Just in time for everyone’s favorite minor Jewish holiday, Slate has an article that reminds us of the true spirit of Chanukkah: theocratic civil war.
Like many Jewish holidays, Chanukkah is pretty ambiguous once you scratch the surface. It celebrates not just the victory of the Maccabees over their Assyrian Greek overlords, but also their defeat of the assimilationist, Hellenized elements in Judean society. In modern terms, it would be the defeat of Tel Aviv at the hands of Jerusalem. Or the defeat of the Shah at the hands of the Islamic Revolution. It was a reactionary reimposition of religious rule on a people who had been drifting culturally toward a globalized ecumenism.
Judaism has been undergoing this struggle from its beginnings, between the desire to guard the unique identity of the Jewish people and the urge to be a normal nation. You can see it in the conflict between Moses and those who wished to return to Egypt, and you can see it in the demands of the Hebrews for a king “such as all the other nations have,” which gravely displeases the prophet Samuel (I Samuel 8:4-6). This tension has continued to the present day and remains an important aspect of Israeli and American Jewish politics.