pageok
pageok
pageok
Hanukkah:

Today is the second day of Hanukkah, with the third day of Hanukkah beginning at sunset. Today is also the third day of Christmas, so I hope that the 96% of Americans who celebrate Christmas, as well everyone who celebrates Hanukkah, are continuing their festivities.

Last year while guest-blogging for Glenn Reynolds on MSNBC.com, I wrote the essay "Armed Jews Week," about how the Jews who fought the Nazis embodied the spirit of Hanukkah. A previous essay for NRO told the story of the original Hanukkah--how an informal Jewish militia led a successful revolution against the Syrians who were trying to wipe out the Jewish religion, and how the Jews--then as now--were brilliant military innovators who defeated a much larger force dedicated to their extermination.

Another essay for NRO looked at the religious issues surrounding the Maccabean revolt against the Syrians. The essay explained that the new independent Jewish state survived for only about a century, because its leaders abused two ethnic groups in the state: Idumeans (who followed the Jewish religion), and Samaritans (who did not observe that standard Jewish religion, but who did observe a very similar faith, based on the five books of the Torah, without the additional holy books which are part of mainstream Judaism).

The 2004 essay on "Armed Jews Week" led to many interesting e-mails. While the majority of e-mails were positive, the negative responses fell into two broad categories. One was composed of Jews who (displaying precisely the types of attitudes which the Zionist movement was intended to overcome) were offended at the idea that Jews have been (and still are) among the world's greatest warriors.

The second type of negative response ran along the lines of "don't you agree that Israel is doing the same thing to the Palestinians which the ancient Syrians did to the ancient Jews?" To which my answer is: not at all.

Unlike the Syrians, the Israelis are not attempting to eliminate another religion. The Israelis are not trying to wipe out the practice of Islam or Christianity in the disputed territories. (Although the Palestinian Authority has done a great deal to drive Christianity out of the West Bank). Nor was Israel's response to the Intifada the creation of a ancient-Syrian-style plan to ethnically cleanse the entire area by selling the whole Palestinian population into slavery. (Even though Sudan, Libya, Mauritania, and some other nations still have an active, public slave trade.)

Rather, Israel appears to have learned the lessons from the mistakes of its Maccabean kingdom. Today, any Jew--regardless of ethnic ancestry--who wishes to live in Israel is entitled to full and equal Israeli citizenship. To the extent that non-Jewish citizens of Israel are treated differently from Jewish citizens, they nevertheless enjoy much greater civil and political rights than almost anywhere in the Arab world. How many places besides Israel and Iraq can an Arab freely exercise the right to strong criticism of the ruling government? Or vote in an election in which the national government might lose power?

As for the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has voluntarily relinquished control over the latter, and the former came under Israeli control as a result of Jordan's decision to attack Israel in 1967. On this very date in 1995, Israel gave Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority control over 90% of the West Bank, with the expectation that there would eventually be an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. Arafat and his gang of terrorists gave only lip service to peace, and continued to teach anti-Semitism and the destruction of Israel in their schools (funded by the United Nations), and to wage a terrorist campaign against Israel.

The Maccabeans, as long as they could rule themselves, were willing to live in peace with Syria. If the Palestinians ever choose leaders who are willing to live in peace with Israel, then the independent Palestinian state will include not just Gaza, but also the West Bank.

In the meantime, the Israelis--with the support of freedom-loving people of all faiths all over the world--are not going to submit to the demands of evil-doers who seek to destroy the Jewish people and their nation. That is one of the eternal themes of Hanukkah.

Update: A commentator makes a very important point. Although many Jewish accounts refer to the Maccabees' opponents as "Syrians," the Jews were fighting the Selucid Empire (sometimes called the Greco-Syrian empire); the Empire, at its heights, extended from Afghanistan to the Aegean Sea. Although the Empire had controlled parts of Arabia, the Empire was, unlike modern Syria, neither culturally nor ethnically predominantly Arab.

