In 2021, Chanukah falls between November 28 at nightfall through December 6 nightfall.
I begin by wishing my non-Jewish readers a Merry Christmas, a meaningful Christmas, a Christmas imbued and steeped with religious meaning and significance, shorn of commercialism and “woke” secularism.
We live in a time when Thanksgiving Thursday competes with Black Friday (systemic racism?), Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and Clear Out the Inbox from Yesterday’s 250 Emailed Charity Solicitations Wednesday. Despite supply-chain obstructions, massive inflation generated and accelerated by presidential executive orders impeding and even suffocating America’s oil-and-gas industries, and a malaise born of “woke” media agitation to defund police, eliminate bail, teach critical race theory and non-binary gender transsexuality to elementary school children, a botched foreign policy that supports Germany building an oil pipeline with Putin and that imagines reopening for Iran its opportunity to build a nuclear bomb that can target America — all with memories of the Afghanistan evacuation defining the other side of our foreign policies — and with chaos on our southern border as yet another COVID variant emerges for illegal border penetrators to bring disease with them . . .
Amid all this, commercialism dominates a season when holiness should prevail.
It exists likewise in the way American commercialism has ruined much of Chanukah, much as commercialism and the race for a fast buck have made a mockery of other preciously spiritual rites of Judaism like the bar mitzvah. The words “Bar Mitzvah” mean “Son of the (Divinely Ordained) Commandment.” At age 13, an age when many boys start showing signs of physical (if not intellectual) maturing — first facial hairs, deepening of the voice, and such — a boy is deemed in Judaism now to be past the excuse that “he is only a child.” No, he is not a man yet. He yet has a long journey ahead. But his mistakes and pranks no longer may be disregarded as those of a “child.” He is punished as an adult. It now is time for him to assume and live by Personal Responsibility that will define the rest of his life. Infancy and childhood are done. Rather, now he is a “Bar Mitzvah.” (A girl is “Baht Mitzvah” a year earlier because she develops her first signs of maturing physically around age 12.) At that age, the “bar mitzvah” — the son of the Divinely ordained commandment — now is expected to act like someone who lives by G-d’s laws. He no longer can blame his miscreance on his parents. They now are liberated from judgment for his sins. He has to straighten out. We now expect a world more of him. We educate and instruct him on a deeper level. We expect him to attend daily prayer services from now on, and we concomitantly count him in the male quorum of the minimum ten whom we need assembled at worship to recite certain elevated prayers. He begins donning tefillin daily, every morning except Shabbat (Sabbath) and Holy Days. If he is Sephardic or of German Jewish ancestry, he also begins wearing a tallit prayer shawl at services.
That is what a Bar Mitzvah is. To celebrate the boy’s ascent into his new age — the era of personal responsibility — the parents sponsor a celebration at the synagogue. Perhaps they invite family, friends, neighbors, coworkers. The boy marks the occasion by serving as prayer leader, leading nearly two hours of prayer recitals and chanting. He recites from the Torah for some 30-45 minutes, reading a text in Hebrew that has no vowels and needing to memorize and remember the musical cantillation to every word.
It is painful for Orthodox Jews to observe all the garbage, detritus, and drek that has turned this holy rite into a circus and disgrace pumped up by American commercialism. “Bar Mitzvas” marked by go-go dancers, filthy-mouthed comedians and intoxicated uncles, entire celebrations bereft of any “Mitzvah” (Divinely Ordained Commandment) — leaving only a place for the open . . . Bar. Bar Mitzvas at the race track. Bar Mitzvas at ballparks. You be the judge:
Please do not misunderstand. If a family chooses to hold a beautifully spiritual classic Sabbath bar mitzvah at their synagogue, and then later to follow it that Saturday night or the next day at a special venue with a lovely and memorable party, with great catered food, with wonderful professional music, for the many others who could not attend the day before on the Sabbath, more power to them. But let the food be kosher. Let the people be clothed properly. Let them dance respectfully. Let them conduct themselves spiritually. Let the boy or girl perceive that he or she has emerged from the experience as a valued elevated member of a preciously spiritual and even pious religious community — rather than perceive that the religion is a joke, a commercial enterprise for a spiritually hollow materialistic group who define their values by emptiness and shallowness, ignorant of their past and oblivious as to the future, bereft of G-d, of Torah, of heritage, or of mitzvas.
Rather than make a mockery and sacrilege of what is holy. In Reform Judaism and in other denominational variants — yes, that is the word for such non-Orthodox denominations: variant — on real Torah Judaism, the spiritual floor sinks as low as the depraved or simply deprived mind can descend. So families even sponsor “Bark Mitzvas” to mark their dogs’ 13th year. Shameless. Talk about “cultural appropriation.” If one wants to dress like a Chassid, go ahead — be our guest. Put on your yamulka; here comes Chanukah. But leave our religion and rites alone. American Bar Mitzvas outside the Orthodox community have become so devoid of Judaic authenticity and Jewish self-respect that even many non-Jews now find themselves blowing crazy amounts of money — like $75,000 — on “bar mitzvas” when their own kids ask for one. Feh.
And so it is with Chanukah.
A proper Chanukah recognizes, first, that it is not a Jewish Christmas — not any more than Christmas is a Christian Chanukah. There is no authentic Judaic tradition of “eight crazy nights of gifts.” Sure, it is okay — if that floats your boat — to give gifts eight days and nights. We always can use more socks, pajamas, and especially chocolate. Moreover, many American Jewish parents over-compensate with daily Chanukah gifts because they understandably empathize with the feelings of deprivation their children experience as a perpetual minority everywhere in the world (outside Israel), where the predominant December action is for Christmas. Even all the many leading Christmas songs and carols (bordering on most of them) were written by Jews because they had melodies and lyrics to write but no other commercially ample audience compared to the Christmas market. But Chanukah is not about presents. And it is not about “winter lights” per se. This absolutely idiotic YouTube video about Chanukah is perhaps Exhibit 1 on the subject of “Chanukah of Fools.” Fittingly, as with so much else foolish that comes out of her mouth, only Kamala Harris could have done this one.
Chanukah is not about “when the darkness of winter comes, light a candle.” Rather, it falls in November or December because that is the day when it happened. It is not about all the “woke” causes in the world except for those impacting Jews, as this idiot recently posted — fittingly on CNN. Note that he lights a candle for social justice, another for Blacks, another for women, another for LGBTQIA+, another for immigrants detained at borders (uh, for attempting to break in illegally), another for planet earth. A real shame we don’t have 40 or 50 candles on the menorah because, if we did, he might even have gotten around to Judaism, Jews, or Israel eventually. So sorry I could not be at his bar mitzvah. Not. (READ MORE: Rabbi Dov Fischer’s Definitive Year 5782 Ten-Part Guide for Understanding Jews: Part 8: The Rise of the Absolutely Ignorant American Jew Who Knows Judaically “from Nothing”)
The truth is that Chanukah is a very lower-key holiday on the Jewish calendar. Really bottom rung as compared to the serious holy days. The reason that it is so well known is that it is so easy to commemorate — particularly for fools and for the ignorant who know nothing else about Judaism (a demographic comprising perhaps 80 percent of those who identify in America to pollsters as “Jews”). Chanukah is not of the dimensions of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot (Tabernacles), Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Pesach (Passover), Shavuot, or even days when we mark tragedy like Tisha B’av or the 17th of Tamuz. It even is beneath Purim on the order of significance of minor holidays, though it outranks Tu Bishvat, Tu B’Av, Lag B’Omer, and Golda Meir’s birthday. It is post-Biblical because the Maccabean encounter with the Syrian-Greek oppressors occurred after the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible, also called the “Old Testament” by Christians) was closed and canonized. Chanukah is discussed ever so briefly in the Talmud, only in the context of a deeper discussion regarding lighting the weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) candles that we kindle every Friday night all year. Mesekhet Shabbat 21b. In a brief segue, the rabbis also devote a folio (a Talmudic page) to asking: oh, by the way, any nuances regarding the rules for kindling Chanukah lights?
So, in the Talmud’s words: “Mai Chanukah?” — ?מאי חנוכה — What is Chanukah? The answer:
Chanukah marks a significant Jewish historical event. The Greek Empire, geographically based along the Mediterranean Sea, conquered significant parts of the Middle East. From Syria, they then conquered Israel. (There were no Arabs or “Palestine” there then, nor would there be for another 700 years. Only Jews.) They then conquered Jerusalem and the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah in “East” Jerusalem. (The city was not then divided as by United Nations schemes, nor would it be for millennia to come.) They entered the Temple, defiled it, removed its Judaic symbols like the menorah, and replaced in their stead statues and idols representing the gods of Greek mythology. Eventually, by G-d’s grace, the Jews arose in rebellion, led by the Hasmoneans – a family of religious leaders, of the Kohen sub-tribe of Levi. The High Kohen (High Priest) had five sons who primarily led the revolt. Judah the Maccabee (The Hammer) stood at their fore. The Jews overcame the far predominant Greek numbers and military power, expelled the invaders, liberated the Temple, cleared out the idols and statues, and rededicated the Holy of Holies.
Towards that end, they set about reinstituting the daily kindling of the menorah. That candelabrum, constructed in exact shape and dimensions as set forth by G-d to Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) in the Bible (see, e.g., Exodus 25:31-40), was to be lit daily with Kohen-consecrated olive oil. However, the liberators found only enough oil to sustain a wick for 24 hours, and it would take a week to produce more. (Supply-chain issues?) So the question became: Do we do the practical thing and wait another week to resume regular daily menorah kindling, by which time we will have produced new oil not only for that night but also will have ample consecrated olive oil in stock for all the foreseeable future? After all, c’mon, we have gone all this time, under the oppression, without lighting anyway. So what’s one more week? Why go through the trauma of seeing the menorah fizzle out tomorrow night, something we never before have allowed to happen when the Temple has been under our control?
And then there was the alternative opinion: Look, we now have enough for the next 24 hours. The opportunity now is at hand. We waited all this time. Stop worrying about “what if?” If Jews paused long enough as a people to worry about “What if?” we would have disappeared long ago. What if, upon being freed from Egyptian bondage, we starve in the Sinai Desert? What if we cannot liberate the Promised Land from the Canaanites and Philistines? (There were no Arabs or “Palestine” there then, nor would there be for another 700 years. Only Jews.) What if Goliath beats David? What if Sennacherib wipes out Judea? What if our Maccabean revolt is defeated by the Greek Empire? What if seven Arab armies in 1948 crush the emerging State of Israel and drive us into the sea? What if the U.N. or Carter or James Baker or Clinton or Obama or Kerry or Biden or Blinken oppose Jewish rights to build homes in East Jerusalem or elsewhere in Judea and Samaria? What if the Soviet Union won’t let Jews out and retaliates against them to suppress efforts around the world to advance their freedom from communism? What if Iran builds a nuclear weapon?
Consequently, that other opinion was: No “What ifs.” Right now, we have enough Kohen-consecrated oil to kindle the menorah in the Temple for the first time since the Oppressor closed it down and defiled it. Do what needs to be done now. Leave tomorrow for tomorrow. If G-d wants the oil to burn out, it will burn out. And who knows? Maybe G-d will send us the most subtle of signs that He is with us, that He never left during the Greek Empire defilement, that He never stopped watching over us even in all our years of persecution? Who can know? So, meanwhile, just light it. We can worry about tomorrow … tomorrow.
So they lit the menorah promptly instead of “being practical,” neither waiting a week more nor “playing it safe.” And the Kohen-consecrated oil that was only enough to last 24 hours continued kindling uninterrupted for eight days — until the new ample supply arrived. As minor a miracle as that may seem — no Ten Plagues, no splitting of the Sea of Reeds, no manna from Heaven daily to feed three million people in a desert for 40 years — it was a remarkable sign that the rules of Nature are suspended when G-d chooses to suspend them. The Jews had not abandoned G-d and His Torah, and He still was there, never having abandoned the Jews in Israel. Therefore, the rabbis ordained that, thereinafter, Jews would light candles every year for eight nights to remember the miracle that G-d never had stopped watching over Israel. It meant that, as long as Jews would remain true to G-d and Torah Judaism, He would be there.
Go explain that to Doug Emhoff and his Klueless Kamala. Go explain that to Ben and Jerry. Go explain that to George Soros and Bernie Sanders. Go explain that to Jews in Hollywood and on Broadway. They who shamelessly “celebrate” their Chanukah of Fools — just as their parents brought them into “manhood” with bar mitzvas of fools — are akin to the “As a Catholics” like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Andrew Cuomo, Chris Cuomo, Bill de Blasio, John Kerry, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Tim Kaine, Robert O’Rourke, Xavier Becerra, Sen. Dick Durbin, the Kennedy family of Massachusetts, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Ed Markey, Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Bob Menendez, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, dozens of pro-abortion House members like Ted Lieu of California, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and just so many others among American leftist celebrities, entertainers, and media personalities comprising their own long dirty-laundry list. Those “As a Catholics” so deeply frustrate the Catholic Church, cardinals and bishops and priests who administer the eucharist, and all devout Catholics who cringe that these apostates are the Catholics whom the media present to the non-Catholic world as their religion’s ambassadors. Likewise, so it is with the Protestants who dominate America’s demographics and who ultimately choose whether to stand for the religion and culture their pastors preach in church and who, by their choices, consume and determine what is commercially successful in America and what fails for lack of patronage. My many deep friendships with evangelical and other Christian pastors inform me of their profoundly deep frustrations over these very same concerns by which commercialism, cultural sacrilege, efforts to teach public school children to believe non-binary gender falsehoods, and so much other “wokeness” depreciates and distorts Christmas, religion, and American culture and society.
May G-d smile upon those who smile upon Him. As for the others out there: May He inspire those who miss the point to get the point. And may He bless us all with a Chanukah season that is true to Chanukah, a Christmas season that is true to Christmas, a time when we can enjoy the manifest blessings of capitalism and free enterprise without compromising the deeper benefits of religious freedom, religious fidelity, and religious values.