Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas

Chanukkah is not a major holiday on the Jewish calendar. But in America, Chanukkah is attaining a significance that is changing it from the commemoration it was intended to be into a commemoration of the exact opposite.

First, the history. It is the second century, B.C.E. Palestine is under the control of the Greeks, and the Greeks have brought with them their culture and civilization, in other words, their value system. The Greeks understood that the most effective way to conquer a people is not by military might alone. Instead combine military might with persuading the people to accept your value system, to make your way of life attractive.

The Greek way of life became so attractive that Jews began changing their names to Greek ones. In Jewish cemeteries Greek inscriptions began appearing on headstones rather than Hebrew ones. Jews became so fluent in Greek that they could no longer read the Torah in Hebrew. The Greeks loved masculine beauty and would exercise and participate in athletics in the nude. Some Jewish men were so eager to be accepted into Greek society that they had operations to have their circumcisions reversed by having a piece of skin reattached so they could exercise in the nude and pass for Greek.

However, trouble ensued when the Greeks set up statues of Greek deities in the Temple in Jerusalem. They went into villages with pigs and demanded the Jews worship the animal. In one such village, however, when a Jew stepped forward to bow to the pig, a Jew named Mattityahu stepped forward and killed him. Thus began the revolt that eventually led to the reclamation of the Temple, its cleansing of idolatry, and the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days.

The war that led up to the reclamation of the Temple represent the first instances in world history of what we now call guerilla warfare, and the tactics used in that war are taught to this day at West Point. That war also represents the first time in history that a people fought for the right of religious freedom. In other words, Jews fought for the right to live and worship as Jews.

Because of Chanukkah's proximity to Christmas, Chanukkah, the Jewish holiday which was a rebellion against assimilation, is becoming the holiday of assimilation.

While I can understand the good intentions of Gentiles wishing me a "Happy Chanukkah," I have problems when Jews do it. In a Jewish context, the words are meaningless. The word, Chanukkah, means "dedication", dedication to Jewish values. Unfortunately, the eight day observance is becoming a dedication to assimilation. And nothing represents that more than the increasing proliferation of the word, "Chrismukkah".

It will not be too many more years before Christmas and Chanukkah will each be devoid of meaning.

© 2008 by Julius Lester

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