Chanukah, Christmas, Iraq, the environment

This is a video of Rabbi Michael Lerner, called How to End the War in Iraq.

From the blog of Rabbi Michael Lerner in the USA:

Chanukah and Christmas: When Hope Triumphs Over Cynical Realism

Christmas and Chanukah share a spiritual message: that it is possible to bring light and hope in a world of darkness, oppression and despair. But whereas Christmas focuses on the birth of a single individual whose life and mission was itself supposed to bring liberation, Chanukah is about a national liberation struggle involving an entire people who seek to remake the world through struggle with an oppressive political and social order: the Greek conquerors (who ruled Judea from the time of Alexander in 325 B.C.E.) and the Hellenistic culture that they sought to impose.

Though the holiday celebrated by lighting candles for 8 nights recalls the victory of the guerrilla struggle led by the Maccabees against the Syrian branch of the Greek empire, and the subsequent rededication (Chanukah in Hebrew) of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E., there was a more difficult struggle which took place (and in some dimensions still rages) within the Jewish people between those who hoped for a triumph of a spiritual vision of the world embedded (as it turned out, quite imperfectly) in the Maccabees and a cynical realism that had become the common sense of the merchants and priests who dominated the more cosmopolitan arena of Jerusalem.

The cynical realists in Judea, among them many of the priests charged with preserving the Temple, argued that Greek power was overwhelming and that it made far greater sense to accommodate to it than to resist. The Greek globalizers promised advances in science and technology that could benefit international trade and enrich the local merchants who sided with them, even though the taxes that accompanied their rule impoverished the Jewish peasants who worked the land and eked out a subsistence living. …

To the Maccabees, the guerrilla band that they assembled to fight the Greek Empire and its Seleucid dynasty in Syria, and to many of the Jewish supporters of that struggle, the issue of Greek militarism, social injustice and oppression were far more salient than the accomplishments of Greek high culture. Whatever might be the value of Athenian democracy, the reality that it exported to the world through Alexander and his successors was oppressive and exploitative.

Whatever the grave defects of Athenian democracy (slavery; exclusion of women; exclusion of foreign born; aggressive wars), here I have to defend it against Rabbi Lerner, in the sense that Alexander “the Great” was not a democrat, not even one only in name like George W. Bush, but a king. And he was Macedonian, not Athenian. But I understand Rabbi Lerner’s parallel.

The “old-time religion” that the Maccabees fought to preserve had revolutionary elements in it that went far beyond the Greeks in articulating a liberatory vision: not only in the somewhat abstract demand to “love your neighbor as yourself,” “love the stranger,” and pursue justice and peace, but also concretely in Torah prescriptions to abolish all debts every seven years, allow the land to lie fallow every seven years, refrain from all work and activities connected to control over the earth once a week on Sabbath, redistribute the land every fifty years (the Jubilee) back to its original equal distribution.

The identification with the oppressed, enshrined in Judaism in its insistence that Jews were derived from slaves who had been liberated, and in its focus on retelling the story of being oppressed that was central to the Torah, seemed atavistic and naïve to the more educated and enlightened Jewish urban dwellers, who pointed to the reactionary tribal elements of Torah and sided with the Greeks when they declared circumcision and study of Torah illegal and banned the observance of the Sabbath.

The miracle of Chanukah is that so many people were able to resist the overwhelming “reality” imposed by the imperialists and to stay loyal to a vision of a world based on generosity, love of stranger, and loyalty to an invisible God who promised that life could be based on justice and peace. It was these “little guys,” the powerless, who sustained a vision of hope that inspired them to fight against overwhelming odds, against the power of technology and science organized in the service of domination, and despite the fact that they were dismissed as terrorists and fundamentalist crazies. When this kind of energy, what religious people call “the Spirit of God,” becomes ingredient in the consciousness of ordinary people, miracles ensue. …

Jews and Christians have much in common in celebrating at this time of year. We certainly want to use this holiday season to once again affirm our commitment to end the war in Iraq, to end global poverty and hunger by embracing the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ version of the Global Marshall Plan, to reduce carbon emissions and population growth and to save the world from ecological destruction. We live in dark times — but these holidays help us reaffirm our hope for a fundamentally different reality that we can help bring about in the coming years. And that despite the fact that we must acknowledge that the Chanukah revolution led to the rule of the Jewish Hashmona-im whose rule devolved into tyranny and self-destructiveness, and that the beauty vision of early Christianity devolved into the tyranny and anti-Semitism of Constantinian forms of the merger of religion with state power. …