Anonymous coward:
For a different perspective on Hanukkah, if not on the undeniable merits of Jewish fighters, I recommend this essay on Slate:
http://www.slate.com/id/2133068/
12.27.2005 1:56pm
Marcus1:
Why would we want to glorify militarism? Doesn't that tend to lead to problems?
12.27.2005 2:07pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Syrians is sort of a misleading term in the historical context of the first Commonwealth. The indigenous peoples at the time wre not at all related to the Arabs. The culture of the ruling elite and the military was entirely Macedonian/Hellenistic. In fact, the Maccabean revolt started because of a conflict between the Judaism of the Judean masses and the Hellenism of the ruling Judean elites, who, e.g., had themselves uncircumcised to participate in gymnastic events. Worth remembering since false historical analogies often lead to tragic misunderstandings.
12.27.2005 2:34pm
Dustin (mail):
Marcus, perhaps you should cite those problems.

I don't think citing military strengh glorified in successful fights for survival is all that militaristic so much as it is simply rooting for the underdog versus the bully.

Not all military groups and ideas are equal, and without relatively liberal nations using military force, the world would be an awful awful place.

Remember, tyrants will use force whether it's a nice tendancy or not, my friend. War is the true oldest profession.
12.27.2005 2:43pm
Jim Hu:
I don't really know anything about these guys (I think I found them from a post about shoestrings and machine guns at Catallarchy)...but your post reminded me that I had stumbled upon their website yesterday.
12.27.2005 2:44pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
To the extent that non-Jewish citizens of Israel are treated differently from Jewish citizens, they nevertheless enjoy much greater civil and political rights than almost anywhere in the Arab world.

Again, as someone who has spent a good part of his life in Israel and is a staunch supporter of Israel's right to exist in secure borders, I find this statement silly. The comparison should not be to how Arabs are treated in other lands, but to how Jews are treated in Israel. Of course, Arabs have more rights in Israel than they have in Syria, for example, but this is a silly analogy. It reminds me of the old racists who look at blacks in America and say something to the effect that they have much better lives than they would have had had they stayed in Africa. True, of course, but completely besides the point. Of course, Mr. Kopel will not respond to any of this criticism as he never does. In fact, I would venture to guess that it is a mistake he opened comments on this post as he usually does not. By the way, what is a "comenator"?


[DK: Your point about treatment of Arabs in Israel is a perfectly legitimate argument. I just happen to find all the focus on Israel's alleged sins to be enormously hypocritical, considering that most of Israel's critics are themselves egregious abusers of human rights, or are apparently indifferent to any Arabs who are being oppressed by Arabs, as opposed to Arabs who suffer far milder infringements of their rights in Israel. The difference with the analogy of U.S. treatment of blacks in the pre-Civil Rights area was that mostof the people who were protesting mistreatment of American blacks in the South were not hypocrites who themselves treated blacks even worse, or who ignored the mistreatment of blacks in other countries.


Your point about my not responding to comments is incorrect, if you would take the time to read the comment threads on my posts, you would see that. Your assertion that I usually don't open my posts for comments is silly, as even a cursory review of the last several months will show.

12.27.2005 2:54pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
The "comenator" did not raise a good point --- he called you out on your attempt to propagandize an ancient battle for today's purposes. I do not think you have any clue what you are talking about -- the term is "Assyrians" not Syrians. Get it right.



[DK: You are one step away from a permanent ban. Your nasty tone and name-calling are a violation of the rules of this weblog. Your "factual" arguments--and your self-righteousness about them--are seriously in error. If you bothered to look at readily available sources, including those on the web, you would find that the Jews (and others) often referred to the Selucids as "Syrians." I'm perfectly aware that the Selucid Empire included the core of the long-dead Assyrian Empire (western Syria and much of Iraq) which had been destroyed hundreds of years before the Maccabean Revolt began. If you want to make factual arguments in a style consistent with the commenting rules, you may do so. Otherwise, you will be be banned.]
12.27.2005 2:55pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
I see Mr. Kopel is deleting comments.
12.27.2005 2:57pm
Gordon (mail):
There is another interesting modern lesson for the State of Israel from this period - it is a little bit later than the Maccabean period - and that is the final Roman conquest of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. While historical accounts are spotty (Josephus, the primary source, is perhaps untrustworthy), it is clear that any chance the Jews had to successfully confront the Roman Empire was destroyed by internal factionalism, in particular the tendency of the radical militants among Jewry to assassinate more moderate leaders and persecute more moderate factions. Paul Johnson's History of the Jews discusses this briefly.

