Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A sober look at Hanukkah

Those who underwent Jewish upbringing may have received the religious rationalization for Hanukkah: a standard take on the few vs. many/David and Goliath fable. A legend that contained the right mixture of miracles, self sacrifice, and reckless acts of "heroism", it mainly served in the propaganda of the religious right and settler terrorists, who are perhaps the only ones in Israel to commemorate it with fanfare.

But what has traditionally been a very minor Jewish holiday has become in the diaspora synonymous with "the Jewish Christmas" for no reason other than because Jewish parents in the complacent post-Christian West felt the pressure to compete with the popular ritual of shopping orgy and excess taking place every Christmas. Only naturally, the politically correct were quick to embrace the Hanukkah token as a rhetorical nod to the false god of tolerance (using the word 'Hanukkah' proves that I'm enlightened and open minded).

To those of us who were blissfully ignorant of it, David Brooks of the NY Times offers a synopsis of the religious and the secular versions of the Hanukkah story:
The Maccabees are best understood as moderate fanatics. They were not in total revolt against Greek culture. They used Greek constitutional language to explain themselves. They created a festival to commemorate their triumph (which is part of Greek, not Jewish, culture). Before long, they were electing their priests.

On the other hand, they were fighting heroically for their traditions and the survival of their faith. If they found uncircumcised Jews, they performed forced circumcisions. They had no interest in religious liberty within the Jewish community and believed religion was a collective regimen, not an individual choice.

They were not the last bunch of angry, bearded religious guys to win an insurgency campaign against a great power in the Middle East, but they may have been among the first. They retook Jerusalem in 164 B.C. and rededicated the temple. Their regime quickly became corrupt, brutal and reactionary. The concept of reform had been discredited by the Hellenizing extremists. Practice stagnated. Scholarship withered. The Maccabees became religious oppressors themselves, fatefully inviting the Romans into Jerusalem.
To summarize, looking at the picture as a whole, Hanukkah is pretty much the same three-G combination (God, Gore, and Greed) you see in the story behind every other religious holiday. Keep it in mind when you decorate your Hanukkah bush.

Jolly holiday and a happy new year!

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