Hanukkah has of course ended but its themes still linger. In Israel this past week 39 ultra-Orthodox rabbis representing various municipalities issued a ruling that Jews should not rent to non-Jews. The vast majority have of course decried their ruling and the Attorney General is now investigating whether any laws have been broken. Prime Minister Netanyahu denounced the ruling as well. Even Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Elyashiv, the head of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian community, said in response, "I've said for some time that there are rabbis who must have their pens taken away from them." I am sure he might say the same thing to some of my writings, nonetheless his words are here on the mark. No matter where you live it is impossible to cut off the world.
The spirit of the Maccabees lives on. That is what I have been thinking about lately. I have been mulling over Hanukkah's long since suppressed history. The heroes of our Hanukkah story quickly became corrupt and oppressive. Civil war soon erupted under their autocratic rule. They executed their fellow Jews who opposed their rule. (According to one history that I read, they in fact crucified hundreds of opponents.) They practiced forced conversions. They persecuted the Pharisees, the forerunners of who we know as the rabbis. Absolute rule breeds corruption and more importantly an unwillingness to confront the other. It fosters an insularity from ideas different than one's own.
On the other hand a small part of me understands the rabbis' ruling. Many Israelis feel besieged and delegitimized. When far too many, most especially the Palestinians and their Arab supporters, declare that Jews never lived in the land of Israel or the city of Jerusalem it fosters in our hearts contempt for the world at large. But we must fight this feeling. The impulse to shut the world out is the far more dangerous and sinister feeling. Those are the consuming fires the Maccabees lit centuries ago. It was they who rightly fought against outside oppressors but who then shut out and persecuted all who opposed their views (except of course when it served to maintain their power, as for example when they hired gentile mercenaries).
This past week as well the fires in the Carmel forest were finally extinguished. 42 police officers lost their lives, including the highest ranking woman in the Israeli police force, Haifa police commander Ahuva Tomer. The fire was apparently started by a high school boy smoking a hookah. He was so afraid to tell anyone that he was smoking hashish that when he accidentally started the fire he neglected to tell anyone. The fire quickly spread because of high winds and the extensive drought Israel is now experiencing. For all who have contributed to the JNF and planted trees in Israel, thereby participating in the reclamation of the land, this fire is particularly wrenching. So many years of tree planting burned in a few short days! Israel's lack of preparedness and lack of proper firefighting equipment is (pick your language) a busha, shanda, embarrassment. How does arguably the best air force in the world not have any firefighting planes? How did Israel not learn after the Hezbullah rocket started fires of 2006? Netanyahu was forced to appeal to the world for help. Planes and firefighters arrived from Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Switzerland, the United States, Azerbaijan, Croatia and France. Israel is supposed to be able to defend itself. In this instance it could not.
Perhaps this is the lesson those 39 rabbis need to learn. It is impossible to live alone. It is impossible to live in isolation. The Maccabees were ultimately consumed by their inability to learn this truth If we relearn this lesson then the Hanukkah fires will not have burned for naught.