A Horn-y Hanukkah

 

“For the last time….say ‘Happy Holidays’!!!”

 

Menorahs, gelt, dreidels and gifts. That’s basically the extent of what most people know about Hanukkah, the annual Jewish Festival of lights.

In actuality, the whole miracle-oil part of the holiday didn’t even come into being until over six centuries later when a conference of Rabbis got together to formalize history and customs.

The real Hanukkah is a celebration of the victory of fundamentalists in what was really a Jewish civil war, mixed in with lot of Christmas envy.

Back in 167 BC, the Greeks were in charge of of all the land. The Seleucids were given control of Israel, and many Jews naturally assimilated into the dominating culture (let’s face it, besides having less body hair, their girls were much kinkier). The more religious Jews didn’t want to lose their culture and were furious when Seleucid King Antiochus IV passed a series of Jew-hating laws that outlawed customs (circumcision, not eating pork) and confiscated Jewish wealth.

Worst of all, Antiochus defiled the Temple and turned it into a place of Pagan worship.

Mattathias, a Jewish priest, flipped and killed a couple men; the first of which was a fellow Jew performing a sacrifice to pagan gods. Mattathias, his 5 sons and their army of Maccabees rebelled to save Judaism from threats both outside and inside.

It wasn’t so much a war against Greeks, but more a revolution for the soul of Jewish religion and culture. Fundamentalists/fanatics were fighting to settle what it meant to be a Jew; what it meant to observe, what it took to be devout, meaning of afterlife, etc. Losing Jewish lives was second to losing Judaism.

Mattathias soon fell, but his son Judah took over the rebellion. Three years later, the Jews stood victorious, reclaimed Jerusalem, and the Temple.

Judah and his Maccabees established a holiday to celebrate their military victories as well as the re-dedication of the Temple lost 3 years prior. It’s this 8 day celebration (some say it was a long-overdue Sukkot observance) that became Hanukkah. According to lore (first mentioned by Rabbis 6 centuries later) the Greeks defiling of the Temple included sullying all the proper oils. The celebrating Jews only found a day’s worth of usable oil, but it “miraculously” burned for 8 days.

Unfortunately, the Hasmoneons (the new ruling family of the Jews) were reactionary fanatics; oppressive rulers who forced their fundamental Judaism on everyone. This is best exemplified by the oft-ignored forced circumcisions of uncircumcised Jews. The High Priests of the Temple were corrupt and Judaism’s finest days were no more. This all paved the way for the Romans to come in and take over.

But over the years, this military celebration evolved through many incarnations. Some used it as inspiration for Jewish courage and bravery. Others used the magical “8 days of oil” them to celebrate the wonder and majesty of God’s miracles.

But it wasn’t until the 19th century that Hanukkah turned into the signature celebration. Jews just grew envious of goyim families has Christmastime to get together for family love, and of course Jewish kids hated sitting with their dreidels while their friends got awesome gifts.

Not wanting to lose Jews to Christian assimilation (the true theme of Hanukkah), the powers-that-be jumped on the 2000 yr old Maccabee military victory and turned it into 8 days of family-loving and gift-giving.

“One for each night, they shed a sweet light, to remind us of days long ago.”

Consider yourself reminded.