The actual meaning of Chanukah and Christmas has taken a back seat to the culture war thanks to vandals and government authorities who justify their behavior. Lest we forget the actual meaning of the holidays, Tikkun’s Rabbi Lerner reminds us of their scriptural roots of the traditions.
Chanukah was the first recorded national liberation struggle against Greek imperialism, and Christmas celebrates the birth of a hoped-for messiah to free the Jewish people from Roman imperialism.
The symbolism of a homeless couple giving birth in a manger surrounded by animals because the more comfortable people have not been able to make room for them inside a roofed home is akin to the symbolism of the candles lit on Chanukah to celebrate the victory of the powerless over the powerful: both offer a powerful reminder that both Judaism born of slaves in Egypt and Christianity born of a movement of the poor and powerless were in their times the “Occupy” movement that confronted the powerful and those who served them.
I’d add that Chanukah is not a religious holiday. It is a secular celebration of a military victory. God did not speak to the Maccabees as he spoke to Moses and the prophets. The Book of Maccabee is not a part of the Torah or the Old Testament, but I digress. Rabbi Lerner laments the sins of modern-day religious authorities.
Major forces in the Christian world have sided with the war-makers, ultra-nationalists, and the blame-poverty-on-the-poor cheerleaders for vast inequalities and protection of the rich against the needs of the rest. Jews, while retaining their commitment to domestic liberalism, have become tone-deaf to the cries of the oppressed in Palestine…
One of the reflections of the way both religions have lost their ethical core is that the vast majority of people in both religious worlds have allowed their winter holidays to be turned into orgies of consumerism.
He also provides hope and ethical guidance as any good rabbi would.
The good news is that a counter-movement of spiritual progressives has emerged in the past few decades—spiritual progressives who are willing to challenge the distortions in their own religious communities while simultaneously doing battle with the institutions and practices of the wealthy and powerful. Spiritual progressives recognize that even those who appear most insensitive to the needs of the poor and powerless, as well as most committed to war and to policies that benefit the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent, are themselves often quite decent people in their private lives who have simply accepted the fundamental structures of capitalist society as immutable, and have therefore decided that in an oppressive society they’d rather be on top than on bottom. For us, the struggle is not simply about winning specific battles that slightly limit the ability of the powerful to exploit the powerless—it is a battle to transform the fundamentals of this society, to create the kind of rebirth of goodness symbolized by Chanukah and by the birth of Jesus.
An in the midst of this, it’s remarkable that the Atheists who have occupied the courthouse square are truly square with Lerner’s message. All people of faith, or not faith at all should support their occupation and their powerful message that no single set of religious beliefs is entitled to exclusive domination of the public commons. Once we’ve cleared that up, we can move on to the normal struggles against militarism, greed, conspicuous consumerism and the positive transformation of the fundamentals of this society.