May 17, 2024
Modern Hanukkah Traditions Show Us That Extremism Will Fail

“Ours is the dim dwelling with no lights.”

This is how Sammy, the protagonist in Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film The Fabelmans, identifies his Jewish family’s property as they pull into the driveway from a evening at the videos in New Jersey. It’s December 1952, and the cause the home is dim, in accordance to the logic of the 2022 film, is that the Fabelmans are Jewish: From the backdrop of the eye-catching Christmas lights shown by their neighbors, they mild a solitary menorah in the entrance window to celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish pageant that commemorates the re-commitment of the Temple immediately after a profitable revolt towards the Greek empire by a group of spiritual zealots, recognized as the Maccabees.

While in spiritual phrases, Hanukkah is a very small holiday break, it has turn out to be the main competition of Jewish visibility. Alternatively of paying out December with dark, un-decorated residences like the Fabelmans, Jewish households today can distinguish on their own from their Christian neighbors by hanging a Hanukkah wreath on the front door, lining their walkways with dreidel lights, placing a huge light-weight-up menorah on the lawn, decking the halls with Hanukkah garland, exhibiting Hanukkah dish towels in the kitchen, placing collectively a blue and white iced Hanukkah gingerbread dwelling, and hanging Hanukkah ornaments on… one thing.

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Outside the realm of home decor, Jews can costume themselves, their doll, or even their pet lizard, in common unsightly Hanukkah sweaters with intelligent, entirely Jewish slogans like “Oy to the world!”, ship Hanukkah gift hampers and greeting playing cards to friends and colleagues, or even watch the most current Hanukkah vacation rom-com, which is in essence a distillation of the other professional factors of a modern Hanukkah. Much like “Oy to the Environment!”, it’s an in essence Christian structure, with some blue paint and silver glitter splashed on to make it marketable to the 1.9{ae4c731f0fa9ef51314dbd8cd1b5a49e21f1d642b228e620476f3e076dd7c050} of the US population probable to come across these a move captivating. It is reasonably noticeable that most of this stuff is the kind of point that non-Jewish businesses feel helps make them glance inclusive by advertising and marketing to Jews, alternatively than remaining made by Jews, for Jews. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inauthentic.

Let’s be obvious: The Maccabees would have hated practically almost everything about this. The Textbooks of the Maccabees document a highly partisan account of the Maccabean Revolt, which most recent scholars believe that is greater understood as a civil war amongst Jews. In which the regular account paints the opponents of the Maccabees as the invading Greek empire, determined desecrators of the Temple and suppressors of Jewish piety who martyred Jews caught observing Shabbat, a extra obvious-eyed historic analysis, this sort of as that set forth by Sylvie Honigman, indicates that the most important actors in the conflict were other Jews, who had been fascinated in acquiring economic and political progression through alignment with the conquering empire and viewed as some laxity in ritual practice an appropriate selling price to pay back. It is these Hellenizing Jews, somewhat than occupying Greek forces, who have been the most important targets of Judah Maccabee’s army campaign—and the latest incarnation of Hanukkah bears a far larger resemblance to their practice than to that of the Maccabees. There is a specific irony inherent in celebrating a thriving armed forces marketing campaign in opposition to cultural assimilation by embracing cultural assimilation as lengthy as it arrives in blue, white, and silver alternatively of crimson, environmentally friendly, and gold.

Full books—such as Joshua Plaut’s Kosher Xmas or Dianne Ashton’s Hanukkah in America: A History—have been published about the means that the existing observe of Hanukkah has produced. Typically, alterations in the observance of Hanukkah have been drawing it into closer alignment with Christian customs. These factors have a tendency to run in cycles: In the early 20th century Gershom Scholem’s household, like the the vast majority of German Jews at that time, celebrated Christmas as a secular, countrywide vacation, famously gifting him a portrait of Theodor Herzl for the holiday—an awkward parental gesture trying to acknowledge his “interest” in Zionism. (Scholem was unimpressed, and familial estrangement before long adopted.) The German Jewish immigrant communities of the United States also tended to check out Christmas as a secular holiday break, and collaborating in it as a way to showcase their integration into American society. A number of the Christmas tunes prepared by Jewish composers were being composed in the late 19th and early 20th century, when this understanding of Xmas was pretty popular.

