Written December 15, 1972
If I were a Reform rabbi; if I were a leader of the Establishment whose money and prestige have succeeded in capturing for him the leadership and voice of American Jewry; if I were one of the members of the Israeli Government’s ruling group; if I were an enlightened sophisticated, modern Jewish intellectual, I would climb the barricades and join in battle against the most dangerous of all Jewish holidays – Chanukah.
It is a measure of the total ignorance of the world Jewish community that there is no holiday that is more universally celebrated than the “Feast of Lights”, and it is an equal measure of the intellectual dishonesty and of Jewish leadership that it plays along with the lie. For if ever there was a holiday that stands for everything that the mass of world Jewry and their leadership has rejected – it is this one. If one would find an event that is truly rooted in everything that Jews of our times and their leaders have rejected and, indeed, attacked – it is this one. If there is any holiday that is more “unJewish” in the sense of our modern beliefs and practices – I do not know of it.
The Chanukah that has erupted unto the world Jewish scene in all its childishness, asininity, shallowness, ignorance and fraud – is not the Chanukah of reality. The Chanukah that came into vogue because of Jewish parents – in their vapidness – needed something to counteract Christmas; that exploded in a show of “we-can-have-lights-just-as-our-goyish-neighbors” and in an effort to reward our spoiled children with eight gifts instead of the poor Christian one; the Chanukah that the Temple, under its captive rabbi, turned into a school pageant so that the beaming parents might think that the Religious School is really successful instead of the tragic joke and waste that it really is; the Chanukah that speaks of Jewish Patrick Henrys giving-me-liberty-or death and the pictures of Maccabees as great liberal saviors who fought so that the kibbutzim might continue to be free to preach their Marx and eat their ham, that the split-level dwellers of suburbia might be allowed to violate their Sabbath in perfect freedom and the Reform and Conservative Temples continue the fight for civil rights for Blacks, Puerto Ricans and Jane Fonda, is not remotely connected with reality.
This is NOT the Chanukah of our ancestors, of the generations of Jews of Eastern Europe and Yemen and Morocco and the crusades and Spain and Babylon. It is surely not the Chanukah for which the Maccabees themselves died. Truly, could those whom we honor so munificently, return and see what Chanukah has become, they might very well begin a second Maccabean revolt. For the life that we Jews lead today was the very cause, the REAL reason for the revolt of the Jews “in those days in our times.”
What happened in that era more than 2000 years ago? What led a handful of Jews to rise up in violence against the enemy? And precisely who WAS the enemy? What were they fighting FOR and who were they fighting AGAINST?
For years, the people of Judea had been the vassals of Greece. True independence as a state had been unknown for all those decades and, yet, the Jews did not rise up in revolt. It was only when the Greek policy shifted from mere political control to one that attempted to suppress the Jewish religion that the revolt erupted in all its bloodiness. It was not mere liberty that led to the Maccabean uprising that we so passionately applaud. What we are really cheering is a brave group of Jews who fought and plunged Judea into a bloodbath for the right to observe the Sabbath, to follow the laws of kashruth, to obey the laws of the Torah. IN A WORD EVERYTHING ABOUT CHANUKAH THAT WE COMMEMORATE AND TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO COMMEMORATE ARE THINGS WE CONSIDER TO BE OUTMODED, MEDIEVAL AND CHILDISH!
At best, then, those who fought and died for Chanukah were naïve and obscurantist. Had we lived in those days we would certainly not have done what they did for everyone knows that the laws of the Torah are not really Divine but only the products of evolution and men (do not the Reform, Reconstructionist and large parts of the Conservative movements write this daily?) Surely we would not have fought for that which we violate every day of our lives! No, at best Chanukah emerges as a needless holiday if not a foolish one. Poor Hannah and her seven children; poor Mattathias and Judah; poor well meaning chaps all but hopelessly backward and utterly unnecessary sacrifices.
But there is more. Not only is Chanukah really a foolish and unnecessary holiday, it is also one that is dangerously fanatical and illiberal. The first act of rebellion, the first enemy who fell at the hands of the brave Jewish heroes whom our delightful children portray so cleverly in their Sunday and religious school pageants, was NOT a Greek. He was a Jew.
When the enemy sent its troops into the town of Modin to set up an idol and demand its worship, it was a Jew who decided to exercise his freedom of pagan worship and who approached the altar to worship Zeus (after all, what business was it of anyone what this fellow worshipped?) And it was this Jew, this apostate, this religious traitor who was struck down by the brave, glorious, courageous (are these not the words all our Sunday schools use to describe him?) Mattathias, as he shouted: “Whoever is for G-d, follow me!”
What have we here? What kind of religious intolerance and bigotry? What kind of a man is this for the anti-religious of Hashomer Hatzair, the graceful temples of suburbia, the sophisticated intellectuals, the liberal open-minded Jews and all the drones who have wearied us unto death with the concept of Judaism as a humanistic, open-minded, undogmatic, liberal, universalistic (if not Marxist) religion, to honor? What kind of nationalism is this for David-Ben-Gurion (he who rejects the Galut and speaks of the proud, free Jew of ancient Judea and Israel)?
And to crush us even more (we who know that Judaism is a faith of peace which deplores violence), what kind of Jews were these who reacted to oppression with FORCE? Surely we who so properly have deplored Jewish violence as fascistic, immoral and (above all!) UN-JEWISH, stand in horror as we contemplate Jews who declined to picket the Syrian Greeks to death and who rejected quiet diplomacy for the sword, spear and arrow (had there been bombs in those days, who can tell what they might have done?) and “descended to the level of evil,” thus rejecting the ethical and moral concepts of Judaism.
Is this the kind of a holiday we wish to propagate? Are these the kinds of men we want our moral and humanistic children to honor? Is this the kind of Judaism that we wish to observe and pass on to our children?
Where shall we find the man of courage the one voice, in the wilderness to cry out against Chanukah and the Judaism that it represents-the Judaism of our grandparents and ancestors? Where shall we find the man of honesty and integrity to attack the Judaism of Medievalism and outdated foolishness; the Judaism of bigotry that strikes down Jews who refuse to observe the law; the Judaism of violence that calls for Jewish force and might against the enemy? When shall we find the courage to proudly eat our Chinese food and violate our Sabbaths and reject all the separateness, nationalism and religious maximalism that Chanukah so ignobly represents? …Down with Chanukah! It is a regressive holiday that merely symbolizes the Judaism that always was; the Judaism that was handed down to us from Sinai; the Judaism that made our ancestors ready to give their lives for the L-rd; the Judaism that young people instinctively know is true and great and real. Such Judaism is dangerous for us and our leaders. We must do all in our power to bury it.