To Macabee or not to Macabee

The most amazing thing about Chanukah is the extent to which it is observed and recognized by Jews.  Even the most assimilated or religiously distant Jews can identify with Chanukah and more Jews will attempt to attend Chanukah celebrations than any other occasion. 

Rabbi Riskin writes about Chanukah, that in its simplistic form we know Chanukah as the victory of the Judeans over the Greek-Syrians. We know from the Books of the Maccabees and the great Second Commonwealth historian Josephus, however, that the struggle began as a civil war, as a battle between brothers, waged in order to determine the future direction, the very soul, of the Jewish people.

Hellenistic Jew fought Torah-based Jew, assimilationist Jew fought traditionalist Jew, would-be Greek Jew fought old-fashioned, committed Jew. But after the traditionalists won their battle, they did not banish Greek culture completely, never to allow it a foothold in the sacred portals of Judea.

With this in mind, it is very ironic that the most obsure and fringe elements of Jewish identification find themselves confronted with a recognition of Chanukah, when the very festival is about purist Judaism, and overcoming the tensions between Hellenism and Hebraism.

Renowned commentator Steven Plaut finds political meaning in this juxtaposition.  He writes as follows: 

Of all the Jewish holidays, the one that I think best captures the contemporary Jewish zeitgeist, the one that is the most relevant to the current (and, if certain trends are not reversed, the last?) chapter in Jewish history, is Hannuka. Hannuka is, of course, the story of Jewish national liberation. It is the story of the military victory of the few against the many, of the champions of Judaism against the pagan barbarians. But it is more than this. It is the saga of the heroic struggle of Jewish survivalists (those one would today label “Zionists”) against the assimilationists and self-hating Hellenists of the second century BCE.  Hannuka is less a story about the battle against the Greeks than it is about the battle against the predominant assimilationist paradigm at the time among the Jews. It is about the battle against the anti-survivalists, those who hated themselves for being Jews, those who seek to be “progressive”, “modern”, and “in”, through rejecting, abasing, disgracing and degrading themselves and their people. The Hellenists who fought the Hasmoneans were struggling against Jewish survival. Sound familiar? In the United States, the main movement of Hellenistic assimilationism has been the school of “Political Liberalism as Judaism”, the pseudo-religion that holds that all of Judaism can be reduced to the pursuit of this week’s liberal political fads. But the global avante garde of Jewish self-hatred these days is the Israeli Left  The Israeli Left is the main manifestation today of Jewish anti-Semitism. Itrregularly attacks every symbol and concept of traditional Judaism. 

The Perth chapter of this story is sadly one that can be written.  It is a combination of apathy (at best) and antagonism (at worst) that disrupts the wonderful religious development of our community. 

We have just had a wonderful Chanukah weekend in Perth.  As Yitro reported, there was a Siyum Sefer Torah at Dianella Shule.  There was a Chanukah party and a comedy night at the PHC.  There was an art exhibition at the Jewish Community Centre.  Tonight Chabad are running a Rosh Chodesh Chanukah program for women with Rebbitzen White.

The sad thing is that these activities do not attract a diverse range of participation.  If there are 7,000 Jews in Perth, fewer than 10% would be regular participants in the activities of our Shules.  The religious life in the community is not well supported, even when it comes to the cultural side of religion as reflected through Chanukah.

What is sadly worse is that there are some members of the community that are anti-religious.  They will invent excuses, unfounded stories, and vitriolic allegations to justify their non-participation, and stand within the identifiable range of the community as anti-establishment.

Traditional Judaism is a wonderful thing, and Chanukah is the season for traditional Judaism to shine.  If you don’t want to write yourself into the script, it is your loss.  However please do not spoil the activity for others.  Jewish outreach has motivations supporting it that are as pure as Chanukah itself. 

Are you a Jew or a Hellenist?  Are you for or against Jewish continuity?  Do you value your heritage, or do you have no self-respect for your unique religion?  The answer to those questions is demonstrated by whether or not you participated in the communities activities for Chanukah, and whether you support or reject the efforts of our local Shules.