Happy Hanukkah? Thanks, but not for me

Israel/Palestine
on 0 Comments
dotz21120601small cropped big
Soliders in the Israeli military celebrate Hanukkah. (Photo: IDF Spokesperson Facebook page)

Every year since I left Israel, at about this time of year, well-meaning, polite people wish me Happy Hanukkah. But I don’t celebrate Hanukkah because it is a festival that offends my values and ethics. People tend to think that it’s some kind of a Jewish version of Christmas, but they are wrong.

The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem as part of a successful rebellion against the Greek occupiers in Judea during the period 175 to 134 BC. After Alexander’s death the Greek empire was divided and Judea became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire, which also included Syria. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the ruler of the Seleucid Empire, turned Jerusalem into a Greek-style polis, built a gymnasium, turned the Jewish temple into a temple for the Greek god Zeus, and brutally suppressed Jewish religion. Practices like reading the Torah, circumcision and observing the Sabbath were banned and punishable by death.

The rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers was run as a guerrilla war against the Seleucid army but initially involved murdering Jewish collaborators who adopted Hellenic culture and religion. This guerrilla war involved many battles and in the end Judea was able to establish itself as a Roman client state and free itself from the Greeks. During one of the battles a band of rebels was able to overcome a small Seleucid garrison guarding the temple. They took it back and rededicated it as a Jewish temple. The word Hanukkah is derived from the root of the Hebrew word ‘inaugurate’ or ‘dedicate’.

This event is celebrated in the festival of Hanukkah as a miracle from god with a few myths thrown in. One of those is the myth of the little can of consecrated olive oil that was found in a corner of the temple, and that miraculously lasted eight days allowing the Menorah to be lit for the eight days of the celebration. The Bar-Ilan University professor who taught us about Hanukkah as part of a unit on Jewish festivals said no one knows who made up this myth, but it stuck. It is told every year to little children in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world, as a way of conferring divine blessing on the successful rebellion against the Greek occupation forces.

The problem I have with Hanukkah (and many other Jewish festivals) is that I refuse to celebrate a blood bath, glorify war or justify murder of anyone, even in the name of our own liberation or survival. Many Jewish festivals are based around stories of our deliverance from oppression, and triumph over those who wished to annihilate us or just gave us a hard time. To my taste, too many of them rejoice in the killing of others and justify what we did in the name of the survival of our Jewish identity. (I don’t celebrate Passover either, because I can’t rejoice in the death of all the eldest sons of Egypt, or Purim where Hamman and his ten sons were murdered for plotting to kill the Jews.)

Growing up, I learned so many stories about how our people resisted occupation and subjugation. They weren’t always about battles and wars. Sometimes they were just about the human spirit resisting subjugation regardless of a horrible cost. One of the goriest stories, and one that as a child I found also deeply moving, was about Hanna and her seven sons who were brutally murdered one by one in front of her because she refused to eat pork. We were taught in no uncertain terms that one does anything to be free, one does not bow to occupiers and one does not tolerate oppression or any attempt to subjugate our religion, our way of life or our national character.

Given the realities of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, I find the hypocrisy of Hanukkah intolerable. It’s OK for us Jews to celebrate (hugely and spectacularly) our efforts to liberate our own people from occupation, no matter the cost, no matter who lives or dies on our side or the other. But it is not OK for the Palestinians. No-one condemns Judas Maccabeus and his rebels as terrorists. They are revered as freedom fighters with a just and even divinely decreed cause regardless of their brutality. The Greek occupiers are despised venomously in the story of Hanukkah, but no-one thinks there’s a problem with Israel being an occupier.

Of course at this point supporters of Israel are likely to say that the comparison is unfair. Israel isn’t an empire like Greece was; it is only trying to be a safe haven for the long persecuted Jewish people. But do the reasons behind occupation and colonisation matter when their evils and crimes are the same?

Another thing that is revealed in the documents behind Hanukkah is that there was horrible and bloody infighting within the Jewish community itself during that period. There was corruption and endless intrigue in relation to the position of the High Priest and his relatives, collaboration with the Greek occupiers, power, status and money. This is the kind of dynamic that happens when a people are under occupation, the power struggles that go with that and the different approaches to dealing with the occupation. It’s never pretty.

So when people criticise the Palestinian people, I stay out of it and I always think to myself, What do you expect? This is what happens when people are under occupation. They are responding as human beings have always responded under similar circumstances, including us Jews. Why should the Palestinians be held to a different standard than the Jews back then, or the French during the Nazi occupation, India during British colonisation, the Scots or any other occupied group throughout human history?

The problem is never with the response; it is always with the occupation. Colonisers and occupiers are not benign. They are cruel and exploitative, and there is nothing the colonised and occupied can do that will ever be right. No occupier ever tolerates any resistance, peaceful or violent. They crush them both because they interrupt and threaten the agenda of the occupier. Occupied people can do nothing right when dealing with a force bent on taking what they have and destroying them if they get in the way of it.

I used to like Hanukkah as a child because it’s fun for children. You get to light pretty candles, sing really nice, albeit gory, traditional songs (Maoz Tzur is positively shocking if you know what the words mean), and eat yummy sweet, fatty food, like fried potato patties (latkes) and jam doughnuts (sufganiot). (Both of these are traditional Eastern European dishes, not really Jewish as such, but Israel has always been dominated by Ashkenazi culture.) So when I gave up all of this years ago, it was a little sad, but it’s been a worthwhile sacrifice to make so I can live according to my ethics.  

It’s time for Jewish supporters of Israel around the world, and in particular for Israeli Jews, to wake up and see the terrible irony of celebrating Hanukkah while Israel occupies the Palestinians. Why can’t they see that they are playing the part of the Greeks and that the Palestinians are responding the same way the Jewish rebels did back then? If Jewish culture glorifies and celebrates our rebellious and uncompromising spirit, why does it condemn that same spirit in others?

Avigail Abarbanel was born and raised in Israel. She moved to Australia in 1991 and now lives in Scotland. She works as a psychotherapist in private practice and is an activist for Palestinian rights. Avigail is the editor of Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012). Her website.

About Avigail Abarbanel

Avigail Abarbanel was born and raised in Israel. She moved to Australia in 1991 and now lives in Scotland. She works as a psychotherapist in private practice and is an activist for Palestinian rights. She is the editor of Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012).

Other posts by .


Posted In:

No Responses Yet

  1. LanceThruster
    December 10, 2012, 11:47 am

    Thank you, Avigail, for deconstructing the symbolism behind these traditions. I have always felt that the Noah’s Ark story was an ironic theme for baby nurseries as it celebrates the intentional drowning of innocent babies, puppies, and kittens as supposedly punishment for humanities failings (though not the failings of the Creator in the first place).

    • RoHa
      December 10, 2012, 7:43 pm

      Both the Old and New Testaments are full of horrible stories. Thomas Paine was right on the money when he said:

      “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon that the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

      Paine used the term “Bible” to mean the OT, but the NT is hardly better. He expressed his contempt and disgust for the whole lot many times. One of my favourite of his lines is “he whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum.”

      • LanceThruster
        December 12, 2012, 12:10 pm

        “[T]he whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum.”

        xD

      • Rizla
        December 20, 2012, 3:23 am

        I have to get the book where he says this, what’s the title?

    • MarionL
      December 10, 2012, 9:57 pm

      Tomorrow, on the fourth night of Hanukkah I will light my Hanukkah candles in honor of Palestinians and Israelis who are seeking justice and peace, including those who disagree with me.

      Salaam/Shalom/Peace,

      Marion/Miriam/Maryam

      • Mooser
        December 12, 2012, 1:04 pm

        “Tomorrow, on the fourth night of Hanukkah I will light my Hanukkah candles in honor of Palestinians and Israelis who are seeking justice and peace, including those who disagree with me.”

