Chanukah is not a cute holiday. Despite the cutification* of the day, the real story of Chanukah is violent, ironic, troubling and very relevant to us, politically and religiously.
* cutification (n): to make something cuter. I just made that up.
Much to my surprise, the New York Times ran an Op Ed this morning, written by David Brooks, explaining the real story. It is, quite frankly, one of the most cogent and concise descriptions of the holiday – the actual story, and some important, often overlooked morals – that I’ve seen.
They were not the last bunch of angry, bearded religious guys to win an insurgency campaign against a great power in the Middle East, but they may have been among the first. They retook Jerusalem in 164 B.C. and rededicated the temple. Their regime quickly became corrupt, brutal and reactionary. The concept of reform had been discredited by the Hellenizing extremists. Practice stagnated. Scholarship withered. The Maccabees became religious oppressors themselves, fatefully inviting the Romans into Jerusalem.
But there is no erasing the complex ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices.
If all you know about is some oil that burned for longer than it should have, then take 5 minutes and give this a read!