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Monday, December 22, 2003

My Response to Chernut

submitted to the Daily Camera
Ira Chernus structures his advocacy for the Geneva Accords (Guest Opinion, 12/21/03) around a notion of Chanukah that will leave readers with a misimpression of this Jewish holiday. He describes it thus: “In the Jewish community this Hanukkah, when we celebrate a struggle for freedom, we are struggling to free ourselves from an old myth.”

In fact, quite the opposite is true. The story of Chanukah calls for our return to an “old myth,” i.e. the cardinal principles of Jewish faith and practice.

The Greek/Syrian oppressors of the original Chanukah story did not threaten the Jews physically, but spiritually. They sought to annul the covenant between us and our G-d, by outlawing the obligation of circumcision, the study of Torah, the keeping of the Sabbath and the sanctification of the new moon (Rosh Chodesh), upon which the dates of all the festivals depend.

Those whose military victory we celebrate on the first night of Chanukah were not “progressives” in favor of appeasing their enemy through empty peace-making. They were the “right-wing extremists,” the “settlers” of their time, the “war-mongers” – who fought and gave their lives rather than abdicate their Jewish identity. It was these unlikely few into whose hands were delivered the many.

Chanukah is in fact a celebration of “the old myth of uncompromising, violent nationalism” that Chernus would have us “grow beyond.” He may personally have “an interest in seeing Jews . . . free themselves from the past,” but it is dishonest to project that goal beyond himself, onto the Jewish community as a whole.

For many of us, Chanukah is not a matter of “struggling to free ourselves from an old myth.” It is an enduring opportunity to engage in the timeless, ongoing war between sanctity and defilement.

When we light the Chanukah candles, we reiterate the Jewish worldview that reality is essentially spiritual, not physical. We reject false promises made by false prophets, and dedicate our faith solely, uncompromisingly, to the Holy One Above.

Spiritual warriors, light your candles! Chanukah Sameach!