Monday, December 23, 2019

Missing Chanukah

Some people miss Chanukah when it's over.

Some people miss Chanukah when it's happening.

(A repost from a few years ago)
Story number one: I was once at a printing house, arranging to print 2000 copies of a sample chapter about leopards from the Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom (which you can download for free on this page). I told the (secular Israeli) woman in charge of the printing schedule that I wanted it out in time for Chanukah, because the subject matter is related to Chanukah.

"What do leopards have to do with Chanukah?" she asked.

It was a very reasonable question. I explained that in Scripture, Daniel has a prophetic vision in which he sees various animals which represent different kingdoms. He sees a leopard (with four heads and four wings!), which represents Greece.

"But what does Greece have to do with Chanukah? she asked.

Story number two: I heard a dvar Torah which, as a launch point, discussed the halachah that if the candles on the menorah blow out, you need not rekindle them. The speaker went on to describe how the message of Chanukah is that everything is in Hashem's hands, about how the Greek army was defeated entirely by way of supernatural miracles, and about how the ultimate message of Chanukah is that Torah and mitzvos is all that counts, and hishtadlus is entirely irrelevant, and basically pointless and unnecessary.

(Meanwhile, if you're in Israel for Chanukah, come visit The Biblical Museum of Natural History and learn more about the connection between leopards and Chanukah!)


  1. I am not sure which story's character is more clueless.

  2. Wow.

    For me the most inspiring part of Chanukah is the *al hanisim* prayer. The annals of military history are full of examples of situations where hopelessly outnumbered and outsupplied military units won apparently miraculous victories. The *al hanisim* prayer is a reminder that HaShem is in charge of all those victories, and everything else as well. Miralcles do not have to be supernatural.

    1. This is, of course, flawed thinking. For starters, the Chanukah story does not criticize the Greeks. Chanukah does not celebrate a victory over Hellenism and the Greeks were not the enemy. For the Maccabees were friends with Greeks. The enemy was the Syrian Greek, King Antiochus Epiphanes who arrogantly banned the observance circumcision, Sabbath, holidays, and worst of all, monotheism, when he declared himself a god and placed an idol in his likeness in the temple. Everything was theology. There were no war on cultural or philosophy.

      Secondly, G-d is not involved with the daily affairs of humans. If so, one would have to answer where was G-d during the holocaust. This led some people to conclude that G-d does not interferes with human affairs.

      Thus, G-d would not be pleased if people sit back, relax, and expect G-d to provide a miracle. This may seem harsh to many people, especially laypeople, but it is more realistic.

      In short, we should celebrate Chanukah not because we destroyed Greek cultural or philosophy but because we overcame a criminal vile, hateful and self-centered Syrian Greek who ruled his kingdom (actually our nation) arbitrarily and impulsively.

      What is the true message of Chanukah: religious freedom.

    2. Perhaps a bit more accurately, freedom to practice one's faith.

      You're also being a bit glib. The Chashmonaim were fighting, among others, Jews who were on the Hellenist side.

      But yes, the Maccabim did have an alliance with the Spartans, for example. And most if not all of the five brothers had Greek names.

    3. *Turk Hill
      Assuming you are not just a troll you may find this helpful:

      A little learning is a dangerous thing ;
      Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring :
      There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
      And drinking largely sobers us again.
      Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
      In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts ;
      While from the bounded level of our mind
      Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
      But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise
      New distant scenes of endless science rise !
      So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
      Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky ;
      The eternal snows appear already past,
      And the first clouds and mountains seem the last ;
      But those attained, we tremble to survey
      The growing labours of the lengthened way ;
      The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
      Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise !

    4. Wonderful question! Where was G-d during the holocaust? I wouldn't make a holocaust, and G-d does things according to MY understanding. Ergo, where was G-d during the holocaust? What if G-d understands things differently to you, and He did understand a need to make a holocaust? Why, you ask? I have no idea. I am not G-d.

      But if the holocaust consists of a real theological issue to you, I have a secret for you. One of the basic questions of kabbala, as elucidated by the Arizal, deals with it. How does a perfect G-d make an imperfect world? Hoe can evil exist? How does it not contradict an omniscient G-d? That is how צמצום starts, and everything continues from there.

      The idea that עזב אלקים את הארץ is quoted by the Rishonim, even so-called rationalistic ones, as a basis of kefira in Torah. Chief of all, the Rambam.

      Jason from Jersey

    5. Turk Hill, don't you find it ironic that you wrote "G-d is not involved with the daily affairs of humans," yet you use the image of the Rambam as your avatar?

    6. To comment on both Anonymous and Wagner's comments:

      Wagner, I am convinced that Rambam saw G-d as being all-powerful and that G-d is transcendental, meaning G-d is not involved in the daily activities of the world. G-d is separated. Holy.

      (Not all scholars accept this view. But think that he would agree with me.)

