Michael Starr
Sometimes I Say Things, Sometimes They're Even Interesting

The Inconvenient Zionism of Hanukkah

The Zionism of Hanukkah, Past and Present. Original Commissioned Art by Samuel Starr

Antizionist Jews have a problem. Judaism is very Zionist. This problem becomes most apparent on Hanukkah, when many of them attempt to use the holiday as a vehicle for a “Post-Diaspora” revolution of Jewish identity. The struggle between this revolutionary movement and Zionism bears a striking resemblance to the Hanukkah story. Like the Hellenists before them, the revolutionaries seek to recreate the Jewish people, to strip them of agency, and to make them submit to idols. However, Zionists stand in opposition, the successors to the Maccabees. 

Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and the organizations like them are the vanguard of a revolutionary movement to detach Jewish people from their historic homeland and replace it with the Diaspora. Every holiday season, this Post-Diaspora movement is given the gift of Hanukkah. Hanukkah is the most recognizable Jewish holiday to most non-Jews, and is celebrated by almost all Jews. Even the most assimilated Jews keep it as a sort of ethnic corollary to Christmas. This makes Hanukkah a valuable tool for Jewish-themed branding of one’s political advocacy. Therefore, in December Post-Diaspora organizations churn out Hanukkah-themed polemics, social media posts, and activist campaigns. For example, in 2019 JVP NYC released a music video in which they sang an antizionist Hanukkah carol about the “people’s Menorah” and resistance against the US administration. That year JVP also launched a Hanukkah racial justice campaign and a booklet that was more of a guide to their political platform. In 2020, Jewish Voice for Labour kicked off the season by recommending Hanukkah candles made in China in order to keep kosher for BDS. Only using three examples does disservice to the extent of this seasonal blizzard of propaganda. 

JVP Twitter: Hanukkah carol. Screenshot.

Critical review of Post-Diaspora revolutionary materials shows that the theology of the Post-Diaspora movement rests on two pillars; Rejection of Israel, and Tikkun Olam. The Post-Diaspora revolution seeks to establish a new identity, divorced from the Jewish historic homeland. That means they are defined by this rejection. Instead of Hebrew, (performative and exaggerated) Yiddish. The shtetls of Eastern Europe are venerated as an indigenous homeland. American-Ashkenazi culinary shibboleths of lox, bagels, and pickles are glorified, the Sephardic and Mizrahi traditions that flavour much of Israeli cuisine are distasteful. All of this to say “Not Israel,” and to create a vacuum in which the new religious doctrine of Tikkun Olam can flourish. 

Literally meaning “Fixing the World,” the term was adapted from a minor principle for helping the world become better through recognition of God and removing idolatry. The modern use by the Post-Diaspora movement has seen it evolve from a minor principle to the One Commandment. As I’ve understood from discussions with key Jewish educators, Modern Tikkun Olam holds that Jewish people have a religious duty to sacrifice all they have to achieve social justice. Their interests, rights, and traditions must be subsumed and made submissive to the perceived greater needs of other minority groups. Once Jews do so, they will be protected by the coalition to which they have sworn fealty. Submission doctrine can be demonstrated in the repurposing of a saying of the sage Hillel by the organization IfNotNow. The “If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” has been canonized, while the “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” has been excised. 

JVL on Twitter: Kosher for BDS Hanukkah Candles. Screenshot.

The two pillars and the Post-Diaspora revolution as a whole are contrary to Hanukkah itself. And they know it. In JVP materials they make repeated use of a retelling of the Hanukkah story in which they hold in disdain the holiday and the events it celebrates. They describe the story as “painful and complex” and the Maccabees as zealots attacking Jewish Hellenists. They contend that the rabbinical consensus was against glorifying the events, and to downplay the “painful history” and ward against militarism they chose an anti-military Haftorah. Further, they claim that the story of the miracle of oil is made up, falsely citing the Talmud. With Hanukkah hollowed out they can insert political advocacy into its empty husk, but more importantly, it can’t be recognized how antithetical the holiday is to their movement. Actual familiarity with the Hanukkah story would reveal them to be modern Hellenists, and modern Zionists their Maccabee rivals.

