Notes on Hanukkah: The Maccabees and Zionism’s ‘invented traditions’

on 103 Comments

1. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, a Hebrew word meaning “to dedicate,” is a minor Jewish festival with no Biblical source.

2. Hanukkah is a historical holiday that commemorates the Jewish defeat of the Seleucidite Syrian Greeks in 165 BCE by a priestly family called the Maccabees. These Maccabees sought to defeat not merely the Greek occupiers, but to defeat their Jewish acolytes, the so-called “Jewish Hellenizers.”

3. Our rabbinic sources have not preserved any legitimate historical information for us. But the rabbis do set out the legal requirement of the holiday, a single prescription to light candles for eight nights, in the Tractate Shabbat of the Babylonian Talmud. This legal discussion, our only “official” Jewish source for the holiday, is in essence appended to a much larger discussion of the intricacies of lighting candles for the Sabbath.

4. Our historical source for the holiday is the apocryphal Book of Maccabees 4:52 ff. where we read of the Maccabean rededication of the Temple on 25 Kislev, the traditional date of Hanukkah.

5. The rabbis who canonized the Hebrew Scriptures at Yavneh circa 100 CE neglected to include the Book of Maccabees in their Bible. There are many ways that we might speculate on this excision of the Maccabees from the Masoretic Bible.

6. The rabbis saw the Hasmonean dynasty as usurpers to the Priestly offices in the Temple and the monarchy. The Hasmoneans were country priests who did not come from the Zadokite lineage and took it upon themselves to lead the rebellion against Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks. From the rabbinic point of view, whatever positive gains were gained by this defeat of the Seleucids was negated in the very strict literal sense of Jewish law regarding priestly succession as elucidated in the rabbinic sources.

7. We can then examine the Hasmonean lineage and its impact on the Jewish culture in Pharisaic and post-Pharisaic Judaism. The first Hasmoneans by and large stayed true to the Jewish legal traditions along the rabbinic model. But as the generations went on, the Hasmoneans continued to garner more and more power and forgot the traditions that stirred the rebellion in the first place. At the nadir of Hasmonean power, the usurpation of the throne by the Idumean pretender Herod, who was technically a member of the Hasmonean clan as he married into the family, capped off what was by then many decades of Hellenization by the Temple priests.

8. So it should be noted that the rabbis were less than thrilled with the physical specimens of the Hasmonean dynasty who populated the Temple precincts in their own day. It would then make sense for the rabbis to seek to expunge the historical record of the Maccabean revolt and the reasons for the celebration of the Hanukkah holiday.

9. But the rabbis could not eliminate a holiday which had popular roots among both the Jewish masses and the priestly elite. Hence, they developed a hagiographic tale of a cruse of oil that was found amidst the Temple relics that was the only “pure” oil that could be used to light the Menorah, Hebrew candelabrum; according to the rabbis the oil, a one-day supply, lasted for the eight-day rededication ceremonies. It is curious to note that the Temple Menorah contained seven branches while the Hanukkah Menorah contains nine.

10. The story of the cruse of oil knowingly obscured the historical underpinnings of the holiday which, in addition to the Book of Maccabees sources, appears in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities Book 12, Chapter 7. Our historical sources tell us nothing about the cruse of oil but do tell us a good deal about the Maccabees and their war against the Syrians.

11. The rabbis, as is known, were split over their own thoughts and desires about Jewish national independence. There was a faction led by R. Akiba that continued to struggle for Jewish independence while another group, led by R. Yohanan Ben Zakkai, sought to make peace with the occupiers and develop a new Jewish national life based upon study and practice of the written and oral traditions of the Hebrew faith. According to this model the Jews would live at peace with the Romans in exchange for their religious freedom and communal autonomy.

12. The Hanukkah commemoration, a clearly nationalistic holiday, a holiday that was more political than spiritual, was muted within the rabbinic liturgical calendar. The rabbis were deeply concerned with the restoration by the Maccabees of Torah study rather than political independence. The rabbinic Hanukkah is a contemplative holiday that highlights the warmth of family ties and the freedom afforded by the Maccabean revolt for Jews to live in religious freedom.

13. With the dual emergence of new trends in the modern period; Jewish nationalism in the form of Zionism and the increased attention paid by Jews to Gentile-like behaviors and assimilation, the holiday of Hanukkah, a relatively minor part of the Jewish liturgical calendar as we have said, takes on a newly significant role.

14. For the Zionists, the Maccabean revolution was an alternative historical model to the standard narrative of the rabbis. In the Macabees, the Zionists found a valid historical model on which to base their own Judean nationalism. Rather than maintaining the codes and beliefs of the Talmudic sages, the Zionists re-formed a “new” Jewish “nation” upon “invented traditions” that were deeply informed by the Maccabean paradigm.

15. In the Zionist narrative the Hellenizing Maccabees were expunged and the Nationalist Maccabees were valorized. The movement which led to Herod and the eventual destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE was blanked out, as was the paradigm shift of R. Yohanan Ben Zakkai and the emergence of a new humanistic Judaism based upon the collection of the source traditions during this period of the written and oral traditions in the forms of the Masoretic Scriptures and the Mishnah, leading to the magnum opus of this rabbinic formalism, the Babylonian Talmud.

16. Zionism saw itself as heir to the Maccabeean revolution and not to the rabbis. The quietism of the rabbis was eliminated in favor of a new aggressiveness that thought little of the religious and cultural implications of this realignment of Jewish life. Zionism was an attempt to restore national life to the Jews at the expense of the religious imperatives developed in the Diaspora by the Jewish Sages.

17. The increasing level of assimilation by Jews into Gentile society has made Hanukkah a holiday meant to match up against Christmas, a central Christian holiday that forms, with New Year’s Day, the very core of Christian self-definition. Over the past century, Christmas has taken on mammoth proportions and has served to drive the engine of modern Western consumerism.

18. Thus, Jews who felt ill at ease with their own faith turned to Hanukkah as a “twin” holiday to stand up next to Christmas.

