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    It’s not the Jewish Xmas

    Why is Chanukah so popular? The simplistic, silly, answer which some people give is, “It’s the Jewish Xmas, of course!”

    This line of thinking has produced even a Jewish version of Santa Claus and the reindeer; it tells of a Booba and Zeide who fly to every Jewish house on the first night of Chanukah from their tailor shop in Alaska.

    This may all be a lighthearted piece of nonsense, not to be taken too seriously; but I regret to say that there are still some people with a Jewish inferiority complex who feel deprived without Xmas stockings and trees. Surely we can do better.

    There is a serious, Jewish motif to Chanukah (and to Purim too): the theme of the interrelationship between cultures. Jewish life was never lived in isolation. There was frequent cross-fertilisation between Judaism and the culture of the environment. At times Judaism welcomed the influences from outside; at times of crisis it felt the need to erect barriers and to rally to the call of Mattathias, “Whoever is on HaShem’s side, rally to me!”

    Three types of crisis in particular aroused the Jewish spirit of self-preservation – physical, spiritual and moral. Physically, persecution, victimisation and intimidation led to fear, distrust and Jewish concern, sometimes even obsession, with security and safety. Spiritually, there were threats to Jewish beliefs and attacks on Jewish practices which motivated Jews to reaffirm Jewish principles and sanctities. Morally, the stern, pure, uncompromising standards of Judaism were often pitted against the decadence and depravity of the environment.

    Because of all three, we need Chanukah – “dedication” – with its unambiguous message that Jews need to know when to be a part of the environment, and when to be apart. Ask the ordinary Jew why Chanukah is popular, and in their own way they are likely to come to this same conclusion. So if Chanukah did not exist, it would need to be invented!

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