The true story of Hanukkah is a triumph of Jewish tradition over submission to Hellenization. This triumph saw Israel shaking off the yoke of whims and temperamental mercies of foreign kings and nations, to take command of their own destiny, and determine for themselves how they should live. It is a celebration of Zionism before the idea had been named. According to the traditional narratives, the Books of the Maccabees, and Antiquities by Josephus Flavius, the land of Israel sat at the center of a power struggle between the successors of Alexander the Great. When Ptolemy took Jerusalem, he did so cruelly, enslaving many. When the Selucid king Antiochus took it from the Ptolemaic Empire, he was crueler still to the holy city. Even so, there were Jews who were seduced by the politics and pleasures of the scions of Macedon. Hellenistic Jews vied for political power against the traditional Jews, and established Grecian institutions and acted out of disdain of Jewish customs. This faction welcomed Antiochus’ rule. This rule demanded submission of Jewish tradition to Hellenism; Grecian culture, philosophy, and religion. In the Jewish Temple an idol of Zeus was established and swine were sacrificed on the altar. Circumcision was banned under penalty of death for both mother and child. Sacred books were burned, their study forbidden. The Hellenistic Jews welcomed this new order, and helped perpetuate it. However, the Maccabees rebelled against the suppression of their peoplehood. They fought the Seleucid Empire, and were able to take back Jerusalem for themselves. In the war for liberation’s most famous moment, they rededicated the Temple, clearing it of false gods. For the Temple to become fully operational, the Menorah had to be lit. However, most of the consecrated oil had been defiled by the Hellenists. The Maccabees lit the Menorah with the remaining oil, which was enough for one day, but through miracle, lasted for eight days until they could make some more. The Temple secure, the Jewish resistance went to establish an independent kingdom of Israel. The Maccabees knew that they could not trust the tyranny of a larger nation to permit them to follow Jewish traditions. As Josephus recounts the Maccabee progenitor Matityahu as saying, with the help of Hashem, they had to “return to…that freedom in which you shall live quietly, and enjoy your own customs.” Only under Jewish self-determination could they ensure their way of life, and not be made to submit under another. Modern Zionists are successors to the Maccabees. They want a refuge to quietly enjoy their nation, heritage, and culture, where foreign powers can not suppress them. Only they can they be entrusted to secure their own future, to have self-determination in their historic homeland, like the Maccabees before them. 

The Neo-Hellenist Jews refuse to take responsibility for their own future. They would entrust their survivability to and prefer the culture of the empires of ideology that war over Jerusalem. They think that if they become vassals of Selucids or Marxist revolutionaries, and submit their own interests and traditions to these alien powers, their safety is assured. This ignores that Antiochus slaughtered Hellenist and Traditionalist alike as he sacked Jerusalem. Unfortunately, like their predecessors, they’ve been blinded by the allures of foreign politics. As the Hellenists saw themselves as an extension of Greco-Macedonian culture, the neo-Hellenists see themselves first and foremost as members of radical revolutionary movements. They cannot stand the modern Maccabee for his independence, nor his stubborn Jewishness. They cannot stand the polity that has been established to protect Jewish tradition, peoplehood, and safety. It undercuts their own investment.

The Hellenist Jews rejected their own Jewishness, going so far as to conceal their circumcision to be more appealing to their masters. In the same way neo-Hellenists will reject Israel at any cost, so they can be more appealing to their masters. The revolutionary ideologues they aspire to join all hate Israel, as they see Zion as the intersectional avatar of all that they despise. In contrast, Zionists embrace their connection to their homeland and heritage, where Jews of all denominations don’t need to conceal themselves.

Another thing that Neo-Hellenists conceal is God. One of the striking things about Neo-Hellenist Post-Diaspora propaganda is the absence of God. This is because Tikkun Olam has taken the top billing. In the place of glorifying God in songs, prayers, and scripture, instead are worshipped racial justice, monetary redistribution, and popular social movements. Whatever one thinks of these ideas, they are not God. Worship of Modern Tikkun Olam in this fashion is like placing the idol of Zeus in the Temple. 

Hanukkah and every other Jewish tradition are used only as devices for Modern Tikkun Olam in the Post-Diaspora Revolution. Examples include INN holding Havdalah for Shabbat at noon, or hosting Passover occupation Seders. Every Jewish practice is an advertisement for a political policy or position. In JVP’s guide, they mocked the miracle of the oil as made up, claiming proof was in the Talmudic tractate Shabbat. There is nothing of the sort there. What Shabbat does contain is a prohibition against using the light of the chanukiah for other purposes besides commemoration. The neo-Hellenists abuse the light of the chanukiah to the extent that they only light it to illuminate their work. They show disdain for Jewish tradition in the same way their predecessors did. They submit their Jewish tradition in exchange for political gain. 

It is not too late for the Neo-Hellenists of the Post-Diaspora revolution to make amends and cease their fight against their heritage. JVP were incorrect about why the Haftorah of Zechariah was chosen for Hanukkah. Hanukkah’s actual connection to the Haftorah is Zechariah’s vision of the golden Menorah. The Haftorah is not about anti-militarism, but the opportunity for redemption. In the reading, Zechariah observed a high priest whose family had assimilated. He was compared to a false prophet and the angels wanted him to meet the fate of other false prophets, to burn by the fires of foreign powers. However, Zechariah prayed for the man’s redemption and that his family would return to the fold. “Hanukkah” means “rededication,” and like the Temple, the Neo-Hellenists can cast out the false idols and rededicate themselves to the truth of their heritage.

In the campaign to recreate the Jewish people, the use of Hanukkah as a device for Neo-Hellenist political advocacy only works as long as Jews don’t know their heritage. If Jews are proud of their traditions, their identity can’t be rewritten. Jews will not have to submit. They will not have to worship revolutionary ideologies. I believe the fight for Jewish tradition will be won by the Maccabees yet again. In the spirit of Hanukkah, it will be won by telling that ancient Zionist story, and by being proud that the state of Israel has been established in the footsteps of our ancestors. As the successors of the Maccabees, it is our duty to engage in true tikkun olam, to reject the false idols, and to bring about a better world in which the light of Jewish tradition burns strong.

About the Author
A veteran of the IDF and Israel advocacy, Michael Starr has a MA for Government, Counter-Terrorism, and National Security at IDC Herzliya. To receive updates on new articles, follow Michael on Twitter at @Starrlord89.
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