Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Hasmoneans, and Us

I, too, read the Slate piece by Christopher Hitchens, remembering as I did that this is a man who professionally hated on Mother Theresa for a while and just published a book titled God is Not Great. And I actually liked it, although the Sherbs tells me that Mr. Hitchens's history is a tad reductionist and simplistic.

Hanukkah should be a time of a little philosophical soul-searching for more liberal Jews, because Hitchens's piece builds on a fundamental truth of Hanukkah: we're celebrating the butt-kicking of one society because our religious fanatics weren't comfortable with it. Sure, there's a forced assimilation component to the Hellenic side, as the closest they got to religious tolerance in those days was "we'll let you worship your gods if you also worship ours," but, to a great extent, this was a war to define us as a particularly religious nation.

I'll still be lighting the candles, because, even though I don't like the Hasmoneans and I'm a little suspicious of holidays based on the Apocrypha, I don't have a good enough theological reason not to and I like fried food something fierce. But I take Hanukkah to, in part, warn us of what happens when we get all we want religiously - we can then become big jerks to one another. It seems that the UK chief rabbinate and some Israeli rabbis are in conflict over conversions - mostly because some people seem to want to speak for all Judaism despite getting their position through having support in only a small minority. Just because we've had some big wins doesn't mean we get to be jerks. That's my lesson for the season.


Jack's Shack said...

Hitchens doesn't get it.

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