        Instead of burning Palestinian olive trees or fields? Wow Marion, that is so nice of you. And no doubt the heat from your Hanukkah candles will scorch those who do!

        Yes, sir, you can always tell those who have been persecuted. They get this feeling, which they can’t shake, that they’re never doing enough. Heart-breaking to see.

  2. sardelapasti
    December 10, 2012, 12:02 pm

    “The rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers was run as a guerrilla war against the Seleucid army but initially involved murdering Jewish collaborators who adopted Hellenic culture and religion. ”

    Nice to hear someone concur that these guys were nothing but a possibly even more fundamentalist, repellent version of Al Qaida.

    • pabelmont
      December 10, 2012, 7:57 pm

      The Zionist-terrorist (not all Zionists) of (I suppose) 1945-48 (Menachem Begin was an exemplar) also involved terrorism (e.g., for fund-raising) against Palestinian Jews. Read the 1948 Einstein letter to the NYT warning against Menachem Begin’s Herut party in this light. I quote:

      During the last years of sporadic anti-British violence, the IZL and Stern groups inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community. Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods, beatings, window-smashing, and wide-spread robberies, the terrorists intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute.

    • RoHa
      December 10, 2012, 9:13 pm

      If I remember correctly, it was the Maccabeans who forcibly converted Galilee to Judaism.

      • Mooser
        December 14, 2012, 1:50 pm

        “If I remember correctly, it was the Maccabeans who forcibly converted Galilee to Judaism.”

        “Eat this, Galilean dog, or die by a Maccabee sword!”

        “Eat that? I can’t eat that, it’s got a hole in the middle!”

        “Yea verily, it has a hole in the middle, but there’s lot’s nice schmear, c’mon, just one bite. It beats decapitation, any day.”

        I doubt force was needed after the first bite, but everybody knows I’m an exceptionalist.

  3. seafoid
    December 10, 2012, 12:14 pm

    I always thought Sukkot was the most hypocritical Israeli holiday. 40 days in the desert in a tent versus 67 years in a refugee camp in Gaza and so few Jews make the connection.

    • yrn
      December 10, 2012, 2:40 pm

      Seafoid
      Your Dialectic Mix of the Jewish, Isreal, Zionism comes out……. Sukkot is a Jewish Holiday, So for you this Jewish Holiday is hypocritical ……
      when you come to mock a religion, think before you jump with words.
      WHat are the number of days year got to do with it and if so correct your numbers its 40 YEARS in the desert in a tent and not 40 days.

      I bet you will delete this comments ………. as usual.

      • seafoid
        December 10, 2012, 2:56 pm

        40 years then. Jews marking the injustice of 40 years in temporary accommodation while 5 million Palestinian refuges are still stuck in camps and will never be allowed back to their homeland is the height of hypocrisy. And what Israel systematically does to Gaza is just that hypocrisy fried in schmalz.

      • Mooser
        December 10, 2012, 2:59 pm

        “when you come to mock a religion, think before you jump with words.”

        Should have thought of that before you dragged Judaism into colonial politics. Sorry “yrn” once you’re a state, people can say anything they want about you, and you’ve tied the religion directly to the state. And once you start killing people on the basis of what are posited as religious needs, people are gonna say some really bad stuff.
        But if you think it’s worth it, I can’t stop you, but please, a little less nonsense about how much you value the Jewish religion. It’s not Seafoid who drags it through the mud.

  4. pabelmont
    December 10, 2012, 12:14 pm

    Thanks, Avigail. Beautiful essay.

  5. Shmuel
    December 10, 2012, 12:47 pm

    Given the realities of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, I find the hypocrisy of Hanukkah intolerable. It’s OK for us Jews to celebrate (hugely and spectacularly) our efforts to liberate our own people from occupation, no matter the cost, no matter who lives or dies on our side or the other. But it is not OK for the Palestinians. No-one condemns Judas Maccabeus and his rebels as terrorists. They are revered as freedom fighters with a just and even divinely decreed cause regardless of their brutality. The Greek occupiers are despised venomously in the story of Hanukkah, but no-one thinks there’s a problem with Israel being an occupier….

    It’s time for Jewish supporters of Israel around the world, and in particular for Israeli Jews, to wake up and see the terrible irony of celebrating Hanukkah while Israel occupies the Palestinians. Why can’t they see that they are playing the part of the Greeks and that the Palestinians are responding the same way the Jewish rebels did back then? If Jewish culture glorifies and celebrates our rebellious and uncompromising spirit, why does it condemn that same spirit in others?

    So the real problem is with the hypocrisy and the irony, and with what the Zionist movement and the State of Israel have made of the Jewish solstice festival (and all the other holidays, traditions and concepts they have “nationalised”). Celebrate resistance, freedom, light, the human spirit, salvation and even miracles (if you feel so inclined) – for Palestinians and all mankind. And if you have a little fun and enjoy some fire ritual in the process, no harm done.

  6. Shmuel
    December 10, 2012, 1:30 pm

    One of those is the myth of the little can of consecrated olive oil that was found in a corner of the temple, and that miraculously lasted eight days allowing the Menorah to be lit for the eight days of the celebration. The Bar-Ilan University professor who taught us about Hanukkah as part of a unit on Jewish festivals said no one knows who made up this myth, but it stuck.

    Probably someone looking for a way to incorporate popular fire rituals with pagan roots into Jewish tradition. Or perhaps someone who felt uncomfortable with some of the holiday’s violent, military and decidedly unspiritual (blasphemous?) messages – a position eloquently expressed in the traditional reading from the Prophets for the Sabbath of Hanukah: “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying: Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

    Needless to say, it is precisely the “might and power” aspect of Hanukah that has been exalted by the Zionist movement and the State of Israel.

    • Mooser
      December 10, 2012, 2:52 pm

      “One of those is the myth of the little can of consecrated olive oil that was found in a corner of the temple, and that miraculously lasted eight days allowing the Menorah to be lit for the eight days of the celebration.”

      It can’t be a myth, it just can’t! Do you have any idea how that story has sustained me when the ‘reserve’ light goes on, or the needle dips below “E”?
      I always believed we got much better mileage.
      Oh well, another bit of my Jewish exceptionalism down the tubes.

    • Mooser
      December 10, 2012, 2:54 pm

      “Probably someone looking for a way to incorporate popular fire rituals with pagan roots into Jewish tradition.”

      Hey, Shmuel, don’t knock it! Convinced quite a number of my friends to vote yes on I-502 on that basis.

    • pabelmont
      December 10, 2012, 8:59 pm

      I am not educated in Jewish texts, and so do not know the origin, but the very orthodox and very anti-Zionist Neturei Karta folks say, roughly, that the project (Zionism) of ingathering of Jews to Zion was supposed to be God’s project, not man’s, and indeed was so much God’s sole domain that mankind (Jews) were forbidden to do anything to bring it about, forbidden even to pray for it to happen. OK, sounds a lot like: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). I will of course confess to being confused, since “Lord of Hosts” sounds like a sort of patron saint of armies. The problem being, which shell is the pea under: Jews do it by armed force or leave it to God to do.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        December 17, 2012, 9:12 am

        The potential for something like Zionism was always present in messianic Judaism. The closest things got to realization of that potential was in 1666, when the majority of Jews accepted Sabbetai Zvi of Smyrna as the messiah (partly because of the magical connotations of the number 666). If Sabbetai had acted decisively at the right moment he might have raised enough money and armed men to lead an invasion of Palestine. For that he would have had to believe firmly that he was the messiah, or else be cynical enough to pretend that he did. But he was not sure and awaited further signs from God, giving the Ottoman authorities the time they needed to thwart him. As a result, the Palestinians were left in peace for another two centuries or so.

