Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Illumination on Chanukah

Atlanta Jewish Times
Letters to the Editor - January 8, 2005 Edition
Illumination On Chanukah
I noticed that every opinion written for the Jewish Times’ section on Chanukah (Dec. 23) downplayed the original message of the holiday. Rabbi Shalom Lewis wrote in his column, “Don’t Be Blinded by Miraculous Lights,” that “Jewish sages, uncomfortable with the bellicose nature of the original Chanukah, … deliberately shifted the theme. … Do we believe in an unending supply of Cheerios in our pantry until we make it to the supermarket? … So why oil in a menorah 22 centuries ago?” Rabbi Bob Alper rehashed this concept in his article, “Mrs. Steinberg’s Christmas Tree”: “While Christian children realize by age 6 or so (earlier if they have cynical older siblings) that Santa is a fable, many Jews go through their entire lives thinking that the ‘miracle’ of the oil lamp was a historical event. It wasn’t. The story was a cute legend, added hundreds of years after the Maccabean revolt. Sorry if your fantasy has been crushed.” Rabbi Paul D. Kerbel wrote in “It’s a Major Holiday” that “Chanukah teaches religious tolerance and the celebration of pluralism.”Please excuse me for possibly overstepping my bounds in responding to three rabbis, but I cannot believe that the message of Chanukah is to lose my belief in miracles and study other people’s cultures. One of the reasons I cannot believe that Chanukah celebrates pluralism as stated by Rabbi Kerbel is because of a character in this story whom some would like to keep you ignorant of: Jason.Jason was a Jew who bribed Antiochus to gain the high priesthood. The two specific crimes Jason is known to have committed are starting a gym and wearing a Greek hat (II Maccabees 4:12). Why are those things so horrible? It could be they were symbolic of the assimilationists “disdaining the honors prized by their ancestors and putting the highest value upon Greek forms of prestige” (II Maccabees 4:15). As for not believing the miracle of the Chanukah lights, that miracle is specifically stated in Talmudic Tractate Shabbat 21b. The Talmudic tractates are, to borrow Rabbi Alper’s terms, “historically and theologically” regarded as core texts of Judaism as much as the Torah. In other words, these gentlemen have taken incorrect approaches to what messages we can obtain from Chanukah in 2006 C.E. I propose one message we can gain. Michael Jacobs wrote in “Coming Together in This Festive Season” about the joys of celebrating the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a Catholic text released in 1965 implying that interfaith dialogue is permitted. Chanukah is — as can be noted with the once-delicate relationship between many Hellenists and Jews — a holiday that reminds us to be careful of which elements of secular culture we absorb; therefore, instead of focusing on other cultures, perhaps we should observe the Jewish approaches toward interfaith discussion. They include Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s response to the Catholic Church’s openness in 1964, available at http://www.bc.edu/research/cjl/meta-elements/texts/center/conferences/soloveitchik/index.html.*
Baruch Pelta
*link edited as the link printed in the paper originally was wrong --BP.

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