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November 25, 1983 - Image 66

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-11-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

66 Friday, November 25, 1983

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Hanuka Has Modern Lessons or Israel and Judaism

By DR. IRVING
GREENBERG

National Jewish
Resource Center

NEW YORK — Each
generation interprets
Hanuka in its own image.
In the salad days of

liberalism in America,
Hanuka was often pictured
as the holiday of religious
freedom. It was almost as if
the Maccabees were free-
dom fighters, fighting for
their First Amendment
ri hts to • ractice reli ion

without interference from
government.
According to this presen-
tation, the regime of An-
tiochus Epiphanes tried to
impose the cult of Zeus by
armed force. The Maccabees
fou ht back and won the

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right for themselves (and
ultimately for all people) to
serve God in their own way.
The lesson for Ameri-
can democracy — espe-
cially in the season of
Christmas which often
overlapped Hanuka —
was
obvious: there
should be no establish-
ment of religion of any
kind. Total separation of
church and state is best
for everyone. Even if
Christians have to give
up the advantage of
being the majority or
being sponsored by the
American government,
they had best do so.
The message is a good one
but the connection to the ac-
tual historical facts is
shaky. What really hap-
pened? In the Second Com-
monwealth in the land of Is-
rael, as before, Judaism was
the state religion. Taxes
supported the Temple; the
king was a leading particip-
ant in national festivals and
a major factor in the politics
of priestly succession, i.e., in
deciding who would lead the
priests and the Temple cult.
From the time of Alexan-
der the Great's successors
(the Seleucids located in
Syria) on, the Hellenistic
Empire's governments di-
rectly intervened in the
political/religious struc-
tures of Judea. By the time
of Antiochus (mid-Second
Centerury BCE), the High
Priesthood was bought and
sold in the coin of taxes,
payments to the Seleucids
and political support.
The Jews themselves
were deeply divided over
Hellenism's attractions. An
influential, wealthy, pow-
erful group was rapidly Hel-
lenizing, e.g., assimilating.
The process ran into stiff
opposition from other Jews
— initially from the most
traditional sector which
was appalled by Greek prac-
tices and the changing
mores of Hellenism.
In the bitter fight which
followed, Hellenizing
Jews with close connec-
tions to Antiochus per-
suaded him that his in-
terest lay in suppressing
the traditionalist opposi-
tion — as much for his
own political/economic
benefit as for any religi-
ous purposes. Thus An-
tiochus departed from
the general Seleucid pol-
icy of toleration, and in-
stead lent his troops to
the active suppression of
the Jewish opposition.
By then, the rebelling
Jews consisted of a coali-
tion of moderate Hel-

lenizers (today we would
call them: "Those who fa-
vored acculturation
rather than assimila-
tion") and the ultra-
traditionalists.
Mattathias and his Has-
moneans did not fight for re-
ligious pluralism. Think of
the central image which
every schoolchild remem-
bers as the start of the re-
volt. In the town of Modin, a
squad of soldiers enforces
the cult of Zeus; a Jewish
quisling sacrifices a pig; an
aroused Mattathias defies
the soldiers, stabs the
traitor and holds up the
standard of revolt, crying,
"Who is for the Lord, come
with me!"
With all honor to the
courageous band who took
to the hills and courage-
ously defeated a world em-
pire, stabbing is not one of
the strongest arguments for
religious freedom.
Mattathias, Judah Mac-

cabee and the brave people
who saved Judaism were
not fighting for a pluralist
Judea. They were fighting
against the state's enforce-
ment of Hellenist worship
(Continued on Page 67)

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