President Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz both released statements wishing the American Jewish community a happy holiday.
The Washington Post published a piece by David Bernstein contrasting the two messages.
According to Bernstein, President Obama’s message spoke to the “culturally Jewish, universalist, theologically liberal, atheist Jews who see Judaism as primarily a call to pursue ‘social justice.'”
By contrast, Cruz’s message spoke to traditional, religious, conservative minded Jews. Hence, Obama used the more universal spelling for Hanukah with an ‘H’, whereas Cruz used the less common but more traditional spelling with a ‘C.’
The speeches brought out a number of differences between Hanukah and Chanukah.
Chanukah is specifically Jewish. Cruz referenced a short detailed history of the story, quoted from the Talmud, and invoked the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Hanukah is universal. Obama barely references the history at all, rather he tells us that Hanukah is about the struggle for justice in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
Chanukah is about God delivering us to freedom and performing miracles for us. There is no transcendental God in Hanukah, rather each of us is the “engine that brings the miracles we seek.”
The difference that I found the most significant is the take away lesson form the two holidays. Chanukah – like Purim, Pesach, and other Jewish holidays – reminds us that in every generation there are enemies of the Jewish people who seek to destroy us, and God comes to save us. Cruz acknowledges that today Jews are still under attack all over the world, and he mentions BDS on college campuses and terror attacks in Europe and Israel. The lesson of Chanukah is “we need modern day Maccabees to stand together and push back against the forces of evil.”
Hanukah has a different lesson. According to President Obama, Hanukah is about renewing our commitment as Americans to “lead the way and act as unyielding advocates for the fundamental dignity of every human being.”
In other words, whereas Cruz sees Jews as a people that is currently being oppressed, President Obama does not.
In David Bernstein’s words, to president Obama, and those who share his world view, Jews are “white people” and modern liberals do not consider Jews to be people who are oppressed, marginalized or in need of special advocacy or protection.
To take it a step further, in the Hanukah world view, if Jewish people do not advocate for those that are deemed oppressed, then Jews are actually the oppressors themselves.
This Hanukah message of Jews as the oppressors was also manifest in President Obama’s choice to highlight a left wing Jewish group by giving one of the group’s leaders the honor of lighting the menorah and making an invocation. The liberal rabbi used the platform as an opportunity to call attention to BlackLivesMatters, nuclear waste, transsexuals, homosexuals, Muslims, and Palestinians.
As an afterthought she mentioned antisemitism (at the bottom of the list). She also mentioned “security for Israel” but only after she shouted out for “Justice for Palestine.” As if to say that it is sad that Israelis are living in terror, but that’s not an injustice. Only the Palestinians need justice.
The lesson of Chanukah – Jews are oppressed.
The lesson of Hanukaha – Jews are oppressors.
The lesson of Hanukah is a type of world view that applies to Jews and to America. The lesson is that whatever happens to us, it is our fault. Palestinian terror? It’s because of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. 9/11? It’s because of US foreign policy. Islamic attacks in the US and Europe? Islamaphobia and offensive cartoons are to blame. If we as Jews or Americans are suffering, we are suffering for our own sins, not the sins of others.
it is important to understand that president Obama’s lesson of Hanukah is a very authentic Jewish lesson.
In this week’s parshah, Miketz, the brothers are harassed by an Egyptian official. They have no idea that this was their brother Joseph who they had sold as a slave many years before. All they know is that they innocently came to buy food to feed their starving families, and now they are being accused of being spies. They are thrown into an Egyptian prison and left there for three terrifying days.
What was their reaction to this seemingly baseless hostility?
“They said one to the other, ‘indeed we are guilty!'” In Hebrew – asheimim anachnu! They didn’t complain about how unfair they were being treated. They didn’t say, “we are innocent! Why is this happening to us?” They looked back to their own sins.
“We are guilty concerning our brother
Asheimim anachnu! We are guilty. This is all our fault. As far as they knew there was no connection between the sale of Joseph and what was happening to them at that time in Egypt. As far as they knew they were completely innocent of the baseless accusations against them. But they viewed themselves as guilty nonetheless.
On Tisha B’av, do we sit on the floor and talk about how terrible the Romans were? No. We cry out to Hashem and acknowledge that it was for our sins that our Beit hamikdash was destroyed and we were exiled from our land, and only our own behavior can end our suffering.
Just as Chanukah is a Jewish value, Hanukah is a value as well. Like many of our most important values, there is a tension between the two and as Rabbeinu Yonah says in his commentary to Brachot, the challenge is learning how to apply competing values in their proper times. Kohelet says there is a time for hate and a time for love. The challenge is knowing when to hate and when to love.
