November/December 2023

     Had Jewish religious authorities decided - two thousand years ago - to accept, preserve and sanctify the two books of the Maccabees (they only existed in Greek) and include them within the biblical canon (as Roman Catholicism did, establishing a "Mass of the Maccabees"), we would have a much different understanding of Hanukkah and its significance. However, our Sages (who founded post-Temple Judaism) were reluctant to base any religious celebration on a military victory, regardless of its miraculous nature. HANUKKAH'S Rabbinic emblem became: "not by might and not by power but (only) by My spirit; says the Lord..."). Hanukkah (Dec. 7, 2023) enshrined values which we continue to hold dear and sacred. These include ethnic and religious autonomy, minority rights, cultural independence, the separation of church and state, pluralism, universal human rights and diversity.


     Initially, the cosmopolitan, worldwide, Hellenistic empire established by the 17-year-old Alexander the Great of Macedonia, developed a culture which was eagerly embraced by Jews. It tolerated religious and cultural differences among all the different subject peoples. But it also constituted a powerfully seductive force of assimilation, which ultimately threatened to eradicate Judaism. Theater, athletics, sculpture, law, philosophy, dress, "democracy", art, architecture, economics, etc. was all uniformly Greek throughout that world (which ranged from Andalucia and Gibraltar to India). But at the time of Hanukkah - 165 B.C.E.- Alexander's empire had severely degenerated. Antiochus Epiphanes, the local Syrian authority became obsessed with the Hebrew insistence upon devotion to one king - above all others - a supreme, heavenly authority. This brought in its wake, extreme religious persecution of Judeans. They alone, among all the various, cognate, neighboring peoples, were forbidden to circumcise male infants; and the list of Judeophobic legislation went on and on-until finally erupting in open warfare - The Maccabean uprising. Had Judaism not survived the vicious, Antiochian campaign to "write our obituary" and pronounce a "Kaddish" prayer over our ancestral religious life, then the newborn Judean Baby of Bethlehem's manger - one century later - would never have acquired any sense of Jewish identity for himself or for history. This so called "minor" Jewish Holiday turned out to have major meaning and impact upon the destiny of our People and of all humankind.  CHAG SAMMAY-ACH!