19. So, in summation, Hanukkah is a very minor Jewish holiday that has been obscured by the way in which Judaism has used the historical source materials and by the manner in which the Jewish rabbis sought to impress their own stamp upon the conceptualization of the holiday. Modern Jews have reframed the holiday and have given it new meanings not originally inherent in either the historical or the religious sense(s) of the commemoration transforming Hanukkah into a “major” Jewish holiday.

David Shasha is the director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York. He has written articles for the Huffington Post and publishes a weekly e-mail newsletter Sephardic Heritage Update through the Center. To sign up for the newsletter visit:, and you can contact David directly at [email protected].

About David Shasha

David Shasha is the director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York. The Center publishes the weekly e-mail newsletter Sephardic Heritage Update as well as promoting lectures and cultural events. His articles have been published in Tikkun magazine, The American Muslim, the Christian Progressive and other publications. To sign up for the newsletter visit the Sephardic Heritage Google Group at

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103 Responses

  1. ehrens
    December 1, 2010, 10:20 am

    Quite true. Check out the 1906 Jewish encyclopedia and you’ll barely find any mention of Chanukah. References to the Hasmoneans then (at a time less influenced by Zionist revisionism) emphasized a Jewish civil war and not so much a rejection of Hellenism or the heroic transformation of Jews into hilltop settlers. As Shasha points out, the Zionist holiday we celebrate today is quite a departure from the original observation.

    • Don
      December 1, 2010, 11:08 am

      Ehrens…just a quick note to say…your web site is excellent. Really excellent.

  2. Susie Kneedler
    December 1, 2010, 10:25 am

    “Scholar: Hanukkah More Modest Holiday Outside U.S.”
    link to
    link to

    Dianne Ashton, professor of American Studies at Rowan University in New Jersey, talked about her research on “Morning Edition.” NPR summarizes, “The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins Wednesday and is a fairly modest holiday in Israel and many other Jewish communities around the world.

    “But Hanukkah gained a much more prominent status in the U.S. after a couple of Reform rabbis decided to make it a little more Christmas-like in the late 19th century….

    “[I]t began to be an important Jewish holiday in the second half of the 19th century when two rabbis in Cincinnati noticed their Jewish children didn’t have much connection to the synagogue.

    “The rabbis developed a new celebration for children during Hanukkah that was held in the synagogue and included giving presents. National newspapers publicized the new celebration, and it was soon being celebrated all around the country.

    “Ashton says it was a way for the Jewish community to be a part of something that was happening in America. ‘They didn’t see Christmas as something they could do easily because it’s Christian, but they did want to do something like that because it was American,’ Ashton says.”

    Phil’s also discussed such alterations in Hanukkah customs, as in here: link to

  3. Evildoer
    December 1, 2010, 10:27 am

    great post, and timely, but you refer to rabbinical judaism as if it already existed during the Macabbean revolt. It didn’t as it was only created after the destruction of the temple. The pharisee tradition may be said to have been an antecedent, but even that has to be stretched a 100 years at least back to account for the actual revolt.

    Second, you miss the most important irony of Hanuka. The Macabean revolt was a native zealot movement that rejected not just occupation but all the globalized culture of the Helenic word. If one looks for a similar modern phenomenon, the best candidates are Islamic resistance movements, from Hamas to Bin Laden (The absence of sources makes it somewhat difficult to say to which of these polar opposites the Hashmonites were more similar). Nothing could have been further from the whiteness worshiping Zionist movement, which saw national liberation AS the equivalent of helenization (normalizing the Jewish condition).

    • Psychopathic god
      December 1, 2010, 1:01 pm

      “(normalizing the Jewish condition).”

      what does this mean?
      Were Jews abnormal prior to zionism?

      • Evildoer
        December 1, 2010, 1:15 pm

        That was the general assumption of most those who wrote about European Jews in the 19th and early 20th century. From the European perspective of emerging national cultures where religious background, land and citizenship where closely linked, Jews were abnormal. That was the central claim of antisemitic discourse as well.

      • Psychopathic god
        December 1, 2010, 1:23 pm

        abnormal how? in what sense?

        did Jews create the description “abnormal ” or did non-Jews?

      • Mooser
        December 1, 2010, 1:47 pm

        “That was the central claim of antisemitic discourse as well.”

        Well, whadayuknow! Zionism embraces the essentials of anti-Semitism, and now there is Israel. Funny how that self-determination works.

      • Evildoer
        December 1, 2010, 3:02 pm
      • tree
        December 1, 2010, 2:16 pm

        Were Jews abnormal prior to zionism?,/i>

        According to the early Zionist ideology, Jews in the diaspora (or in galut, as the Zionists referred to it) were in fact abnormal and degenerate for the lack of a connection to the soil and in need of a purifying of the “race’. The early Zionists (Nordau, Ruppin, etc.) thought of Jews in racial terms, as much of the anti-semitic Social Darwinists of the day likewise did.

      • Citizen
        December 1, 2010, 4:49 pm

        Right, tree. They weren’t much on the term “ethnic.” Hasn’t DNA science come far? Wait, is there–a Jewish gene? Or is everything cultural? It’s amusing to see how far Aryan was stretched to fit into a theory back in the day.

      • Mooser
        December 1, 2010, 5:08 pm

        Thank you, tree.

      • Mooser
        December 1, 2010, 5:18 pm

        “Wait, is there–a Jewish gene?”

        C’mon Citizen, you never heard of Levi Strauss?

      • syvanen
        December 1, 2010, 11:31 pm

        Very funny Mooser, but I think most will miss the pun.