      • Shmuel
        December 17, 2012, 11:27 am

        Shlomo Sand, in The Invention of Eretz Yisrael writes the following about Sabbatianism (my translation):

        Sabbatianism was not a proto-Zionist movement and it was certainly not a nationalist one, although a part of Zionist historiography has incessantly tried to portray it as such. More than uprooting Jews from their places of origin in order to gather them in the Holy Land, Shabbetai Zevi sought global spiritual dominion. Many rabbis however, feared that Sabbatianism might arouse Jews to actually go to Jerusalem, thereby committing the sin of forcing the Messianic Age, while also undermining fragile Jewish existence throughout the world.

        Zionism is a modern nationalist movement that could not have existed before the invention of modern nationalism – prior religious movements, beliefs and longings notwithstanding. In the Modern Era (at least until the late ’30s), virtually all streams of Judaism, both progressive and reactionary (naturally) vigorously opposed Zionism on ethical, theological and pragmatic grounds.

  7. eljay
    December 10, 2012, 1:44 pm

    >> Colonisers and occupiers are not benign. They are cruel and exploitative, and there is nothing the colonised and occupied can do that will ever be right. No occupier ever tolerates any resistance, peaceful or violent. They crush them both because they interrupt and threaten the agenda of the occupier. Occupied people can do nothing right when dealing with a force bent on taking what they have and destroying them if they get in the way of it.

    And, yet, for some reason, Zio-supremacists – based on their use of “logic” and “common sense” – insist that an oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist state, born of terrorism and ethnic cleansing, and engaged in an 60+ years, ON-GOING and offensive (i.e., not defensive) campaign of aggression, oppression, theft, colonization, destruction and murder, is a good, just, moral and benevolent thing.

    The Zio-supremacist mind is a scary place…

    • pabelmont
      December 10, 2012, 8:04 pm

      Scary? So is the political power that keeps this monster IMMUNE and IMPUNE. AIPAC runs the USA with a ring in its nose like a tamed bull going — who knows? to the sword in a bull-fight.

  8. OlegR
    December 10, 2012, 3:48 pm

    So Mondoweiss is now attacking Jewish holidays ?

    Way to go Philip.

    • Woody Tanaka
      December 10, 2012, 5:44 pm

      “So Mondoweiss is now attacking Jewish holidays ?”

      Complains the Russian who spent the weekend attacking the basis of Christian theology…

      • OlegR
        December 10, 2012, 7:52 pm

        MW opened the door with that postcard i just walked through it.
        And didn’t MW change it’s policy

        /because it showed that a significant part of the community wants to talk about Israeli policy in the context of Jewish history and Jewish identity, and do so in a highly critical manner. Clearly a lot of people, including many in our community, want to have these conversations and regard them as necessary to resolving the Middle East conflict. We don’t. We are tired of serving as a platform for this discussion, including in the comment section, and don’t see the conversation as a productive one. From here on out, the Mondoweiss comment section will no longer serve as a forum to pillory Jewish culture and religion as the driving factors in Israeli and US policy./

        Anyway
        I guess Jewish culture is on the menu again on this site.

      • Donald
        December 12, 2012, 7:32 am

        “I guess Jewish culture is on the menu again on this site.”

        Grow up. Some Christians criticize anti-semitic elements in their own tradition–it’s why I agreed with Marion in the other thread about why that postcard wasn’t such a good idea. So why can’t people examine aspects of Judaism and ask if certain elements need to be challenged?

        And there’s a difference between criticizing aspects of a religion/culture and demonizing it. Some people have trouble telling the difference–some demonize while others regard any criticism at all as demonizing. I think Phil and Adam were reacting to the Gilad Atzmon style of criticism, which goes for demonization. You are on the other extreme, regarding any criticism of your side as inherently malicious.

      • Woody Tanaka
        December 12, 2012, 11:18 am

        “MW opened the door with that postcard i just walked through it.”

        Nonsense. Nothing in that card opened the door to the historiocity of Jesus. It was a comment on current events.

        “And didn’t MW change it’s policy”

        Yes. And apparently you didn’t read it or comprehend what you read.

      • American
        December 12, 2012, 2:25 pm

        “OlegR says:

        MW opened the door with that postcard i just walked through it.
        And didn’t MW change it’s policy

        /because it showed that a significant part of the community wants to talk about Israeli policy in the context of Jewish history and Jewish identity, and do so in a highly critical manner.”>>>>>>>

        In my experience of 11 years of looking at discussions on I/P is was Jews or Zios themselves who always introduced Jewish history and identity..that was their ‘defense’ of Israel….their history, their victimization/suffering, the ancient tribe, anti semitism and on and on.
        IOW, they use their ‘history” to claim Israel’s ” right to do whatit does” because of it’s Jewishness.
        This site has more of it because it is a Jewish identity type site about I/P.

        But when I look at other I/P comment battles on the net I don’t see non Jews getting into all the Jewish history or religion and etc..they are focused on the present day Israel problem. On the other hand …the zio commenter’s on the those sites ‘always’ get into Jewish history and yada, yada on about it.
        It’s also been my experience that Israel activist do this deliberately because …1) they have nothing else to claim as a defense and 2) they want to drive any rational debate into the toilet and get it off specific topics or truths so they can claim it’s all about people hating the Jewish state because of Jews.
        I have seen too many to count threads on sites ruined by zio bots provoking and insulting other commenters into fights so when someone finally hurls back and tell them to get stuffed they can call them anti semites.

      • Rizla
        December 20, 2012, 3:11 am

        Last paragraph particularly great, American. They have nothing else in defense; they want to drive rational debate (and thought) into the toilet. The phenomenon of Hasbara is, to my knowledge, unique in this world — there’s that wonderful handbook for it, for crying out loud, which the zionist bots follow, hmm, religiously. A great strength of this site lies in its oft-Jewish identity and its toleration of oft-bewildered gentile commentators. Furthermore, they actually moderate here, all too rare on the ‘net. Moderation takes a lot of time and no small amount of passion; it’s a thankless task if you’ve ever done it. I think the ratio here of opinions on the I/P conflict is, on the whole, pretty damned accurate.

    • kalithea
      December 10, 2012, 7:35 pm

      No, you got it all wrong. This is about: “The truth shall set you free.”

      TRY IT SOMETIME!

    • amigo
      December 11, 2012, 9:10 am

      “So Mondoweiss is now attacking Jewish holidays ?”Oleg

      How so??

      Seems to me Mondoweiss is simply giving space for a contributor to have “her” say.

      By last count , you have had 1139 opportunities to peddle your agenda.

      • Rizla
        December 20, 2012, 3:40 am

        “By last count , you have had 1139 opportunities to peddle your agenda.”

        Laughing out Loud, for real, Checkmate.

    • Mooser
      December 12, 2012, 1:20 pm

      “So Mondoweiss is now attacking Jewish holidays ?”

      Yes, anybody who contributes over $60.00 gets a small, one-use fire extinguisher. For a pledge of monthly support they send you the full eight! And a special Hanukkah smoke alarm which plays Adam Sandler when it senses fire!
      Yup, when the shamash hits the last candle, you bring out the Kidde!
      And for those in a Jewish work environment, there’s instructions on re-adjusting the sensitivities on the overhead fire sprinklers. Show ‘em that bringing ethnic supremacy to work is all wet!

  9. vongoychik
    December 10, 2012, 4:04 pm

    I have noticed some of the ways in which the current Israeli administration has subtly tried to “humanize” its image. This article is an example: three pretty “soldiers.” I have noticed that almost all the stock photos of IDF soldiers now show pretty young women. They’ve learned this from American industrial advertising and public relations, where a company with an image problem always uses a female spokesperson.

