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Legends, Battles, and Ideals
Hanukkah will be here soon; there’s yummy food (latkes and sufganiyot), decorating opportunities, and dreidel spinning — and what is it all about?
In this corner…
Our talmudic sages seemed most interested in the legend of the oil burning eight days. They intentionally left out the Maccabean battles (167BCE and continuing for many years). As if to underscore the decidedly non-militaristic stance, the Haftarah for Shabbat and Hanukkah (taken from Zachariah) closes with “not by might and not by power, but by My spirit — says Adoni.”
And on the other hand…
Our siddur features the prayer ‘Al HaNisim ס’םיסנה לע (‘We thank You for the miraculous deliverance…’) which definitely is focused on the
revolt of Mattathias and his followers.
Beyond the Maccabees battling the Seleucid Greeks, the Jews were fighting each other about the nature of Jewish identity.
So — lots going on here. Beyond the culinary and gaming delights, there’s plenty to ponder: As we negotiate our hyphenated identities within a larger cultural context (and it’s worth noting that American and Israeli Jews live in markedly different contexts), here’s a very timely question we might chew on: What makes us Jewish and how do we think through what it means to be a part of a larger culture — and, at the same time — while maintaining our distinct Jewish selves?
As for the legend of the oil, I think it’s important to articulate that the story doesn’t lose its power just because it isn’t really a part of history. The legend is powerful shorthand for acknowledging the power of faith and the understanding that we can’t do it alone…
May our celebration be filled with joy and light.