      • annie
        December 2, 2010, 1:17 am

        it wasn’t just zionism, this was a sign of the times wrt ‘racial contemporary theories’ , wiki’s phraseology for ‘scientific racism’ when referencing it’s birth in zionism.

        the late 19th century also witnessed “the scientizing of anti-Jewish prejudice,” stigmatizing Jews with male menstruation, pathological hysteria, and nymphomania.[17][18] At the same time, several Jews, such as Joseph Jacobs or Samuel Weissenberg, also endorsed the same pseudo-scientific theories, convinced that the Jews formed a distinct race.[17][18] Chaim Zhitlovsky also attempted to define Yiddishkayt (Ashkenazi Jewishness) by turning to contemporary racial theory.[19]

        on chaim’s wiki page if you scroll to the bottom it says ( includes link)

        In Yidn un Yiddishkayt (Jews and Jewishness, 1924), he sought to define the secular essence of Yiddishkayt, this time by calling forth the notions of racial contemporary theories.[2]

      • annie
        December 2, 2010, 1:41 am

        if you bother w/the scientific racism link note:

        The most influential theorists included the anthropologist Georges Vacher de Lapouge (1854–1936) who proposed “anthroposociology”; and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), who applied “race” to nationalist theory, thereby developing the first conception of ethnic nationalism. In 1882, Ernest Renan contradicted Herder with a nationalism based upon the “will to live together”, not founded upon ethnic or racial prerequisites. Scientific racist discourse posited the historical existence of “national races” such as the Deutsche Volk in Germany, and the “French race” being a branch of the basal “Aryan race” extant for millennia, to advocate for geo-political borders parallel to the racial ones.

        zionism/israel is ethnic nationalism. not so surprisingly wiki’s ethnic nationalism page is cleaned up, no reference to it’s link to scientific racism whatsoever.

      • Citizen
        December 2, 2010, 6:40 am

        Hey, I always liked Lee better.

      • Citizen
        December 2, 2010, 6:44 am

        No. The rivets Mooser conjured up were just that, riveting.

  4. bob
    December 1, 2010, 10:32 am

    link to

    Read in its historical context, however, the Hanukkah story is really about a revolt against the Hellenized Jews who had fallen madly in love with the sophisticated, globalizing superculture of their day. The Apocrypha’s texts make it clear that the battle against Hellenization was in fact a kulturkampf among the Jews themselves. Here is how the first Book of the Maccabees describes Jerusalem on the eve of civil war and revolt in the time of Antiochus (translation by Nicholas de Lange):

    At that time there were some evil-doers in Israel who tried to win popularity for a policy of integration with the surrounding nations. It was because the Jews had kept themselves aloof for so long, they claimed, that so many hardships had befallen them. They acquired a following and applied to Antiochus, who authorized them to introduce the Greek way of life. They built a Greek gymnasium in Jerusalem and even had themselves uncircumcised.

    Uncircumcision as the price of admission to the Jerusalem gym! When they were eight days old, the “sign of the covenant” had been carved in their flesh; now as young men, these Jews risked health and sacrificed sexual pleasure to “become one flesh” with the regnant beauty culture. In Judea, then, there were Jews choosing to die rather than publicly profane Jewish law—and there were Jews risking death to free themselves from the parochial constraints of that law. The historic Jewish passion to merge and disappear confronted the attested Jewish will to stand apart and persist.

    That’s the clash of Hanukkah. Armed Hasmonean priests and their comrades from the rural town of Modi’in attacked urban Jews, priests and laity alike, who supported Greek reform, like the gymnasium and new rules for governing commerce. The Hasmoneans imposed, at sword’s edge, traditional observance. After years of protracted warfare, the priests established a Hasmonean state that never ceased fighting Jews who disagreed with its rule.

    So the miracle-of-the-oil celebration of Hanukkah that the rabbis later invented covers up a blood-soaked struggle that pitted Jew against Jew. The rabbis drummed out this history with a fairy tale about a light that did not go out. But really, who can blame them—after all, what nation creates a living monument to a civil war?

    Bah, Hanukkah
    The holiday celebrates the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness.
    link to

    • Mooser
      December 1, 2010, 1:49 pm

      “after all, what nation creates a living monument to a civil war?”

      Hey, been below the Mason-Dixon line lately?

      • bob
        December 1, 2010, 3:43 pm

        Damnit, that was funny.

      • Citizen
        December 1, 2010, 4:56 pm

        Funny; they wanted-want to make all those shoeless dead rebs (who never owned slaves) amount to something. Custer’s wife fought the truth about his last stand until the 1930s; the US government awarded 24 medals of honor to those (Irish-English-German immigrant) soldiers there; a tad later; it awarded another 20 such medals to the fellow union soldiers who massacred the natives at Wounded Knee. In comparison, 4 medlas of honor were awarded to South Dakota guys in all of WW2.

    • kapok
      December 1, 2010, 8:29 pm

      The historic Jewish passion to merge and disappear…

      It’s not a passion and it doesn’t just happen to Jews. If society is open, society’s various sections naturally coalesce. Like the different varieties of dog, human beings become mongrels. If anybody else has looked out on the world and seen something else in the way of cause and effect I’d sure like to hear about it.

  5. hophmi
    December 1, 2010, 10:41 am

    Interesting interpretation.

    Let’s all remember that the quietism of the rabbis was a huge failure historically and led to millions of Jews going to their deaths like sheep during the Holocaust.

    Phil wrote last year about how great it was that Herzl had a Christmas tree. He called for continued assimilation and then wrote, inexplicably:
    “The Christmas moment reminds us that Zionism has been opposed to assimilation from the start.”

    This is, of course, nonsense; Zionism represents a kind of assimilation into the international community, the creation of a state for the Jews just as there is a state for the French, a state for the English, and so on. Non-assimilation would have been to maintain the quietist attitude of the past and allow history to happen to the Jews rather than Jews making history.

    He then calls of Jews to honor the customs of others.

    Who’s honoring our custom’s Phil? Certainly not you.

    • Shmuel
      December 1, 2010, 11:34 am

      Let’s all remember that the quietism of the rabbis was a huge failure historically and led to millions of Jews going to their deaths like sheep during the Holocaust.

      No, let’s not. What sort of “quietism”? In which historical contexts? Who exactly advocated such positions? What were the alternatives and would they have ensured better results? Could these alternatives have been identified without the benefit of hindsight? As Avrum Burg points out in Victory over Hitler, Jewish leaders have historically pursued many different strategies to ensure Jewish survival, contrary to placing all of our eggs in a single, Zionist basket (my paraphrase, of course).