      Anonymous, While you have no idea, I do. Maimonides writes that G-d does not produce evil. G-d only does good. Evil is the result of three things: (1) people harm themselves, (2) people har others, and (3) natural law, although good for the world as a whole, as when a hurricane cleans the atmosphere, may kill individuals residing near the proximity. Thus, one does not need mysticism or Kabbalah to answer the holocaust. And the answer is not that Jews deserved it due to sins or past incarnations. The answer is the second cause of evil. People harm others, as when Hitler decided to expand Germany, killing millions.

    7. Thus, one does not need mysticism or Kabbalah to answer the holocaust.

      Indeed, you just need to read Ha'azinu.

    8. R.D.N. Slifkin, as an expert on rationalist Judaism and the Rambam, could you tell us your opinion of Turk Hill's comments from Dec.24/2019,12:55AM - specifically with regards to the statements:
      1. "Chanukah does not celebrate a victory over Hellenism" ... "There were [sic.] no war on cultural [sic.] or philosophy."
      2. "G-d is not involved with the daily affairs of humans."

      Thanks in advance. Much appreciated!

    9. "This is, of course, flawed thinking. For starters, the Chanukah story does not criticize the Greeks."

      Turk Hill, I read Charlie Hall's comment a few times and nowhere did he state that the Chanukah story is "criticism of the Greeks." So in what way does your response relate to his comment (leaving aside the question of whether your response is even true)?

      "Thus, G-d would not be pleased if people sit back, relax, and expect G-d to provide a miracle. This may seem harsh to many people, especially laypeople, but it is more realistic."

      None of the interpretations of Chanukah here, in Charlie Hall's post, nor in Rabbi Slifkin's many posts on Chanukah over the years, advocate any such thing. So you're in luck, those interpretations need not be discarded. But in another way you're not in luck, because your own argument is a massive straw man.

    10. You are correct about Charlie Hall's comment regarding the Greeks. However, he does comment on G-d's involvement and the nature of miracles. In this respect, I am a fan of the rationalists. For example, Maimonides, while not denying in the belief of miracles, greatly minimized them. For example, he felt that G-d does not produce the outcomes of wars (Nachmanides).

      Regarding your last paragraph, could you expound some more on why you think my argument was a straw man? I thought it was a strong case (See the comments below (bottom of page) regarding the true meaning of Chanukah).

    11. "could you expound some more on why you think my argument was a straw man?"

      Because neither Charlie Hall nor Rabbi Slifkin presented an interpretation of Chanukah that calls for Jews to "sit back relax and expect G-d to provide a miracle."
      So refuting such argument, which your counterparts here never put forth, is the essence of a straw man.

    12. Actually, my comment was not a straw man since Charlie Hall wrote:

      “The annals of military history are full of examples of situations where hopelessly outnumbered and outsupplied military units won apparently miraculous victories.”


      “HaShem is in charge of all those victories (Nachmanides,) and everything else as well (Nachmanides).”

      However, I do agree with this statement, “Miralcles do not have to be supernatural.”

  3. Also, the interpretation of Daniel seeing leopards which represents the Greeks actually represents the king of the Seleucid dynasty, not Greek cultural, thought, or people.

  4. "But what does Greece have to do with Chanukah? she asked.

    Fair question. In Greece, before the Second World War, their version of Al Hanissim referred to Hamalchut Haresha'ah and the fifth verse of Ma'oz Tsur began Surim Nikbetsu Alay, so writes the Habad Shaliach in Athens in one of this week's Parashat Hashavua magazines. After all, Antiochus & co were Syrian Greeks...

