Sunday, November 15, 2015

Some thoughts for Chanukka

Sar Shalom

As we enter the month of Kislev, I would like to share a question posed by Rabbi Chayyim Angel. The issue is why was the Chanukka story not canonized into the Hebrew Bible? The simple answer is that the Chanukka story occurred after the time that the Bible was closed. However Rabbi Angel added a discussion about what happened in the Chanukka story and how it resonated with the late Mishnaic rabbis who finalized the decision of what was and what was not included in the Hebrew Bible.

The fundamental feature of the Chanukka story is that the Hasmoneans were zealots. As priests, their role model was Pinchas, who upon witnessing someone openly defy Moses' exhortation against sexual relations with the surrounding Moabites responded by killing the offenders as they commenced the act. Following in Pinchas' footsteps, when the Hasmoneans witnessed the Hellenizing Jews partaking of pig sacrifices and neglecting circumcision, sometimes even reversing their own circumcision, they reacted against both the Hellenizing Jews and Seleucid agents supporting them. The result of the Hasmoneans' zealotry was the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in Judah and with it the resumption of Jewish worship in the Temple.

Now fast forward to the late Mishnaic era. The rabbis of that era had witnessed a very different example of zealotry, that of the Bar Kochba rebellion. The result of the Bar Kochba rebellion is that when it was suppressed, the remaining Jews found themselves subject to Hadrianic decrees and Rome ceased to refer to the land as Judea, afterwards always referring to it as Palestine. Seeing this, the rabbis came to see the dangers of zealotry and thus not only excluded the Chanukka story from all sacred texts, but excluded nearly all mention of Chanukka at all from the Mishna.

Similar to Jewry's experience with the dangers of zealotry, European Christendom gained experience with the consequences of zealotry through centuries of interdenominational wars. Responding to this, the Enlightenment developed in Europe leading to the prevailing European ethos we see today that strongly frowns on religious zealotry.

In contrast to the experience of Jewry and Christendom, Islam* has no direct experience with the consequences of zealotry. The result is that the aversion to zealotry that has permeated Jewry and Christendom has not permeated Islam as deeply, hence the readiness of Muslims enlist in the zealous cause.

There are two implications of this distinction between Islam and Jewry and Christendom. One of them is that those warning of the dangers of Islam, whether of the religion or the civilization, are drawing on a kernel of truth. There is a strain that is genuinely part of Islam that tolerates and encourages the extremists' zealous actions.

However, the second point is that it is only a kernel of truth. There is nothing inevitable about adhering to the five pillars of Islam (the religion) leading one to zealotry on behalf of the faith or even to accepting that those who do are practicing the true faith. Indeed, parts of Islam have adopted doctrines that enable sharing the world with other faiths as equals. One such doctrine is dividing the classic concept of Dar-al-Harb (lands to be conquered) into multiple categories such as Dar-al-Hudna (lands where there is a truce) and Dar-al-Amn (lands where Muslims can practice freely as a minority). What we need to do is demonstrate the message to the 1 billion Muslims of this world that if they adopt any doctrine with the effect that they can accept the other faiths of the world as equals, then they will be welcomed with open arms. While no individual should be held accountable for their coreligionists, the Muslims who reject such doctrines must be dealt with forcefully.

*Judaism and Christianity have the words Jewry and Christendom respectively to indicate the civilizations associated with the corresponding religions. In contrast, the word "Islam" is used to denote both the religion and the civilization associated with it. In this post, unless otherwise noted, "Islam" is used to refer to the civilization.

Now for some music to get ready for Chanukka.
First, a chorus from Händel's oratorio Judas Maccabeus which is roughly about the Chanukka story.

Then the tune from that chorus applied to Hallel, the traditional Psalms of praise said during each holiday.


  1. What you call fanaticism I call piety.

  2. Sar Shalom,

    this is a terrific post.

    I sometimes find your material, grounded within Jewish religious tradition, a bit challenging.

    But that is a good thing.

    "While no individual should be held accountable for their coreligionists, the Muslims who reject such doctrines must be dealt with forcefully.

    I am going to put this in the bluntest way possible.

    The Islamic State needs to be elimnated.


    It needs to be dealt with in the same manner as Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.

    1. The Islamic State needs to be elimnated.

      I certainly agree with that. The only qualification I would make is that our tactics have to avoid turning potential allies in that task, such as the Iraqi tribes, into defenders of the Islamic Junta.

      I would also add that it's not just those walk the walk of the Islamic Junta. It's also those who agree that it is impious to muddle the doctrine of Dar-al-Harb but who, while considering those who do act on such belief as righteous, are not about to personally do so. Saying that all such people have to be eliminated would lead to a large number of people about whom we can only say "off with their heads." Yet, we still need to do something about that belief even without readiness to action. Hence my formulation of "must be dealt with forcefully."

  3. And who's going to do that? Half the west is craven and afraid and the other half, halfway supports them? If we have to cut off the cancerous limb of Europe so that Islamoinsanity eats itself to death then that's something I personally can live with.

  4. "In the last week of May, the Qatar-based Arabic news network Al-Jazeera polled its Arabic-language audience on the question: “Do you support the victories of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in your region?”

    The results were shocking. Of the 56,881 Arabic-speaking respondents, a whopping 81% voted yes..."

    Reality sucks.

    1. That's why they need to be roundly defeated. Only when the 81% see this group as nothing but a colossal failure and that such ideology and acts can lead only to unbearable pain and annihilation will they change.

    2. France should take the lead on this for obvious reasons, with major support from the United States.

      They need to put together a coalition that will have enough strength of will to put boots on the ground and go in there and kick their bleeding asses.

      ISIS needs to be eliminated in the manner of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

      They yearn for their 72 virgins and I certainly think that we should be kind enough to help deliver them.

  5. how many in people in Qatar can read?

  6. Erm...

    I'm telling ya, one of these nights I am going to be walking George on his leash when a plain white van comes trundling down the road, stops right next to me, the door swing open and I get kidnapped by a couple of pissed-off Pakistanis or something.

    And, ya know what?

    I am going to blame Kumar!

    {Or maybe Trudy.}