      Your sweeping generalisation is certainly a far cry from Hannah Arendt’s specific, scathing condemnation of Jewish leaders (most of whom were not rabbis) who sought to placate the Nazis.

      I presume (correct me if I am wrong) that you are referring to the popular (but historically baseless and ethically questionable) Zionist idea that millions could have been saved had ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Eastern and Central Europe not been so stubborn about opposing Zionism. This “accusation” is no less preposterous or insulting than the idea put forward in some Haredi circles that the Holocaust was a punishment for Jewish assimilation and particularly religious Reform.

      • Mooser
        December 1, 2010, 2:01 pm

        Shmuel, do you argue with people about the reality of their drug induced fantasies or alchoholic rages? You can’t argue with Ziocaine, baby.

    • Mooser
      December 1, 2010, 1:56 pm

      Hophmi’s so right. If I have gotten that air-rifle, and starting shooting out the neightbors X-mas lights, I too, could have struck a great blow for Jewish tradition! Of course, they would have called the cops, and I would have run off to a kibbuitz, or better still, a settlement.

      Oh, and hophmi, those other people made their own states.
      The Zionists leaders were given one, by the more powerful colonial interests. There’s a big difference.

      • Citizen
        December 1, 2010, 5:01 pm

        Mooser, after all, didn’t they own 6% of the Mandate land, and weren’t they by the time they were given over 50% of said land, one third of the population? Fair is fair as between fellow colonial types.

    • jonah
      December 1, 2010, 4:36 pm

      I agree with you hophmi. Thanks to Zionism Jews became an active part of history, finally capable of self-determination. Before, they were the victims of the history of others, at the mercy of their arbitrariness.

      • Citizen
        December 1, 2010, 5:03 pm

        Yeah; now it’s the Palestinians who deserve to be at the mercy of Israel’s arbitrariness. Got it.

      • jonah
        December 1, 2010, 6:01 pm

        Poor poor Palestinians at the mercy of Israel’s arbitrariness. They coudn’t get it with the wars waged by the Arab countries and they couldn’t get it with terrorism. Now they try it with the pose of the victims. This is more profitable and can be continued long, since they just need to perpetuate their policy of all or niet.

        “No to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state; no to any solution that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders; no to the idea of a land swap between Israel and the Palestinians; no to any resuming peace talks with Israel unless construction in settlements and east Jerusalem is halted; no to understandings between Israel and the US regarding the future of the peace process; no to supplying Israel with US weapons; no to recognizing the Western Wall’s significance to Jews and not to a new Israeli law that requires a referendum before any withdrawal from Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.”
        link to

        This is how “victims” behave: hasta la victoria siempre!

      • Shingo
        December 6, 2010, 11:29 pm

        “They coudn’t get it with the wars waged by the Arab countries and they couldn’t get it with terrorism. ”

        Whereas war and terrorism gave the Zioniosts everything they wanted.

        I guess the Palestinians simply weren’t as good at it (ie. blood lust) as the masters.

        “This is how “victims” behave: hasta la victoria siempre!”

        From the masters of victim consciousness no doubt.

      • Mooser
        December 1, 2010, 5:10 pm

        What utter nonsense.

      • Shmuel
        December 1, 2010, 5:35 pm

        Thanks to Zionism Jews became an active part of history, finally capable of self-determination. Before, they were the victims of the history of others, at the mercy of their arbitrariness.

        What a warped view of Jewish history. The great passive void between Bar Kochba and Hovevei Zion, Betar and Tel Hai. No initiatives, no successes, no failures, no responsibility. As smoke is driven away, as wax melts before the fire.

      • eee
        December 1, 2010, 6:17 pm

        There were always successes ending in disaster, a massacre or ethnic cleansing. And always there was antisemitism or dhimmi status or both.

        When did antisemitism end in the US? 1940?

      • Mooser
        December 1, 2010, 8:10 pm

        “There were always successes ending in disaster, a massacre or ethnic cleansing.”

        How clearly you can see the future of Zionism! Amazing! Is your real name Clare Voyant?

      • Shmuel
        December 2, 2010, 2:17 am


        How well do you think the rest of humanity has fared? And to go back to your original point, do you really believe that Jews were always passive in their history, creating nothing, making no decisions beyond ‘where shall we flee to this time?’? National political independence is not the only way to be an actor in history. Minority status, and even periodic persecution (looks much worse in the time-lapse version of Jewish history I was taught in high school in Israel – jumping from tragedy to tragedy with nothing in between) does not mean merely being “the victims of the history of others”.

        The history of Europe (which is what we are really talking about, despite your reference to “dhimmis”) is also the history of its Jews, who helped shape its societies for better and for worse. According to Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, Jews were instrumental to the creation of absolute monarchies in Europe, and the eventual development of the nation-state. Jews (predominantly of Spanish and Portuguese origin) also played a crucial role in the development of international trade and colonial expansion (see also Edgar Morin, Le monde moderne et la question juive). Not to mention cultural, intellectual and religious history – both particular and shared (not always in a positive sense, but that’s history too, and no less active).

        What did Graetz and Baron write about? Just volumes and volumes of ‘look what they did to us’? The assertion that Jews ceased to play an active role in history with the fall of the Second Commonwealth, and only resumed their “rightful place” with the advent of modern political Zionism is pure mythology, designed to serve a particular ideological agenda. It also echoes certain anti-Semitic themes (see e.g. the discussion on Jewish “normality” above).

      • Mooser
        December 1, 2010, 5:39 pm

        “Before, they were the victims of the history of others, at the mercy of their arbitrariness.”

        Yeah, why can’t we have a King, like other nations?
        I think we should re-establish the Levite Priesthood, too!
        We’ll show Him we can self-determine ourselves!
        And we’ll make everybody swear Three Strong Oaths, to make sure they’re loyal to the Zionist ideal!

        Pass out the BB guns, Jonah, the War on Christmas Lights is about to begin in earnest.

