On Hanukkah eve, I tweeted out a somewhat reductionist thought commemorating the bloody Maccabean rebellion against the Seleucid Empire and their traitorous Hellenized Jewish accomplices. It seemed to upset some of my followers.
Every time you wish someone a Happy Hanukkah you are acknowledging the historic Jewish claim on Jerusalem.
— David Harsanyi (@davidharsanyi) December 12, 2017
Why are you politicizing such a pleasant holiday? Does wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” now mean that you accept Jesus as your lord and savior?
Well, first of all, the story of Hanukkah isn’t pleasant. Violent, brutal, and passionate, maybe. But not pleasant. And of course wishing someone a “Happy Hanukkah” isn’t an endorsement of any theological position, any more than wishing someone Merry Christmas is (although we appreciate the recognition of the Jewish presence in ancient Bethlehem). Mostly it’s convention and good manners. Thank you.
Fact is, there isn’t a ton of theology to worry about. Hanukkah is not a Jewish “yom tov,” which in the literal translation means “good day” but in religious terms means the holiday was not handed to the Jewish people through the Torah. Unlike Passover or Yom Kippur, there are no restrictions on work. The two books that deal with the Maccabees aren’t Jewish canon. The “miracle of the lights” — which you might be led to believe is the entire story of the holiday — is apocryphal and was added hundreds of years later in the Talmud. (To be fair, the story of miraculous oil is far more conducive to the holiday gift-giving spirit than, say, the story of the Jewish woman who watched her seven sons being tortured and slaughtered by Antiochus because she refused to eat pork.)
But whatever reasons you have for offering good wishes, Hanukkah itself is a reminder that Jews have a singular, millennia-long historic relationship with Jerusalem. By the time Mattathias rebelled against Hellenistic Syrian king Antiochus, who had not only ordered a statue of Zeus to be erected in the Holy Temple but that swine be sacrificed to him, Jerusalem had likely been a Jewish city for more than 1,000 years. As some readers have suggested, Hanukkah might be the only Jewish holiday that celebrates events confirmed by the historical record. The Hasmonean dynasty, founded by Mattathias’ son Simon, is a fact.
The problem is that many are trying to erase the Jewish claim. It wasn’t long ago that the United Nations’ cultural arm UNESCO passed a resolution denying Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall by using only Islamic names for the city’s holy sites and arguing that Jewish historic claims were the domain of “Israeli right-wing extremists.” This kind of political revisionism is widespread in certain areas of the world, and used to stoke hatred and terrorism.
For future reference:
Chanukah is about how a religious people were thought to be backward & on the wrong side of history, were persecuted as such by the government, until they rose up violently to reclaim their religious freedom from their “enlightened” brethren.
— a bunch of random words because twittter is dumb (@DraftRyan2016) December 13, 2017
Nearly every time an archaeologist digs in the city, some incredible cache of evidence of an ancient Jewish presence is found. It’s going to take heavy lifting to untether thousands of years of Jewish history and faith from Israel. But these efforts are also an attempt to deny the spiritual connection Jews have with city.
The UN’s decision is particularly odious when we consider Israel has handed control of the Temple Mount to Muslims even though pre-1967 Jerusalem’s holy sites were off-limits to Jews. According to Jewish tradition, of course, the Temple Mount is where God found the dust that was used to create Adam, where God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, where King Solomon built the First Temple. And so on and on and on.
None of this is to say those who came later shouldn’t share in peaceful existence in the city if they choose. Nor is it to say historic claims always work out. Ask the Native Americans or the Kurds or hundreds of other minority populations in the world.
But after a number of near-catastrophic events, Jews have reclaimed their historic homeland. This achievement is far more miraculous than a one-day supply of oil lasting eight. Their subsequent attempts to peacefully share that land have been repeatedly and violently rejected. So at this point, there is nothing for the UN or European Union or anyone else to give or take.