Chanuka — holiday of pluralism or holiday of truth?


With Chanuka coming in a few days we can be sure that along with the Chanuka tree and the Chanuka wreath, we will have the annual round of phony newspaper stories about Chanuka being the holiday of religious freedom.

The usual story (American version) goes something like this: There were these bad guys, the Greeks/Republicans/Christian Right who persecuted the good guys, the Jews/Democrats/pluralists. The bad guys tried to impose a theocracy and do away with the Bill of Rights. Then there was like a total unbelievable miracle and these Jews who are normally peace-loving pacifists got up the gumption to stand up for the principle of Separation of Church and State and multiculturalism. And the good guys won! The theocracy of the Greeks was overthrown, and the Jews established instead a liberal democracy with religious freedom for all.

Of course this story is total nonsense. What was really going on was that the Greeks persecuted the Jews because they couldn’t stand the Jews’ uppityness in declaring that they had the only true religion and the only real G-d. The Greeks believed in lots of gods and would have happily welcomed Buddhists, Wiccans, Gaians and whoever else wanted to join — as long as they didn’t claim to have the One Exclusive Truth. That claim to truth really stuck in their craw.

Well those pesky, intolerant Jews went around saying that idols in the Temple or pigs on the altar were somehow a “defilement of the holy” and the Greeks weren’t having any of that. They were going to put those snooty Jews in their place once and for all.

Strangely, the biggest enemies of the Maccabees (who were the Torah-true Jews of the day) were not Greeks but Hellenist Jews. It was these Greek-loving Jews who tried to use the power of the courts, sorry scratch that, the power of the Greek rulers to overthrow strict monotheism and bring in polytheism (multiculturalism) instead.

The Greeks had all kinds of glittery attractive things like art and math and astronomy and Olympic sports with athletes running around nude and bowing to nifty gods, also the Greeks had a system that allowed for quite a bit of latitude in personal morality, and the Hellenist Jews really wanted that glittery stuff. They went so far as to ban bris milah, because circumcised men were embarrassed to be seen in the nude Olympics (I am not making this up) and they didn’t want Jewish babies to grow up embarrassed anymore.

So the big stand-off was between polytheism and monotheism, between immorality and holiness, and G-d sided with the monotheists and put the pagans in their place.

Oh and later on the Rabbis did use Greek math and science but rejected Greek morality and culture, so to this day we pick and choose what aspects of non-Jewish society we will accept. Torah Jews are OK with medicine and accounting but we are not into sleaze magazines. We still aim for holiness, however uphill the battle.

And that’s the real story of Chanuka.

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9 years 9 months ago

It is not inevitable BTW that a king will be evil or tyrannical, of course, as you can see by reading the Book of Kings—Melachim.

Yes, I’ve read Kings. Did it escape your notice that the Jewish kings overwhelmingly were tyrants and idol worshippers?

Ori Pomerantz
9 years 9 months ago

TK: As an Orthodox Jew I consider it a terrible and tragic end that the desendants of the Maccabees ended up just like the Hellenists their fathers had fought so hard against.

Ori: Did they? They were Hellenized themselves, granted, but did they outlaw Judaism the way the Hellenistic Jews did before the rebellion, or did they just not follow it?

There is a big difference between the two, as big as the difference between living in Spain in 1500 (observing Judaism in secret, and living in terror of the Inquisition) and living in Israel in 2000.