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Empire Celebrates Hanukkah

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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin | Hanukkah 2011


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One of the holidays celebrated by Jews doesn’t have Biblical roots. Hanukkah commemorates the inauguration of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the 2nd century BC Maccabean Revolt. As such it is beyond the timeframe of the Old Testament. Referring to that, “Hanukkah” means “inauguration” in Hebrew. Observed during eight nights, a candle is added to a nine-branched candelabrum - called Hanukkyah in Hebrew - each night. The ninth candle is used to light the others. Last year, I commented on the very special iconography of this celebration in Happy Hanukkah: On Jewish Demons. In 2011, it was celebrated on December 20, and provided a few provocative pictures (see above).

In the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah is special because it doesn’t appear in the Bible; i.e. it isn’t a holiday commanded by God (the same applies to Purim). Hence, it offers an extraordinary insight into the transition of the Judaic culture from being based in the Bible to one based in the blasphemous Talmud. Moreover, it has a distinctive imperial touch. The most similar Jewish holiday is Pesach, which celebrates the transition from slavery in Egypt to liberty. The transition then was from empire to stateless desert. Hanukkah celebrates a different type of freedom.

In 175 BC, Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria invaded Judea and its capital Jerusalem. The Second Temple was looted and its services stopped. Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BC Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus to be erected in the Temple. He banned circumcision, and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple. These actions provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattityahu, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led it. A year later, Mattathias died, and Judah took his place. Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi ("Judah the Hammer") and gave name to the Maccabean Revolt. Another year passed and the Seleucid monarchy was defeated. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted. Hanukkah symbolizes the transition from being an oppressed people in the empire, into people organized as a smallish kingdom just next to it. Thus, Hanukkah has the military and nationalistic dimensions that Pesach lacks.

Soon afterwards, the remains of the Greek kingdoms in Syria and Egypt were replaced by the mighty Roman Empire, which swallowed the entire area, including Judea. In the last decades, this holiday has become quite dramatic, since the State of Israel is similar to the short-lived Maccabean State. Both states weren’t commanded by God. One disappeared quite quickly, the second one is on its way to do so.


Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal lights hanukkyah, Dec 20, 2011 | Brandenburg Gate, Berlin


Fast-forward: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Dec 20, 2011

Yesterday, the first night of Hanukkah was celebrated around the world. In the US, thousands attended a Chabad-organized lighting of the National Menorah (note this newly attributed nationalistic symbol) on the Ellipse, near the White House, with the White House Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew representing the administration at the event. USA President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle threw their Hanukkah party at the White House a week and a half ago; they wished US Jews and Israelis a happy Hanukkah. Additional Hanukkah ceremonies took place at various iconic locations throughout the world, including the Champs-Elysees in Paris, and Trafalgar Square in London. The most chilling event took place at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Among the ceremony attendees were Vice President of the German Parliament Dr. Wolfgang Thierse, Berlin Mayor Michael Müller, and the Israeli, Italian, Mexican and Canadian ambassadors to Germany.

Built in 1788, the Brandenburg Gate is a former city gate and one of the better known landmarks of Berlin and Germany. One block to the north is the Reichstag building. The gate is the entry to Unter den Linden, the renowned boulevard which formerly led to the city palace of the Prussian monarchs. However, the symbolism of the gate changed when it was used by the Nazis as a party symbol. Hours after Hitler’s formal rise to power on January 30, 1933, thousands of uniformed men and women flooded the Brandenburg Gate in a torch-lit rally to applaud the new Nazi era. In 1933, the military and nationalistic dimensions of the site were increased by orders of magnitude. In 2011, the hanukkyah lighting there combined all these nationalistic symbols: Hanukkah and the Brandenburg Gate; the Nazi Era and the re-instituted Maccabean State known as State of Israel. The ADL is unlikely to sue me for these words. The Jews speaking at the event made the obvious link.

“The torch-lit parade marking Hitler’s rise to power 70 years ago, represented the epitome of darkness, kindling the Hanukkah lights at this very spot represents the absolute triumph of good over evil.” said Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yehuda Tiechtel, who is shown in the picture above.

The words sound good. I am sure that if replacing the nouns, they would have contributed enormously to Hitler’s 1933 rally. Yet, Rabbi Tiechtel failed to explain why the lighting represents “the absolute triumph of good over evil.” That is a strange claim by the people responsible for the monstrous acts of violence often reported in this website, and that have caused the Second Maccabean State to be defined as a terror state by the UN. Dear Rabbi Tiechtel, let me just quote part of one of the articles on that decision, article 1716 says: “…The firing of white phosphorus shells over the UNRWA compound in Gaza City is one of such cases in which precautions were not taken in the choice of weapons and methods in the attack and these facts were compounded by reckless disregard for the consequences. The intentional strike at the Al Quds hospital using high explosive artillery shells and using white phosphorous in and around the hospital also violated Articles 18 and 19 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. With regard to the attack against Al Wafa hospital, the Mission found a violation of the same provisions, as well as a violation of the customary law prohibition against attacks which may be expected to cause excessive damage to civilians and civilian objects.” Is this your light, Rabbi Tiechtel? Is the light of ignited phosphorous on the skin of innocent children the way you define “goodness?”

Merry Christmas Tel Aviv!

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