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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hanukkah rant

I'm so tired of the watered down version of Hanukkah that gets ladled out every year. Hanukkah is not a celebration of religious freedom. The Maccabees were fanatics who objected strenuously to the Hellenization of Jewish culture. The revolt actually began with the murder of a Jew who was about to publically worship an idol.

It's also not a celebration of beating the Syrian Greeks. The war with the Greeks continued for years after Jerusalem was liberated, and four of the five Maccabee brothers died before the Greeks finally begged off (which they did in large part due to pressure from the rising power of Rome).

When we defeated the Hellenist forces in Jerusalem and took back the Holy Temple, the Hellenist Jews in Jerusalem were confined to a fortress called the Acra, where they hid for fear of their lives while we purified the Temple.

Megillat Taanit, one of the oldest works of rabbinic literature, says that since the Syrians had destroyed the golden menorah in the Temple, we were forced to strap spears together to make a makeshift menorah until a new one could be built. It was on this menorah that the miracle of the oil occurred.

For those who don't know, only enough pure oil could be found to light the menorah for a single day. But miraculously, that oil lasted for eight full days, by the end of which we had managed to come up with more oil.
The civil authority in Judea at that time was the High Priest. The High Priest Jason, who was a Hellenist himself, was ousted in the Maccabean revolt, and after we retook Jerusalem, Judah Maccabee became the new High Priest.

To many eyes, this may have looked as though the entire revolt had been a cynical political coup. Not only did the miracle of the oil reassure people that God was on the side of the Maccabees, but the fact that the miracle took place on a menorah that wasn't technically even kosher, and which was made out of spears that had only shortly before been used in an all-out civil war, made it clear that there was a divine stamp of approval on the war.

The fanatics won. The Jews who wanted to be Greek by culture and Jewish only by ethnicity got their naked heinies handed to them. And I wonder, as I do every year, at the irony that has so many secular and assimilated Jews lighting candles for eight days in order to commemorate the victory of people who would have stuck a sword through them in a heartbeat.

One of the things I dislike most about Hanukkah is the songs. The tunes are nice, but the words... spare me:

    Hanukkah O Hanukkah
    Come light the menorah
    Let's have a party
    We'll all dance the Hora.

Hanukkah was about an all out war against Hellenists and Hellenism. And not a metaphorical war, either, but a serious bloodbath.

    One for each night
    They shed a sweet light
    To remind us of days long ago...

The saccharine is bad enough, but it's just such a misrepresentation. So I've prepared a modest example of the kind of Hanukkah songs that would be more appropriate to the occasion. Feel free to share these with your friends.

(As a minor note, you need to pronounce Antiochus as an-tee-OH-chus, rather than an-TYE-a-kiss)


Hanukkah, O Hanukkah
(to the tune of "Hanukkah, O Hanukkah")

Hanukkah, O Hanukkah
A holiday of war
First we kill a couple Greeks
And then we kill some more

Invited in by Hellenists
Who hated being Jews
They brought their dumb idolatry
And tightened the screws

    They call us
    For we fight for truth and the Lord

    Stupid Antiochus
    Sent soldiers in to choke us
    Because he didn't think we'd raise a sword

    Stupid Antiochus
    Sent soldiers in to choke us
    And now they've all been killed by the sword.

Hanukkah, O Hanukka
The festival of light
The flames of our fanaticism
Still are burning bright

'Cause Judaism's never been
Some airy fairy thing
Made up of nothing more than
The songs that we sing

    It's truth and
    It's wisdom
    It's following God's holy plan

    To sanctify the world
    Man and woman, boy and girl
    And to do just the best that we can

    To sanctify the world
    Man and woman, boy and girl
    By obeying the laws He commands

Hanukkah, O Hanukkah
A savage celebration
Of blood and death and war
That saved the soul of our nation

The Maccabees knew compromise
With Hellenism's dreck
Would kill us just as surely
As a sword through the neck

    Although they
    Were farmers
    They learned to be soldiers mighty fast

    Despite what they became
    We still venerate their name
    'Mongst the heroes of Israel's past

    Despite what they became
    We still venerate their name
    For their valor has never been surpassed