Sorry, “New York Times,” Hanukkah Celebrates Religious Freedom, Not Persecution

On Sunday, the New York Times published an op-ed article titled “The Hypocrisy of Hanukkah,” in which Michael David Lucas—a novelist who this year decided to do some cursory research on the subject—reports discovering that the holiday commemorates a war between radical Hellenizers and those who wanted to preserve Judaism. The author cites Hasmonean efforts to repress Hellenistic Jews while making no mention of the persecution of Jews at the hands of the Syrian Greeks (or “Romans,” as Lucas had it before a correction was published). Jonathan Tobin explains what he gets wrong:

Lucas concludes that . . . he would have identified more with those city-dwellers embracing Hellenistic practices, like eating pork, than with the efforts of “rural religious zealots.” He sees the Maccabean victory as one of “fundamentalism over cosmopolitanism.” Lucas seems to see the victorious Jews as the moral equivalent of red-state evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump, and their opponents as people, well, like him, who have mixed feelings about circumcision, don’t keep kosher, and support Bernie Sanders, whom, [he claims], the Maccabees would have hated.

But the point of the festival isn’t one of warfare against less observant Jews. . . . [W]hat the Jews fighting the Greeks wanted was to be left alone to worship in freedom; [they faced] a foe who didn’t merely disdain their faith, but was actively seeking to repress it. . . . Lucas may think that the Hellenizers were defending diversity, but they—and perhaps the author—were actually too narrow-minded to tolerate those who think or worship differently.

Hanukkah is about the struggle of Jews, both then and now, to refuse to bow down to the idols of popular culture. The miracle is not merely the one about the oil lasting eight days, but the ability of a small ethno-religious [group] both to resist the forces that sought to eradicate their existence and to preserve the flame of Jewish civilization. Hellenism threatened to wipe out a moral vision of the world rooted in the Torah, as well as the autonomy of a small people. Had the Hellenizers, for whom Lucas says he will say a prayer, prevailed, it would not have been a triumph for individual freedom but one in which the right to faith or of a small group to defend its own culture and identity would have been extinguished.

If you can’t sympathize with that cause, then don’t blame Judaism, Hanukkah, or some foolish desire, as Lucas puts it, to “beat Santa.”

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More about: American Judaism, Hanukkah, Maccabees, New York Times, Religion & Holidays

War with Iran Isn’t on the Horizon. So Why All the Arguments against It?

As the U.S. has responded to Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf, various observers in the press have argued that National Security Advisor John Bolton somehow seeks to drag President Trump into a war with Iran against his will. Matthew Continetti points out the absurdities of this argument, and its origins:

Never mind that President Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and Bolton have not said a single word about a preemptive strike, much less a full-scale war, against Iran. Never mind that the president’s reluctance for overseas intervention is well known. The “anti-war” cries are not about context, and they are certainly not about deterring Iran. Their goal is saving President Obama’s nuclear deal by manipulating Trump into firing Bolton and extending a lifeline to the regime.

It’s a storyline that originated in Iran. Toward the end of April, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif showed up in New York and gave an interview to Reuters where he said, “I don’t think [Trump] wants war,” but “that doesn’t exclude him basically being lured into one” by Bolton. . . . And now this regime talking point is everywhere. “It’s John Bolton’s world. Trump is just living in it,” write two former Obama officials in the Los Angeles Times. “John Bolton is Donald Trump’s war whisperer,” writes Peter Bergen on CNN.com. . . .

Recall Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission to the New York Times Magazine in 2016 [that] “We created an echo chamber” to attack the Iran deal’s opponents through leaks and tips to the D.C. press. . . . Members of the echo chamber aren’t for attacking Iran, but they are all for slandering its American opponents. The latest target is Bolton. . . .

The Iranians are in a box. U.S. sanctions are crushing the economy, but if they leave the agreement with Europe they will be back to square one. To escape the box you try to punch your way out. That’s why Iran has assumed a threatening posture: provoking an American attack could bolster waning domestic support for the regime and divide the Western alliance.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Javad Zarif, John Bolton, U.S. Foreign policy