HANUKKAH – Judaism’s Most Important Holiday
The main point to remember at this roost, as at any other roost, is to avoid standing under the rooster. It can be hazardous.
I post my stories, articles, and other items here. If you enjoy what you read, please let me know. This blog site is still a work in progress, so please bear with me. My pieces tend to be somewhat on the serious side, so if I am irreverent elsewhere - we all need to smile sometimes.
The first piece that you'll find is the one that follows below about Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday celebrated in winter in Israel and the rest of the northern hemisphere, and in summer in South Africa, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, and the rest of the southern hemisphere.
In Israel, winter is not terribly severe (except in the Heights of Golan) so it is the custom to light candles for Hanukkah outside, where everone can see them. In places like the United States, Russia and Europe, it is the custom to light these candles in windows that face the outside, so that anyone passing by can see them.
Author's Note: I originally wrote this in December 2004, just before Hanukkah. I have had to make very few changes in the article published by the Root & Branch Association Information Service (firstname.lastname@example.org) on 19 Kislev, 5765. This is truly tragic.
We celebrate Hanukkah this year from 25 Kislev through 3 Tevet (December 26 2005 – January 2 2006). I want to thank Aryeh Gallin, President of the Root & Branch Association, for editorial help and substantive and intelligent suggestions
Reuven Kossover, Jerusalem, Israel
"No iron can pierce the heart more sharply than a period put at just the right place."I.E. Babel
HANUKKAH – Judaism’s Most Important Holiday
Copyright © 2004, 2005 – R. Kossover
If you ask a rabbi what the most important Jewish holidays are, he's likely to tell you Yom Kippur and the Sabbath, in that order. There are other holidays he will likely mention –- the High Holy Days, the Three Festivals. He probably will not answer Hanukkah.
First, Hanukkah is not mentioned directly in the Torah, like the aforementioned holidays. Our commentators do give it a nod as being referred to there, but you have to look for the citations. The references to dates in Jewish history that were to yet occur, like Pessah in connection with the visit of the three angels to Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (found in B'Reishit/Genesis), and the 9th of Av (mentioned in connection with the events surrounding the Sin of the Spies), are much better known in Jewish scholarship.
In addition, the books of the Maccabees, the works that most directly relate the events surrounding Hanukkah to us, are not even in the Tana”kh.
But, I argue that Hanukkah is the most important holiday we have. Why? Well, Shabbat is our weekly day of respite from the troubles of this world, our taste of Ha'Olam Ha'Ba (the world to come). While the High Holy Days and Sukkot provide an avenue of repentance, the gates or repentance are always open.
However, Hanukkah is the ugly mirror in time through which we Jews see the modern reality of our country and the condition of our people today in an event that occurred 2,100 years ago.
In spite of what the Talmud says, Hanukkah is not really about a cruse of oil that lasts eight times as long as it is supposed to; it is not about Greeks persecuting Jews and not allowing them to practice their religion; it is not about brave Jewish soldiers liberating the country from foreigners; it is not about potato pancakes; it is not about jelly doughnuts.
Hanukkah is about a civil war. It is about a people drinking the wine of madness.
The source for my assertions on this topic is Solomon Zeitlin's "Rise and Fall of the Jewish State: a History of the Second Judean Commonwealth", a two-volume opus that dealt with an era critical to the development of Judaism. In it, he explained how a large number of Jews of the day, very possibly a majority, were very happy to follow the Hellenization of the country spearheaded by Antiochus Epiphanes, the insecure monarch of the Seleucid Empire that ruled over Syria from Antioch. They had no problem with not circumcising their children, eating pork, going to the gymnasia, worshiping the idols placed in various temples by the Greek soldiers, including the Temple in Jerusalem. This was particularly true of the Jews in the higher classes of society.
When I read this book thirty-three years ago, I did not understand its significance at all. In 1972, Israel strode the Middle East like a small colossus, stretching from the Suez to the Jordan. Hanukkah was the time to celebrate how the I.D.F. had kicked Arab butt all over the place, winning wars in six days and celebrating victory on the seventh, much the way G-d created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh after pronouncing His creation "very good".
Today, Israel is a small weak country whose leaders come to heel like trained dogs when called by their masters in the U.S. and elsewhere. Her people suffer terrorism and do not effectively fight back; her oppressors are lionized and idolized throughout the world, even by a large number of Israelis in power here. The Israeli Army does not talk about kicking Arab butt anymore. Instead, on the illegal orders of the prime minister, they have uprooted 10,000 Jews from their homes in this country, and prepare to uproot more. One would think that they were the Greek soldiers putting idols in the Temple. Except that today there is no Temple – the Arabs who control the Temple Mount systematically destroy evidence of its previous existence and the Israeli government does nothing at all but wring its "helpless" hands. Not only this, but the Temple Mount is in the hands of the Arabs – by the consent of the same Israeli government that wrings its hands! Woe to the Jew who seeks to so much as bless the sight of a rainbow from the Temple Mount! He'll be thrown off with all the ceremony of a bum being kicked out of an American shopping mall.
