Saturday, December 08, 2007

The "Red One" and Hanukkah

Last night in shul, instead of singing Adon Olam at the end, we sang a couple of stanzas of Maoz Tzur - the first and the last, both of which refer to the Hanukkah story. But in my Birnbaum siddur (Orthodox) there is a fifth stanza (which Birnbaum unhelpfully does not translate, but says that it is later than the rest of the piyyut). I took a look at it tonight trying to figure out what it said. Here's a rough translation:

Reveal your holy arm and bring near the day of salvation.
Enact the revenge of your servants against the evil kingdom.
The time has lengthened, and there is no end to the evil days.
Destroy the red one (Admon) in the deepest shadow,
and establish for us the seven shepherds [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David]


The "red one" is a pun on the name Edom (the ancient kingdom, which in rabbinic interpretation referred first to the pagan Roman empire, then to the Christian Roman empire, and then to Christianity as a whole).

(Translation help from the Orthodox Union website - Maoz Tzur).

Useful information on this stanza from Dov Bear A question for my conservative friends. He sees an analogy between the Hellenists denounced in the fourth stanza and modern-day right wing Jews who are trying to get close to evangelical Christians because of their common stance on various social issues like homosexuality or abortion. He said last year:

In 2006 we have our own Hellenizers, men like Daniel Lapin who rejoice at finding common ground between Judaism and the most backwards and least tolerant of Christians. Unfortunately, this common ground is almost always achieved by diluting Judaism. Our positions on abortion or homosexuality or any of the moral issues that animate appeasers like Lapin are richer and more complex and more ambiguous than the Evangelical's absolute 'No.' As readers of the Rabbis are aware our thinking on evolution and the age of the universe is also more accomodating than Christianity's. Samson Rephael Hirsch, for example, was famously flexible about evolution. And the Tiferes Yisroel thought Adam's children married pre-Adamic 'men.'


I just took another look at Lapin's website and found some truly mind-boggling statements by him. Here's one (from the "Ask Rabbi Daniel Lapin" section):

I belong to a messianic congregation and we're learning and following our Jewish roots. There are a few Jews in our congregation, and we often have a Rabbi come to speak. We asked those who were Jewish what [ed. behaviors] they felt Christians do that is most offensive to Jews. The response was the [use of the] symbol of the cross and/or wearing a cross. I wear both a Star of David and a Cross. I never thought I was offending my Jewish brethren. Is not the cross the ‘tav’ in the Hebrew language? Is the cross really offensive? I won't wear my cross if I'm offending my Jewish brethren. Should I get rid of my cross?

The only Jews who might be offended by a cross are those whose Jewish identity is so rootless that their definition of being a Jew is someone who doesn't believe in Jesus or the cross. There is obviously a whole lot more about Judaism and what we DO believe rather than what we are NOT. Many Jews without a strong Jewish foundation in Torah knowledge react to a cross the way a vampire does (or so I'm told) . There is no letter in the Hebrew language that resembles a cross. Sometimes when people say I offended them, it doesn't mean I was really offensive it just means that their skin is too thin. Best wishes RDL


This is a remarkably unhistorical answer to give this undoubtedly well-meaning questioner. Historically speaking, Jews have been wary of the sight of the cross because of Christian Judeophobia. It doesn't have anything to do with whether one's Jewish identity is rootless. In fact, the Jews I've met who are the most wary of Christianity have been Orthodox Jews who won't even enter a church - and these are people who are very well-rooted in Judaism. The thing I don't understand about Lapin is why he works so hard to curry favor with evangelical Christianity (not just evangelical Christians as people he agrees with). It seems to me that it would be sufficient to say that he agrees with them on social issues and that he's willing to be in coalitions with them. It's not necessary then to deny the history of Christian anti-Judaism and claim that Jews who are still aware of it are somehow unJewish.

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