Hanukkah, though defined by Judaism as a “minor holiday” because it is not biblically ordained, is in truth a major battleground for the heart and soul of Judaism and the Jewish people. In Israel, Hanukkah is a potent symbol for “political Zionism” and emphasizes the Israeli role as the central actor in our people’s restoration of Jewish sovereignty on the ancient land. In North America, Hanukkah represents liberal Judaism’s aspirations for religious freedom consistent with the First Amendment to the US Constitution and as a symbol of Jewish pride and identity in a dominant Christian culture. For Chabad, Hanukkah represents the essence of religious identity and the mission to rekindle the flame of the soul and restore it to God.
The cultural war being played out in contemporary Jewish life is based on the different responses to the central and historical question that has always given context to Hanukkah — “Which Jews are destroying Jewish life and threatening Judaism itself?” Regardless of our different approaches to this holiday and the nature of our identification as Jews, there is something of the zealot in each of us. If we hope to avoid, therefore, the sin of sinat chinam (baseless hatred between one Jew and another) that the Talmud teaches was the cause of the destruction of the 2nd Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. (B.T., Yoma 9b), we need to prepare ourselves to be candles of light and understanding and not knives of hate and fear. We need to bring the love of God and our love for the Jewish people back into our homes and communities.
To be successful in battling the intense polarization that now plagues the American and Israeli Jewish communities — religiously, politically, culturally and psychologically — every Jew will need courage, compassion, knowledge, understanding, faith and grit. The future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people is at stake.
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles, a national co-chair of the J Street Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet, the immediate past national chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America and the author of two books: Why Judaism Matters — Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation and Why Israel [and its Future] Matters — Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation.
Eight nights, eight ways to deepen your involvement, awareness and impact
For each night of Hanukkah, we have a recommended activity — a way to learn more about the issues, get more involved in J Street or help drive change. You can do all eight in order, switch them up, or pick and choose what’s most meaningful to you.