Remembering Chanukah as a Civil War

James Ponet in Slate brings up some very pertinent questions for us to reflect upon during our celebration of Chanukah, which begins this evening (and which has already began for us here in Israel):

Was the bloody Maccabean civil war and revolt necessary to the survival of Jewish identity? The Hasmonean state, originally a bulwark against Greek dominance, eventually declined into a petty Hellenist tyranny barely distinguishable from other military-political entities in the Middle East at the time. Memory of the Maccabean era of war and autonomy inspired the Jewish zealots of 67 to 73 C.E. who led the costly losing struggle against Rome that led to the destruction of Jerusalem. The Maccabean memory also fueled the messianic hopes of Rabbi Akiva and his followers, who backed the quixotic revolt of the warrior Shimon Bar Kochba, which Rome bloodily smashed in 135.
Today, the Maccabean memory has been resurrected in the modern state of Israel in the image of Jew as warrior, and Hanukkah is celebrated by many as a military holiday, the vestige of an ancient Independence Day. But I propose that on Hanukkah, we ought to consider whether an ethnic group that wishes to survive must turn itself into a nation-state. In the aftermath of the Bar Kochba debacle, at Hanukkah the words of the prophet Zachariah were read in the synagogue: “Not by power nor by might but through My spirit, says the Lord.” In the glow of the candles this year we should wonder aloud whether the prophet’s vision is but balm for losers or whether the international system may yet generate a new way for groups to be both part of the world and apart from it. Here is the hard question that an adult celebration of Hanukkah can bring into deliberate focus.

Full story.

9 thoughts on “Remembering Chanukah as a Civil War

  1. “Was the bloody Maccabean civil war and revolt necessary to the survival of Jewish identity?”
    It’s a simple answer – YES! The Greeks were wholly devoted to snuffing out Judaism. They were brutal about it. Unlike the Romans, they did not want to destroy us physically, but rather destory our ‘chosenness’ and make us the same as everyone else. They wanted to make the Torah just another book in the library of civilization.
    Thank G-d the Maccabees weren’t plagued by the same doubts as the Rabbi who wrote this goofy article.

  2. Amen Nathan!
    I agree 100% that Judaism needs some to STAND UP AND FIGHT for what they believe in. There are those who are devoted to destroying our souls. Without Jews who are devoted to preserving our great and righteous heritage we would have been extinct centuries ago. JUDAISM WILL SURVIVE, the spirit lives in our collective identity.
    Happy Channukah!
    Michael U

  3. now since even reform jews wouldn’t suggest the destruction of israel (would they?), in the spirit of the Hannukah season, le’s assume our good rabbi was referring to the palestinians as the group that should do without a state.

  4. oh, come on. wasn’t like the second hasmonean king called john hyrcanus or something? what kind of stand against hellenistic values is that? the maccabees are overblown by modern zionism’s need for them to have been a precursor to modern zionism.

  5. Sam,
    What do you mean with your comment? The Maccabeean revolt had nothing to do with Zionism. As far as history tells, the Jews were currently residing in Zion at the time of Alexander the Greats conquests. Zionism is the desire of the Jewish soul to return to the holy land. Why would they want to return if they were already there?
    Please explain…
    Thank you,
    Michael U

  6. That man’s argument bores me. He’s not really suggesting anything. Oh boy! Should the Macabees have thought twice if they new one day, thousands of years later, European Jews would decide their future was in Ottoman Palestine? C’mon.

  7. “But I propose that on Hanukkah, we ought to consider whether an ethnic group that wishes to survive must turn itself into a nation-state.”
    The alternative is being ruled by other nations and trusting them to be kind to us. The Greeks, the Czechs, the Kenyans, the Bangledeshis, won’t have it and one wouldn’t dare suggest it to them. So, one’d better not suggest it to us either.
    We have the most extensive historical experience of being a diaspora-only people, not only ruled by others but living scattered among others. Been there, done that, fuck that.

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