The story of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is actually the story of a culture war, similar in many ways to the conflicts raging in modern America.
The need to engage and prevail in a culture war is a central lesson of this holiday, and the fact that the ancient Israelites did so paved the way for Jewish continuity and survival throughout the centuries. last two millennia. If we want to ensure that the unique and positive aspects of the American experience also endure, we must remember this Hanukkah lesson.
Hanukkah commemorates the miraculous success of the ancient Israelites led by Judah Maccabee in defeating the much larger forces of the Seleucid Empire and consecrating the Holy Temple. But the conflict did not entirely or even primarily involve the expulsion of a foreign occupying army. Instead, the main enemy repelled by the Maccabean forces was the insidious shift from Jewish practice to Greek culture and religion.
For example, statues of Greek deities were erected in the Temple. The slaughter of pigs replaced Jewish sacrifices and rituals in the Temple. Public authorities also built gymnasiums throughout the country so that children could be educated in Greek practices of physical competitions.
The Seleucid leader Antiochus IV imposed these Hellenistic customs at the request of some of the ancient Israelites who had become lovers of Greek culture and values. They were attracted to Hellenism because they perceived it to be more rational and scientific and, because it was attached to the ruling authorities, they believed that adopting these customs could prove advantageous. Those who clung to traditional Jewish practice were considered backward and burdensome, justifying the coercion of getting them to modernize.
If this story sounds familiar, it may be because it has many similarities to our current cultural conflicts. Some people have become enamored of what they believe to be rational and scientific methods and are convinced of the need to displace the traditional customs that others cling to.
If, for example, you resist your girls becoming boys, do not want girls and boys to play on the same teams or share the same locker rooms, it is only because you do not understand the advances of Gender ideology and your children must be saved from your backwardness. Mind you, gender ideology is no more scientific and rational than the cult of statues, but the ruling authorities are not inclined to doubt their superiority.
Likewise, schools and universities are increasingly dominated by the idea that America is systemically racist and that a reduction in its global influence would be a positive development. Those who fail to affirm this “true story” and continue to believe that America, for all its shortcomings, is a force for good in the world may have difficulty raising their children from this perspective. Love of country is no more fashionable among today’s ruling elites than love of God was among the Hellenized elites of antiquity.
Most people rightly hate culture wars. It is much better if we can ensure that, as George Washington – quoting Micah 4:4 – wrote to the Hebrew congregation in Newport, Rhode Island: “Everyone shall sit securely under his own vine and under his fig tree, and there will be none to frighten him.
But what happens when some are determined to recruit other people’s children or use coercion to change the way adults want to live their lives? As the story of Hanukkah teaches, the only thing worse than a culture war is giving up the freedom to live according to your values without fighting.
By fighting against the imposition of Greek culture and religion, Judah Maccabee’s forces preserved the freedom of Jews to practice their faith and raise their children according to their own values. Those today who wish to resist having their children or themselves forced to adopt certain values must emulate the steadfastness of Judah. And fortunately, there is no foreign occupying army for freedom lovers to defeat so that they can prevail; there is therefore no need to imitate the violence of Judah.
Let us hope and pray that our efforts will succeed, like those of the ancient Israelites, and that we can usher in two more millennia of American freedom. At this time of year we value peace among men, but we also remember the need to fight for freedom.