Hanukkah: The Jewish festival of rebellion

In Editorial on November 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm


Next week, we begin preparations for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. It is traditional for Jews to eat fried foods during the eight-day holiday in remembrance of the miraculously long-lasting oil used to rededicate the ancient Temple. This Phyne Dyning editorial observes that the Hanukkah story also suggests that it should also be a time for Jews to oil their weapons.

Many non-Jewish folk honestly believe that Hanukkah is “Jewish Christmas”.

That’s okay. I am as clueless about as many non-Jewish celebrations as there are world religions. I have no clue what Christians are talking about when they mention Maundy Thursday. It sounds, to me, like part of the dialog in a scene from The Godfather:

‘Mawnday, Thursday, Toosday, Wesday, Friday, Sawnday…”

To be fair to my goyische friends, a lot of Jews don’t know much about Hanukkah either.

My (Reform) rabbi tells his congregation that Hanukkah is without much basis in history and that the holiday was invented as a festival to bring light and cheer to the darkness of the winter season.

Well, that certainly sounds…ho-hum. My rabbi is free to believe what he likes.

I like the original story. The bit about new, improved, and longer-lasting Temple oil is nice. But it’s the first part of the story, the part about the Jewish rebellion and defeat of the state, that gets my motor running.

After the Greek conquest of Judea, the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes endeavored to wipe out Jewish practice. Circumcision was banned. The Temple was looted, desecrated and used for secular purposes. Jewish rituals were prohibited. Jews were forbidden to keep the Sabbath and the conquered Jews were expected to ‘go Greek’.

And many of them did exactly that.

They paid the Greek taxes, they participated in gymnasium, and they abandoned Hebrew and Aramaic in favor of speaking and writing in Greek. Torah became a ‘snore-ah’. Many Jews went so far as to try to ‘out-Greek’ the Greeks in daily living.

Sounds like Jewish Reformism and I point this out to the rabbi annually.

He always smiles broadly when he concedes, “I’m not sure why Reform Judaism even celebrates Hanukkah. We would have been on the side of the Greeks.”

I admire his honesty. He’s a good man. And he is, unfortunately, correct in his observation.

Given the whole of Jewish history, I am always a bit mystified by the almost universal Jewish love for the state…any state. Every –archy form of government has persecuted, murdered, relocated, marginalized, or at least disdained Jews. Government has always been the greatest threat to Jewish survival worldwide. (I am even more puzzled by American Judaism’s adoration of civilian disarmament…’sensible gun control’.)

Yet Jews everywhere clamor for more of the very thing that has always threatened to destroy the Jewish people.

A leader in our local Jewish federation (we have a six-pointed starship) once got his undies in a twist because there was no American flag displayed at a 9-11 memorial observation; the newest of American holidays celebrating the military-authoritarian state.

I don’t imagine G-d would be pleased by all of this.

Biblical evidence would suggest that G-d is a libertarian.

Look at what G-d tells Samuel when he brings news to the Holy One that the Jewish people want kings, instead of the judges G-d ‘suggested’, to rule over them. The early Jews now want to be subjects of kings ‘just like everyone else’.

G-d warns Samuel to tell the Jews about life under a king (government): taxation, military conscription, compulsory national service, and eminent domain…all under threat of violence if the people disagree.

But then G-d, ever the libertarian, finally concedes and tells Samuel to give the Jewish people what they want, even if it’s bad for them. G-d also warns Sammy, that the Jewish people will cry out that their once sought-for kings are oppressing them and they will beg for G-d to set them free again. What will happen? What will G-d offer up? Will he save the Jews in the final reel?

“Tell them to go home”, says G-d.

That can’t be good.

In Hellenized Judea, just like in America today, Jews wanted to be ‘like everyone else’.

Except for Mattathias’ family.

Mattathias fomented rebellion against the lawful government of Judea. His three sons joined with him in his quest to toss out the Greeks and live as Jews were commanded to do by G-d. Together they succeed in motivating many of their friends and neighbors to engage in a military rebellion against the Greeks.

I imagine the Hellenist Department of Homeland Security was not too fond of anti-Greek ‘militias’ or the unpatriotic stuff Mattathias published in his anti-Greek blog. I am certain that the ancient Greek newspaper publishers marginalized the Jewish secessionist movement as a bunch of ‘unwashed and unemployed ne’er-do-wells’ sporting mullet hair-dos and waiving “Occupy Athens” signs. The Spartan Anti-Poverty Law Center published damning, brief biographies of Mattathias’ sons, portraying them as ‘dangerous extremists’. The Athens Anti-Defamation League within the Jewish community chided Jews who were ‘not acting very Jewish’ because they didn’t embrace acting like Greeks.

Oh well.

Mostly, it ended well for those ancient, Jewish secessionists.

The rebellion had its dark days, like when piously foolish Jews refused to fight on the Sabbath and one thousand Jews perished in the senseless slaughter. Subsequent to this disaster, Judaism wisely adopted a more sensible approach to being shomer Shabbos, by stipulating that it is perfectly kosher to defend your life (or rebel) on the Sabbath.


In the end, the tiny band of Maccabees wins the day. The Greeks are defeated and Greek-sympathizers are put to the sword. The Temple is re-dedicated and there is peace and prosperity in Judea…

…until the newest government pals of the Jews, the Romans, decides (like every other government) that the Jews are an immense pain in the ass to have around.

There are two morals to Hanukkah and they have nothing to do with oil:

First: Government is not a friend to the Jews.

Second: To be a good Jew, you must be a good rebel.

There it is: Hanukkah is not “Jewish Christmas”.

It is “Jewish Forth of July”.

And that’s how the holiday is celebrated in our home.

I wish you the most joyous remembrance of the spirit of righteous rebellion. Happy Hanukkah from Phyne Dyning.


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