Years ago, in fact more years than I would care to admit, when my sons were in Hebrew school, the school principal remarked to me that she had a hard time with Hanukkah. She took issue with the religious zealotry and imperialism of the Hasmoneans. Now, at the time, I just thought of her as a progressive crank. A well-meaning crank, but a crank, nonetheless. Recent events have led me to rethink my musings on her world view.
Yes, of course, Hanukkah is a joyous occasion in our home. Latkes, dreidels, presents and parties, make this a fun time of year. Celebrating the fight for religious freedom and the strength of the Jews is a wonderful reminder of our own resilience as a People.
But there is a darker side to the Maccabee coin that we all conveniently ignore. After the Hasmoneans dispatched the Assyrian-Greeks, they turned on those Jews they deemed Hellenistic. A civil war ensued. Those Jews seen as a threat to Judaism were killed, or exiled. Afterwards, the Hasmoneans turned their attention to the surrounding nations and in ancient style captured and conquered areas trying to spread their religious ideal.
Understandably life in ancient times was much different than it is today. Your religion was your way of life. To be part of a religion, to practice it as it was meant to be, or prescribed by religious law, is what defined a People. We do not have to like this reality, but that is how politics worked several thousand years ago.
The problem though, is that in today’s day and age, despite having gone through a renaissance, a soul searching and understanding of the humanity of choice and individuality, there is a growing intolerance among so many in the Jewish community….