Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hanukkah 5768 - Between Judaism, Hellenism and Peace

Hanukkah is always a wonderful time to be in Israel – the doughnuts in the bakeries, the lights in peoples' houses, the sense that this is a national holiday, shared by the majority of the country. (Where as Adam Sandler sings, you don’t need to feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree) The festival celebrates both the military victory of the Hasmoneans over the powerful Greeks as well as the ideological victory of the Jewish way of life over the alien culture of Hellenism. If on Purim we were saved from physical destruction, Hanukkah marks our victory over the evils of spiritual assimilation (something I was taught in primary school was much much worse, although I'm still not convinced).

Last weekend’s Jerusalem Shabbat table discussions were filled with debates over the Annapolis Summit and the political process. While I find these conversations often go round in circles (and it’s uncomfortable to disagree with people you happen to personally like) one comment really stuck in my head: That bearing in mind both keeping the territories and giving them up have risks, the best option is to be ‘Torah true’, i.e. to continue to hold onto the land of our forefathers.

I’m still unsure exactly what ‘Torah true’ means. Are human rights and sympathy for the ‘other’ alien, non Torah values? Is worrying about the moral and physical toll soldiers pay by controlling a belligerent civilian population un-Jewish? Is feeling Israel can’t survive without the support of the international community assimilationist? Is modern day Hellenism reflected in those who call for an Israeli withdrawal to the armistice lines, as
Avigdor Lieberman recently quipped?

In his laws on Hanukkah, Rambam describes the importance attached to publicising the miracle of a military victory of the few against the many; "the commandment to light is an exceedingly precious one…even if one has no food to eat except what he receives from charity he should beg, or sell clothes to buy oil and lamps" Yet despite this, someone who only has enough money to either buy a Shabbat candle or a Hanukkah one should choose Shabbat because of what Maimonides terms ‘Shalom Bayit’ between husband and wife.

As the British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes "The implication is simple. Even the smallest peace (between husband and wife) takes priority over the greatest victory in war."

The debate about peace with the Palestinians will go on for a few more Shabbat meals yet. And while Abbas is weak, the sides remain far apart on core issues, and no one particularly fancies evacuating 80,000 Jews from their homes, perhaps we should be more careful deciding what actions constitute Jewish values.

Here's to hoping that this Hanukkah takes us away from spiritual assimilation and closer to true Torah values, (whatever they may be) and to achieving Shalom – both with our neighbours and between ourselves.

Chag Sameach


Anonymous said...

Great writing!

This blog is a little serious sometimes though, so for some light comedey relief, given that the author is a pohm (and presumabley so are half the readers between Dizengoff and Ben-Yehuda)

So here we go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bfVSs76Za0

Sprungster said...

It's always interesting to read your articles Calev.

Chag Sameach.

Calev said...


thanks for the comedy relief (is that how you spell Pomm?)

Mr Sprungster - good to hear from you...and shame you dont update your own blog a bit more.

Chag Sameach