Happy Hanukkah!

To all my Jewish friends in the blogsphere, especially Jonathan, Diane, and Matthew.

For the benefit of my readers who don't know what this holiday[1] means beyond its commercial association with the generic Holiday season, here's a good summary from Wikipedia:

The miracle of Chanukah is referred to in the Talmud, but not in the books of the Maccabees. This holiday marks the defeat of Seleucid forces who had tried to prevent Israel from practising Judaism. Judah Maccabee and his brothers destroyed overwhelming forces, and rededicated the Temple. The eight-day festival is marked by the kindling of lights with a special Menorah, traditionally known amongst most Sephardim as a chanukah, and amongst many Balkan Sephardim and in Modern Hebrew as a chanukiah.

The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) says that after the occupiers had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees went in to take down the pagan statues and restore the Temple. They discovered that most of the ritual items had been profaned. They sought ritually purified olive oil to light a Menorah to rededicate the Temple. However, they found only enough oil for a single day. They lit this, and went about purifying new oil. Miraculously, that tiny amount of oil burned for the eight days it took to have new oil pressed and made ready. It is for this reason that Jews light a candle each night of the festival.

The story of Hanukkah is fascinating to me because of the narrative about pagan desecration. Judaism is as strongly monotheistic as Islam (not that Christianity isn't monotheistic, but the other two faiths seem to place more emphasis on monotheism in their daily practices and observances, in my admittedly superficial observations). Therefore the struggle to resanctify pagan defilement of the single most important Temple seems strongly echoed in the Prophet's SAW cleansing of the Ka'aba, which was built by the grand patriarch of monotheism, Ibrahim Nabi (Abraham) and defiled by the pre-Islamic pagans (jahilliya). The Prophet SAW and his successor Ali AS cleaned out the Kaaba at the end of the (bloodless) conquest of Mecca, an event beautifully rendered at the end of the movie, The Message. I find a strong parallel between Hanukkah and the reclaiming of the Kaaba, as it's a theme that lies at the very heart of the concept of faith - an affirmation, and struggle, to assert Truth over falsehood.

This theme is also a parable for our times. The struggle against the "pagans" may not be about the numerical quantity of gods we follow, but rather about the universality of human liberty. If the day comes where constitutional liberalism[2] spreads to every corner of the globe, then a memorial much like Hanukkah might be worth envisioning - one candle, for every century that mankind labored under tyranny and oppression.

[1]I am tempted to use the spelling "Chanukkah" instead of Hanukkah, but am not sure what transliteration of the Hebrew word is more accurate since i have almost no experience in Hebrew pronounciation. With Arabic words like Qur'an, I do tend towards a stricter transliteration because I have knowledge of the difference in sound represented by the Qrather than the K, the presence of the apostrophe, etc. I fear it would be presumptous of me to write Chanukkah without the analogous knowledge of what pronounciation the spelling difference represents.
[2]I have learned that freedom is not synonymous with democracy, and sometimes is even its enemy. The true measure of liberty is constitutional liberalism, not democracy for its own sake. This is a strongly Madisonian view, but after reading Fareed Zakaria's book, it's hard to dispute the evidence of history. More on this later.


Jonathan said...

Thanks, Aziz, it's very much appreciated.

Jonathan Edelstein

Rachel said...

I found my way here via Head Heeb, and wanted to thank you for this excellent post. I don't know much about the story of the cleansing of the Kaaba, but I'm going to go try to learn about it now. These kinds of parallels make my day. :-)

danny said...

The MessageThanks for pointing out the movie. For obvious reasons, I wasn't aware of any movies about Islam.

I am tempted to use the spelling "Chanukkah" instead of HanukkahThe pronunciation of the first letter in modern Hebrew is identical to the Arabic letter ?. However, the old pronounciation (yemenite Jews still speak this way) is
?; make of that you will, or, Happy Khannukah (even if it does represent the victory of fundamentalism, with its unhealthy obsession with purity).

TNB said...

The best transliteration of the Hebrew is "Chanukah." The reason some spell it starting with an 'H' is there are two letters in Hebrew that produce the guttural 'kh' sound - kof and khet, and to distinguish between them, some transliterate kof as "ch" and khet as 'h', although often with a line under the h to distinguish it from the letter hey, which is simply an 'h' sound. But that's confusing, leading some to pronounce it as Hanukah rather than Khanukah. Also, there's only one kof in the middle, so only one 'k' in the transliteration.

emily0 said...

it's approximately like this: ?????