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Hitchens: Got History?

Rabbis Stern and Rabbi Waxman are right that our Hanukkah rituals are multi-valanced, as is any ritual that has lasted thousands of years. As such, Hanukkah responds to the human needs for light and hope at this darkest time of year. However they miss the most significant point of the Hanukkah story, which also is the most important response to Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens obviously does not know his history. The Maccabees, also known as the Hasmoneans, did not fight to overthrow Hellenism. They united ultra-traditionalists and moderates to fight for religious freedoms that historically were granted to religious minorities under all previous Hellenistic kings. Why Antiochus Ephiphanes IV (the Hellenistic Seleucid King of Hanukkah) pursued a policy of persecution so inconsistent with Hellenistic policy has engaged scholars for decades. The point though, is that Hasmoneans were not fighting against Hellenism. They fought to reestablish the very rights that were supposed to be protected by Hellenism. Once they achieved that recognition, they took their place within the Seleucid Empire as a good client nation. More than that, they were also culturally part of the Hellenistic world. While they wrote in Hebrew, they also transmitted their story in Greek and gave their children Hebrew and Greek names. Still to this day, the Hasmoneans serve as a model for how to balance being part of a larger society and retaining allegiance to one’s ancestral traditions and faith–that continues to be an important message today.
They are also a reminder of another critically important lesson for today’s world: That one test of any democracy is its treatment of minorities and its respect for minority religious traditions. The Maccabees remind us of that as well. And that’s not a bad lesson during what is overwhelmingly experienced in America as the Christmas season. While Hanukkah is over for the Jewish community, the Muslim festival of Eid is next week, so maybe we can all be a little more like the Maccabees by wishing each other Happy Holidays!

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posted December 15, 2007 at 6:47 pm

The Maccabees did fight Hellenism, and actually massacred Jews who didn’t practice Judaism to the Maccabees level(in their case those who either worshipped Greek gods or who synctised the 2 religions). Remember the first person the Maccabees killed wasn’t Greek-Syrian it was a Hellenised Jew. And the reason the temple had to be rededicated was because of the Jews who had defiled the place.
Later on, after the rebellion the Hasmoneans themselves became Hellenised.
Given that they invited in Herod and the Romans, I don’t see how the post-rebellion Hasmoneans can be admired.

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posted December 17, 2007 at 3:05 pm

Why are we wasting our time attacking Chris Hitchens, who is a thoughtful, insightful person who, as far as I know, has not been anti-Semitic. If I am ignorant about some nefarious behavior by Mr. Hitchens, please let me know.
Chanukah Shamukah It’s only big due to its proximity to Xmas. Let’s be real — A Miracle ‘cuz the oil lasted 8 days. What about short wicks? The shorter the wick, the slower the oil burns. The duration the oil lasts is a function of many variables in addition to the amount of oil.
If you want a miracle, how about the eternal light never went out during all the time the temple was occupied and now that the temple has been destroyed for 2,000 years, the eternal light in 2007 still burns brightly 80 feet above the ground suspended in mid air. Show me that and I’ll say, “Now that’s a miracle.”
And as for the temple itself: In retrospect, there have been few better events in Jewish History than the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.? How would it look if we were still having animal sacrifices in Jerusalem? But for the temple’s destruction and the disapora, there would be no Jewish people just like there are no Hitties or Amorites, etc. How many Phoenicians have you encountered lately?
The miracle is that we’re still here after 4,100 years. We are a consistently identifiable People for the last 4,100 years and we make gigantic contributions to the world in medicine, science, the arts, math, litature, etc. on a daily basis. That’s not a miracle; that’s just who were are.

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posted December 17, 2007 at 4:25 pm

Reb Hitchens is a brilliant, cogent questioner. His decisive expositions on Mel Gibson’s protonazism (need I remind all of us here that, at the root of crucifictionism is Jew hatred and exterminationist currents?) did more to settle the dust than all of the pious campaigns to ‘petition’ Gibson to see the Light, so to speak.
Reb Hitchens, need I add, is not stupid, and some of his comments are to provoke dialogue, not stifle it.
STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham

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Hannah Ruth Abraham

posted December 18, 2007 at 12:09 pm

The point of hannukah is to increase the light, wisdom from the Torah and love Fom the heart. It has mystical meanings that go much deeper than the historical meaning. As a Jewish woman who does not depend on Testerone to make decisions, I try to remember the fact that our traditions in Judaism are based on standing up for what we believe in.
That is what Judah Macabee was all about.

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posted December 19, 2007 at 4:09 pm

1/ Judah Maccabee was all about protecting Judaism by killing Greek-Syrians and insifficiently Jewish Jews. Testosterone may indeed have influenced him.
2/ There may not be any Hittites or Amorites around but boy are there lots of Persians and Ishmaelites.

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posted December 22, 2007 at 8:09 pm

My first exposure to modern Judaism did not come about until I was in 7th grade.Having been raised in the Baptist church tradition I was ignorant of post Shoa Judaism. I transfered into a public school in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood. That year a Christian girl asked the teacher (mr.Simon) if we could have a Chanakuh bush and a Jewish girl asked about a Christmas tree. This was my first exposure to the Chanakuh story. I formed some friendships with Jewish classmates that were everlasting.
When a Catholic school boy in the Neighborhood told me it was the Jews who had killed Christ I was quick to point out it was a roman who had actually done this evil deed. I read Torah at my best friends Bar Mitzvah. Dated Jewish girls and read Torah in the Synagog where I attended boy scouts. I have never had a problem defending the jewish faith but I find it very difficult to defend Islam.

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