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Happy Greasy Foods and Fundamentalism Week!

I recently saw a meme that made me laugh out loud. It was called “A List of Jewish Holidays for Non-Jews,” and it explained each holiday by encapsulating its essence in plain English. According to this meme, our Jewish calendar includes the following:

Jewish New Year

Jewish Apology Day

Nomadic Hut Appreciation Day

Bible Party Time

Greasy Foods and Fundamentalism Week

Jewish Arbor Day

Dry Crackers Week

Harvest and Also Bible Day

I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which. Call me if you need a hint!

After reading (and laughing) many times, I decided my favourite is “Greasy Foods and Fundamentalism Week,” which is of course a description of Chanukah. It’s not an altogether bad explanation – after all, we spend the week eating foods fried in oil and celebrating the exploits of the Maccabees. And the Maccabees were, by many accounts, the Jewish strict constructionists of their day. Unlike others, they were not willing to yield on matters like Sabbath observance, circumcision, and worship of other gods. And they were willing to kill for it – both the occupying Greek army, and their fellow Jews who were more lax and whom they saw as betrayers. 

In that sense, the Maccabees are uncomfortable heroes for us as liberal Jews. We admire their commitment to Jewish continuity, and we certainly admire their bravery in fighting for freedom and independence. But they do not represent the values of progressivism, pluralism, and tolerance that we hold dear. 

This is the paradox of Chanukah. On the one hand, it is a festival of freedom - we are grateful during this time of year for our own freedom to congregate, pray, and live as Jews. And on the other hand, Chanukah tells of the terrible price that we Jews have paid when we have been intolerant of one another: causeless fighting and war, infighting between those who do not recognize the validity of each other’s forms of Judaism. Sadly, this is not foreign to our times.

We can understand that the Maccabees as people of their own time and place. Judah and his brothers – and the armies that they led – loved their Judaism, loved the Jewish people, and fought for their right to be Jews in the best way they knew how – and in the way that the times demanded. They were not modern people, and so we cannot expect modern values of them. Had they lived in twenty-first century Canada, we can hope that they would have held a more tolerant outlook, but that their commitment to Judaism would have remained. 

When we read the text this way, we can be inspired by the Maccabees’ bravery and the strength of their Jewish identity, and at the same time we can redouble our commitment to fighting for a Judaism that is progressive, pluralistic and tolerant. We pray that the time may come soon when this dream will be a reality, both here in North America and across the ocean in Israel. When we Jews will celebrate what we have in common, and engage in respectful dialog about what divides us. Then we can transcend “Greasy Foods and Fundamentalism Week” and celebrate a true Festival of Lights.

I hope to see you for the Night of a Thousand Candles on Friday, December 27 at 6:30. May it be a joyous Chanukah season for us all.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

 

Tue, 20 October 2020 2 Cheshvan 5781