Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Chanukah Miracles

[somehow, I put the wrong link in when I first posted this - if you clicked through, try it again - it's much better than the other one!]

Nothing for a month or more, now three posts in a day. It's all about momentum...

Anyway, as you probably know, tonight is the first night of Chanukah. Chanukah is a strange holiday, because it's been so heavily influenced by Christmas - most people realize that the holiday has become so much more important to Jews in the West because our neighbors are celebrating a major festival of their own around the same time (well, most years - this year, we're pretty far apart), and we've done a bit of compensating, as a result.

I suspect that I'm not alone in that, when I was a kid, I loved Chanukah - I thought it was the best holiday. No big surprise - presents will do that to a kid. But, as I grew older, I began to care less about Chanukah - I realized how much our celebration of this festival reflected a kind of assimilation (not exactly the right word, but close enough for now), and a kind of me-too-ism which didn't seem so necessary, once I started to gain a stronger, more mature Jewish identity. Many of us become somewhat proud of minimizing the importance of this holiday which is, strictly speaking, pretty minimally important, in the grand scheme of things. It was a sign of our seriousness as "authentic Jews" that we didn't invest too much emotion into these 8 days.

But, as I've gotten even older, and been able to learn more, I've come to appreciate Chanukah on an even deeper level. The truth is that, however minor or major it may be, Chanukah is an incredibly interesting holiday. The simple story that we tell the kids - the mighty Maccabees defeat the terrible Syrian-Greeks! - misses so much nuance.

The Maccabees were really fighting, among others, Jews who wanted to acculturate - not assimilate fully into the outside culture, but take the best of both worlds and live as honestly as possible as "Modern People," and as Jews. That sounds familiar to me - it's what all of us non-Ultra-Orthodox Jews are trying to do. And, the Maccabees weren't so pure, themselves - ironically, they relied on logical reasoning, imported from the Greek world, to justify some of their actions against the Greeks. So, the purists only fought off the outside culture by appropriating some of it! Crazy!

And then there are the lessons which, whatever you make of the history of the holiday, really can continue to inspire. I came across this lovely article about Chanukah - pointing out some messages which permeate these days of light. See the possibilities of redemption in the ruins of our world. See the sacred, where others see only defilement. Find the small vessels of purity, even if they're few and well hidden. Trust yourself enough to light the flame which begins to banish the darkness.

Those are lessons which even a kid can understand, but only an adult can really grasp.

Chag Urim Sameach - a happy Festival of Lights to you all.

Israel - Rogue, and proud of it

I had recently heard about a debate at the renowned Cambridge debating club on the topic, "Israel is a Rogue State." I heard about it because, by several accounts, Israel fared better in the debate than anyone could have expected. But, I hadn't read more than snippets from the most powerful, effective presentation from the event. One of the speakers on the "pro" side of the issue took a rather unique approach. He declared that Israel is indeed rogue, and that's a very, very good thing for Israel, and for the world:

THE WORD “rogue” has come to have exceptionally damning connotations. But the word itself is value-neutral. The OED defines rogue as “Aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,” while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: “behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.”

These definitions and others center on the idea of anomaly – the unexpected or uncommon. Using this definition, a rogue state is one that acts in an unexpected, uncommon or aberrant manner. A state that behaves exactly like Israel.

Given the world that we live in, and the way in which most countries act, do we really want to encourage countries to act like everyone else? I mean, given the countries in that particular region of the world, is being non-rogue (i.e. similar) a good thing, at all?

As the speaker points out, Egypt shoots people who are trying to get into that country - trying to get in, because they're from Darfur, and the alternative is a living hell. Israel? Israel takes them in, makes some of them citizens. Even sends out soldiers to help the ones who can't quite make it.

There's so much more - a free press, equal rights for women, official investigations of governmental misdeeds. In the Middle East, these are indeed "rogue," in the purest sense of the word.

And, we should all be really thankful that there is a country as "rogue" as this. Because, they often do the things that no one else will:

And here’s an argument for all of you – Israel willfully and forcefully disregards international law. In 1981 Israel destroyed Osirak – Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb lab. Every government in the world knew that Hussein was building a bomb. And they did nothing. Except for Israel.

Yes, in doing so they broke international law and custom. But they also saved us all from a nuclear Iraq. That rogue action should earn Israel a place of respect in the eyes of all freedom-loving peoples. But it hasn’t.

But tonight, while you listen to us prattle on, I want you to remember something: While you’re here, Khomeini’s Iran is working towards the Bomb. And if you’re honest with yourself, you know that Israel is the only country that can, and will, do something about it. Israel will, out of necessity, act in a way that is the not the norm, and you’d better hope that they do it in a destructive manner. Any sane person would rather a rogue Israel than a nuclear Iran.

On Same-Sex adoption

So, I've been incredibly bad about blogging for a while - life got busy, and all of that. I really want to recommit to writing, though - not only because I know how much you all love to read my every word, but also because I find that it really gets my mind going - especially when we get a good, even contentious discussion going in the comments section. So, hopefully I'll get back to posting regularly.

As a quick hit, I give you this recent posting by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (he of the Kosher Sex fame). Rabbi Boteach is the closest thing you're ever going to find to a liberal Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi, I think, and he often has interesting takes on various hot topics. When it comes to the issue of same-sex couples being allowed to adopt children? Well...

But to my fellow straight people I offer the following challenge. You have every right to oppose gay marriage. It's a free country. We don't suppress opinions. But aren't you under a moral obligation to adopt the children in their stead? Surely leaving kids to drown without love is deeply immoral. But to stop others from rescuing them is an abomination.

You know, I've often said that I don't think that religion and morality are the same thing - being religious is not the same as being a good person. But, being a good person is an essential part of being religious. In other words, you don't have to be religious to be moral, but you have to be moral to be religious. Or, in the words of Rabbi Boteach:

I am an Orthodox Jew. Judaism and the Bible have been the center of my life for all my 44 years. But if religion has not taught me to respect all men and women who adopt an unloved orphan and be inspired by their example, then it has failed to bring out my humanity or change my heart.
It's a short article, and well worth clicking through to read. Enjoy!