UNTANGLING THE XMAS-CHANUKAH CONNECTION:
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
It's one of those quirks of the calendar: Chanukah and Xmas almost always coincide in December. The advertising industry will make sure that you don't forget it. As a result, many in the NYU Jewish community will be caught up in the mix of tides coming from Judaism and Christianity.
This is but a minute reflection of many of the paradoxes served up by the American melting pot. So why not hold it up to the light of history to see what the facts really are? You owe it to yourself before you dive into those December parties.
You could be fooled if you consider some superficial similarities: Two thousand years ago in ancient Israel under the occupation of an oppressive foreign power, a small family stands up for itself and launches a spiritual revolt. Armed with the belief that G-d is on their side, they succeed in establishing a new religious identity. As a symbol of the miraculous nature of their victory, a new holiday is instituted that revolves around candles and light. Not merely one night of celebrations, but more than a week of joyous, glowing, holiday lights. Once again, the Jewish people proves that it is a "Light Unto The Nations."
You see what I mean? It's easy to confuse the Maccabees with the early Christians. So much for the history.
For many young Jews today, Chanukah is joyously combined with Xmas to produce such observances as Chanukah Bushes, Christmas menorahs, Xmas Chanukah gifts, Chanukah Xmas parties and celebrations. As more and more Jews intermarry, these things become accepted as the norm and the true meanings and origins of both religions are completely ignored.
What this produces is a paradox of tangled, religious currents: A nice, happy connection is made where none ever existed. Consider the facts: For two thousand years, there was never a connection between Xmas and Chanukah because they were celebrated by two different religions. Christians somehow saw Jews as Christ-killers (not saviors) and heretics; hence the blood-baths of the Inquisition, blood libels, pogroms, and finally, the Holocaust. Way before the American "melting pot, - the European "beheading pot" existed with mostly Jewish skulls floating around in it.
The strongest argument against mixed Jewish and Christian celebrations comes from modern day, Chanukah-like occurences. Three examples should put the myth of a joint Xmas-Chanukah connection to rest:
First, the fact that world Jewry survived the European genocide against it during World War II, and rose from ashes to form the small Jewish State of Israel against all odds, is proof positive that the Chanukah miracle can repeat itself in the twentieth century.
Second, the growth of Jewish pride and a very obvious religious revival in Jewish communities worldwide, is a dramatic new development. No longer content with going along for the ride of assimilation, tens of thousands of Jews, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, are openly practicing the ways of Torah and Judaism in keeping with strict Jewish law or halachah. These Jews reject the notion of Chanukah-bushes et al.; instead they know and enjoy the many chagim (holidays), as prescribed by the Torah.
Third, and perhaps the most dramatic reenactment of the Chanukah theme today, is the miraculous rebirth of Jewish identity within Soviet Jewry after decades of submission to atheistic Communism. Starting with a handful of refuseniks, they, like modern-day Maccabees, challenged a mighty world empire, and won. What the few began, the many hundreds of thousands complete as they head home to freedom in the Promised Land. All this is happening before our very eyes, if only we choose to look and understand it.
As American Jews enjoying the greatest liberties ever enjoyed by Jews in their 2000 year exile from their true homeland in Israel, we should ponder well the fate that awaits us if we choose to emulate the "mainstream" as opposed to the message of the "few against the many." This Chanukah, make sure you move into the correct light.
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