The historical parallels came to mind when I read this:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20051227/ts_nm/mideast_dc

Israeli military preparedness is the prime responsibility of Israel today, due to its irredentist and jihadist neighbors. But do not confuse Israeli military readiness with the religious zealotry represented by either the Masada besieged or their spiritual descendants in the West Bank today.
12.27.2005 3:18pm
Gordon (mail):
Greedy Clerk: You are incorrect. The Assyrians were based in what is now northern Iraq and were a threat to Israel several hundred years before the Greek Syrians of the Maccabean era.
12.27.2005 3:20pm
Henry Bowman:
As an aside, the Assyrians still exist, albeit in small numbers. Most are now Christians, I think, and most live in Iraq or adjacent countries (Syria in particular). Interestingly, Assyrians speak a dialect of Aramaic, one of the few remaining Semitic languages, the others, of course, being Hebrew and Arabic, the latter being a descendant of Aramaic.
12.27.2005 3:42pm
Jeff the Baptist (mail) (www):
Might you write a similar piece for Purim as well? The conclusion of Esther takes a pretty strong stand for self-defense rights.

[DK: Here's a short piece I did on Purim in 1994: http://www.davekopel.com/Religion/Opeds/Feast-of-Purim.htm. I will do something this March for Purim. As the king's decree said, it was time for Jews "in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and the province that would attack them.]
12.27.2005 3:48pm
Nicole Black (mail) (www):
This is an interesting commentary on Hanukkah. I've never viewed it in this light and am not sure that I'll present it in this fashion to my children when we light the menorah, but it's an interesting perspective, nonetheless.
12.27.2005 4:00pm
Justin (mail):
Funny, I was always taught the Maccabian oppressors were Greek. Oh well.

For reasons mentioned above, I don't think the Hanukkah reference does anything for or against the Israeli cause. Nor do I think comparative references to the Arabic world are justified, as I think we can all get on board condemning the civil rights that Saudis and Iranians (fail to) enjoy.
12.27.2005 4:21pm
Marcus1:
Dustin,

Well, I'm with you on most of that. I'm not a pacifist. I'm simply a little perplexed with Mr. Kopel's tone -- for instance, this statement:


One was composed of Jews who (displaying precisely the types of attitudes which the Zionist movement was intended to overcome) were offended at the idea that Jews have been (and still are) among the world's greatest warriors.


I would be rather surprised if people were indeed offended at the idea that Jews are or were "great warriors." More likely, they were offended by the characterization.

I don't think hailing a particular group as great warriors helps breed understanding -- especially not a group that is currently embroiled in a violent struggle.

Let's imagine other groups hailing their history of great militarism. The Germans would have plenty to look to. The French could look to Napoleon. The Swedes could look to the Viking age. But is this something we would like to see? Maybe it's just defensive militarism that Mr. Kopel is hailing, but I mean, look at our current situation. We've now entered the world of preemptive invasion for defensive purposes. I'm not even saying that was the wrong thing for us to do, but if you mix that with the militaristic pride Mr. Kopel seems to be invoking, it seems like a dangerous combination.
12.27.2005 4:29pm
byomtov (mail):
the Jews who fought the Nazis embodied the spirit of Hanukkah.



According to my religious training, at least, this is simply wrong. Hanukkah does not celebrate the military victory of the Maccabees, but rather the rededication of the Temple which followed, including the miracle of one day's supply of oil lasting eight days. (Wouldn't it annoy the Saudis if that happened again?). Indeed, the word itself means "dedication."