      • MHughes976
        December 1, 2010, 6:10 pm

        Piterberg’s ‘Returns of Zionism’ is good on the idea of the Jewish’return to history’.

      • Shmuel
        December 1, 2010, 6:16 pm

        And Hannah Arendt (including Ron Feldman’s introduction to The Jewish Writings).

      • eee
        December 1, 2010, 6:19 pm

        If you were honest with yourself you would understand that the real question is: Till when will we have to pack our stuff and go when the Gentiles decide they don’t like us anymore?

      • andrew r
        December 2, 2010, 4:31 am

        No one at the turn of the century gave a rat’s ass about Jews under Islam. Shmuel Yavneli (Palestine Office envoy to Yemen) wanted to save Yemenite Jews from their own degeneration but even he came to accept their static inferiority with the Ashekenazim.

      • Shingo
        December 6, 2010, 11:26 pm

        “Till when will we have to pack our stuff and go when the Gentiles decide they don’t like us anymore?”

        Till the billions is arms and many more billions in loan guarantees for Israel runs out I suppose.

      • eGuard
        December 1, 2010, 6:16 pm


      • edwin
        December 1, 2010, 6:37 pm

        Torah and Rifle make a perfect Zionist.
        A Plow Makes the Furrow but the Sword Will Defend It

      • Shingo
        December 6, 2010, 11:30 pm

        “Before, they were the victims of the history of others, at the mercy of their arbitrariness.”

        So I take it you agree there was no Kingdom of Israel, no Solomon, no David, no Abraham, and no Moses?

        Good for you Jonah. It’s good to see you embracing reality.

    • Antidote
      December 1, 2010, 6:34 pm

      “Let’s all remember that the quietism of the rabbis was a huge failure historically and led to millions of Jews going to their deaths like sheep during the Holocaust.”

      Incomprehensible and unforgivable, hophmi. Should have done what the Soviet leaders did, next to others. Not a single Red Army or Allied soldier died fighting the Germans. But they had states, of course, and weapons.

      Actually, I made that up. Millions of Soviet and Allied soldiers died. And each year, especially around Christmas, we Germans celebrate how many were killed by our brave ancestors for the honor of our nation, and our customs, while we all sit around the tree.

    • RoHa
      December 1, 2010, 10:13 pm

      “the creation of a state for the Jews just as there is a state for the French, a state for the English,”

      There isn’t a state “for” the French. There is a state called France, and the people who are citizens (including Jews) are French because they are citizens of France. French Jews have a state. It’s called “France”.

      The English do not have a separate state. They are citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. English Jews are citizens of that state.

    • Citizen
      December 2, 2010, 6:50 am

      I wasn’t aware the French and English peoples as a whole lived outside France and England for a few thousand years.

    • Psychopathic god
      December 2, 2010, 2:33 pm

      “Who’s honoring our custom’s Phil? Certainly not you.”

      why is it necessary for Jewish customs to be “honored” by nonJews (as well as the reverse,)

      I’m not sure Christian require that Jews “honor” Christian customs — I certainly do not expect or demand that Jews “honor” Papal pronouncements or “honor” the praying of the Rosary, for example. I do expect Jews to refrain from interfering with Christian practices, however.

      Why would Jews require that non-Jews “honor” Jewish practices? Are they invalid without non-Jewish validation and approbation? Are Jews so insecure that they need Christian approval before they can light Hannukah candles or eat latkes?

      How about this attitude instead: “Every person at peace under his own vine and fig tree.”
      You do your thing, I do mine. You stay out of my affairs, I stay out of yours.

    • Shingo
      December 6, 2010, 11:31 pm

      “Let’s all remember that the quietism of the rabbis was a huge failure historically and led to millions of Jews going to their deaths like sheep during the Holocaust.”

      I guess there’s a lesson in that for the Palestinians.

      • yonira
        December 7, 2010, 12:05 am

        please explain your comment Shingo, you are treading on thin ice and I would like an honest explanation of what you meant.

      • Shingo
        December 7, 2010, 1:36 am

        My explanation is very simple Yonira,

        While you and the Wittys of this world want the Palestinians to walk quietly acquiesce, history has shown that there there are no rewards for surrendering to your captors.

  6. Mooser
    December 1, 2010, 10:55 am

    This is outrageous! This is exactly the sort of post-modern, revisionist, left wing, secular humorous drek which so corrupted my parents. Those poor deluded schmucks tried to tell me that Hannukah presents should only be given on the first night! And they had the umitigated apostasy to claim the presents should not be expensive. And should not be a BB gun! This, my friends, is a portrait of a great religion in it’s death throes.
    I tell you, if I had gotten that Daisy, I would be living on a settlement today. I at least would have shot out the neighbor’s Christmas lights, and struck a blow for Zionism.

    • jonah
      December 1, 2010, 4:48 pm

      Did your parents really give you the presents on the first night, Mooser? The presents are given on the last night, with all the nine candles. You missed the best of Hanukkah. I start now to understand your frustration about Judaism :))

      • Mooser
        December 1, 2010, 8:12 pm

        No, I was lying. I was too poor to afford parents. And way too poor to afford Zionism.

    • Citizen
      December 2, 2010, 6:54 am

      Gee, I heard it was written in the sky that a good Jewish American mother never deprived her son of anything he asked for–except a Daisy BB gun and a dog.

      • Mooser
        December 3, 2010, 12:16 pm

        I would have gladly settled for a cat. One lousy little cat, I could pet, and hug, and maybe kiss on the top of its little head.
        But no, cats are “unclean”.
        But I showed her! I got a schicksa instead. As I remember, she petted back!

  7. Mooser
    December 1, 2010, 11:03 am

    According to this model the elite Jews would live at peace with the Romans in exchange for their religious freedom and communal autonomy, the right to squeeze the poorer Jews themselves, and give the Romans a cut.
    There, fixed it for you. Lord, how I hate that expression “the Jews”, like we’re a big hippie commmune or something. What a multitude of sins, selfishness, corruption, insanity and downright crappy leadership it covers.