    Another semantic trick was referring constantly to the captured soldier (Shalit?) as having been “kidnapped.” He wasn’t the Lindbergh baby, he was a soldier.
    Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered. There is a difference.

  10. American
    December 10, 2012, 4:11 pm

    Avigail is brilliant, everyone should visit her web site for some of her other essays.

    • Shingo
      December 11, 2012, 7:35 am

      Everyone should also listen to the inteview she did with Hzal Kahn, where she analyzes the psycology of Israel.

  11. Henry Norr
    December 10, 2012, 4:34 pm

    Nice essay. Just want to point out that Ms. Abarbanel’s parenthetical reference to Purim doesn’t tell the half of that story: yes, as she notes, the Jews got Haman and his ten sons killed, then hanged for plotting to kill the Jews. But according to the Book of Esther (9:12), they also killed another 500 other people – all “terrorists,” no doubt – in the Persian capital, Shushan (Susa). And when the Persian king Ahashuerus asked Esther what else she wanted, she requested and got permission to continue the killing the next day, during which the Jews killed another 300 people in Shushan (9:15) and 75,000 in the provinces (9:16).

    And then they had a feast…

  12. DICKERSON3870
    December 10, 2012, 5:02 pm

    RE: “We [Jewish Israelis] were taught in no uncertain terms that one does anything to be free, one does not bow to occupiers and one does not tolerate oppression or any attempt to subjugate our religion, our way of life or our national character.” ~ Avigail Abarbanel

    ● NOTE THE STUNNING HYPOCRISY – “Bibi’s Father’s Answer to the ‘Arab Problem’: Hang’ Em in the Town Square”, By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 4/04/09

    [EXCERPTS] Imagine, if you will, if Barack Obama’s real father was Rev. Jeremiah Wright and imagine, if you will, that Wright gave an eight-page interview to USA Today the week of Obama’s inauguration. Then you can imagine the “interest” with which such a ‘Maariv’ interview with Bibi Netanyahu’s father was met in Israeli circles.
    Noam Sheizaf, who works for Maariv, has translated portions of the interview . . .
    . . . And without further ado, I give you, Ben Zion Netanyahu, the father of the man:
    [EXCERPTS] . . . • Question: You don’t like the Arabs, to say the least.
    Benzion Netanyahu: “The Bible finds no worse image than this of the man from the desert. And why? Because he has no respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as he pleases.
    The tendency towards conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetuate war.”. . .
    . . . • Question: Is there any hope of peace?
    Benzion Netanyahu: …No…The two states solution doesn’t exist. There are no two people here. There is a Jewish people and an Arab population… there is no Palestinian people, so you don’t create a state for an imaginary nation… they only call themselves a people in order to fight the Jews.”
    • Question: So what’s the solution?
    Benzion Netanyahu: “No solution but force… strong military rule. Any outbreak will bring upon the Arabs enormous suffering. We shouldn’t wait for a big mutiny to start, but rather act immediately with great force to prevent them from going on…
    If it’s possible, we should conquer any disputed territory in the land of Israel. Conquer and hold it, even if it brings us years of war. We should conquer Gaza, and parts of the Galil, and the Golan. This will bring upon us a bloody war. . .” . . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to richardsilverstein.com

    ● P.S. ALSO SEE: “The late Benzion Netanyahu’s appalling views on Arabs”, By Larry Derfner, +972 Magazine, 4/30/12
    LINK – link to 972mag.com

    • DICKERSON3870
      December 10, 2012, 5:04 pm

      ● P.P.S. ANOTHER EXCERPT FROM THE 2009 ‘MAARIV’ INTERVIEW WITH BENZION NETANYAHU (TAKEN FROM DERFNER’S +972 ARTICLE ):

      Prof. Netanyahu: The Jews and the Arabs are like two goats facing each other on a narrow bridge. One must jump to the river – but that involves a danger of death. The strong goat will make the weaker one jump … and I believe the Jewish power will prevail.

      Q: What does the Arabs’ “jump” entail?

      A [Prof. Netanyahu]: That they won’t be able to face [anymore] war with us, which will include withholding food from Arab cities, preventing education, terminating electrical power and more. They won’t be able to exist, and they will run away from here. But it all depends on the war, and whether we will win the battles with them.

      SOURCE – link to 972mag.com

  13. lysias
    December 10, 2012, 5:15 pm

    Another similarity between the Seleucid Empire then and Israel now: the Seleucid Empire then thought of itself, and Israel now thinks of itself, as representing modern, progressive civilization. Which is how the Seleucids justified to themselves their oppressive acts then, and how Israel now justifies to itself its own oppressive acts.

    • RoHa
      December 10, 2012, 7:51 pm

      “Seleucid Empire then thought of itself … as representing modern, progressive civilization.”

      Hellenistic civilization was progressive and sophisticated compared with the Palestine of the time. (Perhaps not a lot more progressive than the Persians or more sophisticatd than the Egyptians, mind you.)

    • pabelmont
      December 10, 2012, 8:12 pm

      The USA is no slouch at magnified self-regard, either. And thus our people have lost the ingrained suspicion we should hold of those who’ve seized power of a bloated military and act according to the time-honored principle, “What’s the use of having a bloated military if you don’t use it?” We are bankrupted by this awful military, and these debts are used as arguments to impoverish the poor and middle class, and the dance goes on. We are merely bankrupted: much of the reset of the world is terrorized, trounced, murdered, subjected to tyrants, etc., by this same militarty, all in the name of “democracy” (and, of course, capitalism).

  14. Kris
    December 10, 2012, 5:21 pm

    Thank you for this outstanding essay!

  15. W.Jones
    December 10, 2012, 6:32 pm

    Avigail,

    Thank you for your introspection. You wrote: “Maoz Tzur is positively shocking if you know what the words mean”
    Translation: link to en.wikipedia.org
    Yes, I don’t like that it seems to describe too happily how other people died in bad ways. Interestingly, the famous song “Rock of Ages” was based on this and removed the descriptions of bad deaths.

    I think Hanukkah and Passover are nice, and represent the people’s liberation. But although Purim is in the Bible and describes the chosen people’s protection from attempted genocide, I find Purim a very troubling story because it celebrates vengeful massacres of Amalekites and Persians, who themselves (fortunately) did not actually massacre the chosen people.

    Regards.

    • Avigail Abarbanel
      December 12, 2012, 7:09 am

      Agreed. I didn’t have room to talk too much about Purim. But it’s an appalling festival that I used to absolutely adore as a child.

      The way these festivals are presented in Israel is as benign, happy occasions when good things happened to our people, salvation in particular. I didn’t understand the fact that I was celebrating the murder of many people and that we must be sad rather than happy if killing others is what it took to save ourselves. Ashamedly, I only became aware of this meaning as an adult.

      The same happened to the lyrics of Maoz Tzur. As an adult I was shocked by how casually, for so much of my life, I accepted the words: “לעת תכין מטבח מצר המנבח” Translation: “When you prepare a slaughter of the barking oppressor…” This is what children are actually singing.

      To be fair these kinds of attitudes exist in many cultures. Years ago I refused to sing ‘Men of Harlech’ when I was at the Macquarie University choir and we were supposed to perform it at the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ at the Sydney Opera House. No one in the choir understood me and the choir mistress argued with me that we were just performers and didn’t need to think about what we were singing! She actually said that. The only one who came and stood by me was Ian (Barnes) who is now my husband of 15 years. He could see how isolated I became when I protested about the song, and without thinking came over to support me. It was very moving.

      I have to say I agree with all the comments about Purim. Cheers.

      • W.Jones
        December 12, 2012, 11:54 am

        Dear Avigail,

        I appreciate your response. I have a problem or difficulty with Purim too, as a Christian, because we consider the book of Esther to be divinely inspired. And the book of Esther portrays the cruel, excessive punishment positively. And it’s a common problem too for me, because the Old Testament has alot of similar things, saying to cane children and stone criminals, for example.