  5. אבא, למה המכבים נלחמו ביוונים?
    לא עכשיו.
    למה לא עכשיו?
    אני רואה עכשיו כדורסל.
    נו אבא!
    אה... מה זה חשוב. העיקר שהם ניצחו.
    אבא, באנציקלופדיה כתבו שזה בגלל שהמכבים לא רצו לאכול חזיר.
    יכול להיות.
    ובגלל זה היתה כזאת מלחמה!?
    תראה, חזיר זה ים של כולסטרול, אולי המכבים היו בקטע של בריאות וכל זה.
    ובגלל זה הייתה מלחמה?
    המכבים האלה מהבריאות, יכולים להיות נורא קיצוניים.
    למה היוונים הכריחו אותם לאכול חזיר?
    כי הדתיים עושים עניין מכל דבר.
    המכבים היו דתיים?
    מה פתאום, דתיים לא הולכים לצבא.
    אז איך הם ניצחו את כל היוונים?
    אלוהים עזר להם.
    אבל אמרת שאין אלוהים
    באמת אין.
    אז יש או אין?
    אין. אבל הם חשבו שיש.
    אבא, לא הבנתי.
    מה לא הבנת?
    אם יש אלוהים
    אז תשאל את אמא.
    כל פעם שאתה לא יודע משהו אתה שולח אותי לאמא
    אני יודע דברים חשובים. אם יש אלוהים זה לא חשוב.
    כתוב שיהודה המכבי ניצח את היוונים בבית חורון.
    אם כתוב אז כתוב.
    איפה זה בית חורון?
    רחוק. זה לא בארץ, באמריקה.
    אבא, קולומבוס גילה את אמריקה רק בשנת 1492
    אתה יודע שאתה נודניק? זה בשטחים.
    מה, אבא, המכבים היו מתנחלים?
    ידעתי. אולי תלך לשחק עם שון?
    אבא, כשנהיה שוב בטיב טעם, גם אותי יכריחו לאכול חזיר?
    אם אתה ממשיך עם השאלות האלה, אין פסטיגל השנה!
    אבל אבא אני מפחד, יש לי רק אחות אחת
    אז מה?
    למכבים היו חמישה אחים שנלחמו ביחד
    אולי תלך לראות דורה?
    רוצה לראות מכבי
    טוב תראה מכבי.
    אבא, איפה המכבים?
    הנה בצהוב.
    אלה מכבים?
    איך קוראים להם?
    פייזר, ביינום, באטיסטה, בלות'נטאל וקאמינגס.
    אוף אבא אתה מעצבן. זה לא שמות של מכבים
    לאן אתה הולך?
    להילחם ביוונים!
    אתה לא הולך לשום מקום!
    אני רוצה להיות מכבי, דתי ומתנחל!
    השתגעת?? אתה לא יוצא מהבית! שמעת?!!
    סתם אבא, תירגע. אני קופץ עם שון למקדונלדס
    אה. יופי. תביא לי צ'יזבורגר.
    אבא, איך ניצחנו את היוונים?
    בעזרת השם.
    אז בשביל מה המכבים?
    הם היו רק החיילים. השם עזר להם בעזרת השם, וברוך השם הם ניצחו.
    המכבים היו חיילים?
    אה... חיילים של השם, צבאות השם.
    אז המכבים היו חב"דניקים
    לא! לא! חס וחלילה!! הם היו ליטאים.
    ליהודה המכבי היה נשק?
    אז יהודה המכבי היה חילוני או גוי?
    חס ושלום, מה פתאום חילוני או גוי?
    אבל רק חילונים וגויים הולכים לצבא
    פעם גם דתיים היו הולכים לצבא.
    למה המכבים הלכו לצבא ואנחנו לא?
    כי היום התורה שומרת עלינו.
    ואז התורה לא שמרה עליהם?
    אולי תלך עם מוישי לקרוא קצת משניות?
    המכבים למדו משניות?
    למדו תורה. הרבה תורה.
    ולא עבדו?
    חס ושלום.
    אז אנטיוכוס נתן להם כסף?
    לא. הם עבדו והרוויחו פה ושם.
    בשחור כמו דוד יענקי?
    יענקי לא עובד בשחור!
    אז במה עבד מתיתיהו?
    הוא היה חקלאי.
    מתיתיהו היה תאילנדי?
    ד' ירחם, מה פתאום תאילנדי?
    אז איך הוא עבד בשדה עם חולצה לבנה?
    ומנין לך שלבש חולצה לבנה?
    מוישי אמר לי שיהודי אמיתי הולך רק עם חולצה לבנה.
    אתה מבלה יותר מדי עם המוישי הזה. אבל הוא צודק.
    מה רצו המכבים?
    הם רצו מדינה יהודית עצמאית, שהם ינהלו אותה.
    זה גם מה שאנחנו רוצים?
    כן, אבל אסור לנו להגיד את זה. אנחנו לא צייוינים.
    אבא אני רוצה להיות מכבי, ציוני, חייל!!
    געוואלד! מה קרה לך?!
    בצחוק אבא, אני הולך להופעה של שוואקי.
    אה, יופי. תמסור ד"ש למשפחה של מוישי.

  6. To comment on both yonatanka's and Turk Hill's comments:

    Sure, the immediate political and military threat was from Antiochus in Syria, but the Hellenizing culture was still Greek in origin and in the most visible aspects. Look at the names of the Kohanim Gedolim that bribed their way into power prior to the Chashmonaim's revolt: Jason and Menelaus. The Seleucids may have "gone native" a little, donning some of the Persian trappings of rulership - even acquiring Indian elephants - but at their core they were Greek.

    And the leopard with four heads is clearly Alexander's Macedonian Greek empire, which became divided into the Diadochi kingdoms.

    So yes, the celebration at the time was for the specific quartet of military victories, but for all time we use this as a symbol to our having the Torah life overcoming the secular world, which is descended from Greek philosophy and science.