    • Colin Murray
      December 1, 2010, 1:20 pm

      According to this model the elite Jews would live at peace with the Romans in exchange for their religious freedom and communal autonomy, the right to squeeze the poorer Jews themselves, and give the Romans a cut.

      You so nailed it. Apocalypse: The Great Jewish Revolt Against Rome AD 66-73

    • Citizen
      December 1, 2010, 5:05 pm

      Sounds like the Czarist model operating a lot later, in 200 Years Together.

    • Antidote
      December 6, 2010, 10:47 pm

      “Lord, how I hate that expression “the Jews”, like we’re a big hippie commmune or something. What a multitude of sins, selfishness, corruption, insanity and downright crappy leadership it covers.”

      The worst is ‘World Jewry’. Used only by Israeli officials, Jewish and Zionist organizations, Neo-Nazis and NWO-conspiracy theorists.

      On the point of ‘insanity’ , or abandoning all reason for the sake of custom, this one would surely send any ancient Greek scrambling to move into a barrel:

      “Factory automation has caused some odd permutations of kosher law. For instance, a mashgiach is supposed to add the rennet in the cheese-making process — it’s a delicate operation that could involve mixing meat and milk if not done properly, at least in the old days when rennet could be derived from an animal. Until recently, rennet was poured into the milk mixture from a bucket. But today, in most factories you push a button and the rennet is added automatically. Still, in order to get kosher certification, a mashgiach has to push that button. I talked to one mashgiach who slept in a room at the cheese factory, and every time his alarm rang — every 40 minutes — he’d wake up, push the button, and go back to sleep. He’s so far removed from the actual physical process of making the food that the requirement seems a bit extreme.

      Many of the laws of kashrut, and the requirements of kosher food production, seem unusual or arbitrary. For a people that enjoys food so much, we sure make it hard to eat.”

      link to

  8. Mooser
    December 1, 2010, 11:05 am

    “The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins Wednesday and is a fairly modest holiday in Israel …”

    Ah yes, good old Israel, the arbiter of what’s really Jewish!

  9. marc b.
    December 1, 2010, 11:06 am

    an enlightening article by d.shasha. but . . .

    i am concerned that by linking the question of the authenticity of zionist religious tradition to the legitimacy of zionism as a political movement will necessarily lead to an intractable religious debate, more or less excluding non-jews, and confusing the underlying issue of the inequity of zionism as the basis for the israeli government.

    sorry. rambling comment from work. hope my point got through.

  10. Mooser
    December 1, 2010, 11:07 am

    “18. Thus, Jews who felt ill at ease with their own faith turned to Hanukkah as a “twin” holiday to stand up next to Christmas.”

    On the twelth day of Hannukah, my true love gave to me….

    • marc b.
      December 1, 2010, 11:21 am

      it is odd. to fight assimilation, ‘modern’ hanukkah is invented, a holiday as equally devoid of religious sentiment as the mother of all crass commercialism and the cause of much credit card debt and bankruptcy, ‘american X-mas’.

      ‘merry X-mas!!’. ‘yeah, f*ck you and take your hand off my wallet.’

      • Citizen
        December 1, 2010, 5:11 pm

        I hear hanukkah stuff is expanding the Xmas commerical bonanza.

  11. jon s
    December 1, 2010, 2:47 pm

    Mooser (and Colin), The Hasmonean revolt was against the Seleucid Empire, not the Romans…
    If you’re interested in the Great Revolt the absolute best read is Josephus: The Jewish War. There’s nothing like an eye-witness account.

    In a lighter vein, remember what they say , that sums up all Jewish holidays: “They tried to annihilate us, they failed, let’s eat!!”

    • Evildoer
      December 1, 2010, 4:35 pm

      How true, especially Yom Kippur!!!

      • Shmuel
        December 1, 2010, 4:52 pm

        And Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot and Shavuot.

        As for Hannukah, I prefer the Talmudic legend that attributes the holiday to Adam, to celebrate the fact that light begins to increase again after the winter solstice (he was apparently scared out of his wits that first year, when it kept getting darker and colder with no end in sight).

      • Mooser
        December 1, 2010, 5:14 pm

        Oy, the comic competition around here is fierce, I tell you!

    • RoHa
      December 2, 2010, 6:24 am

      “They tried to annihilate us, they failed, let’s eat!!”

      Always the victim, always “them and us”, eh?

      From my perspective it looks more like
      “Hooray! Lots of Gentiles were slaughtered on our account! Let’s eat!”

      Though, as other posters have pointed out, even this more realistic view would only apply to three of them.

      Passover – Pharaoh doesn’t want to annihilate anyone, but lots of Egyptian first born get killed by the angel.

      Hanukkah – celebrating a military victory in a sort of war of independence, over people who, it seems, were not trying to annihilate anyone.

      Purim – an actual plan for annihilation of Jews! But more than 75,000 Gentiles are slaughtered.

      Only one attempt at annihilation, but that “victim” view still rolls on.

  12. jon s
    December 1, 2010, 4:46 pm

    Here’s another possible -quasi-Marxist- take on the Hasmonean revolt:
    The Seleucids couldn’t have been defeated by one family, as stated in point #2 . The Hasmoneans led a popular struggle , supported by the peasants and the oppressed and downtrodden classes against both the foreign rulers and their allies in the Jewish urban elite. As such it was both a social revolution and a war of national liberation. Naturally, since this was, after all, the 2nd century BCE, it was all couched in religious terms. Subsequent generations of Hasmonean rulers forgot their popular roots, became Hellenized and corrupt, betraying the original ideals of the Maccabees.

    • Citizen
      December 1, 2010, 5:22 pm

      Re: “Naturally, since this was, after all, the 2nd century BCE, it was all couched in religious terms.”

      Methinks somebody resurrected said couching when nobody was looking.

      • MHughes976
        December 1, 2010, 6:19 pm

        The Hasmoneans from an early time chose the Romans and the Spartans, conservative forces, as their international objects of friendship and admiration. An early international right-wing movement, perhaps.