[DK: You're right that the oil miracle is often presented as the essence of Hanukkah, with all the revolutionary stuff left out. The Slate article (see comment 1) provides some of the background--essentially, how the rabbis tried to take over Hanukkah by turning into a celebration predominantly about the miracle of the oil--and how modern Israelis are paying increasing attention to the military aspects of Hanukkah. The Orthodox prayer for the candle-lighting expresses thanks for the "the wonders, the salvations, and the battles..."]



I believe it is also wrong to compare the Maccabees' enemies to the Nazis. They were not nice guys, certainly, but they did not seek the physical extermination of the Jews.


[DK: The Selucids were way nicer than the Nazis. Wanting to sell all Jews into slavery in order to ethnically cleanse Israel was consistent with what a lot of Empires did at the time, and was, even by modern standards, much better than death camps. But the Jewish resistance fighters of WWII very much saw themselves as descendants of the Macabbees, albeit fighting against even greater odds against a foe whose degree of Evil was unique in the Jewish historical experience.]
12.27.2005 4:30pm
bojess (mail):
Greedy Clerk --

I find your comments ironic, cogent, and on-point . . . both here and over at isthatlegal.org.

Don't give up. Don't ever give up.
12.27.2005 4:47pm
von (mail) (www):
Excellent post, DK. Two thoughts:

First, your response to Greedy Clerk's substantive criticism (more on his form later) continues to miss the point. GC writes in relevant part:

Again, as someone who has spent a good part of his life in Israel and is a staunch supporter of Israel's right to exist in secure borders, I find this statement silly. The comparison should not be to how Arabs are treated in other lands, but to how Jews are treated in Israel. Of course, Arabs have more rights in Israel than they have in Syria, for example, but this is a silly analogy. It reminds me of the old racists who look at blacks in America and say something to the effect that they have much better lives than they would have had had they stayed in Africa. True, of course, but completely besides the point.


You respond:

Your point about treatment of Arabs in Israel is a perfectly legitimate argument. I just happen to find all the focus on Israel's alleged sins to be enormously hypocritical, considering that most of Israel's critics are themselves egregious abusers of human rights, or are apparently indifferent to any Arabs who are being oppressed by Arabs, as opposed to Arabs who suffer far milder infringements of their rights in Israel. The difference with the analogy of U.S. treatment of blacks in the pre-Civil Rights area was that mostof the people who were protesting mistreatment of American blacks in the South were not hypocrites who themselves treated blacks even worse, or who ignored the mistreatment of blacks in other countries.


You're absolutely right that Israel has more than its fair share of unfair critics, and that many of those critics are more than a bit hypocritical in their focus. So what? A criticism does not lose its validity because one (or more) of its speakers engages in wrongful acts or fails to make other valid criticisms -- that's merely a variation of the old ad hominem fallacy.

Second, and purely as a matter of form, it's much easier to follow your responses and arguments if you enter them as separate comments rather than respond by adding to or modifying the comments of others. I understand that you want to make sure that your retort is directed to your critic, and that one does not read the criticism but miss your response. It makes the thread difficult to follow, however. Have more confidence in your readers.
12.27.2005 4:51pm
Gordon (mail):
Marcus1:

There is a basic difference between a people or civilization glorifying their "warriors" when fighting for a just cause, vs. glorification of warriors dedicating to conquering, enslaving, exterminating, tyrannizing, etc. subject peoples.

The current Israeli "warriors" are fighting a war to preserve their state and its democratic principles - principles that extend to non-Jews within Israel. Just as we, in the United States, must fight to protect our freedoms from those, such as Islamic extremists, (or, in recent times, Soviet imperialists) who would take them away.

What worries me about Israeli "warriors" is whether they will become enthralled by the Jewish messianism represented by the illegal West Bank settlers. For that way lies disaster ...
12.27.2005 4:54pm
Mr Diablo:
I'd reply about this, but I'm cracking up about the idea of the author aggressively praising the openness of debate and ability to openly debate in Israel and Iraq, but at the same time ranting and raving about "permanent bans" of posters to this site.

