Rabbi John Rosove: Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Rabbi John Rosove: Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War

Source: Jewish Journal, 12-11-11

Last week I was privileged to hear a presentation on Hanukkah by Noam Zion, a fellow of and the senior educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, who led 40 Rabbis of the Southern California Board of Rabbis in a superb 2-hour conversation entitled:

“Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War between Zionists, Liberal American Judaism and Habad –  Who Are the Children of Light and Who of Darkness?”

Noam offered us a comprehensive view of Hanukkah from its beginnings (© 165 B.C.E.) through history and how it is understood and celebrated today by Israelis, American liberal non-Hareidim Jews and Habad. Based on Hanukkah’s tendentious history and the vast corpus of sermons written by rabbis through the centuries, Noam noted three questions that are consistently asked: ‘Who are the children of light and darkness?’ ‘Who are our people’s earliest heroes and what made them heroic?’ ‘What relevance can we find in Hanukkah today?’

Though religiously a “minor holyday” (Hanukkah is not biblically based, nor do the restrictions apply that are associated with Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Succot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur), Hanukkah occupies a place in each of the ideologies of the State of Israel, American liberal Judaism and Habad.

For example, before and after the establishment of the State of Israel the Maccabees served as a potent symbol for “Political Zionism” for those laboring to create a modern Jewish state. The early Zionists rejected God’s role in bringing about the miracle of Jewish victory during Hasmonean times. Rather, such leaders as Max Nordau, Theodor Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, Jacob Klatzkin, and A.D. Gordon emphasized that Jews themselves are the central actors in our people’s restoration of Jewish sovereignty on the ancient land, not God.

For 20th century liberal American Jews Hanukkah came to represent Judaism’s aspirations for religious freedom consistent with the American value of religious freedom as affirmed by the first Amendment of the US Constitution. Even as the holiday of Hanukkah reflects universal aspirations, the Hanukkiah remains a particular symbol of Jewish pride and identity for American Jews and their children living in a dominant Christian culture.

For Habad, Hanukkah embodies the essence of religious identity on the one hand, and symbolizes the mission of Jews on the other. Each Hassid is to be “a streetlamp lighter” who goes out into the public square and kindles the nearly extinguished flame of individual Jewish souls, one soul at a time (per Rebbe Sholom Dov-Ber). This is why Habad strives to place a Hanukkiah in public places and why Hassidim offer to help Jews don t’filin. Every fulfilled mitzvah kindles the flame of a soul and restores it to God.

Noam concluded his shiur (lesson) by noting that the cultural war being played out in contemporary Jewish life is based in the different responses to the central and historic question that has always given context to Hanukkah – ‘Which Jews are destroying Jewish life and threatening Judaism itself?’…READ MORE

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