Every year for the past little while, as I already summarised on this blog, my conception of Chanukah has been completely overturned. First it was livredor (see above link). Then along came Rachel Elior at Limmud '05, then other people (whose identity I have forgotten, but whose teachings are summarised at the above link), and then Stephen Rosenberg at Limmud '07.
By this point I'm thinking I must have plumbed the story of Chanukah to its depths, but then along comes Rabbi Shoshanna Boyd-Gelfand and revolutionises my understanding all over again:( Read more... )
The problems of one contingent of Jewish soldiers at Pesach are described in this account:
( Read more... )
Our next business was to find some suitable person to proceed to Cincinnati, Ohio, to buy us. Our sutler being a co-religionist and going home to that city, readily undertook to send them. We were anxiously awaiting to receive our matzos and about the middle of the morning of a supply train arrived in camp, and to our delight seven barrels of Matzos. On opening them, we were surprised and pleased to find that our thoughtful sutler had enclosed two Hagedahs and prayer-books. We were now able to keep the seder nights, if we could only obtain the other requisites for that occasion. We held a consultation and decided to send parties to forage in the country while a party stayed to build a log hut for the services. About the middle of the afternoon the foragers arrived, having been quite successful. We obtained two kegs of cider, a lamb, several chickens and some eggs. Horseradish or parsley we could not obtain, but in lieu we found a weed, whose bitterness, I apprehend, exceeded anything our forefathers "enjoyed". We were still in a great quandary; we were like the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. We had the lamb, but did not know what part was to represent it at the table; but Yankee ingenuity prevailed, and it was decided to cook the whole and put it on the table, then we could dine off it, and be sure we had the right part. The necessaries for the choroutzes we could not obtain, so we got a brick which, rather hard to digest, reminded us, by looking at it, for what purpose it was intended.
At dark we had all prepared, and were ready to commence the service. There being nopresent, I was selected to read the services, which I commenced by asking the blessing of the Almighty on the food before us, and to preserve our lives from danger. The ceremonies were passing off very nicely, until we arrived at the part where the bitter herb was to be taken. We all had a large portion of the herb ready to eat at the moment I said the blessing; each eat his portion, when horrors! what a scene ensued in our little congregation, it is impossible for my pen to describe. The herb was very bitter and very fiery like Cayenne pepper, and excited our thirst to such a degree, that we forgot the law authorizing us to drink only four cups, and the consequence was we drank up all the cider. Those that drank the more freely became excited, and one thought he was Moses, another Aaron, and one had the audacity to call himself Pharaoh. The consequence was a skirmish, with nobody hurt, only Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh, had to be carried to the camp, and there left in the arms of Morpheus.
Every year for the past little while, my conception of Chanukah has been completely overturned. First it was livredor, telling me the Hasmoneans weren't the good guys overthrowing the religious oppression of the Seleucids, but, really, a bunch of religious fundamentalists—the delivering the wicked into the hands of the good, etc, stuff in על הניסים is actually about the Hasmoneans slaughtering the Hellenised Jews—acculturated Jews like myself. (Undaunted, I did not let this put me off celebrating Chanukah, but took great pleasure in the knowledge we today subvert the fundamentalists' victory commemoration by turning it into a celebration of the overthrow of religious oppression.
Then came along Rachel Elior, with a radical new interpretation of what the Hasmoneans, Pharisees, Saducees and Essenes stood for.
At some point further along the way I then learned that the Talmud talks about the miracle of Chanukah being that of the jar of oil, which is not attested anywhere in the contemporary accounts, rather than the military victory of the Hasmoneans, because the rabbis of the Talmud disapproved of the Hasmoneans for taking on the High Priesthood, to which they were not entitled (see also my notes from Prof. Elior's talk), and the kingship, to which they were not entitled not only not being of the House of David, but being of the wrong tribe altogether; also, or so it was implied by the people who told me of this, because they did not altogether approve of religious fundamentalism.
I also learned that far from needing us moderns to subvert what the Hasmoneans stood for; their own descendants did it themselves: After the first generation of Hasmoneans had died, the next generation acknowledged that it was impossible to wall themselves off from the surrounding Greek world, and this realpolitik is reflected in their names, which combined Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek names, e.g. Alexander Yannai.
And then along came this talk, which... well, I'll let it speak for itsef.( Read more... )