A Breathtaking Distortion of Chanukah and Judaism

How sad that there are caring people with good intentions, observant Jews no less, that are nevertheless not clear on the concept. But I fear that this is exactly the case with Binyamin Zahav.

I’m sure that his recent article in the Times of Israel about Chanukah will make a lot of people angry. And with much justification. That was in fact my initial reaction. After thinking about it my anger was replaced by sadness that a practicing Jew can be so ignorant… so wrong… so off base… so off the wall about Chanukah. And even about Judaism itself.

I can’t think of too many things more distorted than the views he expressed here. Nor is there a better illustration of how corrupted one’s views can get through the cultural spirit of our times. That too was made painfully obvious by this article.

To briefly sum up, Zahav claims that the violent means the Maccabees used to regain our Holy Temple in Jerusalem and our sovereignty could have been avoided had they just been Open Orthodox Rabbis and more tolerant of Greek culture.

I kid you not. He believes that had they taken the trouble to make friends with their oppressors and get involved culturally and socially with them, they would have left us alone to practice Judaism freely and completely.

This is not a holiday about our violent intolerance of others as Zahav seems to suggest. It is a holiday of freedom from anti religious tyranny imposed by a kingdom bent on eradicating our faith and traditions. On pain of death. That was amply demonstrated by Chana and her seven sons who martyred themselves rather than to succumb to anti Jewish edicts of the Hellenist king. (Like forbidding circumcision, Kosher food and Shabbos observance.)

Ironically our Hellenist oppressors at the time were not interested in killing us. On the contrary. They wanted us to thrive and be just like them… completely assimilating into Greek culture and abandoning all vestiges of Judaism.

There was no amount of ‘peaceful civil disobedience’ that would have changed that. Does he really think the Maccabees wouldn’t have tried that first if had they believed it was even possible? The Maccabees were not extremist zealots. After seeing what Chana did – refusing to submit to those decrees and instead dying ‘Al Kiddush HaShem’ – sanctifying God’s name they led a violent revolt against the tyranny responsible for that.They had no other choice.

We celebrate the miracle of victory of the few over the many. We celebrate the return of sovereignty over our nation. We celebrate the freedom to worship as we choose. We celebrate the re-dedication of our Holy Temple… and the miracle of one container of oil lasting for more than the single day it had enough oil for – lasting the full eight days until new oil could be processed in spiritual purity.

Egalitarianism and compromise had nothing to do with what we celebrate. We celebrate our uniqueness. We are an exceptional people based on our acceptance of the Torah and its traditions. Compromise with Hellenists is the opposite of that. Sure – compromise is a valuable ideal. But here is a time to compromise and a time not to compromise. You cannot compromise with people that want to destroy you as a people. That is not compromise. It’s suicide.

After completely disparaging Chanukah, Zahav really goes to town and uses ‘compromise’  to redefine Judaism much the same way heterodoxy does:

This is the essence of open-orthodoxy. Respect for halacha and tradition but the courage to bend it and twist it so that is malleable and adaptable to contemporary life. And if it breaks, having the courage to say that perhaps if it broke, it wasn’t strong enough. And so, the breaking of the law strengthens it. These imaginative metaphors allow one to respect tradition without venerating it. Thus, even the breaking of the law is an expression of Halacha.Mine is not the Chanukah of hate, of xenophobia, of patriarchy, chauvinism, white privilege, and the morality of the Stone Age…. 

Breaking the law strengthens it? Hate? White privilege? Morality of the stone age?   I cannot think of a more twisted interpretation of Halacha or Chanukah than that. If that is indeed the essence of Open Orthodoxy, than it truly does not deserve to be called Orthodox.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.