        The general way Christianity deals with these passages is to admit that God instructed those things, but that instead we should execute forgiveness just as we seek the forgiveness of God who promised to viciously punish us, His people. This way of forgiveness and the justification for this path was laid out several ways by Jesus in the gospels.

        Nevertheless, I find it challenging to deal with the teaching that God had taught to do things that I find excessive in the first place. Although responding with the same degree of evil makes sense to me, and I would say that unfortunately it is a typical way people try to act regardless of their religion. Alternately, there are some people who appear to avoid revenge altogether, like you. As you pointed out, this can be emotionally moving, and give a feeling like that of the slavetrader who rejected slavery on a slave ship and wrote a song about it.

        Regards.

      • Mooser
        December 12, 2012, 12:52 pm

        “The general way Christianity deals with these passages is to admit that God instructed those things, but that instead we should execute forgiveness just as we seek the forgiveness of God who promised to viciously punish us, His people. This way of forgiveness and the justification for this path was laid out several ways by Jesus in the gospels.”

        You mean there’s a way I can escape a horrible eternity after I die? I can avoid that eternity of punishment (people tell me it’s really hell) by embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
        Good Lord (and I mean it this time!) why didn’t you tell me this before? To think escaping this misguided and misbegotten mishegos was so easy!
        Thank you , W. Jones, for coming here and doidng this important missionary work.
        Why, if everybody in the ME became Christians, we wouldn’t have all the problems, would we?

        And to think that Christians have been demonstrating the ideals of the Gospels right in front of me all my life, and I refused to see it til now. Thank God God forgives!

      • W.Jones
        December 12, 2012, 7:19 pm

        I meant to say: “…forgiveness of God who promised to viciously punish us, His people if we reject Him and do evil.”

      • Mooser
        December 14, 2012, 2:08 pm

        I meant to say: “…forgiveness of God who promised to viciously punish us, His people if we reject Him and do evil.”

        You mean like rejecting the Savoir, an evil made all the more obstinate when we reflect that He came from among you!? Yeoow, I get the heeby-jeebies when I remember God is just! No getting out from under that burden. 2,000 years of obstinancy, what do they give you for that?

      • W.Jones
        December 12, 2012, 12:06 pm

        Avigail,

        Not to repeat too much the message I just submitted, I find the redemptive aspect of Purim to be positive, as the people really were protected from persecution by Esther’s intervention. As such, she could be a redemptive figure, and perhaps for this reason the rabbis related her to the “star” in the Messianic Psalm 21/22.

        But like you I find it troubling that the other half of that particular event of protection was cruel killing and genocide.

        Regarding “Maoz Tzur” and “Men of Harlech”, I don’t find offensive the specific sentence mentioning “slaughtering the oppresser” in the former and the dead of the armies lying in the latter. But I find it very bad that the former song describes in a positive way the bad ways in which people are killed.

        OK, it makes sense that two armies can fight and as a matter of self defense the stronger, oppressing army gets killed. But I would reject for example someone writing a poem that it was “cool” how a person died in a gas chamber or electric chair.

        Fight the good fight, dear one.

  16. Sergeiy
    December 10, 2012, 6:36 pm

    About Purim, Abigail, you’re being way too nice. This holiday, more than any other, celebrates a real, ruthless, bloodbath, with 75,800 casualties in three days (these are meticulously counted in the biblical text, though it’s probably a count of adult men killed only). This nice merry holiday is explicitly said to commemorate this massacre. Here are the relevant verses from the Book of Esther:

    9:1 Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s commandment and his decree drew near to be put in execution, in the day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to have power over them, (though it was turned to the contrary, that the Jews had rule over them that hated them;) 9:2 The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt: and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them fell upon all people. 9:3 And all the rulers of the provinces, and the lieutenants, and the deputies, and officers of the king, helped the Jews; because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them. 9:4 For Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame went out throughout all the provinces: for this man Mordecai waxed greater and greater. 9:5 Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them. 9:6 And in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men. 9:7 And Parshandatha, and Dalphon, and Aspatha, 9:8 And Poratha, and Adalia, and Aridatha, 9:9 And Parmashta, and Arisai, and Aridai, and Vajezatha, 9:10 The ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, slew they; but on the spoil laid they not their hand. 9:11 On that day the number of those that were slain in Shushan the palace was brought before the king. 9:12 And the king said unto Esther the queen, The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the palace, and the ten sons of Haman; what have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? now what is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: or what is thy request further? and it shall be done. 9:13 Then said Esther, If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do to morrow also according unto this day’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows. 9:14 And the king commanded it so to be done: and the decree was given at Shushan; and they hanged Haman’s ten sons. 9:15 For the Jews that were in Shushan gathered themselves together on the fourteenth day also of the month Adar, and slew three hundred men at Shushan; but on the prey they laid not their hand. 9:16 But the other Jews that were in the king’s provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives, and had rest from their enemies, and slew of their foes seventy and five thousand, but they laid not their hands on the prey, 9:17 On the thirteenth day of the month Adar; and on the fourteenth day of the same rested they, and made it a day of feasting and gladness. 9:18 But the Jews that were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day thereof, and on the fourteenth thereof; and on the fifteenth day of the same they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness. 9:19 Therefore the Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns, made the fourteenth day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions one to another.

  17. piotr
    December 10, 2012, 6:49 pm

    No holiday approaches Purim. A friend told me that she was reading Purim story to her little daughter, so I asked if she mentioned “Throughout the empire 75,000 of the Jews’ enemies are killed (Esther 9:16). On the 14th, another 300 are killed in Shushan. No spoils are taken.” Not to mention that according to some authorities, the Amelek of the book of Esther are actually Armenians, hence spitting at Armenians is sometimes added to the celebration.

    The nice thing about plague of Exodus, massacres of Joshua and massacres of the Book of Esther is that they most probably never took place. Hanukkah is a very nice holiday and any deprecations that latkes are not really Jewish are weird. Jews are as entitled to potatoes, tomatoes and chocolate (Hanukka gelt) as anyone. And of course to beets.

    • RoHa
      December 10, 2012, 7:53 pm

      “hence spitting at Armenians is sometimes added to the celebration.”

      But anti-Semitism among Armenians is just a result of their mental aberrations.

      • Mooser
        December 14, 2012, 2:10 pm

        “hence spitting at Armenians is sometimes added to the celebration.”

        But I don’t know any Armenians! Can I hire one, if I supply Totes?

    • Rizla
      December 11, 2012, 3:07 am

      Furthermore, the revelers are supposed to be drunk while they’re celebrating, right?

      “A person is obligated to become inebriated on Purim until he doesn’t know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.” (Talmud Megillah 7b)”

      Piotr, keep the info flowing!

  18. kalithea
    December 10, 2012, 7:24 pm

    BRAVO! Integrity is so refreshing.

  19. OlegR
    December 10, 2012, 7:43 pm

    חנוכה שמח. לכל מי שחוגג.

  20. PauldeRooij
    December 11, 2012, 4:02 am

    It gets worse. During such Jewish religious holidays several Palestinian towns and villages are put under lock-down, and transport links are blocked. Celebrating Hanukka in Hebron requires closing off most of Hebron so the settlers can go to the stolen mosque — where Palestinians aren’t allowed for about a week.

    • piotr
      December 11, 2012, 11:27 am

      That seems to be key part of national festivities. Transit to Gaza also stops, and as we have read, so does international parcel service to West Bank, there was a story about SAT exam that was delayed as during Jewish holidays customs at the BGU could not check the parcels for West Bank.

