liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
So [personal profile] ruthi asked me a very good question: How do you tell the Hanukka story? What do you tell?

So with my geeky friends I talk about all the detail, the question of how we got a rabbinic festival out of an Apocryphal book and folk tradition, the rules about what order to light and not making use of the candles.

With my skeptical family I talk about how chanukah is really problematic, and how Granny went to a lecture by a historian of the period who gave lots of reasons why the story as told in Maccabees couldn't possibly have happened, and how we feel uncomfortable celebrating a military victory and the triumph of violent nationalists over assimilated moderates.

With colleagues and people who feel it's polite to ask but don't really care, the tl;dr summary is God performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this season aka chanukah absolutely fits the joke paradigm for Jewish festivals: They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat

With people who are new to chanukah and don't know to ask for the story, well, I begin for them...

No, seriously, mostly I tell it as a story about the occupying empire trying to impose their religion on the Jewish population, and the Maccabees were freedom fighters and once their guerilla campaign succeeded they cleaned out the defiled Temple and then there was an oil lamp miracle. I am aware that delivered the many into the hands of the few has other interpretations, see above re: problematic, but that's not on the whole what I'm celebrating at chanukah. And, well, when I'm teaching Christian children I down-play the part about how a human being can't possibly be God, and how it's really really wrong to make statues and images of God.

This weekend my OSOs came up with their two younger kids, partly in order to join the synagogue chanukah party. We also went to the excellent Gladstone Pottery museum, and played a lot of games and gave eachother chanukah presents, Triominos and some dessert wine for me, toys from the museum shop for the kids. Not to mention that I joined my loves for the church service for Gaudete Sunday which was full of seasonally appropriate rejoicing.

So yesterday afternoon I orchestrated the community to bring their chanukiyot and light them all together, about a dozen families I think, that's a lot of candles, especially on eighth night. And we sang Maoz Tzur to something approximating to the correct tune, and I had the kids play human dreidel for chocolate coins and then for pennies when we ran out of those, and we ate soooooooo many doughnuts and quite a lot of latkes and other sorts of fritters. (Boyfriend thinks that a religious custom of eating lots of doughnuts is a great idea, and I concur.) I told the story by getting the kids to act things out, the teenagers were too cool and the baby was too little but the three to seven age-group were pretty enthusiastic, and Judith was really good in the role of her near-namesake Judah, she's been paying attention through the week and gave all the right answers to my prompts.

The truth is that chanukah has not only acquired borrowed importance by proximity to Christmas, it's acquired warm fuzziness too. Chanukah is really not at all the season of goodwill, it's the season of, living as a minority in a dominant culture sucks, please send Divine support for our nationalist cause. We invite our non-Jewish friends to join us for doughnuts and candlelighting, and sometimes dignitaries at various levels do little chanukah ceremonies to show friendliness to the Jewish community, and it's all very cute. But the content and the history of the festival is mostly about how multi-culturalism is a bad idea, and it has probably the most explicitly anti-Christian content of anything in our calendar. Still, pretty much all of rabbinic Judaism is about reinterpreting traditions for the context we find ourselves in, and I think multi-cultural celebrations are pretty appropriate in terms of increasing light and joy.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-14 01:18 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
Chanukah is really not at all the season of goodwill

Well, Judaism and Christianity agree that the run-up to New Year is the season of goodwill to all men (and women); they just disagree about when that new year is.

and it has probably the most explicitly anti-Christian content of anything in our calendar.

? Are you referring to your "the part about how a human being can't possibly be God" above? This is not something which I've ever associated with Chanukah before.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-14 04:01 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (reflect)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
I'm mainly slightly embarrassed by the notorious last verse of Maoz Tzur,

As you probably know, there's a debate as to whether that verse is original. It's not even printed in many siddurim, including the Singer's Prayer Book.

even the first verse is not exactly interfaith-suitable.

I am very strongly in favour of using Hertz's modified wording for the first verse (לעת תשבית מטבח וצר המנבח). There's none of the arguments against modifying the wording here that there are for the fixed liturgy and, living in a time when the general population seems to be turning against religion in general, it behooves us IMO not to go around singing things that would fuel the antireligionists' cause if they knew about it.

Hertz's wording was used in the later impressions of the first edition Singer's Prayer Book; I don't know why they reverted to the traditional wording for the second edition.

It's all about not assimilating, and the main culture that we're being adjoined not to assimilate to is Christian culture.

Except that the story antedates Christianity.

When people tell the story with the slant that it's about the freedom to be Jewish monotheists when the ruling power are forcing you at swordspoint to worship statues of their emperor, that has very strong resonances with living in (particularly pre-Reformation) Christian Europe.

Maybe it might have for people at the time; that doesn't mean it has to for us now. Some of the minor Jewish festivals (Tu Bishvat is the other one I'm thinking of) have been reinterpreted again and again and again; we don't have to consider ourselves beholden to an interpretation for a former generation. I went off Chanukah a bit for some years because of you and other people fretting about how it's glorifying religious fundamentalists, but decided in the end that I like Chanukah because we take what had been the glorification of the cause of religious fundamentalism and subvert their message completely to recast it as a celebration of religious tolerance.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-14 06:32 pm (UTC)
hilarita: trefoil carving (Default)
From: [personal profile] hilarita
Yes - the Book of Maccabees turns up in Catholic Apocrypha*. It is a fine example of torture porn (there is some extremely lovingly detailed description of the torture of the Jews by the Romans), and one of the most disturbing things I read during my degree.

