If you’re the type of person that’s interested in grappling with some of the… um… stickier parts of the Hanukkah story, the past few years have seen a bumper crop of impressive writing on the topic.
I’ll write more later about my own take on all this. But for now, check out all this good stuff.
There’s the thoughtful piece by Hilary Leila Krieger that the New York Times published last year:
…it’s a story with dark chapters as well, including the Maccabean leaders’ religious zealotry, forced conversions and deadly attacks on their neighbors. These transgressions need to be grappled with. And that is precisely what the most important Jewish holidays do: Jews on Passover spill out wine from their glasses to acknowledge Egyptian suffering caused by the 10 plagues, and congregations at Rosh Hashana read and struggle with God’s order to Abraham to bind his son Isaac as a sacrifice.
If we’re going to magnify Hanukkah, we should do so because it offers the deeper meaning and opportunity for introspection that the major Jewish holidays provide.
The True Meaning of Hanukkah
by Hilary Leila Krieger
In 2011, Shawna Dolansky wrote this insightful piece for the Huffington Post:
The first book of Maccabees not only praises the religious zealotry of the Maccabees against the other Jews, their intolerance of a more assimilated Judaism, but in fact legitimizes their role…
…In today’s world, we call this type of action religious terrorism. Christians who blow up abortion clinics are also committing murder for the sake of their beliefs in the greater good. Muslims who fly planes into civilian targets are also committing murder for the sake of their beliefs in the greater good. And the Jewish fundamentalists behind the assassination of Itzhak Rabin in 1995 were doing the same thing.
So the truth about the Maccabees is a slippery one. National liberators or religious fanatics? Freedom fighters or terrorists? The truth depends on who’s telling their story, and for what purpose.
The Truth(s) About Hanukkah
by Shawna Dolansky
This week, there was this one in Ha’aretz:
The real story of Hanukkah begins with a revolt, for reasons that would resonate to this day – gross inequality and religious coercion. Rather less well-known is that the holiday originally had nothing to do with a miraculous oil supply but rather involved ousting foreign rule and slaughtering Hellenized Jews.
The astonishing real story of Hanukkah
by Elon Gilad
Last year, there was this great piece:
For modern Jews, however, the issues raised by the Maccabees’ story are deeply relevant. Strife between civil rulers of the Jewish state and religious factions that want the Jewish state to enforce their version of the Jewish religion; the rewards and dangers of a security relationship with a remote superpower — it’s a story as fresh and new in 2012 as it was at the first Hanukkah more than 2,100 years ago.
The real story of Hanukkah
by David Frum
That’s the clash of Hanukkah. Armed Hasmonean priests and their comrades from the rural town ofModi’in attacked urban Jews, priests and laity alike, who supported Greek reform, like the gymnasium and new rules for governing commerce. The Hasmoneans imposed, at sword’s edge, traditional observance. After years of protracted warfare, the priests established a Hasmonean state that never ceased fighting Jews who disagreed with its rule…
…I propose that on Hanukkah, we ought to consider whether an ethnic group that wishes to survive must turn itself into a nation-state. In the aftermath of the Bar Kochba débâcle, at Hanukkah the words of the prophet Zachariah were read in the synagogue: “Not by power nor by might but through My spirit, says the Lord.” In the glow of the candles this year we should wonder aloud whether the prophet’s vision is but balm for losers or whether the international system may yet generate a new way for groups to be both part of the world and apart from it. Here is the hard question that an adult celebration of Hanukkah can bring into deliberate focus.
Jew vs. Jew
by Rabbi James Ponet
So where do I stand on all this? That’s it’s own blog post. Until I get around to writing it, this is all I can say:
Maybe we should stop celebrating Hanukkah.