Sunday, December 25, 2011
"Hanukkah: a Response to Modern-Day Jew Controversies"
By Jordan "BluntJoey" Adorno
Hanukkah - "The Festival of Lights", Chanukah (AKA Hebrew) - one of many traditional Jewish holidays, has somehow grown into a modern contention for Jews in America. The most fundamentalist Jews fear that Hanukkah is becoming much too assimilated with Christmas. They fear that the holiday, which is actually very minor theologically, has been commercially over-inflated to "compete" with Christians. In the last couple of centuries gifts have been integrated into Hanukkah, and that particular addition remains the most central controversy about the celebration. This is because in origination, the gifts addition was intended to solve the problem of Jewish children feeling left out when all their peers got Christmas presents. (Remember that at the turn of the 20th century around 96 % of America was Christian, compared to 2009, when 75 % of Americans identified as Christians in a national poll (CNN POLL: "America becoming less Christian, survey finds"). Nonetheless, I postulate that Jews still CAN continue the presents tradition in good faith, and in harmony with strictly their own religious principles, too!
For starters, possibly the biggest criticism today about Christmas is that it has been commercially reduced to a national day of presents. Jesus, countless scrutinize, no longer is the focus of celebrating. (ex: Reuters.com: Pope ushers in Christmas, decries commercialization, Phillip Pullella). It has reached the point that it's the absolute norm to see secularists, nonbelievers, Buddhists - anyone who doesn't have their own specific holiday to celebrate then, basically - celebrating Christmas as "a time for the family"; altogether, this has majorly contributed to the ever-increasing, overall generalization of the Christmas holiday, the practical expansion of its celebrators to include all Americans, Christian or not. Good ol' St. Nick, in his popularized facade as "Santa Clause", brings presents down everyone's chimney midnight on Christmas Day with his flying sled of reindeer. He, rather than Jesus, has become the central figure associated with Christmas, the joy of it, even though the Santa Clause metamorphosis has no relevant meaning to the holiday (nor does it even much resemble the real Saint Nicholas as history knew him!). Hence, although Christmas is the most important Christian holiday, SUPPOSEDLY signifying the birthday of their [alleged] messiah (and that's its own twisted story, mind you), the relentless widespread commercialism behind it, that which reaches a market of, approximately, 90 % of Americans each year, has desensitized the day's true meaning.
Now, in a stark contrast however, exchanging presents during Hanukkah does NOT pose anywhere near the volume of such dangerous risks or consequences, for — just as a countless many of these same "old-fashioned" Jews who frown upon the concept of kindly offering one another gifts on a mere ONE of the exceedingly long list of Jewish holidays would say (and likely by age 30 for their millionth-and-one time, too) — it was necessary to properly make fully explanatory the reinforced message of Hanukkah as NOT anywhere near as high up in religious importance as Christmas; and because of this key fact, unfortunately, likely more than the foremost half of the already very small Jewish demographic within Western (particularly US) Society, I soon learned, does not understand Hanukkah lacks the same humongous potential to cause an alarming irreligious breakaway or a careless disregard of their present spiritual status, that which Christmas had suffered more than ever these days, in being arguably Christianity's most important holiday, the one which had subsequently made for a most powerful difference. It, yes, remained that that same denunciation, 'slap in the face' if you will, in a sudden rebelliousness fresh and new would very unlikely retain the proximity for Hanukkah to be the exact holiday which the given individual would seek out as the ideal chance to make his departure with a blast, disparaging from his old disingenuous, fake Christian facade that his parents had forced him into as being the "most opportune" social grace one could contain.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, Jews comprise less than 2 % of Americans ("Jewish Population of the United States, by State" , Jewish Virtual Library). Therefore, no commercialization phenomenon ever would ensue to the magnitude of Christmas - not even close. Secondly, a very crucial but not particularly well-known fact about Hanukkah is that although it falls around (often during) Christmas, it is actually far less significant religiously in comparison. Far less. In fact, Hanukkah is the one of very few Jewish holidays without any foundation to the Torah (About.Judaism.com: What Is Hanukkah?, Ariela Pelaia). It is commonly misconceived that Hanukkah is a big holiday because of its correlative timing with Christmas. In reality, that coincidence of dating is itself the lone explanation for why Hanukkah tends to get more attention than any other Jewish holiday. Neither of the High Holy Days - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the most important religious events for a Jew every year - receive anywhere near the exposure Hanukkah receives annually, simply because they don't fall in conjunction with a bigger more widespread holiday. Such is the basis to what some Jews flag as (and not without vociferous criticism, of course) the "Christianizing" of Hanukkah. According to such opponents, this is a transparently false promulgation of Jewish practice; most surely of all, their mutual concern is that Jews are somehow misrepresenting themselves and their heritage, a theory which is supported by the vast majority of non-Jewish America's continuous misconception that Hanukkah is a supremely important occasion. In reassertion of their frightful suggestion, these (mostly) fundamentalist Jew thinkers opposing this alleged "Christianizing" point out that while the secondary legend attached to Hanukkah is relatively common (the story of how a small amount of oil lasted for a miraculous eight days), the actual Hanukkah history is rarely recognizable to non-Jews.