    (And in order to protect the rationalist bent of the blog, we don't say science is conquered and destroyed and therefore invalid, just that the attitude of hedonism and paganism that came with/still comes with a Greek-only/secular-only viewpoint is wrong. Rather, we allow science and world society to function through the lens of Torah. Yaft Elokim L'Yefes v'yishkon b'oholei Shem" and all that...

    end hopefully unnecessary disclaimer)

    1. If the war was against Greek culture and Greek thought, why have so many rabbis took Greek names, Greek philosophy (Rambam) and Greek culture?

      Your last paragraph contradicts this sentence, "Torah life overcoming the secular world, which is descended from Greek philosophy and science." Thus, you are saying that "science is conquered and destroyed and therefore invalid."

      However, Rambam disagreed. He considered the study of science to be a mitzvah. Rambam also taught that "the truth is the truth no matter the source." Thus, he had no quarrels accepting the philosophy of the Greek pagan Aristotle.

    2. However, Rambam disagreed. He considered the study of science to be a mitzvah. Rambam also taught that "the truth is the truth no matter the source." Thus, he had no quarrels accepting the philosophy of the Greek pagan Aristotle.

      More fool him, as it turns out. You'd probably get more accurate scientific knowledge from talking to a moderately bright five year old than studying Islamic NeoPlatonist commentaries on Aristotle.

  7. Antigonus of Socho had a Greek name.

  8. ספר מורה הנבוכים חלק ג פרק נא
    הנה התבאר לך כי הסבה בהיות איש מבני אדם מופקר למקרה ויהיה מזומן ליאכל כבהמות, הוא היותו נבדל מהשם, אבל מי שאלהיו בקרבו לא יגע בו רע כל עקר... התבונן בשיר של פגעים, תראה שהוא מספר ההשגחה ההיא הגדולה, והמחסה והשמירה מכל הרעות הפוגעות, הכוללות והמיוחדות באיש אחד זולתי שאר בני אדם, לא מה שהוא נמשך מהם אחר טבע המציאות, ולא מה שהוא מהם מצער בני אדם, אמר כי הוא יצילך מפח יקוש מדבר הוות... והגיע מספור השמירה מצער בני אדם, שאמר שאתה אילו יקרה שתעבור במלחמת חרב פושטת ואתה על דרכך עד שיהרגו אלף הרוגים משמאלך ועשרת אלפים מימינך, לא יגע בך רע בשום פנים,

    מגן אברהם סימן רצה הקדמה
    פסוק ויהי נועם יאמרו מעומד [כתבים] ויש מקומות שא"א ויהי נועם בבית אבל רק מתחילין יושב בסתר [כ"ה] עסי' רצ"ו ס"ז וכופלין פסוק אורך ימים וגו'... אח"כ מצאתי בתשב"ץ כשכופלין אותו יש בו תיבות כמנין הכהנים ק"ל שכהני חשמונאי אמרו אותו במלחמ' ונצחו

  9. I think Daniel 12 is referring to the Chanukah story. Daniel could have lived around the time of the Maccabean revolt, a time when the Syrian Greeks were seducing Jews to Hellenism. Daniel’s vision could have been centered around this point. Also, the conversation about afterlife would be out of context.

    Additionally, Daniel was being told to "rise" and "awake" against the Hellenists. The "wise" are scholars who practice judaism correctly. Although Daniel is told to be patient, to “rest," he is assured that he will be among the victors in the "end of the days.” If this is true, then Daniel 12 isn't speaking about the resurrection of the dead or the afterlife, but a revival of Judaism.

  10. Chanukah does not celebrate the death of Hellenism or Greece

    Jonathan Kirsch understands that the Jews and Greek held a long standing relationship before and after the Maccabee revolt.[1] For example, the Jews translated the Bible into Greek called the Septuagint in 250 B.C.E. They did so again with Aquilas around the first third of the second century C.E. Many Midrashim even celebrate and even welcome Alexander the Great into Jerusalem by the high priest when he sought to conquer Egypt in 332 B.C.E. Also, Hellenistic paganism was considered to be very open-minded as they adopted many religions. Even the Romans adopted Christianity as its official state religion in 313 A.D. Even after the 164 B.C.E., Judah Maccabee had good relations with Greek, for example he had good exchanges with far-away Sparta. King John Hyrcanus adopted Greek many names, including Tarphon and Antigonus. Rabbi Judah the Prince, redactor of the Mishnah, taught some of his students Greek subjects. Eventually, Maimonides would adopt much of the philosophy of the fourth-century Greek pagan Aristotle, teacher of Alexander the Great.

    Actually, the enemy was the Syrian Greek King, Antiochus Epiphanes, who outlawed Jewish religious practices and rites, such as circumcision, the observance of Shabbat, the readings of the Torah, and monotheism. Thus, the Chanukah story does not celebrate a victory over Hellenism and the enemy was not the Greeks.

    [1] A History of the End of the World, 32–34.


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