      • pjdude
        December 1, 2010, 9:39 pm

        kinda of true the early persian empires were actually know for their very tolerant behavior toward nonpersian peoples

      • jon s
        December 2, 2010, 10:21 am

        “Methinks somebody resurrected said couching when nobody was looking.”

        Huh? Maybe it’s just me (I’m the guy with the IQ of 2..) , but I don’t understand.

      • Citizen
        December 3, 2010, 5:33 am

        I was referring to the prevalence of anti-Muslim sentiment stirred up in the US masses, which is akin to what happened during the Crusades Era. No other religious body is asked to defend its honor and respectability by demanding its American leaders publically lambast that component of themselves that is purely evil, terrorist, etc. If the same was demanded by our public leaders of American Jews, then their leaders too would be heavily pressured on cable News TV to, e.g., dissociate themselves from armed and violent Israeli settlers.

  13. wondering jew
    December 1, 2010, 5:09 pm

    From the way that the subject of Chanuka pops out of nowhere to introduce itself in a discussion of Sabbath candles in the Tractate Sabbath, it always seemed to me that Chanuka was celebrated by the people before it was sanctioned by the rabbis. First came the custom of lighting candles and then came the Amora (rabbi of the third to fifth century C.E.?) and asked, “What is this?”

    I think the 25th of the month is borrowed/stolen from December 25th which is truly the return of the sun rather than the mercurial moon date of the 25th of Kislev.

    The fact that there is a Jewish holiday of lights at the darkest time of year is no mere coincidence or copycat, but one of the demands of the sun which rules our seasons. The three original Jewish holidays: passover, sukkot and shavuot were agricultural (and already mentioned in the book of Exodus). The two holidays added in the book of Leviticus: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were temple oriented holidays. The two post biblical holidays: Chanuka and Purim are seasonal: Chanuka as shown and Purim’s similarity to Mardi Gras, masks and drunkenness in the springtime (Northern hemisphere bias) also betrays its seasonal inclination.

  14. MHughes976
    December 1, 2010, 5:13 pm

    The Oxford History of the Biblical World gives a good, rather traditionalist, account of the Hasmonean period.
    Just to emphasise Evildoer’s remarks – the retrojection of the ‘rabbinic model’ (point 7 above) as if it defined what were already established ‘traditions’ is extremely questionable and the reference to the view taken by ‘rabbis’ of Hasmonean rulers in ‘their own day’ (point 8) is indefensible, just as drastic as a distortion anything that may be attributed to the Zionists.
    The events of that time represented a huge international faction fight. almost all concerned, Syrian, Jewish and Egyptian, being bitterly divided among themselves and ready to make alliances with factions from the other national groups. This was what opened the way to Roman intervention across the region, which the Hasmoneans often encouraged. (The habit of civil war was to spread to Rome.)
    The main losers seem to have been the Samaritans, whose principal city, Samaria, was subject to an ferocious – genocidal? – attack by the Hasmonean John Hyrcanus (135-104) around 110. His successor Alexander Jannaeus (103-76) was also a pretty violent character.
    It was by no means a simple question of Jewish orthodoxy vs. paganism.
    I’m surprised at the idea that the transition from Hasmoneans to Herodians was simply a journey downhill. From many points of view, particularly that of non-Jewish Palestinians, the Herodians may have been
    quite an improvement, less violent and more tolerant. Intra-family violence was a problem in both dynasties. There could be a good television series about them.
    Modern Hanukkah may be something of a modern invention. The modern Christmas is also a bit of a modern invention, owed chiefly to Charles Dickens, whose own religious views were probably not very orthodox.

    • Antidote
      December 1, 2010, 6:48 pm

      “Hanukkah … is a minor Jewish festival with no Biblical source.” Sounds like Christmas to me, MHughes, before the papists invented it to win over the pagans, the Protestants outlawed it and the 19th c reinvented it.

  15. joer
    December 1, 2010, 5:19 pm

    The main reason behind the resurgence of hannukah is so Jews can celebrate Christmas without getting Christ involved. That is not to deny that Zionists use hannukah for their own purposes-but they do that with everything. But even with some copying of Christmas traditions, Hannakuh still can seem pretty lame. Christians get tons of gifts, feasts, lights, parades, television specials-and we get to look at the pretty candle and eat potato pancakes. And what kind of holiday food are potato pancakes? You might as well have oatmeal as your holiday food.

    But I guess the Hannukah paradox is the Jewish dilemma of today: Either lighten up and enjoy Christmas and Hannukah or be a hard ass and make sure everything is Jewish on steroids.

    • edwin
      December 1, 2010, 6:43 pm

      I always thought that Christmas was really the celebration of Saturnalia.

      • Antidote
        December 1, 2010, 9:18 pm

        The most holy festival of the Christians was Easter, i.e. the death and resurrection, not the birth of Christ. The Romans and pagans had other preferences, celebrating the beginning of new earthly life rather than death/entry into the afterlife. The dating of Christ’s birth was essentially a Christian subversion of winter solstice celebrations like the Roman Saturnalia. Here is Pope Gregory’s famous letter to a Christian missionary (ca 600), explaining the strategy:

        “because they [the Anglo-Saxons] are wont to slay many oxen in sacrifices to demons, some solemnity should be put in the place of this, so that on the day of the dedication of the churches, or the nativities of the holy martyrs whose relics are placed there, they may make for themselves tabernacles of branches of trees around those churches which have been changed from heathen temples, and may celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting. Nor let them now sacrifice animals to the Devil, but to the praise of God kill animals for their own eating, and render thanks to the Giver of all for their abundance; so that while some outward joys are retained for them, they may more readily respond to inward joys. For from obdurate minds it is undoubtedly impossible to cut off everything at once, because he who strives to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps and not by leaps”

      • Psychopathic god
        December 2, 2010, 2:07 am

        Last Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the beginning of the Christian calendar.