And as we affirm hope, so we must also remind ourselves to not allow our hopes for the Obama presidency to silence our prophetic critique of the powerful should it turn out that those hopes are not realized in the actual policies followed by Obama and his array of establishment-oriented politicians appointed to high offices in his Administration. We can at once celebrate the incredible advance of having white America vote into the presidency a Black man, and yet still insist that this new Administration embrace policies that favor peace and abandon the fantasy that security will come through domination or military victories, that economic and environmental well-being can be consistent with endless “growth” and expansion, or that the quality of human relationships can be improved while living in an economic system that values selfishness, materialism and “looking out for number one.” So just as Christmas and Chanukah represent ideals that were quickly distorted by those who tried to make them consistent with the power-structures of a world based on inequality and domination, so too our contemporary victory of the Obama forces can be distorted. Our job is to stay true to the ideals and challenge the distortions, even while celebrating the moments of hope.

Chag urim sameyach–happy holiday of lights.
Chag Chanukah sameyach–happy Chanukah.
Merry Christmas.
Happy Kwanza.
Meaningful Eid.

Mark Fiore’s A Political Cartoonist’s Christmas List animation is here.

9 thoughts on “Chanukah, Christmas, Iraq, the environment

  1. Posted by: “frankofbos”

    Wed Dec 24, 2008 10:59 pm (PST)

    Bush History – A Grim Christmas Milestone, and Ben Franklin OK’s “Poor George’s Almanac” – 12/25

    A grim Christmas milestone on this date (2006) as the number of
    American deaths in Bush’s wars exceed the lives lost in the 9/11
    attacks. Also Ben Franklin gives thumbs up to “Poor George’s Almanac”
    (2007), and a holiday Bushism. Merry Holiday everyone! (just to annoy
    Bill O’Reilly).

    More details, from the 2009 Bush Blunder Calendar …

    Today’s category: Bushisms, Grim Milestones, Iraq


  2. Dec 24, 6:38 PM EST

    US military deaths in Iraq war at 4,217

    As of Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008, at leat 4,217 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

    The figure includes eight military civilians killed in action. At least 3,398 military personnel died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers.

    The AP count is three more than the Defense Department’s tally, last updated Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST.

    The British military has reported 176 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia and Georgia, three each; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand and Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and South Korea, one death each.

    The latest deaths reported by the military:

    – Three soldiers were killed Wednesday in a vehicle accident in southern Iraq.

    The latest identifications reported by the military:

    – Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas Reilly Jr., 19, London, Ky.; died Sunday while supporting combat operations in Anbar province, Iraq; assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.


  3. Where’s al-Zaidi’s Pulitzer?
    Muntadhar al-Zaidi’s shoes told this story. He deserves nothing less than the Pulitzer Prize.

    Sgt 1st class, Brian Urlich, right, of Las Vegas, Nevada, with C company, 1-68 Armor, 2 BCT, 4th Infantry Division talks to an Iraqi family during a weapons search patrol in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, on a Christmas day, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008. From AP Photo by Dusan Vranic.

    What “Hand-Over”?
    “On Jan. 1, our mission doesn’t change. How we execute that mission is going to have adjustments.”

    What “Withdrawal”?
    “As you draw down in Iraq, you’re going to need more sustainment and aviation.”


  4. Maccabees still making news

    By Gil Shefler · December 10, 2009

    NEW YORK (JTA) — Some 2,200 years after the Maccabees’ revolt, historians and archaeologists are uncovering new information about their era.

    This year’s biggest discovery is a correspondence between Seleukes IV, whose brother and heir was Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Chanukah story, and one of Seleukes’ chiefs in Judea found on parts of an ancient stele.

    Professor Dov Gera of Ben-Gurion University, who studied the stone’s inscription, said it confirms the account by the Jewish historian Josephus regarding the tightening grip of the Greek-Syrian empire over its subjects’ religious practices.

    “[The text reveals] Seleukes appointed one of the members of his court as an official to oversee worship in the area and equate religious services throughout the empire,” Gera said. “Such an appointment might have been considered by the Jews to be offensive.”

    In the book of Maccabees II, Josephus tells the story of a Greek-Syrian official in a similar position who tries to rob the Temple of its gold. The stele is believed to date from 178 BCE, just over a decade before Judah Maccabee rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem.

    Assembling the stele and determining its origin required some detective work.

    Gera received three fragments of unknown origin that surfaced on the antiquities market. Upon inspection he saw that they seemed to match the fragment of another stone that was missing text.

    “When I got the three broken tablets, I saw it was part of another fragment that was already published,” he said.

    Gera connected the fragments and saw that they matched. He concluded that the fragments must have been broken off the original stele, which was found in a cave in Israel’s Beit Guvrin area by grave robbers.

    “I hope that the rest of the stele will be found because we are still missing the first part,” he said.


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