That's not to say that some people come on this thing with nothing short of invented facts to back up their arguments. (The best of which are those who insist that they are quoting from their life story and must therefore be believed... forgetting the Stats 101 rule that one's own life story is beyond biased when it comes offering "facts.")

I'm mostly offended at the effort to spin Chanukkah into a rallying point for war. To say that one of its themes is not giving-in to evil-doers who are hellbent on destruction -- is a little histerical. Every religious holiday is, in some way, about the preservation and the freedom to express a tenet of religion. (And ALL religions at some point have faced evil-doers hell-bent on convertion or elimination of the other's religion or way of life -- it's one of those special quirks about faith that makes so many of us wretch when people use it as an excuse for their own actions.)

Anyway, before I get permanently banned, let's all sit back and thank a diety (any diety) that the injunction against David Letterman was lifted, and that feminism clearly is the loser in that New Mexico court house. Did I say feminism? I meant stupid judicial decision-making was the loser. I'm able to tell the difference, unlike others.
12.27.2005 4:57pm
Hattio (mail):
Gordon:
The problem is determining when people are fighting for a just cause. If you glorify warriors, you can expect others to do the same. If you choose to gloss over the times and places when your warriors acted out of hand (even if the initial conflict was "righteous war") others will do the same. You cite the current war by the US against "Islamic extremists." In doing so not only do you conflate two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) but you also ignore the fact that millions of people don't consider this to be a just war where you are defending your own people. Again, right or wrong, most wars have people who reasonably, if mistakenly, agree with the other side. If they didn't, why would we fight?
12.27.2005 5:07pm
J Mann (mail):
Greedy Clerk, Von and others:

I think you're right that the neighboring arab countries' comparatively worse treatment of their arab citizens doesn't justify Israel's disparate treatment of its own citizens, however:

1) DK was specifically responding to the criticism that he described as "don't you agree that Israel is doing the same thing to the Palestinians which the ancient Syrians did to the ancient Jews?" Although Israel's comparatively superior treatment of its Arab citizens doesn't mean that treatment is morally right, it is a piece of evidence tending to show that Israel is nicer to its Arab citizens than the Selucid Empire was to its Jewish citizens.

2) The amount of disparate treatment remaining, and what Israel should be doing about it, are interesting problems that we could all argue about for ages. Maybe DK could start a thread on it some time.
12.27.2005 5:10pm
Marcus1:
Gordon,

Well, how about me writing on a Christian blog about the historical greatness of Christian warriors. Or on a Muslim blog about the greatness of Muslim warriors?

I bet a fundamentalist Christian, hearing about great Christian warriors, might think "Yea, baby!" A Muslim would probably have a different response. I'm not sure it matters whether the Christian was only refering to Christian defensive military might.

Of course, Jews don't have a history of opressing other people in the way that Christians and Muslims do. Clearly that's to their credit. Nevertheless, I'm just not sure talking about their military greatness helps anything. If anything, I think it is both inflammatory and leads down a dangerous path.
12.27.2005 5:31pm
Justin (mail):
JMann, while I already agreed that the comparison that DK was criticizing was unfair (though I also don't agree with DK's own comparison), I don't see why responding to that criticism would require one to invoke the civil rights situation of Arab states TODAY.
12.27.2005 5:37pm
Marcus1:
Hattio -- Well said!
12.27.2005 5:39pm
alcibiades (mail) (www):
Justin, they were Greeks: The Seleucids were Greeks, or even more accurately Macedonians. Seleucus I was one of Alexander's general, among those who took over the Empire at the time of Alexander's death. Seleucus at the time was aged about 33, and he spent the next two decades or so consolidating his power, so that his Kingdom reached from modern day Syria/Lebanon to the Indus river in Pakistan.

Although Antiochu IV Epiphanes was, by all accounts, a poor ruler for many of his subjects and not a natural war leader, as was his forebearer, Seleucus I. A weak man.