        The Zoroastrian/Persian calendar makes most sense:

        In harmony with the rebirth of nature, the Iranian New Year Celebration, or NORUZ (NowRuz), always begins on the first day of spring. Nowruz ceremonies are symbolic representations of two ancient concepts – the End and the Rebirth; or Good and Evil. A few weeks before the New Year, Iranians clean and rearrange their homes. They make new clothes, bake pastries and germinate seeds as sign of renewal. The ceremonial cloth is set up in each household. Troubadours, referred to as Haji Firuz, disguise themselves with makeup and wear brightly colored outfits of satin. These Haji Firuz, singing and dancing, parade as a carnival through the streets with tambourines, kettle drums, and trumpets to spread good cheer and the news of the coming new year.

        Zoroaster was the prototype of the Axial Age sages and introduced several of the key concepts of Judaic and Christian ethics. “Good thoughts, Good words, Good deeds” was, perhaps, the first formula for a well-ordered psyche. Persians/Iranians appeal to me as the most rational of the world’s cultural/religious traditions — they begin the cycle of the year in harmony with nature; their architecture relies on al-jabr — algebra, the alignment of the bones (recall Elizabeth Warren testifying that the financial collapse was attributable to a MIS-alignment of incentives??). Iranians are surrounded by beautiful architecture in their public buildings, forming a habit of mind to take care to properly align one’s reason. Shari’ia finance seeks the best use of capital and avoids usurious or predatory forms of lending.

      • RoHa
        December 2, 2010, 6:28 am

        “Zoroaster was the prototype of the Axial Age sages ”

        Although modern dating suggests that Z lived long before the “Axial Age”.

      • Citizen
        December 2, 2010, 7:08 am

        Here’s how a German American woman remembers Christmas in small town Germany–it differs a bit from what I experienced growing up here in the USA about the same time–before the complete commercialization took over: link to

      • Antidote
        December 6, 2010, 11:03 pm

        here are some older German customs imported to the US

        link to

      • Psychopathic god
        December 6, 2010, 11:39 pm

        RoHa, yes, Zoroaster lived long before the Axial Age. Hence, “prototype.”

        1 : an original model on which something is patterned : archetype
        2 : an individual that exhibits the essential features of a later type
        3 : a standard or typical example
        4 : a first full-scale and usually functional form of a new type or design of a construction (as an airplane)

        see also Karen Armstrong, “The Great Transformation: The Beginnings of our Religious Traditions.”

    • Mooser
      December 1, 2010, 8:25 pm

      “And what kind of holiday food are potato pancakes?”

      I love ’em! And you just gave me an inspired thought: we grow, here at Moosehall, prize-winning (Blue Ribbon, Kitsap County Fair) potatos. I will ask my wife to make some latkes with them.

      • Citizen
        December 2, 2010, 7:03 am

        Can she make mashed potatoes and gravy too?

      • Mooser
        December 3, 2010, 12:21 pm

        Make it? She bathes in it, to keep her elbows supple.
        She’s got a couple of the supplest elbows you ever saw. I make her wear long-sleeved shirts, so “Mikado” fans won’t bother her in the street.

  16. jon s
    December 2, 2010, 12:54 am

    Here’s a recipe:
    link to

    • annie
      December 2, 2010, 1:46 am

      i looooove latkes. i am so bummed missing out on our annual hanukkah party this year. i swear my friend richard make the best latkes in the universe and huge endless plates of them. all you can eat all night long. ..but, my son’s birthday in seattle is where i will be!!! because he’s better than the best latkes. i’m a lucky duck.

  17. Citizen
    December 2, 2010, 7:10 am

    I bet he thinks so too, annie–and rightly so.

  18. Richard Witty
    December 2, 2010, 9:11 am

    EVERY tradition is invented. They all started somewhere.

    The content of the current tradition includes two strains:

    1. The military zealotry of the Maccabees (partially secular, assimilated, not religious perse)
    2. The metaphor of light in our souls, rekindled, burning beyond expectation in times of distress

    The character of Jewish soul is in a state of change, of dynamic tension, of dialog.

    Guilt approach to personal change does not accomplish much except more guilt. The decision to emphasize the positive approach though is an assertive and respectful approach, the appeal to ideal put into practice.

    • Richard Witty
      December 2, 2010, 9:13 am

      BOTH approaches are a component of Zionism.

      The bad of it being militarism. The good of it being liberation, assertion, and growing maturity.

      • Citizen
        December 3, 2010, 5:39 am

        I guess it’s liberating, assertive, and mature when Israel hijacks Christmas to PR cloak its on-going molestation and discrimination against Arab Christians (as well as Arab Muslims):

        link to

      • Mooser
        December 3, 2010, 12:26 pm

        “The bad of it being militarism. The good of it being liberation, assertion, and growing maturity.”

        Profound! Now get lost.

        Jeezuz, how can you put your name to completely ridiculous stuff like that? Oh well, I guess you could call the settlers and Israel “assertive” I bet you could even reduce it to three letters.

      • eljay
        December 3, 2010, 12:40 pm

        >> The good of it being liberation, assertion, and growing maturity.

        Ah, the never-ending hypocrisy of it all:

        Zionists “asserting” themselves is good. Palestinians asserting themselves is “maximalist”, “destabilizing”, “revolutionary”.

        Zionists self-(self-)determining themselves by means of a “mix of defense and offense” was/is “a good in the world”. Palestinians attempting to exercise their right to self-determination in their own lands is “maximalist”, “destabilizing”, “revolutionary”.

        Israelis electing governments to rule and represent them is good. Palestinians attempting to elect governments to rule and represent them is “maximalist”, “destabilizing”, “revolutionary”.

        Israelis defending themselves militarily against aggression and violence is brave, nobel, righteous. Palestinians defending themselves against aggression and violence – whether with weapons or unarmed and peacefully – is “maximalist”, “destabilizing”, “revolutionary”.

    • Mooser
      December 3, 2010, 12:24 pm

      “EVERY tradition is invented.”

      No! Can’t be! Even that old tradition about Israel being the homeland of the Jews? I thought that was absolute fact, confirmed by all the scientific sources, and had quotes around it!
      Gosh, all those people dying and suffering for a made-up tradition? Nah, Jews aren’t that stupid.

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