Hanukkah may be the most misunderstood Jewish holiday. Considered a minor celebration of a victory that took place over 2,300 years ago, it has important implications for the culture war that rocks America today.
Hanukkah is, in part, about a war of national liberation. The Syrian Greeks (a remnant of Alexander the Great’s empire) occupied the land of Israel in the second century BCE.
They believed the Jews were primitive people obsessed with their idea of one universal God, while the Greek pantheon (with gods who had human attributes) could be related to more easily. Worse, the God of Israel had a moral code the Greeks found frankly obnoxious.
Greek civilization had philosophy, art, music and literature. The Jews were seen as a backward lot with their flocks and fields — the ancient equivalent of flyover country.
The occupiers tried to civilize the conquered by outlawing the practice of Judaism (including circumcision and Torah study — which they found really threatening). They set up idols in the Temple and built gymnasiums where young men practiced in the nude, an assault on modesty. Violating their edicts was punishable by death.
An elderly priest named Mattathias and his sons (who came to be called Maccabees) led a revolt. Greek civilization was defeated by a guerrilla band. The Temple was cleansed and rededicated. A miracle occurred when sacred oil that should have lasted a day burned for eight, in remembrance of which Jews light menorahs for the eight nights of the Festival of Lights.
Hanukkah commemorates the initial struggle for the soul of the West between Athens and Jerusalem. Greeks worshipped the ephemeral, Jews the transcendent. For Greeks, beauty was holy. For Jews, the holy was beautiful.
Now, more than two millenniums later, it’s “Hanukkah: The Sequel.”
The two sides seem remarkably similar to those in the Hanukkah story. In the culture war, one side believes in an evolving moral code shaped by convenience and popular opinion. The other subscribes to a code that’s both universal and eternal.
The left views conservatives as the intellectually great unwashed, fanatics driven by hate — MAGA country. Like the Greek occupiers of ancient Israel, it is determined to civilize us by compelling us to worship its idols, including gay marriage, gender ideology and abortion on demand. Congress just passed the deceptively named Respect for Marriage Act, which mandates same-sex unions nationally, regardless of the sentiments of primitives in the hinterlands.
This sweeps aside the moral code of Sinai on which America was founded. There are punishments for those who resist. Two cases before the Supreme Court, involving a Christian baker and a Christian web designer, will decide if the government can compel dissenters to affirm that which their hearts tell them is wrong.
A key component of gender ideology is transgenderism. Will girls be forced to shower and use restrooms with biological males who say they’re female? Will women’s sports be open to men with superior strength and agility?
Morality, modesty and safety — all are to be sacrificed on the altar of diversity and inclusion.
Abortion is the most contentious front in the culture war. Advocates of abortion access claim to have the right to dispose of inconvenient life. It demands a right to abortion up to the moment of birth — in other words, for a fully formed child well past the point where it can survive outside the womb.
Besides guaranteeing this purported right, its proponents would force taxpayers to subsidize it and medical personnel to participate in the procedure.
Following Mosaic law, for the Jews, human life was sacred. The Greeks had no compunctions about infanticide. Newborns who were sickly, deformed or unwanted could be exposed to the elements.
In the aftermath of Dobbs, we saw the real face of the pro-abortion movement — churches vandalized, crisis pregnancy centers attacked, death threats and the attempted murder of a Supreme Court justice. Violence in the womb begat violence in the streets.
In our culture war, today’s Greeks hold the high ground. The Maccabees are everywhere in retreat.
The left has the news media, entertainment, Big Tech and most of the federal establishment. As a result, America is rapidly secularizing — becoming one nation under nothing.
At the start of his revolt, Mattathias issued the stirring call to arms, “Whoever is for God, follow me.”
In America of the 21st century, where will we find our Maccabees?
• Don Feder is a columnist with The Washington Times.