Jewish Journal


December 11, 2009

Hanukkah Revisited


In his usual thoughtful and illuminating way, David Brooks offers fresh insight in his New York Times column today.

The version of the Hanukkah story that will be recounted in millions of home tonight and has been taught in Sunday schools for eons—-doesn’t quite get it right.

The Maccabees weren’t the heroic, virtuous freedom fighters seeking to further religious freedom for all as so many of us were taught. The Hellenistic culture that had spread to the Holy Land wasn’t the incarnation of intolerance that is the stock and trade of every Hanukkah play that our kids were in. And the miracle of the oil lamp that burned for eight days—which has spawned a cottage industry of menorah makers—- was added years after the fact to include a divine dimension.

Brooks’ piece is delightful but has a more serious subtext. He concludes with what may be the most important message to be learned from Hanukah itself,
            …. there is no erasing the complex ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices.  

It may be two thousand years later, but not much has changed. Virtually every issue and story we face is laced with “irony, complexity and unattractive choices.”

We should all beware of those who offer simple answers to complex problems—-clear cut unambiguous answers are few and far between.

George Gershwin had it right when he wrote about what you read in the Bible, “it ain’t necessarily so.”

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