(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.