Monday, December 22, 2008

Why Hanukkah Still Matters

Edgar Bronfman has a nice column in the Washington Post on Hanukkah and the meanings it has (and can have) for American Jews -Why Hanukkah Still Matters.

He writes:
But the success and confidence of "assimilated" American Jews is also what makes them capable of creating a new kind of Judaism, one that may grow and thrive with freedom. The interest is there, among both in-married and intermarried families, but the knowledge is lacking. Jewish education must replace the fight against anti-Semitism as the focus of Jewish communal life. American Jews have the opportunity to create a Jewish practice that is based not in fear but in hope. And hope, after all, is the theme that runs so powerfully through both the Maccabees' story of triumph against all odds and the rabbis' story of the lasting power of a single flame.

The first step toward carrying on Judaism is to begin learning. American Jews should not let Christmas define Hanukkah--they should define it for themselves, based on knowledge of its multi-layered texts and traditions. I am convinced that Judaism still has much to offer to the world, with its spirit of questioning, its focus on living ethically, its communal ethos. And there may be a message for the world in the Hanukkah story. If the Maccabees had not been victorious, would monotheism have survived? Would Christianity or Islam ever have come into being? Perhaps the Hanukkah story should be cause for celebration outside the Jewish community as well as within.

It's an interesting question - if the Maccabees had not succeeded, would Judaism have survived as a separate religion? Would Christianity or Islam ever have come into being? I sometimes think about historical nexus points, where a single event would have led to a significant change in the future. (For a much more obscure example - what if King Sennacherib had succeeded in his siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E.? It's possible that the kingdom of Judah would have been dissolved into the Assyrian empire, as the northern kingdom of Israel had been - in which case there would have been no Bible and no Judaism either).

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