As for Mr. Diablo's point, Chanukah quite simply was a war, won against tremendous odds, that confirmed for Jews then living who fought in that war that practicing God's laws zealously, as opposed to ignoring them, helped bring victory even against tremendous odds. A little country facing off against a regional superpower that won.

The fact that you find it histerical [sic] that some people choose to continue to reinterpret the holiday in that light day vis-a-vis the events in their own lives tells us very little except that you don't appear to have a deep sympathy towards the practice of traditional religion. And that you would never "make that mistake" yourself.
12.27.2005 5:40pm
Passing By:
Fiction: On this very date in 1995, Israel gave Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority control over 90% of the West Bank, with the expectation that there would eventually be an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.

Reality: Israel has used a complex legal and bureaucratic mechanism to take control of more than fifty percent of the land in the West Bank. This land was used mainly to establish settlements and create reserves of land for the future expansion of the settlements.
12.29.2005 12:45pm
Neal R. (mail):
In defense of Greedy Clerk, I hardly think a "permanent ban" is in order. It is true that Greedy's comments are often sarcastic and somewhat caustic. But they are also frequently hilarious and often quite insightful. Greedy adds a lot to these discussion threads, and it would be a mistake to banish him/her. There are certainly several other regular commentors who possess far less civility and who add little or nothing to the substance of these discussions.

I also think deleting posts is generally a bad idea. I realize it's the blogger's perogative, but unless a comment completely crosses the line, why not leave it up for others to critique and/or ignore as they see fit? The best response to bad speech is generally counter-speech, as the comment threads on this blog well demonstrate, time and again.
12.29.2005 12:45pm
Visitor Again:
Why was my post criticizing the threat to ban Greedy Clerk deleted without explanation or notice--as well as a response to my post? I guess I'm out of here because this website does not allow free exchange of ideas on all subjects. Thanks to my fellow commenters for their innformation and ideas.
12.29.2005 12:52pm
Rich (mail):
I think marcus and hattio are way down the wrong path. Being a Christian and member of the military warriors are usually a product of their country. We glorify our warriors, usually, because they are fighting in a righteous cause. Hattio your logic is defective in disconnecting the warrior from the moral basis of his or her country. Is the warrior fighting for Communist Russia (a dictatorship or oligarchy), a "banana republic" (dictatorship) or a republic (the U.S.) or a democratic monarchy (U.K.)? Where do you think a warrior would engage in unjustified slaughter?

It is taken for granted that in the heat of battle warriors will commit atrocities. The real test is the response of the command structure to them. I am satisfied that due to the relatively open nature of our government that the issue is fully and openly discussed and that the war is just. I am not concerned about the millions that don't think it is. Can you base you next to last sentence on any kind of fact? We agree with Al-Queda? 1943 Japan? Nazi Germany? North Korea?

Marcus: What dangerous path are they heading down? Jews have been and continue to be great warriors in spite of the lame picture of the conflicted Jew. From Jehu to Moshe Dyan Isreal is at least conducting war within the framework of a democracy. Why the scare quotes around Islamic Extremists?

I think both have problem with violence in general. I do too because I'm the one that has to fight. However the alternative is worse.
12.29.2005 2:22pm
von (mail) (www):
This is utterly wierd. I'm assuming that posts have been deleted due to the recent computer-Volokh-crash, because one of my posts is gone too, and I can't believe that DK would have deleted it. (Although it did contain a modest criticism, it contained mostly praise.)


[DK: You're right. Same point for V.A.'s post, 2 steps above. Site editing has been troublesome since Tuesday night, and still is. As far as I know, there's no way to record comment editing.
On the general issue of comments, this website has never claimed to be an unlimited public forum where anyone can say anything, as if it were some cyber version of Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. The V.C. is a website run by one of the top law professors in the U.S., who has invited several other legal writers to join him. Comments are fine when they conform to the explicit rules for comments; non-conforming comments will be deleted. Those readers who remember the early days of the Internet may remember how a couple people with personality disorders (or just self-indulgent bad manners) could hijack and ruin an interesting Usenet discussion group. That won't happen here.]
12.29.2005 3:18pm