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December 11, 1987 - Image 42

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-12-11

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

I PURELY COMMENTARY I

Chanukah

Continued from Page 2

A silver menorah from Germany, circa 19th
Century.

Antiochus IV; he called himself
Epihanes, divinity-Made-
Manifest. The Jews privately
dubbed him Epimanes — the
madman.
His program was to secure
Syrian hegemony through the
imposition of a uniform culture
on a subdued population. To
achieve this, he set out to
stroy Judaism. Circumcision
and the observance of dietary
laws were banned. The Sabbath
was outlawed. Religious study
became a crime punishable by
death. Syrian troops pulled
,,,own the walls of Jerusalem,
marched into the city, and rais-
ed up statues of the gods in the
public squares.
They broke into the Temple
with axes and tore apart the
altar; they poured pigs' blood
over the scrolls of Scripture and
set them aflame. Amid the
cinders a huge golden Zeus rose
up. In the name of the emperor
it was required that swine be
sacrificed and eaten before the
idol. Pig was forced down
Jewish throats. Jews were com-
pelled to deck themselves with
ivy and emit wild cries in honor
of Dionysus. Women who were
discovered to have circumcised
their newborn sons were hang-
ed, together with their babies.
The choice was abandon-
ment of Judaism or death. When
the villages resisted, blood ran.
The Syrians went from town to
town all over the land, burningb
books and killing Jews.
However they may have felt
about the bloodshed, not all

42

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, 1987

Jews were opposed to the new
decrees. Greek domination had
an appeal for deracinated in-
tellectuals and would-be
aristocrats. Antiochus attracted
allies among urban sohisticates
who were confident that to be
Hellenized, to be adaptable, to
cast aside one's own nurturings,
to emulate the powerful majori-
ty, to throw oneself into foreign
rites, to surrender the heritage
of monotheism for acceptance
by upper-class style setters, was
to be transcendently univer-
salized. In order to take part in
stadium games demanding
nakedness, zealously ac-
culturated young stalwarts were
even willing to undergo an
operation to reverse circumci-
sion — in an age without
anesthesia. It was their country
cousins, the village people, who
organized as citizen-soldiers
against Antiochus; their intent
was to defend the future of
monotheism. They were only a
handful, led by a fiery family
who acquired the name Mac-
cabee: the hammer.
Therefore the judging of Chanukah
also as the inauguration of the battle
against extreme assimilation. It is the
festival that militantly introduces the
affirmation for dignity. It is the fearless
declaration that self-hatred and submis-
sion to tyranny will not be tolerated.

8 To 1 Or 1 To 8:
Shammai Vs. Hillel

F

ascination is unlimited in the
Festival of Lights. The bravery of
the Maccabees, the courage of
conviction in the ranks of the Jewish
defenders of faith, the joy in children's
celebrations, the food, the debates over
procedures — they are all on the current
calendar of events inspired by
Chanukah.
There may also be a continuing
debate, whether candle lighting should
commence with eight and be reduced to
one, or whether the lighting should
start with one and conclude with eight.
There was the Shammai versus
Hillel debate on the subject. Cynthia
Ozick also covered that dispute, relating
it in this fashion in her marvelous
essay:
There was once a rabbinic
argument about how to go
about lighting the menorah. The
argument was between two
philsophical schools: the School
of Shammai, a literal-minded,
dour bunch of sticklers, and the
School of Hillel — liberal, flexi-
ble, reasonable, insightful,
metaphorical. (It is a pleasure to
report that in the long reach of
Jewish history, Hillel nearly
always won. He wins in this
story too.)
Shammai said: Begin on the
first night with all the eight
lights lighted, and then each
night decrease the number by
one. Oh, the dryness of Sham-
mai — the effect would be to dim

the progress of the holiday. But
Hillel said: Let the glory grow!
Both Hillel and Shammai, of
course, intended to honor the lit-
tle cruse — Shammai by bluntly
emphasizing it as a climax,
Hillel by expressing the widen-
ing power of the still, small
voice.
And just here is what is
startling and paradoxical about
Chanukah: that it is purely a
spiritual possession even as it is
derived from a war story, a story
of armed resistance against a
militarily powerful, dominating,
oppressively punishing and
ultimately genocidal majority
culture out to undo the tiny
Jewish nation. Though
Chanukah's theme is scarcely
pacifist or quietist (it records,
after all, a revolutionary upris-
ing), though the Jews achieved
victory and restored their na-
tional and religious in-
dependence, Chanukah never-
theless disclainis and in-
validates heroes and weaponry
as the prime movers of history.
Its principles are mercy and
conscience. "Not by might, and
not by power, but by My spirit,
saith the Lord?'
The skirmishes were real
and bitter; the internal politics
of Israel were acerbic and divid-
ed; all the same, it is Zechariah's
words that enduringly fuel
Chanukah.

Relishing Latkes:
Recipes For Gourmets

F

or every Jewish festival there is a
cherished delicacy. Hamantash,
knishes, matza-bry, and for
Chanukah there is the latke. This sub-
ject, of the delight in food specialties,
was covered in an earlier piece on this
page. Lending the subject of food the
traditional approval is the admonition
in the Talmud: "Food must not be
treated disrespectfully." Cynthia Ozick
treats it with respect and dignity.
In her NYTimes essay, Ozick lends
it charm. For complete enjoyment of the
festival the popular author earns a
medal for this recipe:
Chanukah is about the
miracle of a little clay lamp —
the kind of primordial object,
commonplace enough, that has
turned up by the score in ar-
cheological digs in the old lands
surrounding the Mediterra-
nean. It happened once that a
lamp of this charcter — a simple
jar hung with a wick — contain-
ed only enough oil to last a
single day. Providentially, it
burned for eight; and that is the
miracle of Chanukah.
A very modest miracle, as
miracles in December go.
But halt. If Chanukah is
about a cruse of oil, then it must
also be about latkes. Now let it
be understood at the outset that
if there are any readers of these
paragraphs (and they are to be

pitied) who do not know what
latkes are, no explanation will
suffice. A recipe is practically
useless — the quantity of chop-
ped onions in latke batter is
overwhelmingly, incontestably,
intuitive. Nor is there much
point in openly admitting that
latkes are fundamentally or-
dinary potato pancakes fried in
oil. Chanukah latkes are after
all, pancakes raised well beyond
the temporal and the profane.
Imagine, to begin with, a smell
like a steaming tropical river.
(That will be the oil heating in
the pan.) Then the sound of a
hundred bird beaks pecking.
(Parachutes of batter droping
into hot snapping oil.) And —
finally — a tower of airy circles
speckled with gold, brown-crisp
along their perimeters, jubilant-
ly set down between two vast
billowing bowls, one heaped
with sunny yellow wavelets (that
will be the applesauce), the
other snowy and peaked like
Alpine mountaintops (the sour
cream).
Yet consider that all these —
pancakes, sauce,-sour cream —
barely count for the proper
ordering of Chanukah. (Israeli
Jews, for instance, mark the
holiday with sufganiot, oil-fried
jelly doughnuts.) It is true that
on Chanukah the latkes are in-
controvertibly, mouth-
wateringly, onion-savoringly,
there — if not for long. But it is
the oil that matters, in com-
memoration of the little cruse.
Such is the collective glory of a
festival relegated to "the minors" in a
defiance of that term and the uplifting
of it to great heights on the Jewish
calendar and in Jewish observance. In
that spirit let us greet all, family,
friends and community, with best
wishes for a Happy Chanukah.

Cynthia Ozick

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