In truth, the Hanukkah story begins a few thousands years ago with the Maccabees, a small community of Jews living beside the massive Greek civilization. The Greeks lived debauchery-filled lives which included most repulsively the recreational sexual abuse of young children! The Maccabees, though minor in number, courageously vowed to be nonconformists despite the threatening pressure from the Greeks. Subsequently, the conflict of culture erupted into a war between the Maccabees and the Greeks, but by an extraordinary miracle the Jews defeated the previously insurmountable Greek army.As written by a renowned Jewish writer, "Though much smaller than the Greek armies, Jewish forces, under the command of Judah Maccabee, ultimately triumphed" ("101 Things Everyone Should Know about Judaism", Richard D. Bank). Immediately after winning, the Jewish farmers wanted to celebrate Sukkot - the eight-day, Jewish "Festival of Harvest" following the High Holidays - which they had missed out on due to the war. However, it was ultimately decided that they couldn't just change the date to celebrate Sukkot, and thereby Hanukkah was instituted as a celebration of the won war and the restoration of Sukkot (hence why Hanukkah lasts eight days). To quote a highly venerated Rabbi, "When the Maccabees regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem in 168 BC, they held a celebration, not in recognition of any miracle, but in observance of the eight-day fall festival of Sukkot" (Congregation B'nai B'rith: "Hanukkah - The True Story", Rabbi Steve Cohen; The FULL BOOK OF MACCABEES, BIBLEGATEWAY.COM).
And yet, each modern American Jew must ask of his or herself, why is it somehow nevertheless still extremely rare that the average non-Jewish American obtains any knowledge of that? Hmm...
And in altogether smooth somewhat forthright "rite-of-passage" return to the self-proclaimed behalves of "anti-assimilation" American Jews' bestriding Chanukah celebrations and to whichever 'right' varying degree of unvarnished "appropriation" is sociable, that crucial notation itself is proof Hanukkah has become overly-romanticized by the consumers' sensationalism during Christmas. Everyone knows OF Hanukkah, but not anything about it other than the fact that there's a gift for each of the eight nights. But nevertheless, I challenge such contenders this: why - how (!) - have you allowed yourselves to give CHRISTMAS so much significance to your Jewish tradition??!! I, quite contrarily, procure an alternate perspective, but please preface note first that we as Jews (if we're good practicing ones, anyway) frequently attend synagogue and scrupulously fulfill countless Judaic holiday traditions all-throughout the year already; therefore, reasonably I hereby must also ask this of self-described "anti-assimilation" Jews: In what way, exactly, does the addition of present exchanging tarnish the already secular celebration of Hanukkah? And why even then, for that matter, does introducing presents absolutely HAVE to retain a perpetual basis to Christmas, as opposed to being just another perfectly JEWISH, albeit newer, Hanukkah tradition? Where the error in exchanging presents in the name of being Jews celebrating the miracle of Hanukkah? It certainly exists somewhere, there, no, right?