turn it. and turn it. (part 1)

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

This year, Slate​.com repub­lished this awe­some thought piece:

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.