      Slightly related, the government wants to impose more holiday restrictions, but that has mixed reception. Tel-Aviv has locations where you can automatically rent bicycles, and Ministry of Transportation which subsidizes that program issued a request that those stands should not operate during Yom Kipur, and the municipality refused, and I read an interesting editorial in JP (I will not pay for Haaretz). Namely, that even the “secular extremists” who insists on bicycling during Yom Kipur should have the liberty to do so, despicable as it is. Thus I call Israel the most liberal theocracy in the world. Iran is the second most liberal. Saudi Arabia is much less liberal.

    • Stephen Shenfield
      December 12, 2012, 2:41 pm

      A historical parallel. The gates to the Jewish ghettoes of medieval Europe were kept locked during Christian holidays. At other times the gates were open during the day though locked at night.

      • Mooser
        December 14, 2012, 2:11 pm

        “The gates to the Jewish ghettoes of medieval Europe were kept locked during Christian holidays. At other times the gates were open during the day though locked at night.’

        Hey, Stephen, in Israel they are really into tradition.

  21. MHughes976
    December 11, 2012, 6:11 pm

    The single most important thing about religions is that they can always be interpreted in different ways. I don’t believe that there can be a truly liberal Zionism but there can be a truly liberal Judaism or indeed a hideous and oppressive Anglicanism.
    That said, I much admire Avigail’s work and hope that if she ever ventures from Scotland to give any talks or lectures here in the deep south of England I’ll have notice of the event.

  22. Avigail Abarbanel
    December 12, 2012, 5:59 am

    Thanks everyone for the feedback, the thoughtful comments and discussion. It’s nice to see that people are engaging. Cheers.

  23. jon s
    December 12, 2012, 12:25 pm

    The story of Hanukkah can serve as an inspiration for people struggling against foreign occupation , persecution and injustice. I certainly don’t think that Israelis and Jews of the Left should be alienated from our people’s traditions.It’s like expecting Americans not to celebrate the 4th of July because of injustices caused by the U.S. Or maybe Christians shouldn’t celebrate their holidays because of the blood that was shed in the name of Christianity.

    As to Purim, there’s no massacre of innocents in the story. According to the Megillah (8:11) , the Jews were given permission to annihilate their enemies, including women and children, and loot their property. However, in the execution, that’s not what happens. Those killed are “enemies”, presumably members of the militia Haman had enlisted to destroy the Jews, not innocent women and children. The Megillah also repeatedly emphasizes that no loot was taken, despite the authorization the Jews had to do so.And Haman’s plot is no spontaneous outburst. It’s not like he’s pissed with Mordecai, and immediately goes off to instigate a pogrom. On the contrary: it would have been deliberate, premeditated genocide. Look at the timeline (3:12-13): Haman is given authorization on the 13th of Nissan, to execute his plan on the 13th of Adar, 11 months later. He has almost a year to prepare: to hire, indoctrinate and train the would-be perpetrators. ( In retaliation we eat his ears…) The Jews, in other words successfully avoided genocide, a good reason to celebrate.
    Regarding Passover, the Israelites don’t kill anybody, with the exception of one brutal Egyptian overseer whom Moses “smote”. Again, it’s a great, inspirational story of a people freed from slavery, a story worth telling (and I’m not claiming that it’s historical).

    • Mooser
      December 12, 2012, 12:58 pm

      “(and I’m not claiming that it’s historical).”

      Wow, that was close! I’m glad you added that disclaimer, “jon s”! Otherwise, your infinite credibility might have suffered. Wait a minute, you can’t really take anything from something which is infinite, can you, so I guess you’ve got nothing to worry about.

      • eljay
        December 12, 2012, 1:49 pm

        >> According to the Megillah (8:11) , the Jews were given permission to annihilate their enemies, including women and children, and loot their property. However, in the execution, that’s not what happens. Those killed are “enemies”, presumably members of the militia Haman had enlisted to destroy the Jews, not innocent women and children.

        The victor usually does get to write his version of (real or mytho-religious) history. Had Haman won, I suspect the only Jews he would have destroyed would have been “enemies”, whose women and children would have been co-conspirators, “sleeper” insurgents, human shields or good ‘ol “collateral damage”.

        >> The Jews, in other words successfully avoided genocide, a good reason to celebrate.

        Avoiding genocide is a good reason to celebrate, even if pre-emptive mass slaughter of your alleged “enemy” is not so noble a thing.

      • jon s
        December 12, 2012, 2:50 pm

        Here’s a guide for making latkes:

      • Mooser
        December 14, 2012, 2:14 pm

        “Here’s a guide for making latkes:

        Moderators! Moderators! Have you seen that link? I will not sit still for this. I know how to make latkes, I learned, as a matter of fact, from my Mom. We were Reform, our relatives were Orthodox and Conservative, but my Mom’s latkes were still the best.

    • Avigail Abarbanel
      December 12, 2012, 1:36 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I guess I feel that if someone had to die for us to survive, whether we killed them or someone else did (as in Passover — and I am aware it’s not history but it’s about the principle), this should be a cause for *sadness and mourning*, not celebration. If the world is in such a bad way, with oppressors and oppressed and situations where the only way out is through someone’s death, we should all be mourning rather than celebrating. I would like to see Jewish culture transcending our obsession with our own group’s survival and developing a more universal and mature approach to life, rather than such a self-focused one. We all live in context, all of us humans are in this together on this planet. The problems are bigger than one culture or another, and we all have a responsibility to work on them together.

      I am fully aware that other cultures have the same problems as Jewish culture. It’s human (not Jewish) to rejoice in our salvation regardless of cost, but this is what I am questioning. Isn’t it time for us to grow up and take a wider perspective?

      And my point about Hanukkah was that if it’s inspiring for us to be fighting for our liberation and resist oppression, then it should be OK for *everyone* including the Palestinians who are struggling and suffering under Israel’s brutal occupation. And yet while Israel celebrates the glory and inspiration of our resistance and survival it denies the Palestinians the right to do the same! That’s not inspiring. To me that’s terribly hypocritical and sad.

      • jon s
        December 12, 2012, 3:03 pm

        Avigail, In fact this very week the Palestinians did plenty of celebrating.

      • Avigail Abarbanel
        December 14, 2012, 1:14 pm

        Jon S — why the black and white view? I never said they got it right either. It’s a human thing (not Jewish in particular) to rejoice in our successes and not to mourn the fact that we had to kill in order to achieve them. As I said above if our survival, or that of any group, requires the killing of others, this is a cause for sadness and mourning. It also calls for all of us to sit down and think about how to fix the world, so that there are no more oppressors and oppressed. Is it really this difficult to understand what I am saying??

        I am critiquing Hanukkah because it is part of my personal heritage. I believe that I have a responsibility to speak up and to call on people of the culture I was brought up in to question our traditions and beliefs and think about their meaning and implications. There are plenty of thoughtful people in other groups/religions who are doing the same thing.

      • tree
        December 14, 2012, 1:50 pm

        Avigail, In fact this very week the Palestinians did plenty of celebrating.

        You missed the point, jon. You think it is OK for Jews to celebrate their resistance and survival, which included their own violence against their oppressors, but NOT OK for Palestinians to do the same thing in their struggle against their Israeli Jewish oppressors.

      • Rizla
        December 20, 2012, 3:34 am

        Avigail, God bless you. You are the way of the future, your vision points to a more humane monotheism of the future. Keep it up. You give a depressed gentile a ton of hope. (Sorry to be maudlin, the holidays do it to me! Happy Solstice!) And I raise a late night glass to your last sentence. Too true. I’m not proud of the Scots Irish in most ways, but it’s half my heritage, and facing it, at the end of the day, is no big deal. Thanks for having the courage to do it in public.

