At this time of the year, when the dark nights grow longer and longer, all of us, Jews, Christians and Muslims, who cry for the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, who are suffering so terribly, should celebrate the Jewish holy days of Hanukah; which can hold out hope that in the long run, faith and trust in God, will give all victims of every kind, the strength to rebuild their lives after the leaders who crush innocent civilians will be gone.
Hanukah is for Muslim Jews because Hanukah (Hebrew for Dedication) refers both to: The Hanukah-rededication of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem after it was profaned in 168 BCE by an idol installed in it by the Syrian Greek king Antiochus IV; and
To the Hunkah-dedication and valor of the Makabees and all those who joined them in their resistance to the attempt by the ruling powers to force the Jews to abandon their God given religion, and conform to Greek forms of worship and culture. Abandoning circumcision was one example.
Those who resisted were Muslims (Arabic for faithful followers of God’s will) and their Hunukah dedication eventually led to religious freedom and national independence for the Jews living in the Land of Israel.
The oppression of Judaism by Antiochus IV, the Syrian Greek king, was the first known attempt at suppressing a minority religion, but unfortunately not the last. Other well known attempts were the three century long Roman persecution of Christianity, and the persecution of Muhammad and his followers by the great majority of the pagan Arabs in Makka.
All three religions emerged from their varying periods of persecution stronger than ever, and this is the ongoing spiritual lesson of the Hanukah lamp that once lit by faithful believers, filled with hope and trust in God; lasts longer than anyone else thinks possible.
The history: In 200 BCE, King Antiochus III of Syria defeated Egypt and made the Land of Israel a part of the Seleucid Empire. King Antiochus III wanting to conciliate his new Jewish subjects guaranteed their right to “live according to their ancestral customs” and to continue to practice their religion in the Temple of Jerusalem.
However in 175 BCE, his son Antiochus IV invaded Judea to put in power a pro Syrian high Priest. As the ancient Jewish historian Josephus relates: “The king came upon the Jews with a great army, took their city by force, slew a great multitude of those that favored Egypt, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple (erecting an idol in it that looked like himself, and thus) put a stop to the daily offerings (to God) for three years and six months.”
The tradition: When the Temple in Jerusalem was looted and services stopped, Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BCE Antiochus IV (who named himself ‘Manifest God’) ordered an altar to Zeus be erected in the Temple. He banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the Temple.
This provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattityahu, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Yochanan Simeon, Eleazar, Yonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. They became known as HaMakabim (the Hammers).
In 166 BCE Mattathias died, and Judah Makabee took his place as leader. By 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was largely successful. The Temple was liberated and (Hanukah) rededicated. The festival of Hanukah was instituted to celebrate this event.
The oil: Judah Makabee ordered the Temple to be purified, and a new altar to be built in place of the one polluted by pig’s blood. According to the Torah, pure olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn day and night throughout the year.
However, there was only enough pure oil found to burn for one or two days, and it would take a week to prepare a fresh supply of pure oil for the menorah. Some said we should delay the Hanukah of the Temple for a week. Others said kindle the Temple Menorah; and pray for it to last until new pure oil could be made.
The menorah was lit; and it did not go out prior to the arrival of the new pure oil. An eight-day festival was declared by the Makabees to commemorate this miracle.
The lights: These can be candles or oil lamps. Most Jewish homes have a special candelabrum referred to as a hanukiah, or an oil lamp holder for Hanukah, which holds eight lights plus the additional light used to light all the others each day.
The reason for the Hanukah lights is not to “light the house within”, but rather to “illuminate the house without,” so passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle. Thus, lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. Some Ashkenazim (Jews from European Lands) have a separate menorah for each family member (customs vary), whereas most Sephardim (Jews from Muslim Lands) light one for the whole household.
According to the rabbis of the school of Rabbi Shamai, one should light eight candles on the first night, seven on the second night, and so on until only one candle is lit the last night of Hanukah. The lesson of the school of Shamai is that Hanukah celebrates the victory of the Makabees over the forces of assimilation.
By decreasing the candles one by one we can observe how hard it is to actually see a daily reduction of light. Only at the end, when we will go from one to none, do we suddenly realize that a steady decline in Jewishness leads, in a few decades for a person, or a few generations for a community, to extinction.
For Shamai the lesson of Hanukah is the continual danger of assimilation and the ongoing need to fight against conformity to the majority. Only by overcoming assimilation can we prevent the light of Torah, Mitsvot and Israel from going out.
The opposite opinion comes from the school of Rabbi Hillel, who say we increase the number of candles each night for; “one must ascend in matters of holiness.” Faith helps us grow stronger when we face challenges. This is one of life’s’ great miracles. Hope makes a difference. Don’t curse the darkness; light a candle.
Shamai’s warning is necessary but the miracle lies not in simply observing, but in our response to a challenge. The Halachah (Fiq) is according to Hillel for a Jew must strive to go higher and higher in matters of light- i.e. Torah, Mitzvot and deeds of loving-kindness.
Hillel’s way is the most optimistic because one light- the shammash which lights all the others, teaches us that the impact of one person’s actions are cumulative and widespread.
The above article was published on the popular Muslim web site Islamicity a few days ago. Rabbi Maller’s book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: One Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness between Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles by Rabbi Maller first published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon and Morebooks.