Early lives of the Christian Martyrs are strongly influenced by this over-excitement by torture. (From the period where the Romans were exercising equal opportunity oppression on both Jews and Christians, before the Christians became the oppressors. )

(This is more in the nature of a footnote as to how some bits of Christian tradition interacted with the Maccabees. Sadly, not in a way that stopped Christians slaughtering and torturing people.)


*Think of the apocrypha like the songs rejected by artists that get released after their death - not *exactly* part of the canon, but still worth a look.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-14 08:25 pm (UTC)
hilarita: trefoil carving (Default)
From: [personal profile] hilarita
So that's not quite true. The Apocrypha turn up in copies of the Catholic Bible and are labelled as such (so there's an Old Testament Section, the Apocrypha section, and the New Testament section, each containing books), but they don't make it into e.g. the roster of readings at Masses and in other services. It's clear they're the B team of Bible Books. The Apocrypha usually don't appear at all in Protestant Bibles (unless it's the very high church Anglo-Catholic bits of Protestantism).

There's also even more apocryphal Apocrypha - things like the Gospel of Peter and so on (see New Testament Apocrypha trans. by MR James). One of these apocryphal bits contains the totally awesome story of the child Jesus, which I will summarise in a not totally authentic style here, just because it's great.

Small child Jesus is playing with some children beside the river. Jesus gets angry with the other kids and kills them for disrespecting God. Mary comes along and says, 'Now Jesus, that wasn't very nice, was it?' Jesus is very sorry and resurrects them all.

This nearly made me laugh out loud in the Bodleian.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-14 10:20 pm (UTC)
penlessej: (Books)
From: [personal profile] penlessej
Close. Was it not the 1534 Luther Bible that first included the apocryphal books as a seperate section within the Bible? I am also pretty sure that most protestants use apocryphal books as part of their lectionaries (differing from the Catholics). However, they do not use this as scripture for the basis of doctrine formation (which is contrasting to Catholics who have used aprocryphal books to justify doctrine).

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-15 12:49 am (UTC)
cjwatson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cjwatson
The more specific term for this set of books is "deuterocanonical", as opposed to the (proto)canonical set that are also in the Tanakh, and as opposed to the "real" apocrypha which have more doubtful status than either (and thanks for that lovely example!).

Some of the deuterocanonical books are in fact used in the Catholic liturgy; Wisdom shows up quite often, for instance, Tobit is used here and there, and Baruch is even in the beautiful set of readings for the Easter Vigil, which is about as prominent as it gets. I don't think the books of the Maccabees are used very often if at all, though.

Also, while I'm here, [personal profile] liv has been very considerately referring to me only as "boyfriend" since I hadn't yet got round to saying anything publicly, but I have been meaning to out myself so that she can use names if she wants to, so here we are. :-)
Edited Date: 2015-12-15 01:19 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-15 04:56 pm (UTC)
hilarita: trefoil carving (Default)
From: [personal profile] hilarita
Serves me right for not being bothered to go and check which ones were in the deuterocanonical set ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-17 09:52 am (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (Default)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
You're right that Maccabees is very rare in the liturgy, but I definitely remember being at a week-day service where we had the super-depressing reading about the mother and her seven sons being martyred (2 Macc 7, apparently). So they aren't entirely excluded.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-16 04:43 pm (UTC)
adrian_turtle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] adrian_turtle
I don't see how it matters very much that the story antedates Christianity. Pretty much all the rules against adopting the religion of our non-Jewish neighbors are from before Christianity. (Or from before Christians being numerous and powerful.) Yet Jews chose to die rather than convert to Christianity.

I really love the analogy of the 4 children, but if I'm talking about anything beyond the miracle of the oil (like, why did they need a miracle?) I say "some of the Jews had assimilated with their non Jewish neighbors, which was against Jewish law" before going to the specific bit about the sacrifice.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-14 05:23 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
We were talking about יְוָנִים נִקְבְּצוּ עָלַי last night because my aunt and her brother are of Greek Jewish extraction from the Salonika community. And they consider themselves 'Greek' even though they were effectively forced out of the country by anti-semitism, but that identification is complicated for those reasons. And of course the Y'vanim of the verse were not precisely Greek either ethnically or geographically, so it highlighted the confusion of identity even further, of what we mean in the Chanuka story when we talk about the Greeks.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-14 02:31 pm (UTC)
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
From: [personal profile] forestofglory
I was telling my non Jewish niece the story last night and of course I gave the simple version. But I'd like to learn more about the historical complexity any recommended reading?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-14 02:56 pm (UTC)
sfred: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sfred
Thank you for writing about this.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-14 04:19 pm (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
I knew intellectually that Judaism is a religion with a strong relationship to stories, but reading your entries seems to have made it clearer and slightly more terrifying, given the content of the stories.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-12-15 12:08 am (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
Being an itinerant storyteller offers more opportunities for wisdom, anyway. Usually accompanied by some "strange" behavior that turns out to be exactly right.

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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