Between Jews and Muslims in America, Jews are clearly the more oppressed of the two. According to the FBI’s statistics of religiously motivated hate crimes, 16 percent were against Muslims whereas almost 60 percent were against Jews. There is no doubt that there are people who target Muslims, but Jews are targeted at a much higher rate.
Yet we see liberal groups calling the Muslims in America the “new Jews.” As if somehow the Jews have made it in America and are now part of the problem of hostility towards minority groups.
The Syrian refugee crisis is a complicated issue. On the one hand, it is completely understandable that people have sympathy for the woman, children, and elderly Syrian refugees who are no doubt seeking safety and a better life here in America.
But those who oppose an influx of thousands of refugees right now are also reasonable. They are no less sympathetic to the plight of the refugees, but they fear for their own lives and the lives of fellow Americans who may be put at risk if we admit terrorists with the refugees.
Groups such as the one represented at the White Hosue Hanukah party want to make us feel that if we oppose allowing Syrian refugees into America that we are cruel, evil, and betraying Jewish values.
Last week 1,000 Rabbis signed a letter welcoming Syrian refugees. They call on representatives to exercise “moral leadership”, and they quote the Torah, as if anyone who opposes them is immoral and in violation of the Torah.
These Rabbis are extremists.
They have incorporated the message of Hanukah to the extreme. They have not tempered or moderated it by also incorporating the message of Chanukah.
There is no denying that America is not fond of Islam right now. It is not just a few politicians saying things that may seem offensive. According to a recent Huffington Post poll, hardly a liberal source, 58 percent of Americans view the Islamic religion unfavorably, and only 17 percent view Islam favorably.
Is that because Americans are Islamaphobic? Xenophobic? Racist?
Is it possible that there is something wrong with Islam?
Jews need to learn the lesson of Chanukah, but Muslims need to learn the lesson of Hanukah.
When radical Jews do destructive things in Israel or America the response of peace loving Jews is to call them out. Asheimim anachnu. In Israel they are prosecuted by the Israeli government, and condemnation arises from Jewish groups of every kind.
But more than that we look towards ourselves. We don’t excuse the Jewish terrorist. The liberal groups that lit the Menorah at the White House would never say, “We condemn the terrible acts, and while we don’t agree with violence, we must understand that the Jewish terrorist was motivated to do so because of Arab terror. We call on both sides to end the violence.”
You will never see that. When Jewish terror happens we look inward. Asheimim anachnu. What could we have done wrong that would turn one of our own towards terrorism? We blame ourselves and we redouble our efforts to make sure that our response is never the same as the response of our enemies.
That is the lesson of Hanukah appropriately applied. Jews know that one all too well.
Unfortunately, not enough Muslims celebrate Hanukah.
Recently an Imam from Texas appeared on television and expressed that he understood why Americans might be suspicious of Muslims. He called on Muslims to celebrate Hanukah. What happened to that Imam? He was fired by his congregation.
I am not an Imam, and I can’t tell the Muslims what they should do. But as a Rabbi I call on extremist Jews to stop enabling the Muslim community and start holding them to the same standards that we require of ourselves.
For one, it is in the best interest of Jews. Jewish groups, if they want to call themselves that, must take into account Jewish safety first.
Jews are specifically targeted by radical Islam. Whether it be in France, Morocco, Mumbai, Argentina, Kenya, New York, or Los Angeles. Muslim extremists specifically target Jewish institutions, Jewish community centers, Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, El Al terminals, Jewish tour groups, and Israeli embassies.
On college campuses our students are harassed by Islamic groups, and Muslim funded groups like the MSA and SJP that target Jewish students, regardless of their views towards Israel.
As sad as it might be that individual peace loving Muslims are viewed negatively for views held by their coreligionists, as Jews we should welcome the extra scrutiny the Islamic religion is experiencing in the hopes that it prompts those who truly love peace to disassociate from the radical hate groups, to truly condemn terror against Jews and Israel, and to root out any root causes of anti-semitism, even unintended, that may be found in their midst.
But more so, by preventing Muslim groups from incorporating the concept of asheimim anachnu we are guilty, those radical liberal Jewish groups are harming Muslims, not helping them. When we as Jews apply the value of Hanukah properly it makes us better as a people. It would do the same for Muslims.
If Jews want to help Muslims and help themselves, we must incorporate the value of Chanukah. We must be unyielding advocates for fellow Jews who are facing oppression. And we can help peace loving Muslims help their own community by teaching them how to apply the lesson of Hanukah to themselves. Help them fulfill the verse, Ubiarta harah mikirbecha – to eradicate the evil from their midst, and then both communities can worship the One True God together in peace, with security for everyone.