Some Questions about Chanukah?

A few questions about Chanukah:

Do most of your non-frum neighbors, friends and relatives light a Chanukah menorah?

What does Chanukah mean to you?
– Seeing the miracles in our lives.
– The need to fight against persecution.
– Understanding the limitations of a man centered society.

What actions has Chanukah inspired you to take?

16 comments on “Some Questions about Chanukah?

  1. It should be noted that in the 1970’s Rabbi Meir Kahane OBM wrote an article entitled, “Down With Hanukkah,” in which he argued that the true meaning of the holiday was actually poison to most of the assimilated Jews who were running to celebrate it.

    It also is the biggest irony in the world that Israel calls its quadrennial sports event the Maccabiah Games, inasmuch as the Maccabees were totally opposed to the Greek Olympic Games and their ideal of worshipping the human body and its athletic achievements.

  2. Wile it’s clear that the NYT is no friend of Jews, I find nothing particularly negative in his Op Ed piece. I think that he described the mileiu in an historically acurate and reasonably objective fashion. Inspirational tales are just that, tales. Nothing is as simple as it seems or as we might like it to be. Our job as Jews is to serve G-d by observing his Torah. That other Jews may be imperfect shouldn’t sway our faith. R’ Weinberg’s famous quote about not judging Judaism by the Jews was as true 2200 years ago as it is now.

  3. Nathan and Bob,

    While the *Times* has problems going even beyond that of its less than flattering portrayal of traditional religions such as ours (I still remember Judith Miller’s less than factual coverage of the leadup to the Iraq war), in many respects it is far superior to some other newspapers. The *New York Post* in particular is totally unsuitable for a frum home. You never know what non-tzniut photograph will be on its front page or whose sexual escapades will be in its gossip pages. Unfortunately, in today’s issue it is an Orthodox rabbi whose sexual indiscretions are the subject of a *Post* article.

  4. “Maybe some people read it for the comics.”

    Good point, Bob. I’ll bet a lot of people read *all* of it for the comics :).

  5. “I stopped reading the New York Times in 1982 because of their obvious bias against Jews. Since then, they have done nothing to change my opinion.”

    The Times’ bias does continue, but how would you know that if you stopped reading it altogether in 1982?

    Maybe some people read it for the comics.

  6. The article in message # 3 is yet another reason why Jews should NOT read the New York Times.

    The NYT is relentlessly dedicated to presenting Jews, Judaism and Israel in the most negative light possible and presenting those who seek to harm Jews in the most positive light possible.

    I stopped reading the New York Times in1 1982 because of their obvious bias against Jews. Since then, they have done nothing to change my opinion.

    On Yom HaDim, the great Day of Judgment, those Jews who purchased the New York Times will realize they made a bog mistake.

  7. Antiochus IV’s attempt to have himself worshipped as a god was inspired more by the pagan Middle Eastern culture than by Greek culture.

    From Wikipedia:
    “He assumed divine epithets, which no other Hellenistic king had done, such as Theos Epiphanes (Greek: ΘΕΟΣ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΗΣ mean “God Manifest”) and after his defeat of Egypt, Nikephoros (Greek: ΝΙΚΗΦΟΡΟΣ mean “Bearer of Victory”)[2]. But his often eccentric behavior, capricious actions and even insanity led some of his contemporaries to call him Epimanes (“The Mad One”), a word play off of his title Epiphanes”

  8. Rabbi Shafran goes way too far in declaring Hellenism to be “utterly human-centered” and “amoral”. While there was certainly a lot in the Greek philosophy of the time that is inconsistent with Torah, and the attempt by the Selucid Kingdom to suppress a religious movement out of existence should generate sympathy for its targets from everyone no matter how assimilated or insular, one can find a lot of moral lessons in Greek mythology, theater, and historical writing. Just to give one example, the narrative of Croesus, King of Lydia could easily have been written by Chazal rather than Herodotus.

