Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Things That Make You Say "Huh?"

This article in Ynet caught my eye today. The headline seems to be painfully obvious while the contents are sensible, so sensible they go without saying.

I would go further than Rav Brackman's conclusion:

So in a word: for the sake of our own and the next generation’s Jewish identity we must not mark Christmas in any way. This year let us celebrate Hanukkah instead

If Chanuukah feel in the midst of November or February, we would ascribe to it all the importance and noteriety that we give to Tu B'Shvat. Nice holiday, some interesting customs like playing dreidle, but not much else. The idea of festive meals, family parties, gifts galore, all that is borrowed from the companion non-Jewish holidays that has greatly influenced it.

Remember that the day after Chanukah, the same heroic Maccabees turned into the most corrupt administration Israel had, until the rise of the Kadimah party at least.

Want to celebrate Chanukah appropriately? Give it the importance that Jewish tradition accords it, not the significance our wanna-be-just-like-them culture has.


Anonymous said...

Certainly you have a good point about the special favor given to Chunkah. On the other hand, some of that favor is because it's the one festival (being Rabbinically based and not from Torah) where Jews can "let their hair down a bit". The halakhic rules for behaviour during it are much less strict. So some of this enthusiasm is from a holiday where relaxing has a much higher priority than normal. While Shabbos and the Yom Tov are treasures beyond price, the rules channeling their celebration are so strict I think it actually gets in the way of relaxing and being happy for a lot of folks, a lot of the time. This is why we need a lot of lore on connecting to the joy of Shabos. It can be like going on a vacation that is so full of plans that going home is actually a relief at first. I recognize this too can go too far, though. Enjoying a less structured holy celebration may present a contrast that makes people emotionally prefer the less structured interval of Chanukah. This would of course be bad.

But Judaism is a religion of nothing if not carefully pondered exceptions. I think this more free form atmosphere does not have to cause problems. Remember what the occasion is about. It is the rejoicing of a people who nearly saw the light of the world snuffed out but it continued burning against all odds. It seems to me that it is channeled through the motif of the Festival because it is the only way to sufficiently emphasize the gratitude. In a way, it is like the spontaneous hymn at the edge of the Sea of Reeds. I think that the reaction to being in a less stringent occasion can be transformed from relief (at freedom from restrictions, and negative issue above) into deep joy (at the sheer magnitude of the occasion).

When you're deep in joy, it would seem more appropriate to not be so structured and careful. Of all the other holidays (even Purim, I think) the joy is not so great because the contrast is not so pronounced. On one hand is the horror of the generation of war that went on during the Revolt; on the other hand, the fact the Temple was restored and the Jewish people continued to exist. For just a little bit, it must have felt like nothing was impossible for the Jews. Yet that sort of exhuberance led to the horrors of the Hasmonean era. And that's why we shouldn't go into this state of wild joy too often. And how the rest of the Jewish ritual year helps safely contain this wild ecstasy.

(The fact Chanukah happens when the light of the world is nearly at its most dim just helps make this contrast more vivid, too.)

Thus, I would say while it's important to purge this "Jewish Christmas" bilge out of the occasion, I think it -is- possible to celebrate Chanukah boisterously and for this to be a good thing. Of course, I suppose you'll disagree because the sages of the time were careful to seperate out the vast majority of this exhuberance at the military victory. Since they were infallible, we have no grounds to go against the spirit of their design decision. So I respect your likely rejection of this reasoning. I share this because I note a lot of people don't seem to really practically believe the sages were 100% infallible and yet they still live deeply dedicated Jewish lives.

SJ said...

So,Hanuka should be without festive meals, having parties, and giving presents?

Leave it to the orthodox to make Judaism as boring as possible.

Anonymous said...

Dude, if you think Judaism is boring, you don't know how to do Simchas Torah and Purim!

Nishma said...

On point, may I direct you to my latest post, The Irony of Chanukah, at
which asks the question:
Why is the holiday that marks our victory over assimilation the most assimilated of holidays?

