Lerner and Hitchens wrong about Hanukkah

By Judith A. Klinghoffer, Political Mavens

A little historical knowledge is a terribly dangerous thing. Getting that knowledge from a source with an admitted agenda is even worse. Take for example, Christopher Hitchens and his anti-Hanukkah diatribe based on Michael Lerner’s incorrect retelling of the story of the Maccabbees. He quotes Lerner approvingly:

    Along with Greek science and military prowess came a whole culture that celebrated beauty both in art and in the human body, presented the world with the triumph of rational thought in the works of Plato and Aristotle, and rejoiced in the complexities of life presented in the theater of Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes.

True enough. But the Maccabees did Not revolt against the Greek culture and not even against Greek military prowess as evidenced in tthe conquest of their country by Alexander the Great. That is the reason that as Hitchens, following Lerner, admits” “Alexander the Great—Alexander still being a popular name among Jews.”

What Jews rebelled against was not the Helenic culture but the Helenistic one, the mix of Greek and Asian cultures.

Why? Because Helenic Alexander demanded allegiance as an earthly King while Helenistic Celeucid king Antiochus, wanted to be worshipped as a God. Yes, these “backward peasants,” Hitchens and Lerner so abhors, rebelled against the institution of a personality cult (North Korean style) in Israel. Note that these “peasants” did not substitute one personality cult for another. They did not name the holiday, Judah Maccabee. They named it Hanukkah, rededication. For as repugnant as Hitchens may find the worshiping of God, I doubt he would prefer the worshipping of kings.

By giving victory to God, the Israelites had little trouble acknowledging the failings of their leaders including some of the Hashmoneans. Nor has the success of the revolt lead to the wholesale rejection of either the Hellenic or the emerging Roman Republic (which actually helped secure the victory of the Maccabbees). Yes, Israelites will eventually reject the Romans too but not because of their cultural or scientific advances but because of their rulers demand for unlimited power.

Jews refuse to treat a mere king as God. That is the long and the short of it. To prevent victory from going to the military leader’s head, they consistently attributed victory to God. It is much safer that way, even rationalist Hitchens would perhaps admit. I am sure the American founding fathers would not only admit it, but I suspect realized it.

In any case, that is one of the real lights the Jews lit and the price for lighting the darkness as the Greeks acknowledged so dramatically in the Prometheus story is always high. You get your liver eaten and eaten and eaten. As far as we, the descendants of “backwards Jewish peasants” are concerned, eater like Hitchens and Lerners are but insignificant gnats. At the moment we have some serious birds of prey to deal with and, no, we will not stop rededicating our temples or lighting the dark. Moreover, we will continue not only to celebrate it proudly but teach our children that each one of us is a small light but together we are a formidable one well able to chase away the dark.

December 8, 2007 | Comments Off on Lerner and Hitchens wrong about Hanukkah

1 Comment / 0 Comments

Comments are closed.