      • Avigail Abarbanel
        December 20, 2012, 4:44 am

        Thank you Rizla for your very kind words. I am happy I was able to offer a little flicker of light in what otherwise sounds like a not so bright holiday for you… Blessings to you from the Scottish Highlands!

      • RoHa
        December 20, 2012, 7:49 am

        “I’m not proud of the Scots Irish in most ways, but it’s half my heritage”

        Do you mean ancestry? If so, why do you care? You are not them. You are you.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        December 12, 2012, 3:25 pm

        I examined how the ten plagues are viewed in a range of Haggadot — booklets to guide proceedings at the Passover seder (meal). In most the attitude is inconsistent. On the one hand, there is a song thanking God for all the blessings He bestowed upon us, with the retributions against the Egyptians counted as blessings in exactly the same way as the liberation from slavery. On the other hand, there is the custom of spilling a drop of wine for each of the ten plagues. This symbolizes our sorrow at the fact that it was “necessary” for God to do such nasty things to “our enemies” (only a little sorrow, to be sure, or arguably just a small diminution of joy: most of the wine is drunk, after all). And why were all Egyptians our enemies when the decision whether or not to free the Israelites was that of a single man, Pharaoh?

        I found significant differences among the Haggadot published by different branches of Judaism. All Haggadot mention the wine-spilling custom, but some Orthodox Haggadot avoid explaining it as an expression of sorrow. Many Reform Haggadot omit the above-mentioned song. One American Reform Haggadah goes so far as to omit all mention of the plagues, making this the shortest of all the Haggadot I examined.

        So there is a spectrum of attitudes. Orthodox Haggadot are consistently vindictive, while Reform Haggadot minimize or eliminate expressions of vindictiveness. I should perhaps add two points for those who do not know. Orthodox Judaism was the only variety for many centuries, with the other kinds appearing from the late 18th century onward. But in Israel the monopoly of Orthodox Judaism is restored by the state.

      • Mooser
        December 14, 2012, 2:18 pm

        “On the other hand, there is the custom of spilling a drop of wine for each of the ten plagues.”

        Ah, so that’s why I passed out, face up, on the Seder table last year. On every night, I pass out face down, but on that night, it was different.

      • Shingo
        December 12, 2012, 6:17 pm

        I would like to see Jewish culture transcending our obsession with our own group’s survival and developing a more universal and mature approach to life, rather than such a self-focused one.

        I couldn’t agree more. There is so much cognitive dissonance. False piety on one end, and sadistic triumphalism and narcissism on the other. It is doubly concerning that a faith that has been around for so long has failed to mature and appears still stuck in some juvenile perception of the world.

        We all live in context, all of us humans are in this together on this planet.

        It seems so self evident doesn’t it? Yet, even the brightest and seemingly most progressive of Israel’s supporters still have a problem endorsing this concept when it comes to Israel. For them, an exception must always be made for Israel and what’s more, these same people either don’t see the contradiction or don’t care.

        As Max Blumenthal pointed out recently in an interview, the very idea of demographic engineering would be considered untouchable to all but the most extreme fringe elements of Western society, yet in Israel, even so called liberals and progressives openly endorse it without any sense of shame.

        And my point about Hanukkah was that if it’s inspiring for us to be fighting for our liberation and resist oppression, then it should be OK for *everyone* including the Palestinians who are struggling and suffering under Israel’s brutal occupation.

        Again, one would assume that to be so self evident that is wouldn’t warrant even a discussion, but when it comes to Israel and it’s supporters, the right of Palestinians to resist is considered an outrageous proposition. To describe this as hypocritical is an understatement – it borders on insanity; and when I challenge so called progressives who happen to be Zionists, they again either don’t see the contradiction/hypocrisy or they simply don’t care.

        As Peter Beinardt said, when it comes to Israel, they are perfectly conformable with putting their values of liberalism and universality to one side.

      • Mooser
        December 14, 2012, 2:24 pm

        “I would like to see Jewish culture transcending our obsession with our own group’s survival and developing a more universal and mature approach to life, rather than such a self-focused one.”

        You think that will get people to overlook the fact that we stole Palestine? It might work, you never know.

        I just love those perscriptions which assume the Jewish people were born this morning, and haven’t done anything yet. ♫They make me feel so young. ♪

    • eljay
      December 12, 2012, 1:59 pm

      >> Regarding Passover, the Israelites don’t kill anybody …

      From Wiki:

      In the narrative of the Exodus, the Bible tells that God helped the Children of Israel escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the Egyptians before the Pharaoh would release his Israelite slaves; the tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian first-born. The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over the first-borns in these homes …

      It seems the Israelites were complicit in the murder of first-born Egyptian children. An easy point to gloss over if one doesn’t consider first-born Egyptian children to have any value (to be “anybody”).

      • Mooser
        December 14, 2012, 2:25 pm

        “It seems the Israelites were complicit in the murder of first-born Egyptian children”

        Book ‘em, Danno!

    • Shingo
      December 12, 2012, 6:20 pm

      Those killed are “enemies”, presumably members of the militia Haman had enlisted to destroy the Jews, not innocent women and children.

      And that logic is used to this day. If someone is killed, then it;s because they were terrorists or about to attack us. Those magic bullets just have a way of knowing who to kill.

    • mhuizenga
      December 13, 2012, 2:02 pm

      I’m not that familiar with this subject, but Jon S’s comment explaining the holidays scared me a little bit. I wondered if the Israeli leaders are reading these stories this way and formulating polices based on this interpretation (fear of genocide, lack of responsibility for “enemies” killed, “permission” to kill, etc). I was very happy to see Avigail’s response below.

      • jon s
        December 14, 2012, 11:16 am

        Gee, I wonder why some Jews have a “fear of genocide”…

    • Danaa
      December 14, 2012, 2:00 pm

      jon s is offering a master class in apologetics – a full-throated defense in the name of “it wasn’t us – it was god!”. Which the orthodox Jewish tradition explains as “who are we to question the ways of god?” and “even if god does things that to us look “questionable”, we should still celebrate god’s greatness!” (maybe as the multitudinous commentaries explain (in a nut-shell) – “just in case, eh?”). And if anyone is not convinced yet of the logic of this [circuitous] reasoning, just send them to the Book of Job (following which we’ll probably never see them again among the misbegotten logic-peddlers – phewwwww…).

      As an aside, jon s, israelis (extants and expats) are usually well exposed to the haggaddah in its pure-bloodied Hebrew version – along with the complete glory of true-blue vindictiveness and self-justified smugness – all beautifully illustrated with gory details of the demise of the “bad guys”. The children – from a young age – are immersed in the tales and the graphics to match and it is not surprising that as they grow, rarely – if ever -do they come to question – or even note – the pure mean-spiritedness of the celebration over the de-birthing of so many totally innocent Egyptians. What the orthodox haggada teaches (again, speaking of the hebrew version – the English one is already softened somewhat from what i could tell) – is in line with what the Tenach contains in way many places. It is often assumed – in the lineds and between them – that vengence is for the israelites to crow with – since their enemies – now smitten in countless awful ways – are god’s enemies (even as they are all god’s children – a contradiction which gave rise to centuries of interpretive excuse-making, much of which made its way into illustrious talmud passages – but only the best I am told!!).

      So whoever came up with this crazy concept that “vengeance is the lord’s”?

      • seanmcbride
        December 14, 2012, 2:23 pm

        The “God of vengeance” of the Old Testament could easily be construed as a classical case of pychological projection by the people who imagined this character.

        Use Biblegate.com to pull up all mentions of “vengeance” in the Bible:

        link to biblegateway.com

        Illuminating.

        For instance:

        1. Micah 5:15
        I will take vengeance in anger and wrath on the nations that have not obeyed me.”

        2. Nahum 1:2
        The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.

      • Rizla
        December 20, 2012, 2:58 am

        Thanks for the link!

