Hanukkah Divides Nationalist And Assimilationist Jews

It is arguably the case, that the natural tendency of Jews in days ahead of a major Jewish holiday is to extol the virtues of unity and brotherly feelings, as Jews are so family oriented , but I, for one, have to disrupt the celebration. Not in my own family, but in the big Jewish family, what some of us refer to fondly as the tribe, what I refer to fondly and historically as the nation, the Jewish nation that is.

In fact, I doubt whether we are one big family, whether we are one nation, and if I have these thoughts, which I wish I did not have, it is because a new religion, some will say a cult is fast emerging among Liberal and Progressive Jews, or those who pretend to be such , and it is called Tikkun Olam. Those people, among them entire Rabbinical groups such as T’ruah, but not only, take one element out of our vastly rich religious , cultural and historic legacy, and turn it into everything that Judaism should be, their version of Judaism, not the one which most Jews still adhere and cling to. There is an overriding , fundamental conceptual explanation to what they preach for, and alas, it has almost everything to do with politics, and hardly anything to do with moral values. It is about the brazen attempt of these people to universalize our religion , to strip it of any particular national, distinguishable Jewish context, or if we are to be blatantly honest, to reject the notion of Jewish ethnicity, of Jewish nationalism, and they do so because they object to Zionism , because they do not like the notion of distinct Jewish nationhood. Yes, because they gave up on Israel, and they will be very comfortable living in a world without Israel. What makes it a clear political, rather than moral concept, is the fact, that they do NOT reject all forms of nationalism, surely not Arab and Palestinian. Well,not a new concept altogether, as anti Zionism among Jews is nothing new, and when considering the end game of the concept, it is our modern day version of Jewish assimilationism.

The meaning of Hanukkah can be understood in more than one way , but under no circumstances , it can be understood to be ONLY a festival of lights, of latkes – eating, and of the universal struggle for human rights. For the Tikkun Olam cultists, Hanukkah is EVERYTHING but a celebration of Jewish struggle for religious and national liberation in our homeland. However, the Hashmoneans, led by the charisma of Mattathias and his sons, rebelled against the Greek-Syrian religious tyranny and military occupation of our homeland. They rebelled against the empire which dominated the ancient world at that time, not just politically and militarily, but also culturally. So, for the Hashmoneans, the rebellion was against the OLAM of these days, and was wholly in support of their OLAM, which was Judaism, and not hellenism. In simple terms, the Hashmoneans rebelled against those among our people who, in the name of their understanding of Tikkun Olam, wanted also the Jews to integrate into the unstoppable train of history, as they understood it to be, which was to ASSIMILATE and be consequently accepted by the Hellenistic world. It was pure nationalism which motivated the Hashmoneans, not universalism. We can celebrate Hanukkah EVEN if we accept the modern-day Tikkun Olam historic distortion, exactly because of the Hashmonean heroic struggle, and not despite it.

The current Tikkun Olam cultists reject the nationalist interpretation , because if they were to accept it,, then it inevitably leads to the clear historic conclusion, that the Jews are the authentic indigenous people of the land, and with that realization, the entire tower card of historic fallacy upon which the concept of Tikkun Olam is based will collapse, surely their support of the ”indigenous” Palestinians. Being Leftists should have required them to understand the social/class dimension of the initial Hashmonean rebellion, which was a double -edged sword, against the foreign occupation on the one hand, but also an eruption of hostility by the rural, more traditional element of the Jewish population against the ruling few, the class of the assimilationist priesthood which was far richer than the poor loyal Jews. Usually, a rebellion of this nature is the cup of tea of Leftists, but not of ”our” Tikkun Olam cultists, who are engaged in a run away from their distinct Jewish identity.

Here are the bad news, as we have too many of those. Here are the good news- exactly the festival of national and religious liberation known as Hanukkah shows to the majority of Jews, that history is on our side. The Tikkun Olam crowd are the ones who miss the train of history.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina