The End of Hanukkah by Rabbi Donniel Hartman
Hanukkah lends itself to many interpretations. My teacher Rabbi Donniel Hartman offers the following insights in his most recent opinion piece.
Hanukkah is a holiday with an identity crisis. From the beginning, the rabbis had difficulty pinpointing what it was that we are celebrating. Was it the Maccabees' or God's military victory over the Assyrians? Was it a spiritual victory of Judaism over Hellenism? Or was it the miracle in which one small jar gave light in the Temple for eight days? Or is it a holiday celebrating a victory of the Jewish people against religious oppression?
...The essence of the modern era, however, may be encapsulated as the period in which such dichotomies have come to an end. A modern Jew is one who has multiple identities and multiple loyalties. He or she is a traveler in an open marketplace of ideas in search of new synergies and meanings. What a previous generation would call assimilation, that is, the penetration of "outside" ideas and cultures within a Jewish one, the modern Jew sees as essential to building a life of meaning and a Judaism of excellence.
Whatever Athens or Jerusalem might have signified in the past, today they represent the notion that to be a Jew is to live in the larger world and who aspires to create a new dialogue with that world in which both sides learn from and impact on each other. As a result, Jewish identity has changed. We no longer see our identity as singular and unique, but as integrated and complex. Jews today see themselves as citizens of both Athens and Jerusalem.
...A so-called "good Jew" is no longer one who fights Hellenism but one who maintains a Jewish core within the multiple facets of their life. It was often much easier to be a Jew when we were fighting "them," whoever "them" may have been. To maintain a Jewish commitment within a world in which dichotomies are gone requires a level of Jewish education and knowledge unparalleled in Jewish history. A dialogue between Jerusalem and Athens in which the value of each is maintained will only be possible if one knows what Jerusalem means and what values and ideas Judaism can contribute to living a meaningful life.