[b:0daf6e0e67]To the Editor:
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah centers on the story of how the Maccabees, the first generation of Hasmonean Jews, fought to reclaim the Holy Temple from anti-Semitic Greeks. The menorah represents the eight days of light a small amount of oil miraculously kept the temple lantern lit during the battle. But this is not the entire story.
The Maccabees were a militant, fundamentalist minority who become outraged when other Jews began assimilating the larger Greek culture, and in particular, started forgoing circumcision. The totalitarian Hasmoneans fought their gruesome battle not against the Greeks, but against the assimilating Jews. The Maccabees won this battle, and then forced the male inhabitants of Jerusalem (and some non Jews as well), to undergo adult circumcision. Later, the Pharisees made up the miracle of the oil lamp story and the holiday became the "festival of light" in the spirit of earlier solstice rituals.
It seems to me that celebrating Hanukkah is like celebrating the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan because they (brutally) made sure that the Afghan people stayed pure to Islam and didn’t migrate to the "evil ways" of secularism. But even if some think we could learn from this story about the supposed virtue of a people struggling to keep their identity, such ends were not justified by the means we still celebrate today.
Hanukkah is not about the niceties of maintaining cultural identify. What the Maccabees were unwilling to give up was a particular brand of religious piety; a fundamentalist religious zealotry which saw genital mutilation as holy and good; a separatist, isolationist and xenophobic ethnic nationalism. These things are not only very much worth giving up, they must be if we are to be an ethical people.
barry f. seidman[/b:0daf6e0e67]