What is worse, the civil war fought then was between those Jews who wanted to follow the dominant secular culture of the day and those who insisted on following the religion of the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We are fighting that exact same civil war now. The vast majority of Jews of today's world, not merely here but world wide, want very much to follow the secular culture of today, that of America and Europe; they want to dispense with the faith of their ancestors or at least "encapsulate" it so that its observance will not interfere with the pleasures of the secular culture. By and large, they don't care about the Sabbath, they don't care about kashrut, they don't care about teaching their children Torah, and they don't care about the sanctity of the land. Too many of them, even so-called "Torah-observant" Jews, care more about how closely they can model their own lives after the non-Jewish Europeans or Americans.
They want to drink the wine of madness that is the secular culture of Europe and America. This is as true here in Israel as it is in exile.
Some of Israel's leaders are so against Judaism that they try to do whatever they can to weaken the Jewish structure of the state. They've attempted refusing to enforce the ban on the sale of yeast containing products during Passover, and have done what they can to weaken Sabbath observance. They do what they can to sabotage the prohibitions on the sale of pork and publicize the ideas of Jews who are against circumcision, the ideas of Jews who call the brit mila that ties every male Jew to G-d in an eternal covenant "inhumane". They blithely push for homosexuals to parade openly in Jerusalem, conveniently forgetting that homosexual behavior is classified as an abomination in Torah and is one of the reasons that the previous occupants of the land were vomited out. As if this isn’t enough, a crematorium has now opened up in this country. Israelis are lining up to be burned as their grandparents were in Europe. The only difference is that they will not be pushed in alive. They will wait till they die first. This too, is in direct violation of the Torah.
The coterie of un-Jews who run the country are a small clique who have little to do with the decent people who make up most of those who are not "Torah-observant" by Israeli standards. This coterie comprises the modern Hellenists -- the Hiloním who want nothing to do with Judaism or with G-d and who are ashamed of the faith of their ancestors. Today they run the government, and dominate the upper classes of society just like they did twenty one hundred years ago.
At a November 4 2004 conference in Jerusalem discussing the Rabin assassination, Professor Aryeh Zaritzky, of Ben Gurion University, warned the largely Torah observant audience of Jews about these "Hilonim," this tiny coterie of evil men, these modern Hellenists who would abandon Judaism, he said, "they hate you. They are preparing a war against you. Not a war against brothers, but a war against those who are not even brothers!"
My blood ran cold when I heard this.
I wish I could say, looking at the above several paragraphs, that what I've written is unbalanced and one-sided. If I could honestly say that, my reasons for publishing this essay would disappear. I could hit the delete button and I could move on to other, more pleasant things. But the mirror in time that is Hanukkah prevents me from doing so. I look in that mirror and see the realities of civil war reflected from 2,100 years ago then in chilling images today. All that is missing from that picture are open hostilities.
There is a Jewish theory of history describing a "helix of time". The lazy hawk rises on a thermal in the same circular path never quite going over the same place he went a number of feet below. Events don't recur exactly. Yet in this mirror of time, one might see in the American government or in the E.U. the image of Antiochus V - a foreign oppressor. But the High Priest and his associates who actively pursued the policies of de-Judaizing the country - and the many, many supporters the High priest had then - these people were all Jews, just as the cabinet is ruling from Jerusalem today. These are the realities that I see today, whether I like them or not.
Therefore, these then are the lines of the modern civil war. One side - the faithful - doesn't even realize (or want to realize) that it is being attacked, while the other side has the press, the government and the army on its side. One reads from Zechariah 12 and sees that even Judah will come up against Jerusalem. One waits in vain for the modern version of Mattatyahu Hashmonai – the brave Kohen who ran his sword through a Jew willing to worship an idol and then who screamed, "Those who are for G-d come with me!" Every Jew who has attempted to take this mantle up in the last thirty years until now has either been jailed or silenced by the Israeli government. We are again living in the days when Jews, led by blind fools who have neither pride nor honesty nor dignity, who are indeed a "generation of reversals", are determined to bulldoze over their core beliefs to chase after the passing fads of the "modern" world.
For this we will pay – as we always have - in blood.