Saturday, December 4, 2010
Over the years, I've come to realize that Chanukah, like most Jewish holidays and observances, is viewed through many lenses. Sometimes it depends on time, sometimes on place, sometimes on context, sometimes on an individual's frame of mind. But from celebrations to articles, to speeches about the holiday, it is clear that Chanukah is a prism through which the lights of the holiday shine and reflect light to a lot of different places.
These are the Chanukah holidays that some to my mind:
Chanukah as recognition of God's hand in the world - Simply stated, this Chanukah recognizes miracles in the world. There are events that cannot be explained away simply. We all have examples, although we may or may not choose to see them as Godly. Nonetheless, this particular Chanukah sees God's hand in the victory of the ancient Maccabees and in the burning of a container's worth of oil for eight days.
Chanukah as celebration of religious freedom - We look at Antiochus IV's attempts to outlaw significant Jewish practices. The victory of the Maccabean army reestablished the right of traditional Jewry to their practice, including the rituals of the Temple. It ignores the question of whether the Hellenized Jews or other groups walked away with religious freedom. Because mostly, we don't know. Still, there is something to be said for this version of the holiday and it plays well in public forums, such as interfaith gatherings and public schools.
Chanukah as freedom from oppression - This Chanukah recognizes that the Maccabees broke free of foreign rule and asserted the right to self-governance. It is an inspiration to all who stand for the right of a people to choose their own destiny.
Friday, December 3, 2010
Second glance at the story is a little more complicated. It seems that the first two Books of the Maccabees - which date from the era of the revolt or shortly after - as well as some midrashim relate the story of the uprising. In these works, the victorious rebels celebrate the holiday of Sukkot at this time of the year, as they were engaged in war when the holiday had actually fallen on the calendar. Chanukah becomes and eight day festival because Sukkot (with Shemini Atzeret) is. And the menorah part of the story is that upon entering the temple, the Maccabees and their followers fashion spears left by the Seleucid warriors into a menorah and light it. The Al Ha-Nisim prayer appears to largely follow this version of the story, highlighting the victory in battle as the miracle.