A Hannukah Reflection on Assimilation

(Adapted from an earlier post on Rushkoff.com)

Christmas is a weird time for Jews. It’s treated by most of America as a secular holiday, like Valentine’s Day or Halloween (I know – neither started as a secular holiday, but they’ve lost most of their religious or pagan content). But it really feels to a lot of Jews like Christmas is still about Christ, or at least about a value system that’s post-Judaic.

For some Jews, Christmas is where we draw the line of our assimilation. In other words, we might go see Handel’s Messiah, but we won’t decorate a tree, or have one in the living room. (Even though the tree is actually a very pre-Christian pagan German thing, I know.)

That’s why it’s kind of funny that Hannukah is celebrated at this time, too. Not because of the whole ‘oil lamps defy the darkness of solstice’ thing, which I’m sure has its pagan roots, too. No, it’s because Hannukah celebrates a war against assimilation – a moment where religious, country Jews stormed the city and clobbered the Jews who had given up their identity and assimilated into Greek culture, and then forced them all to have circumcisions.

It is often said that without the Hannukah wars, Judaism would have perished. So it’s kind of fun that this holiday about fighting the pull of assimilation – about drawing the line, and feeling the difference – happens right when America is at its most Christian feeling for many of us.

But this year, after writing a book about Judaism that looks at some possible ‘end games’ through which to transform consciousness by perhaps dispensing with the word and race of Judaism and spreading its codes and ideas more universally, I had a weird thought: What if the Hannukah wars had never happened? What if Judaism were absorbed into Greek culture? Would the Greeks have incorporated more Jewish ideas, or would the Judaic idea – the notion that people can make the world a better place – have perished?

I wonder. I don’t mean to start any arguments, here, (heh) but was Judaism’s great golden age during those early Greek centuries, when non-Jews lined up outside our Beit Midrashes (houses of study) in order to read Talmud and argue theology with our rabbis? If Judaism had merged with Greek culture then and there, would we have gotten the Enlightenment 15 hundred years earlier? Would we have gotten out of the next 1800 years of persecution?

Or would the world be a darker place?

Just a thought, on Hannukah. Happy Holidays.

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2 Responses to “A Hannukah Reflection on Assimilation”

  1. There’s an awesome talmudic legend about why the universal solstice holiday, it goes back to Adam, and the first night. It’s also part of the mystery of the number eight.

    Apparantly, the first night that Adam ever experienced was not Friday night, that after he was Made and sinned and whatnot, Him and Eve were not shown darkness until after Shabbos, 36 hours of light.

    And then when the first night fell, he got scared. IT’s getting dark and cold… Wai Li! maybe Lord is sending everything back to desolation!

    And there’s a few different versions of the story from here:

    In one, a voice comes and tells him to rub dry sticks together, and behold! the first fire,, keeping us warm throughout the cold dark night, hence the tradition of the Havdalah Candle after Shabbos.

    and there’s anothe rversion of the story, where Adam and Eve just spend the whole night praying and crying, please Lord, don’t give up on us, we can do this thing this world, don’t give up. And when the morning came, and Adam came to realize this was just the order of nature, he rejoiced, and declared a day of celebration. The day of pure light is awesome, but the small light afterwords is so much more romantic.

    This is why St. Augustine made the eighth day the messianic holiday, the day of the ressurected sun and the moving out of the cycle of exile.

    But the story doesn’t end there. Because, Eve starts to notice one day, he wait a minute: the nights are getting longer.

    Maybe God is just fading us out slow!

    Midrash Rabba describes a legend that Cain kills Hevel(Abel) on the twenty fifth of kislev. That’s when Adam started to get scared.

    Decrees himself a fasting and praying period of eight days of candle lighting the darkness hrough, until one fateful night, they see the day start to get longer again. and they see and rejoice! this is the pattern of the Lord’s periods, and life never totally gives out and dies, not without ressurection. And so Adam made a holiday, for all his generations.

    And Adam made it for God worship
    And the Nations made it for stuff worship.
    But the source is, apparently, according to ancient Israelite tradion, a universal hman heritage, before all divisions and tribes. a time and perspective where there is nothing bu us surviveing a cold and lighting a fire together. Lchaim! to the day without nations, at least not that stop us from seeing and learning each other.

    Amen. Hug Sameach!
    —Yoseph


    yoseph crack · December 25th, 2003 at 7:38 pm
  2. whoa. forgive me for not actually adressing the thought provoking question that was raised in my last post. I was high.

    By definition, the “Judaic” idea – the notion that people can make the world a better place, could never be lost from the world, seeing as it’s, like, y’know, the voice of the soul. Any idea who’s time has come finds a place to land, as many a synchronistically linked idea being ecplored by totally different people in different parts of the world but around the same time can attest.

    What would we have lost if not for the maccabee rebelion, if Judaism had dissolved into Greece… Would Greece even have been better off.

    The example of the Shin-lung Hebrews in China is a good historical example of what happens when Jews fall into a genuinely likeable culture– the assimilated completely, just like the Anglo-saxon and Aztec Hebrews.

    That is to say, if there was serious opposition to Greece, it’s not just out of a tribal fail safe of “assimilation? bad! panic!”
    It’s because Greece was seriously fucked up, and maybe not as enlightened as it’s benefactors and leaders would maintain it was, not if they were threatened by ideas and cultures.

    What is Alexander had lived, and made a truer Greece? What was Antiocus afraid of, anyway, that he made circumcision and Torah and Lunar Calander illegal, anyway? it couldn’t have just been condesention, although that may have been a big part.

    What the hell was the problem anyway? Because is Judah Maccabee hadn’t uprised someone else would have (and did, as the story of Yehudit in the book of maccabees recounts.) The society itself had some fatal flaw, presumeably the arrogance of reason, the assumption that the truths as you know them right now are the correct truths, and the only correct truths. That, and how far logic can take you from Actual Knowing/gnosis/experience, traditionally the Chasidic criticsm of Greece, which has been used euphemystically in modern kabbalistic circles to describe Academic Torah study. Klipath Yavan, the husk of Greece, that College. Where you can learn big stuff and develop passionate opinions about what’s wrong with the world without ever having to touch it.


    yoseph crack · December 26th, 2003 at 1:01 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik