  food feast following the presentation. 

Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination with matching ID is required in order to enter the Center for Jewish History. 

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