  9. I can’t possible agree with Mr Brooks, because fundamentally my view of the primacy of Torah in the world is at sharp odds with his world view, so we are viewing the events from different lenses. Chanukah was about restoring the primacy of Torah in the Jewish world and that was the focus of the battle and the holiday.

    I do however think it’s important to try to read him honestly and understand what he really did say. Here’s his last paragraph for those who don’t have the patience to reread the article.

    But there is no erasing the complex ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices.

    Rabbi Wein said
    “A noted op-ed Jewish (?) columnist in the New York Times wrote that in his opinion the Hellenist Jews were the good guys and the Maccabees were the bad guys and that it is certainly somewhat regrettable that the bad guys won. “

    I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of what Mr Brooks said and I’m disappointed that Rabbi Wein couldn’t make his valid points without that distortion.

    Rabbi Shafran said
    “Reducing the defense of the essential Jewish ideal to an “insurgency campaign,” where “the good guys did horrible things,” is the sort of simplistic revisionism that is, in these deconstructive days, as misleading as it is common.”

    This is also a distortion of what Mr Brooks said. Mr Brooks explicitly acknowledges the complexities of the Chashmonaem/Maccabees as do Chazal, where they are credited with their heroic victory but harshly criticized for what they did afterwords.

  10. Mark,

    I suppose I need to think about the article to be able to comment, but here’s a “knee-jerk” reaction, two other articles which I’ve seen that discuss the one by Brooks:

    1) Link to R. Wein’s article in the Jeruslaem Post

    2) Rabbi Shafran’s letter to the NYT:

    To the Editor:

    David Brooks is certainly correct that there is “complexity” in the Hanukkah story. But the “battle between theologies” it entailed did not pit “angry bearded” guys against champions of “the power of reason.” It was, rather, the confrontation of an utterly human-centered, amoral worldview and the God-centered convictions of Judaism.

    That the casting off of the Seleucid yoke involved violence by the oppressed Jews is a truism. But bloodshed has attended many rightly venerated stands against oppression, including the one at the birth of our own country. Ideals are not always easily defended.

    Reducing the defense of the essential Jewish ideal to an “insurgency campaign,” where “the good guys did horrible things,” is the sort of simplistic revisionism that is, in these deconstructive days, as misleading as it is common.

    (Rabbi) Avi Shafran
    Director of Public Affairs
    Agudath Israel of America
    New York, Dec.
    12, 2009

  11. I hadn’t seen this article. I think that the concept of religious freedom is a rather attractive choice. Sadly it’s not really mentioned in Mr. Brooks’ article.

  12. The story of Chanukah to me is a story of victory of the values of Judaism over Hellenism (Western Civilization).I find the story inspirational and relevant to our times because today we are fighting (culturally) the same battle.The cultures of Hellenism are dominate in the world through the United States, Europe and many other places and they are intent on spreading their moral corruption and way of life over us.Despite the odds against us, with HaShem’s help we will prevail just as we did in the days of the Maccabees.The story of Chanukah is an inspiration because as I see the world seemly going down the drain,I am reminded that the good guys win in the end despite the powerful forces aligned against us.The Jewish nation is a lamb amidst 70 hungry wolves,but by sticking to the Torah we will strengthen ourselves and prevail.

  13. Any reactions to David Brook’s article on Chanukah in the NY Times. My knee-jerk reaction was to broadly condemn it, but on re-reading it, my question is how can we bridge the gap between Mr Brook’s understanding and our understanding of Chanukah?

    Op-Ed Columnist
    The Hanukkah Story

    Tonight Jewish kids will light the menorah, spin their dreidels and get their presents, but Hanukkah is the most adult of holidays. It commemorates an event in which the good guys did horrible things, the bad guys did good things and in which everybody is flummoxed by insoluble conflicts that remain with us today. It’s a holiday that accurately reflects how politics is, how history is, how life is.

