Chanukah/Festival of Lights [sticky post for duration of holiday]

Tonight my fellow Jews around the world light the first candle of Chanukah (literally: “dedication”, as in the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabees liberated it from the idolatrous tyrant Antiochus IV ‘Epiphanes’). The holiday’s message of popular discontent and determination winning out over a tyrant so narcissistic he had himself worshiped as an idol (hence the Greek sobriquet “Epiphanes”, i.e., [false g*d] becoming man) could scarcely be more timely in this era of “cults of personality” in so many walks of life.

Below is the “Shira” (song, poetry) choir performing the holiday song Ma’oz Tzur (“Rock of Ages”).

Allow me to post the English translation in verse by Jastrow and Gottheil:

Rock of ages, let our song praise your saving power.
You amidst the raging foes were our sheltering tower.
Furious they assailed us, but your arm availed us.
And your word, broke their sword, when our own strength failed us (2x)

Children of the Maccabees,whether free or fettered,
Wake the echoes of the songs, where you may be scattered.
Yours the message cheering, that the time is nearing,
Which will see, All men free, Tyrants disappearing. (2x)

Chanuka sameach/חנוכה שמח/Happy Chanuka!

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One thought on “Chanukah/Festival of Lights [sticky post for duration of holiday]

  1. In the myths of old, the Gods were shown to be intervening in the wars of men — in the Iliad for example, Athena and Hera and Ares take sides in the battles and physically guide arrows, etc. Countless other myths have a similar thrust.

    Yet, in modern Christian hymns, especially those once popularized by the Salvation Army, and other 19th-century hymns, there is similarly a militaristic tone — but in those cases, the militarism is supposed to be metaphorical, not literally martial. The songs “Onward Christian Soldiers” is the most famous example:

    “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
    with the cross of Jesus going on before.
    Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
    forward into battle see his banners go!
    Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
    with the cross of Jesus going on before.
    At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
    on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!”

    Now, in this case, it’s not supposed to be referring to actual soliders rat-a-tat-tating Satan’s demons with machine guns; it’s a metaphor for defeating evil spiritually.

    Which brings us to the topic of this post. The YouTube video of the chorus singing “Rock of Ages” has a militaristic tone as well, and modern Christians hearing it will automatically presume that it is once again a metaphorical militarism.

    But no!

    For the Maccabees had to fight actual battles with actual weapons and kill actual enemies in order to win a spiritual war against idolotry. And this history of violence makes our modern sensibilities uncomfortable. We fidget in our seats when we think of hymns about killing pagan armies…for real.

    These days, only underdogs and victims get honor and respect. Being victorious is not something to sing about — it’s something to be ashamed of.

    Which brings us to the modern attitude toward Israel by many Western liberals. The “Good Jew” is supposed to remain passive, a victim who earns our sympathy by trooping without resistance into the gas chambers. The “Bad Jew” is one who says “Enough already!” to the endless victimhood, picks up an Uzi and dares anyone to lay a finger on his wife or his country.

    The song you present above, and the whole story of Hannukah, is a reminder that the Victim Jew is a modern invention, borne out of centuries of life in Eastern European shtetls and as a dhimmi in Muslim lands. But back in the old days, when the Jews were still in the Holy Land, there was no glorification of the underdog, no perverse joy in victimhood. The Hebrews kicked ass whenever they could, and periodically had their asses kicked by waves of occupying cultures. And each time, they reformed the resistance, and as with the Maccabees, refused to give up and kept fighting until the land was once again theirs.

    That is the story of modern Israel: A rejection of victimhood. And though the most recent period of expulsion and domination was the longest, lasting centuries, the Jews were not about to give up forever, and the old spirit came back. They wrested the land back from the Ottomans, the British and the Arabs, and I have a feeling that this time, they’ve wised up, and they’re not going to fall for the Glorious Victim gimmick ever again.

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