Also check out this topic in the Hot Topics section on the Nishma website,

Just one other point in response to kendra and sj, from a strict halachic perspective, Chanukah is not really a time of celebration in its classical sense. That is what makes what occurs with Chanukah even more ironic. For example there is even a halachic question of whether there is a specific concept of having a party of Chanukah. Many say it is not a time of joy, rather specifically a time for praising God. So even Rabbi Brackman's idea of celebrating Chanukah -- in the generic sense of celebration -- is controversial in that the halachic view of celebrating Chanukah is in itself an issue and the idea that we have to celebrate at this time, doesn't come from Chanukah but rather the attendant non-Jewish holidays. I think this is Garnel's point. And the result is actually more irony.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

SJ said...

Rabbi Hect, with all due respect, take your halachic babble and shove it. You guys make shabbat and shuel as boring as possible, you guys make life as boring as possible (no tv and no talking to girls) all we want to do is give presents and have parties. Leave Hanuka alone.

Zev Stern said...

We're not Catholics; hazal were not infallible.

I believe that the amplification of Hanukkah was concommitant with political Zionism and had little to do with Christian celebrations. The connection between the Maccabean struggle and our own is obvious. Yes, the later Hasmoneans descended into assimilation and corruption; power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, what else is new? As Gandhi once rhetorically asked a British official, what nation on earth does not prefer its own bad government to the good government of strangers? Whatever hazal's misgivings about the Hasmoneans' military victory, we do not share them. The fact that a ragtag bunch of Jews set out to fight the mightiest army ever assembled to date, never mind win, is in itself a miracle (see my post from last Hanukkah ) and deserves to be whooped up. Freedom is not free, and our way of life is worth fighting for.

SJ said...

Simchas Torah = guys dancing with guys.

Purim = guys getting drunk and dancing with guys.

Anonymous said...

SJ, consult your physician for an anti-depressant.

Neandershort, I agree that in Israel there's a connection between Chanukah and Zionism but across North America, I don't think that's the case, especially in non-religious circles. How do concepts like Judah Macabee leaving presents under the Channukah bush (I'm not joking, I knew someone from Beverly Hills who swears he had that growing up) connect to Zionism?
As well, in Israel a few years ago the biggest Chiloni trend at Chanukah was using X-mas decorations to enhance the celebrations.
As with all things, there is a proper medium that even SJ might agree to. Enjoy the holiday, add some cholesterol to the arteries and share the joy with friends but keep in perspective its proper place in the scale of holidays.

Zev Stern said...

No, presents under the Hanukkah bush is not Zionist, just hiloni "am haratzus". But the classical Hanukkah songs that I learned in my Brooklyn yeshivot were overtly Zionist.
In my 'hood we use Xmas decorations for the sukkah; it's only colored tinsel with no intrinsic religious significance. We get the stuff cheap after Xmas. And since Hanukkah is a reflection of Sukkot. . .

The proper oil for Hanukkah, olive oil, will not add much cholesterol to the arteries, but it will add calories that should be burned off. I ran a 10-kilometer race yesterday in Central Park, and I made a point of wearing a tank top with tzitzit over a long sleeve top. Jewish runners would comment, and I'd tell them how Jewish athletes in the time of the Maccabees would have themselves decircumcised to look like Greeks, and how I'm sticking it to them by showing all the world proudly who I am. It was exhilarating to both affirm Jewish strength and share Torah thoughts on the run.

SJ said...

>> SJ consult your physician for an anti-depressant.

funny, but I happen to be perfectly stable emotionally.

As for the hanuka thing, the assimilation goes both ways. I've been in nonkosher restaurants where they have menorot with chrismas stuff during holiday season; though it is true that jews should be educated on what is jewish and what is not, and even those who are most assimilated can probably tell that chrismas tree or decoration = something not Jewish.

I also concur with the point kendra originally made, that Judaism needs holidays that are not spoiled by halachic strictness the way that Shabbat is.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that was Kendra's point, mind you.

Neandershort, you're right about the olive oil. Unfortunately, most people I know aren't makpid about using that to fry their latkes and sufganiot.

I concur about using X-mas stuff to decorate the Sukkah (just not the manger scenes, okay?) It's no different than hitting Wal-mart for costumes on November 1 so the kids will have what to wear come Purim. Maybe that's why the goyim hate us so.

SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

>> I think it -is- possible to celebrate Chanukah boisterously and for this to be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

No one's disagreeing. I'm just saying that it shouldn't be expected as if it's a requisite part of the holiday. If I want to celebrate it quietly, and you want to whoop it up, fine. We can respect each other's positions on that.