    It begins with the spread of Greek culture. Alexander’s Empire, and the smaller empires that succeeded it, brought modernizing ideas and institutions to the Middle East. At its best, Hellenistic culture emphasized the power of reason and the importance of individual conscience. It brought theaters, gymnasiums and debating societies to the cities. It raised living standards, especially in places like Jerusalem.

    Many Jewish reformers embraced these improvements. The Greeks had one central idea: their aspirations to create an advanced universal culture. And the Jews had their own central idea: the idea of one true God. The reformers wanted to merge these two ideas.

    Urbane Jews assimilated parts of Greek culture into their own, taking Greek names like Jason, exercising in the gymnasium and prospering within Greek institutions. Not all Jews assimilated. Some resisted quietly. Others fled to the hills. But Jerusalem did well. The Seleucid dynasty, which had political control over the area, was not merely tolerant; it used imperial money to help promote the diverse religions within its sphere.

    In 167 B.C., however, the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, issued a series of decrees defiling the temple, confiscating wealth and banning Jewish practice, under penalty of death. It’s unclear why he did this. Some historians believe that extremist Jewish reformers were in control and were hoping to wipe out what they saw as the primitive remnants of their faith. Others believe Antiochus thought the Jews were disloyal fifth columnists in his struggle against the Egyptians and, hence, was hoping to assimilate them into his nation.

    Regardless, those who refused to eat pork were killed in an early case of pure religious martyrdom.

    As Jeffrey Goldberg, who is writing a book on this period, points out, the Jews were slow to revolt. The cultural pressure on Jewish practice had been mounting; it was only when it hit an insane political level that Jewish traditionalists took up arms. When they did, the first person they killed was a fellow Jew.

    In the town of Modin, a Jew who was attempting to perform a sacrifice on a new Greek altar was slaughtered by Mattathias, the old head of a priestly family. Mattathias’s five sons, led by Judah Maccabee, then led an insurgent revolt against the regime.

    The Jewish civil war raised questions: Who is a Jew? Who gets to define the right level of observance? It also created a spiritual crisis. This was not a battle between tribes. It was a battle between theologies and threw up all sorts of issues about why bad things happen to faithful believers and what happens in the afterlife — issues that would reverberate in the region for centuries, to epic effect.

    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.

    Generations of Sunday school teachers have turned Hanukkah into the story of unified Jewish bravery against an anti-Semitic Hellenic empire. Settlers in the West Bank tell it as a story of how the Jewish hard-core defeated the corrupt, assimilated Jewish masses. Rabbis later added the lamp miracle to give God at least a bit part in the proceedings.

    But there is no erasing the complex ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices.

  14. Most people do light. I actually posted the following on my blog this morning, as written by R Yosef Stern in his Sfas Emes book DAYS OF JOY (Artscroll)

    There’s a halacha in germara Shabbos 21b that describes how certain oils and wick are “not acceptable for Shabbos candelabra, but are permitted for the Chanuka Menorah. The substances are prohibited for Shabbos use because of the flame’s inability to cling to the wick. Likewise, the light of Torah is unable to fully penetrate certain souls even on Shabbos. Yet on Chanuka these rejected wicks may be used. So too, souls that are not inspired by the weekly Shabbos are spiritually moved by the yearly observance of Chanukah. A certain spark, an inner purity, always remains burning bright in the heart of every Jew. This spark, know as the Nekudah HaPinimius, constrained all year long from permeating the Jewish psyche, is liberated on Chanukah through the power of praise and gratitude, for the miracles that occurred at this time”

  15. Chanukah has also represented the idea of priorities. As soon as the war was over and the Jews were able to fix up the Temple, they celebrated Sukkot (in Kislev!), because they had missed it that year due to the war. Their first impulse was not to celebrate a military victory, which might only be temporary, but to serve Hashem with Lulav and Esrog. So I always think about the 8 days of Sukkot/Chanukah at this time and try to concentrate on the idea of prioritizing avodat Hashem in life’s many other challenges.

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