Years ago, in fact more years than I would care to admit, when my sons were in Hebrew school, the school principal remarked to me that she had a hard time with Hanukkah. She took issue with the religious zealotry and imperialism of the Hasmoneans. Now, at the time, I just thought of her as a progressive crank. A well-meaning crank, but a crank, nonetheless. Recent events have led me to rethink my musings on her world view.
Yes, of course, Hanukkah is a joyous occasion in our home. Latkes, dreidels, presents and parties, make this a fun time of year. Celebrating the fight for religious freedom and the strength of the Jews is a wonderful reminder of our own resilience as a People.
But there is a darker side to the Maccabee coin that we all conveniently ignore. After the Hasmoneans dispatched the Assyrian-Greeks, they turned on those Jews they deemed Hellenistic. A civil war ensued. Those Jews seen as a threat to Judaism were killed, or exiled. Afterwards, the Hasmoneans turned their attention to the surrounding nations and in ancient style captured and conquered areas trying to spread their religious ideal.
Understandably life in ancient times was much different than it is today. Your religion was your way of life. To be part of a religion, to practice it as it was meant to be, or prescribed by religious law, is what defined a People. We do not have to like this reality, but that is how politics worked several thousand years ago.
The problem though, is that in today’s day and age, despite having gone through a renaissance, a soul searching and understanding of the humanity of choice and individuality, there is a growing intolerance among so many in the Jewish community.
The Israeli rabbinate have declared diaspora rabbis unable to preside over conversions. Even the conversions performed by one of the most respected Orthodox rabbis in the US was called into question. Never mind the rabbinate’s thoughts on conservative and reform conversions, or conservative and reform practicing Jews over all.
Just now, there is a Bill before Knesset to make it a crime for women to wear tallit, carry a Torah or sing without the permission of the Kotel rabbis.
There is the fight for an egalitarian prayer area at the Kotel, that is stalled despite an earlier agreement with between the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency.
The Sephardic chief rabbi just pronounced that it is anathema for women to serve in the IDF.
And a legislative aide was harassed at the Knesset because some men decided to act as the religious police and declared her skirt was too short to enter. Forgetting of course that it is the Knesset, a parliament where swearing, cursing and libel routinely occurs, and not a holy place of prayer. Forgetting of course, too, that there is no religious police in Israel That Israel is not a theocracy but a liberal democracy, and that Jewish women can dress any way they see fit.
There is the harassment of Left wing bloggers on line, right-wingers calling them anything from whores to anti-Semites. Deriding them as traitors, and Nazis. While in ironic fashion, it is the use of the epithet “Nazis” against pro-Israel persons, that the UK has decided to declare antisemitic.
Students created a poster, which basically called for the lynching of the Prime Minister. Something like that does not happen in a vacuum. It is the outgrowth of lessons in intolerance learned, and learned well.
There is the refusal of the Left to understand the calling of many of the West Bank settlers. They declare them anathema to humanity. Bigots. Haters. Destroyers of Israeli democracy. They do not want to discuss their side of events, and do not want to know or hear of the sacrifices they make in the name of the Jewish People. (You don’t have to agree with someone to listen to their worldview.)
No one talks to each other except in vitriol, name calling, with disregard and disrespect.
People forget that nothing in life is absolute. That laws are merely humanity’s interpretation of right and wrong. Even Torah is our interpretation of what Hashem means. Only the most narcissistic believe that they and they alone, can interpret G-ds law, according to G-ds true meaning. It is convenient for many who wish to delegitimize modern thought to think that we are less prepared to discuss Torah and Talmud in today’s world, than in centuries past. Or that the closer you lived to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai, makes your take on Judaism holier, more righteous, and more within Hashem’s purview.
Remember hubris is a sin. And it is a sin because it destroys not just the sinner, but it ultimately destroys those innocents around them.
People forget that there are always areas of gray. And that it was Zealotry that led to the destruction of the nation of Israel. Zealotry, without any thought to consequence, led to the disenfranchisement of the Jewish People for two millennia.
After the Hasmoneans “cleansed” their nation of heretics and expanded their borders, that free Jewish nation merely lasted 100 years. It was overburdened and bloated. Then came the Romans. Judea fell first into the status of satellite state, and eventually into occupation, domination and ultimately into destruction.
Zealotry under Roman rule reared its head. Those who wished to find an accommodation with Rome, were killed in the streets by the Sicarii. The Zealots against the will of the Sanhedrin, began the revolt in 66, which ended with the destruction of the Holy Temple in the year 70. Jerusalem was destroyed. Our People devastated. And in the year 135 after the failed Bar Kochba revolt we lived in diaspora, exile, dispersal and with the continual mass murder of our People.
Perhaps the lesson we need to teach our children at this time of year, is not merely the meaning of the brave fight for religious freedom, but the flip side of that reality. Which means that in a modern world we need to teach respect and understand for those that disagree with you. Whether absolutists like it or not, there is more than one way to practice Judaism, just as there is more than one political voice in our world. Hearing, understanding, and acknowledging all the voices among the Jewish people is what will keep us a free People.
Tolerance should be the flip side of our story of the Maccabees. We MUST teach our children all the lessons of history. Not just the convenient ones.
In the end, we are no longer a weak People. We have survived millennia of deprivation, alienation and slaughter. We can survive the acknowledgement that good people, in good conscience, can disagree. It is time we remembered that we all love the Jewish people. We want our children to not merely grow, but to thrive beyond any imagination. They can’t do that, if they are bogged down with intolerance, hate, and rejection of those not in our echo chamber.