Sunday, December 6, 2015

Happy Sunday, December 6th

          I’m not that offended by Hannukah.  But I’m not going to celebrate it either.

          The Hannukah of my childhood was Christmas’ diminutive, less comely illegitimate sibling.  Any time one turned on the TV, all one saw was Christmas specials, carols, sales, and all sorts of things marketing an image of a holiday full of cheer, giving, and family.

          I’m not going to lie.  Hannukah was a fun holiday.  We got to spin a dreidel.  We would gamble for chocolate coins.  We got to eat latkes and jelly donuts.  And we got to light a menorah and sing some songs.  But Ma’oz Tzur had nothing on “Carol of the Bells” or “Silent Night.” 

          As a kid, we learned that the Maccabees were the great heroes of a miraculous war that chased the Hellenistic Selucids out of Judea.  We also learned about oil that lasted 8-days instead of 1. 

          As an adult, I learned that this miracle of the oil is only mentioned in passing in the gemara, very briefly; nowhere else is it mentioned beforehand.  And the war against the Selucids was not that miraculous.  It’s a very fascinating story, and the Maccabees certainly did have a lot of luck on their side.  But they also had the fact that the Selucids then were getting attacked on the Parthian front, so they had to recall troops from Judea to fortify that front.  We also have various military alliances (Egypt, Rome, et al).  It was a complex story, much of which most Jews don’t even know the half of.  Most Jews aren’t even aware that in the end, the Hellenists won, as demonstrated by the fact that the next generation of Hasmoneans started to have Greek names such as Hyrcanus, Menelaus, et al. 

          Hannukah celebrates a nice idea of the underdog defeating the big bully.  I have nothing against that.  But I have little use these days for holy days of any kind.  While I may take advantage of some sales, and I may have Chinese dinner this December 24th (we shall see), I will not be lighting any fires near my window this year.

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