Only in the multicultural megalopolis of New York City would a group of rabbis be called in by a Jewish newspaper editor to comment on a 116-year old letter by an eight-year-old girl questioning the existence of Santa Claus, in an article about whether black children need to believe Santa would be white. But it happened.
Seth Lipsky, the Jewish editor of New York’s The Sun newspaper, on Thursday wrote how this strange story began.
“By a quirk of fate, I’ve found myself tangled up in the question of Santa Claus. Happily, some learned rabbis had once helped me sort it out,” Lipsky wrote in the New York Post. “And not just any rabbis but genuine Torah sages of a rank and degree of Orthodoxy that would be unquestioned in any yeshiva.”
Apparently, The Sun originally broke the news that Santa Claus exists, in a famous newspaper editorial from 1897, with the headline, “Is There a Santa Claus?” in response to a letter from eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who lived on West 95th Street and whose friends told her she should doubt Santa’s existence.
“Virginia,” the Sun told her, “your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.”
“All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little,” the newspaper said. “In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. . . ”
“Not believe in Santa Claus!” the Sun exclaimed. “You might as well not believe in fairies!”
Asked to annually reprint the story, Lipsky struggled with the decision, and then thought best to ask the rabbis.
“The rabbis were unanimous. They found it delightful, a joyous articulation of faith: ‘Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding,'” he wrote of their response.
Lipsky’s column didn’t actually answer the question posed by The Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto, who had originally asked for The Sun to weigh in on the back-and-forth between Fox News‘s Megyn Kelly, who said that Santa was white, and Slate blogger Aisha Harris, who said he could be black, or whatever the ethnicity of the family.