Burning Down the Chanukah Tree

Hanukkah TreeThis is a guest column by Rabbi Da-vid Rosenthal, from Aish Minnesota.

Meppy Chanustmas!

No, that’s not a typo – it’s a new combined version for the session’s greetings.

Recently, I have heard accusations that Chanukah was invented as a Jewish version of Christmas. Now although I have seen families attempting to change Chanukah into Christmas – such as having a Chanukah tree – at its core, nothing could be further from the truth.

Many people are aware of the physical struggle at the time of the Maccabees. The war that raged between the greatest military power of the time – Greece – and the handful of Jewish guerilla warriors.

What many people are unaware of is the philosophical warfare that was the motivation behind the struggle. A Civil War was ravaging the Jewish People – the Hellenists vs the Hasmoneans. The Hellenists were essentially assimilationists. They loved the Greek culture, and wanted to adopt the Greek way of life – at the expense of Jewish values.

I can almost hear the Hellenists of that time saying things like:

“We need to keep Judaism relevant! We can’t stay with these ancient traditions – they are so out of touch with the real world. If we want Jews to survive, we need to adapt, need to embrace modernity.”

Eventually, the ruling Government began institutionalizing anti-religious doctrine. They forbade such things as circumcision, observing Shabbat, even requiring the newly married women to submit themselves to the Governor on their wedding night. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when they forced Jews to sacrifice pigs to pagan gods – the antithesis of monotheistic Judaism.

It was at this point that the Hasmoneans decided the only alternative was armed resistance. They took to the hills and began attacking the governing body. They sought to protect Torah Judaism, to maintain their values and traditions – putting their lives on the line in the process.

Comparing the struggle to today, the idea of Chanukah being an attempt to copy our neighbors is laughable! Nothing could be further from the truth.

Chanukah symbolizes the Jews attempt to combat national assimilation. The miracle of the oil symbolizes our fight for purity. It was pure oil that they were searching for – not tarnished by impure hands or forces. And that pure oil lasted longer than anyone could have imagined. Logic dictated that it would die out after one day – yet the reality was otherwise.

The same is true when it comes to Jewish values – the purer we stay to our ideology, the longer we will last as a people. That is the miracle of Jewish history.

Good Shabbos and Happy Chanukah!

(Photo: mharvey75)