Chanukah: Its Humanist value

The Humanistic Jewish Havurah celebrates Chanukah on Wednesday, December 28 with fun activities and a traditional holiday meal at Vasari Country Club. Reservations will be secured upon receipt of your check in the amount of $45 per person, made payable to HJH, and mailed to Joan Weinstein, 15191 Cedarwood Lane, Apt. 2505, Naples, FL 34110 prior to December 1. Consider bringing a gift of comfortable clothing to be distributed to seniors in need of assistance or a monetary contribution to be donated to JFCS. For more information, contact Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101.

Any objective study of Chanukah reveals two things. First, the origin of this holiday predates the Maccabean revolution, stemming instead from a seasonal rite marking the winter solstice. Second, Chanukah was never a major event in the Jewish liturgical year. It became such an event only in response to the persuasive and pervasive aspects of the Christian solstice festival of Christmas.

Chanukah has been bolstered and buttressed in an attempt to keep Jews from the temptations of the Christmas celebrations, but no holiday can long survive simply as a countermeasure to assimilation. If a holiday is to command respect and observance, it must articulate meaningful values and offer one a forum for an authentic encounter with one’s history and reality.

Chanukah does both.

There are three levels to the understanding and the celebration of Chanukah: as a festival of nature, as a reminder of our shared history, and as an affirmation of universal human values.

The pre-Israelite peoples who marked the winter solstice did so out of fear that the sun, which was at its farthest point from the earth, would not return and that the earth would not yield her bounty. Such a celebration speaks of a people living at the mercy of a wanton nature and the supposed supernatural powers that rule her.

Today we find ourselves in a far more sophisticated relationship with both the planet and the universe. We have uncovered the laws of nature using our human ingenuity, also a natural phenomenon. For us, then, Chanukah cannot simply be a solstice holiday. Yet it can be a recognition of the marvels of the natural universe and our place in it.

The second level of Chanukah is that of historical remembrance and the retelling of the Chanukah story. Our identity as Jews cannot rest solely on present circumstances. Our roots are deep and thousands of years old. If we are to retain and transmit a sense of Jewish identity, we must recall and retell the tales of our people. By sharing the exciting saga of the Jewish revolt against the Hellenizers, we remind ourselves and each other of the importance of heroes and the grandeur of the Jewish spirit.

Naturalism and storytelling, however, are not enough to ensure the survival of Chanukah among modern Jews. This festival also articulates relevant values.

The story of the Maccabees is a story of human courage, integrity and hope. The success of their revolution is rooted in the people’s desire for religious, political and economic freedom; their desire to choose their future for themselves. This they accomplished not by pious pleas or tearful entreaties but by decisive action, expert planning and sheer guts.

The modern Jew must also take the future into his or her own hands. We must choose for ourselves how we shall live, and we must act on that choice courageously without loss of integrity or hope.