Zionism Made Hanukkah About Israel, But It’s Always Been a Holiday of Diaspora

Neglect Maccabean militarism. On this age of local weather disaster, let’s discuss in regards to the miracle of burning much less oil.

I really like the lengthy nights of this time of 12 months. I can really feel Hanukkah coming. We’ll eat candy and savory potato pancakes and jelly donuts. Every night time, because the solar units slightly earlier, we are going to kindle yet one more candle on the menorah and watch the flames mirrored within the windowpane.

Because the candles burn, it will likely be time to play dreidel. That is my 4-year-old’s favourite half: spinning the highest and consuming sweets encased in golden foil. This 12 months, she is going to lastly be sufficiently old to study the story that’s encoded within the squat Hebrew letters engraved on all sides of the dreidel: A Nice Miracle Occurred There. However what miracle of Hanukkah ought to I educate her?

You’ll suppose there’s a simple reply to this query. In any case, there’s a historic document of the Hanukkah story. In 167 BCE in occupied Jerusalem, there was a Jewish rebellion in opposition to the repression of the Roman Empire led by a gaggle of rebels referred to as the Maccabees (actually the “hammers.”) Miraculously, the ragtag group of radicals received in opposition to one of many largest empires the world has ever seen. That is the miracle that dominates fashionable retellings of Hanukkah: the marvel of resistance.

There may be extra to the story. The Maccabees received the battle, however they misplaced the struggle. The subsequent few tried rebellions have been failures that led to unnecessary bloodshed. For the subsequent 2,000 years plus, Judaism existed with out land. The rabbis who led the Jewish folks within the diaspora weren’t desirous to encourage extra armed revolts. As a substitute, Judaism grew to become anti-nationalist, pacifist and anti-military. Somewhat than assembly in a single geographical location — Jerusalem — we related by way of tales and debates all through the generations and all over the world.

The Ebook of Maccabees, which tells the story of the riot, grew to become a holy textual content in Catholic and Jap Orthodox Christian traditions, but it surely’s by no means been a Jewish sacred textual content. As a substitute, in Jewish holy books and prayers the rabbis spun a story of a really totally different sort of miracle. To rededicate the Temple, the folks wanted to burn the menorah for eight nights, however they solely had sufficient oil for one night time. Miraculously, the oil lasted all eight dazzling nights.

It was solely with the rise of Zionism within the nineteenth century that the Maccabees were revived as Jewish heroes. On the second Zionist congress in 1898, Max Nordau urged the shaping of a brand new “muscular Jewry,” to grasp the Land of Israel. The Maccabees have been lifted up because the prototypes of the brand new Jews and the Maccabee Video games, an all-Jewish athletics match, have been created to have fun this new Jewish masculinity.

Regardless of this troubling historical past, as we speak Jewish and non-Jewish leftists alike are inclined to want the story of the Maccabees to the unique Jewish miracle of the oil (or provide a newly minted joint story). A navy riot is a vivid masculine melodrama. Stretching your oil is a home success, virtually a measuring error. Within the minds of the early Zionists, the oil was linked to the passive effete character of diaspora Jewry. In different phrases, the miracle of the oil was rejected by Zionism, due to the miracle’s implicit queerness and femininity, versus the poisonous masculinity of the Maccabees. This bias is alive and properly in up to date activist tradition, even when we aren’t at all times conscious of it.

The oil is an deliberately quiet miracle. It’s about discovering that we will get by with much less. In a time of local weather disruptions, after we actually have to burn much less oil, it’s a highly effective anti-consumerist reminder that maybe we have already got sufficient. The rabbis’ determination to have fun the miracle of utilizing much less oil, as an alternative of the battle, has poignant resonance in our fashionable geopolitical actuality, when a lot blood is shed to hoard oil.

On a metaphoric degree, as a chronically in poor health particular person, I typically really feel like I don’t have sufficient symbolic oil to get by way of the lengthy nights of winter. The miracle of the oil is a solution to keep in mind that slowly burning just a bit of my very own gas, as an activist and as a dad or mum, permits me to maintain myself within the face of an ableist world that calls for that we always produce.

The panorama of Zionism so dominates up to date Jewish life that it’s straightforward to neglect that for many of our historical past, Judaism was not involved with nation constructing in any respect. The Ebook of Maccabees preserved the document of the battle as a holy textual content for Christians, however conventional Jewish sacred texts for Hanukkah provide precisely the other message. Yearly on the shabbat of Hanukkah we learn in synagogue from the Ebook of Zechariah: “Not by would possibly, nor by energy, however by My spirit.”

I do know what miracle I might be instructing my baby because the candles burn. The diaspora is a miracle. Jewish folks discovered methods of dwelling and loving for hundreds of years with out land or military; we discovered house in tales and questions. The lengthy nights of this season are to be cherished as a valuable time to do much less, burn much less oil and be collectively extra.

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