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Ask the Expert: Can Jews Hang Wreaths On Their Doors?

While wreaths are often associated with Christmas, their history goes back farther.

Question: Can Jewish people have a wreath of roses on their front door? This would be in the spring. No where near Xmas. If not, why not?
— Hannah T.

Dear Hannah,

The Oxford English Dictionary defines syncretism as “the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.” And whether we like to admit it or not, our rich and ancient Jewish ritual tradition is full of it. 

We know, from the rabbis themselves, that the order and structure of the Passover seder was inspired by Greek symposia. It seems more than likely that the rituals of Sukkot, the waving of the lulav and etrog in particular, were adapted from harvest rituals of surrounding ancient Near Eastern cultures. Even the styles worn by Hasidic sects, often seen as the epitome of authentic Jewish dress, are largely the fashions popular with the Polish-Lithuanian nobility of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

This is not to say that anything and everything can be absorbed into Jewish history and ritual; elements able to be adapted were given a Jewish interpretation, while ideas and practices that were seen as incompatible with Jewish belief were, not surprisingly, vehemently rejected. 

All of this brings us to your wreath and where it fits in this line of syncretic practices. While here in America, wreaths are certainly most often associated with Christmas, their history goes further back to ancient Greece and Rome. In ancient Greece, wreaths were usually made of the previous year’s crop (wheat was always popular) and hung as a symbol of hope for a fruitful harvest in the coming year. In Roman culture, the wreath took on the more familiar circular structure (the corona) and was worn by warriors after securing victory in battle. Only later was the wreath adapted into Christianity, and particularly the celebration of Christmas. 

One thing to be aware of is the rabbinic concept of marit ayin — literally, “appearance to the eye.” This Jewish legal concept suggests that we avoid certain actions which, even though they are technically acceptable by Jewish law, give the impression that they violate it. Based on the history, though, and the fact that a rose in spring does not scream Christmas, it seems like your wreath, presumably meant to brighten your home, is a fine — and beautiful — syncretic practice. Have fun with it!

sari laufer headshot

Rabbi Sari Laufer is the chief engagement officer at Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles. A cum laude graduate of Northwestern University Rabbi Laufer was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles in May 2006. 

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