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December 1, 2017  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

The ‘minor‘ holiday that could

By RABBI ED ROSENTHAL Executive Director, Hillels of the Florida Suncoast

OK, Seriously… How can you not love a holiday that encourages you to eat fried food and doughnuts?

There’s no doubt that culture is transmitted through food, and each Jewish holiday has its own unique dishes, but Hanukkah surpasses them all. Rosh HaShanah? Does anybody really eat a fish head? Purim is nice, if you like fluffy pastries. And Pesach? Don’t even get me started on Pesach. By the end of the holiday my digestive tract and I are definitely not on speaking terms. I’ll give a thumbs up to Shavuot because you can never go wrong with ice cream and cheese cake, but Hanukkah? There’s nothing like it. Latkes and doughnuts. French fries and mozzarella sticks. Jalapeno poppers and well… you name it and I’ll try to fry it on Hanukkah.

Interestingly however, no matter how good the food, Hanukkah is still considered a “minor” holiday. Sure it has taken on greater significance in America as Jews in this country have had to face the challenge of the “December Dilemma,” but that’s more about commercialism and doing all we can not to have our children tempted by the presents, music, lights, parades and all the trappings of Christmas. We started giving gifts on Hanukkah so our kids wouldn’t be jealous of their Christian friends who woke up on Christmas morning to the smell of the yule log and tons of presents under the tree.

For us, we light little, tiny candles, sing some lame Hanukkah songs (if Jews wrote Hanukkah songs as good as the Christmas song they’ve written, we’d be golden), give gifts to our children and grandchildren, eat delicious, oily food that is certain to harden the most pliable of arteries, all to show that Hanukkah is as good as anybody else’s holiday. So take THAT Christmas!

Of course we talk about the fact that the revolt of the Jews against the Assyrians in 164 BCE represents the first time in history that any people fought for religious freedom. We tell how the few defeated the many, and the weak defeated the mighty. We will recount the story about the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after it was liberated from the hands of the idolatrous Assyrians, the miracle of the oil, and then we’ll eat our latkes and doughnuts. What a beautiful holiday.

What we don’t talk about however, is the fact that were it not for this “minor” holiday, the world as we know it today would be a very different place. Had the Assyrians succeeded in destroying Judaism, not only would we not be here, the system of morals and values from the Torah that are the foundation of Western society would have been lost.

Sure, we can do everything possible to make Hanukkah so appealing to our children that they don’t have that December Dilemma, but were it not for the courage and convictions of the Maccabees, there would not be a Christmas. Jesus grew out of the specific Jewish environment of the Land of Israel. Had the Assyrians won, that environment would have been completely different. Indeed, had it not been for the Maccabees, our Christian friends and neighbors would not be celebrating the yuletide season at all.

So, as we light our menorahs and eat our latkes, remember that Hanukkah is a “minor” holiday that changed the world. Forget the commercialism. Forget the presents. Forget the competition with Christmas. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, not only because of the tiny candles of the menorah, but because of the great flame that still burns and brings Light to the world which was kept alive by our ancestors who stood up in the face of tyranny and injustice.

Indeed, Hanukkah is a major holiday for the Jewish people… and for the world. Tell that to your children, and make them proud of who they are and the heritage which is theirs. Then enjoy some latkes and donuts.

Happy Hanukkah.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association, which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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