Funukah Chanukah

Two more sleeps to Chanukah.

Chanukah is an amazing chag for many reasons.   It is good for the kids.  The Chanukah celebration is a religious historic event that is post biblical, meaning that the av melachot don’t apply and all sorts of modern techniques for celebrating (including the commercial traits) are part of the festival.   

Chanukah is one of the last vestments that marginal and disenfranchised Jews identify with.  The irony is not at all lost that Chanukah is a festival that is rejectionist of assimilation.  It is about the traditional zealous minority rising over the threat of cultural dilution of Judaism.  It is about the preservation of Jewish tradition against all odds.  It is about being stubborn and obstinate about the fundamental aspects of Jewish identity. 

There is a typically pathetic article in this weeks Maccabean in the Did you Know column.  It almost beats last years absurd effort where the column claimed that the very purpose of Chanukah was to integrate Judaism with other cultures.  This year the claim is that the Jewish historical record is corrupted, and that Judah Hamaccabee was in fact defeated. 

There is a lot of very intelligent commentary about the issue of just how much of a historic victory Chanukah is in a range of Jewish journals.  Unfortunately the Maccabean’s effort does not rate amongst them.  It is true that the miracle of Chanukah is a questionable triumph in context (ie – proporationate to the way in which it is celebrated).  Prior to the Maccabean uprising, the Temple had been under seige for some time with no sacrifices, no menorah, no seder avodah.  Two centuries after the Maccabees rededicated the Temple it was destroyed again and it’s Menorah has not been lit since.   

Rabbi Beryl Wein addresses this issue as follows:

I think that the answer lies in the view of the rabbis and of tradition as to the true nature of the struggle that Chanuka commemorates for us.  The Jews were engaged in not only a military struggle against the Syrian Greeks but, more importantly, in a cultural struggle for the hearts and minds of Jews. The Syrian Greeks attempted to impose their culture, mores, way of life and beliefs on the Jews. In this they failed.

The Jewish population had its own fifth column – the Hellenist Jews who were willing to succumb to the outward blandishments of Greek society and behavior. But the core of the Jewish people refused to be deterred from its traditions and uniquely holy value system. The triumph of Judaism over paganism and Greek culture was lasting, at least as far as the Jewish world is concerned.

Thus the lights of Chanuka are certainly justified even today.  They represent the light of Torah and goodness in a world of fright and darkness.Judaism has warred with many cultures over its long history. It struggled against Marxist atheism in this age, both in the Soviet Union and even here in the Land of Israel. Yet it has once again proven its invincibility. Jewish life in present day Russia exists and grows, ninety years after Lenin and Stalin arose to destroy it.  It is a lasting triumph and the fulfillment of our destiny and mission.

The rabbis stated that “a little light can push away a great amount of darkness.” As we prepare ourselves to light our Chanuka lights we should remember this truism. It is no empty ritual that is being performed.

Sadly, the Maccabean (ironically to the namesake of the paper) manages to miss the very message of Chanukah itself.  The paper claims that Judah was not an instrument of G-d but an astute political player who compromised his mission to save himself. 

The author concludes that his Menorah is a reminder of stark reality and the lessons of history.  That is very noble.  My Menorah is the same.  But my Menorah is so much more.  My Menorah is also a reminder of the miracles of G-d who has protected the Jewish people.  My Menorah is a symbol that Judaism is worth fighting for.  My Menorah is a beacon of light in the darkness of an assimilated world.  My Menorah is a symbol that the Jewish people ultimately did win their conquest against the Greek regime and their Hellenist adherants, because we survived and are here today.

The Maccabean should once again hang its editorial head in shame for publishing absurd commentary about one of the most beautiful and significant Jewish festivals.