Two Hanukkahs or One?

December 31, 2019 | Cole Aronson
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According to the available statistics. two-thirds of American Jews light candles at least once over the course of the Festival of Lights. Yet Cole Aronson suggests that the story of the Hasmoneans’ victory over an imperial power that wanted to enforce religious conformity—and also over those Jews who wanted to compromise with it—is remembered in very different ways:

If my back-of-the-envelope sociology is correct, two groups of American Jews celebrate Hanukkah for almost entirely different reasons. Orthodox Jews mostly know the full story of Hanukkah. . . . They’re under no illusions about its radically anti-assimilationist character. They find joy in Hanukkah in large part because of what a revered teacher of mine calls Hanukkah’s religious maximalism.

Many non-Orthodox American Jews, in my experience, mostly find joy in Hanukkah because the Jews defeated a mighty oppressor. Victimhood is a prized status. Hanukkah is a weeklong reprieve from the awkwardness of humanity’s oldest national victim occupying the West Bank while running the world’s most advanced military. Like Passover—the other most celebrated Jewish holiday in America—Hanukkah is about the weak winning freedom and justice from the strong.

But this special Jewish burning for justice will die out if decoupled from Jewish particularism. . . . That is, unless we Orthodox choose to leave our comfortable insularity, and persuade our brothers and sisters all over the country that the Lord has not forgotten about them, and still hopes for great things from all of us. Or unless anti-Semitism exiles Jews from the right universities, firms, banks, clubs, schools, and neighborhoods—and the answer to “Why do we remain Jews?” suddenly becomes, “because we have no choice.”

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