“You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself”

Leviticus 19:18

Chanukah Reconsidered

Chanukah?

Every year we celebrate Chanukah without a lot of consideration of its larger message. Chanukah’s a fun holiday; but is there more to Chanukah than the relative fluff of giving gifts, playing with the dreidel and eating latkes?

As it turns out, Chanukah speaks to our modern day American Jewish experience. Chanukah is all about the Maccabees fighting against forced and voluntary assimilation into the then dominant society of the Seleucid Empire.

The parallels to today are striking. We can live an affluent and comfortable life, without giving any thought to our Jewish identity, and thereby voluntarily assimilate into modern day
western culture. The pessimists among us warn that Jews will cease to exist if we don’t work hard to preserve our identity by clinging to, and aggressively teaching, our traditions. On Chanukah, we are supposed to remember and pass on its message by, among other things, gifting, spinning and eating. Ironically, none of these three Chanukah traditions are historically Jewish.

Modern day Chanukah gifting is a response to Christmas. The dreidel was adopted from an English/Irish 16th century gambling game and latkes were made by Poles centuries before Jews migrated to central Europe. So, it turns out that three of the most recognizable Chanukah traditions weren’t originally Jewish; and one of them, spinning the dreidel, was invented as a winter dice game.

Acculturation. Not Assimilation.

Jews haven’t survived for 5779 years by blindly clinging to the past and refusing to change. We are good at changing and adapting, i.e., we acculturate. As such, our current “traditions” are a melting pot of things that people did, ate and celebrated in the many places that our ancestors lived.

Acculturation is key to Jewish survival and isn’t necessarily bad. Acculturation is not the same as assimilation. The Maccabees fought because there was a “red line” that they could not cross and remain Jewish. I have red lines that I will not cross as an acculturated Jew. They are my core beliefs which, if compromised, mean to me that I am no longer a Jew. On this Chanukah I’m updating my list of Jewish red lines.

What are your red lines? Is it time to update your list?

Article courtesy of  The Chronicle Temple Beth El Boca Raton

Mark Sunshine

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