      • jon s
        December 15, 2012, 1:44 am

        Danaa , You may recall the custom of reciting the plagues in unison, taking a drop of wine out of our cup with each one. Don Yitzhak Abarbenel (1437-1508) interpreted this custom as reflecting the idea that the joy in our salvation –as expressed in the full cup of wine- is reduced because of the sufferings of the Egyptian people, who are our fellow human beings. There’s also a well-known Midrash according to which God rebuked the angels for wanting to sing when the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea : “The works of my hands are drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing praises?!? “(Talmud Tractate Megillah 10b).

      • jon s
        December 16, 2012, 3:50 pm

        I just noticed the coincidence that Avigail bears the same name as the 15th century Rabbi I mentioned. The Abarbanel family claims to be descended from the King David.

      • Rizla
        December 20, 2012, 2:53 am

        “whoever came up with this crazy concept that “vengeance is the lord’s”?

        I imagine it was a very drunken man with a patriarchal bent on a bender 2500 years ago, and I imagine he had a bit of a problem with shellfish, foreigners, and women, but it’s only a guess. How could any God who creates a universe on this scale be so petty? I just can’t imagine a woman, ancient or modern, creating crap in this particular vein. Women don’t engage in ‘net flame wars anywhere near the way men do, come to think of it. Food for thought.

        Danaa, great point about the Hebrew versions and sanitized English versions. We need more translations of the orthodox stuff.

      • Avigail Abarbanel
        December 20, 2012, 4:40 am

        I have always thought that when humans wanted to justify bad things they did, they said that god told them to do it. In other words, if god told them therefore it’s OK and they don’t have to take responsibility. I doubt that any deity would order the genocide in Canaan committed by Joshua after the Hebrews finished their forty years journey in the desert. And if a deity did order that genocide, it’s not a deity I would like to believe in or follow…

        (Of course historically probably none of it really happened but stories are important and they do shape people’s sense of their identity, their values and belief system. This is particularly true if they are included in a book that so many people consider sacred!)

      • Rizla
        December 20, 2012, 5:32 am

        So true, Ms. A. Your essay got me to think about a lot of things and I thank you for it. It’s weird — there are genuinely spiritual passages in the OT, but they’re slim pickings. It seems more like a great system of controlling people. Looking at Shamanism and religions which are not monotheist, I don’t see this ridiculous fear/hatred of women. That’s a sticking point with me. And you’re so right — almost certainly, none of it happened that way. We critique journalism in real time these days, imagine what it was like then? I can’t believe it’s the “word” of anyone other than real human beings, some of them, perhaps, sh*t-faced.

        Btw, the feedback page on your amazing website (nice work!) doesn’t work, I got re-directed to someone else’s page when I hit “send”. Just so’s yer know. I wanted to shower you in admiration. All my best! Skol!

      • Avigail Abarbanel
        December 22, 2012, 3:42 pm

        Thanks for letting me know about the feedback page. Ian’s working on fixing it. Cheers!

  24. jon s
    December 12, 2012, 3:01 pm

    As you can see, the killing of the Egyptian first-borns is described as the work of God Himself, as divine judgement. The Israelites mark thir doorposts because they are so instructed, they don’t kill anybody.

    • Stephen Shenfield
      December 13, 2012, 10:08 am

      But who did the describing? Who wrote the book? Who thought up the “divine judgment”? Wasn’t it a Jewish priest?

      • Mooser
        December 14, 2012, 2:56 pm

        “Wasn’t it a Jewish priest?”

        Gosh, whatever happened to those guys? The Jewish Priests, I mean. Gosh darn it, we sure could use somebody with some spiritual authority in our religion, wouldn’t you agree, Stephen? Rabbis don’t really have the same powers. I mean, I’m cool with Rabbis, as long as they don’t talk too much, and keep their nose out of my business, but wow, real priests.
        They could straighten things up.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        December 17, 2012, 8:10 am

        Yay, it may yet come to pass, even in our days. For when Leonard Cohen gave his concert in Ramat Gan, did he not raise his arms to bless the multitude, just like the priests of old? And was it not said: “Verily, he has returned as a priest unto his people”? And have Cohanim not gathered in the Land of Israel to remember their special purity (no divorcees for them, God forbid)? And have they not already prepared the robes that they will wear when they consecrate the rebuilt Temple after blowing up the mosque?

      • jon s
        December 15, 2012, 1:38 am

        Stephen, I don’t disagree with you here. The Orthodox believe that the book is the word of God. For the rest of us : we try to understand the writer’s motives and viewpoint. In this case perhaps the author means to say that our ancestors -who were considered role-models – did not kill anyone in this case.

    • tree
      December 14, 2012, 1:45 pm

      The Israelites mark thir doorposts because they are so instructed, they don’t kill anybody.

      No, they just worship a G-d that thinks its perfectly OK to kill little children because He is unhappy with one unrelated person, and they thank him for his murderous vengeance upon innocents.

    • seanmcbride
      December 14, 2012, 2:25 pm

      How naive and credulous would one have to be to assume that human beings who claim to be speaking for “God” actually are?

    • Avigail Abarbanel
      December 20, 2012, 4:42 am

      It’s not the point whether or not Jews did the killing. The point is that it is no cause for celebration!

  25. Ruth Tenne
    December 13, 2012, 12:48 pm

    Thanks to Avigail for her excellent essay which convincingly highlights the need for the Jewish community in Israel and the diaspora to challenge and learn from its own past history .

    Justice for the Palestinians should not be denied in the name of misplaced loyalties and enshrined (false) concepts of victimhood and persecution

    Ruth Tenne -an Israeli human rights activist

  26. mcohen
    December 14, 2012, 4:36 am

    this friday night i threw the dice and choose a random page out of the chumash-the bible.somehow what i read connects to my present reality-a type of prophecy-anyway this time a commentary came up on taking vows and why it is forbidden -kol nidre was mentioned.
    the commentary was linked to the book of numbers so i rolled along to the book of numbers and there i find a chapter on the menorah and the lighting of candles
    more importantly there was a sentence -a verse 11 that dealt with levites making a wave offering

    11 and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD, like a wave offering from the children of Israel, that they may perform the work of the LORD

    one more candle to be lit on the menorah-a pillar of fire

    chomsky and meshaal could wear there hawaian shirts and surf the wave

    aloha baby surfs up

    • Mooser
      December 14, 2012, 2:35 pm

      mcohen, if you are trying to convince us you are nuttier than the proverbial fruitcake, you’re doing a fine job.

      Say, you should talk to Seanmcbride about that ” i threw the dice and choose a random page out of the chumash” thing. I think there’s something theosophical about that, and it can lead to “machines of great cognitive power”

  27. LanceThruster
    December 14, 2012, 12:51 pm

    An offering in keeping with the spirit of the season. Be sure to click on pic for full effect.

    link to rudepundit.blogspot.com

    Quietly moving.

  28. Mooser
    December 14, 2012, 2:31 pm

    You know, all I want for Hannukah is my four back teeth. Actually, it’d take more, and that little lisping twerp only wanted two front ones. How many times did I think that if he got them, I’d gladly push them down……. never mind. Have a Happy, a Merry, and a Kool (Kwanzaa, of course).

    • Mooser
      December 14, 2012, 2:50 pm

      And speaking of Christmas secrets here’s one I just figured out: (key of “F”)

      Bm E7
      “…carols being sung by a choir
      Amaj7 Bb-7 Eb7 Abmaj7
      And folks dressed up like Eskimoes
      G-7 C7 Fmaj
      Everybody knows a turkey…” (all 7th chords altered as needed)

      Try it over on your pianola

      The descending Bm- E7, Am-Dm, Gm- C7 can also be used and nicely, too. But I think above is right.

Leave a Reply