Even so, as the 20th century progressed, considerations about assimilation improved, and communities started to search for means to make Jewish id each distinctive and desirable. Including a reward exchange—such as the a single featured in Spielberg’s film—to Hanukkah was one system to decrease the relative attractiveness of Christmas, by eliminating Santa’s monopoly on gift shipping. The much more prominent Hanukkah became as a Jewish observance, the less Jews embraced Christmas as harmless secular entertaining.

At the same time, non-Jews also experienced an fascination in endorsing Hanukkah as a distinctively non-Christian element inside a secular “Holiday Time.” The center of the 20th century was a time period when the Supreme Court passed a variety of essential rulings on scenarios relating to the Establishment Clause, the Initial Amendment’s prohibition against guidelines “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the totally free work out thereof.” In follow, this meant that completely selling any a single faith was a problem, but advertising and marketing religion in standard (or thoughts that ended up widespread to a number of religions) was permitted. In this context, the addition of a menorah to civic displays enforced the plan of Christmas as part of a generic, family members-focussed “holiday season” which public institutions could endorse and boost with out risking a violation of the Establishment Clause. The aggressive internet marketing of Hanukkah-themed versions of Christmas décor owes a excellent deal to the elevated public visibility that resulted from this go.

Just lately, Hanukkah editorials (significantly like the one particular you are looking through correct now) have begun to concentrate on what Gina Eco-friendly has referred to as the festival’s “darker side”. Michael David Lukas’s 2018 essay in the New York Periods is attribute of the genre: knowing himself as getting dispositionally a lot more aligned with the Maccabees’ assimilationist opponents than with the Maccabees them selves, Lukas issues “Why must I light-weight candles and sing songs to celebrate a group of violent fundamentalists?” Arguing against Lukas, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg highlighted the brutality of the religious persecution explained in First and Second Maccabees, insisting that the “original meaning” of the pageant can nonetheless be comprehended as a celebration of survival. Even so, there is a developing consciousness of—if not fairly however a backlash against—the tensions between the origins of Hanukkah and its present day, business, assimilationist incarnation.

Read Extra: The Stunning Origins of 5 Hanukkah Traditions

That claimed, this discussion over the “original meaning” of Hanukkah misses the position. Religion is not a dilemma of “true” or “false”—“authentic” or “inauthentic”—which can be settled by these an attraction to origins religion is outlined, rather, by what people today do. The indicating and the information of any religious observance adjustments over time. Hanukkah has develop into a key holiday getaway simply because folks deal with it like a major holiday. A lot more importantly, it is no extra affordable to count on Jews in 2022 to share the anti-assimilationist outlook of the Maccabees than it is to hope them to resume the exercise of animal sacrifice—and, sure, there are some groups who would cheerfully embrace equally. But they are very significantly in the minority, and what’s additional, they have generally been in the minority. Were being that not the scenario, the Maccabees’ campaign versus the Greek oppressors would not have required to lengthen, as it did, to Jewish Hellenizers.

The story of the Maccabees presents the option among fanaticism and extinction as a stark binary, but it’s not. Most people in background have not comprehended their life as a option in between just one and the other. Most of us live in the in-concerning, preserving our customs and culture, but not at the price of finish isolationism, or human daily life. The techniques that the story of Hanukkah is re-advised now are a residing reminder that the victories obtained by and by extremism are, at greatest, limited-lived. Resistance to assimilation does not always seem like a pitched struggle, or the just one dim house on the street—sometimes it can be an unapologetically unattractive sweater.

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