Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Chanukah-The struggle for religious freedom continues


December 7, 2018

This Shabbat is the sixth day of Chanukah, a holiday of eight days duration commemorating, according to Jewish tradition, the miracle of finding a small jar of uncontaminated oil in the defiled Temple to light the Temple Menorah and to rededicate the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The small jar of oil was sufficient to light the menorah for only one day, but it burned for eight days until a new supply of consecrated oil could be secured; thus the holiday became known as the “Festival of Lights.”

The “Festival of Lights” precedes by many centuries other seasonal religious holidays, not associated with the Chanukah tradition, where festive lights have become an important part of holiday observances and celebrations. Chanukah is neither analogous nor should it be compared to any other seasonal religious holiday.

The eternal flame of the Temple Menorah had its origins in Sinai after the exodus from Egypt. The tradition relates back to the building of the Tabernacle and the construction of the Menorah in the Sinai desert, all of which is described in the Book of Exodus. The Israelites ultimately brought the Tabernacle, housing the Law, illuminated by the eternal light of the Menorah, to Jerusalem to be located in the first Temple built centuries later by King Solomon in 827 B.C.E.

While Chanukah is not one of the holidays mentioned in the Torah, both spiritually and historically its Torah connection is quite strong. This tradition continues today with the eternal flame that sits near or on top of the Aron Kodesh, the holy arc that houses the Torah scrolls in synagogues throughout the world, as a reminder of the Jewish People’s well established roots in biblical Israel and their religious experience at Mt. Sinai.

Religiously, Chanukah is considered a minor Jewish holiday (although it has become more prominent in the competitive American secular marketplace). However, the political, social and military events that the holiday commemorates makes it an important milestone in the journey of the Jewish people through history.

After the construction of the second Temple, Israel was occupied by foreign forces from both Egypt and Syria, with Syria ultimately driving out the Egyptians. For a long period of time the Jews of Israel were left alone to practice their religion and to live free of foreign influences.

Ultimately, a combination of Greek/Syrian culture and pagan religion seeped into Judea and many Jews voluntarily succumbed or assimilated into this Hellenist culture. Subsequently, the King in Syria, feeling threatened by Judaism, imposed mandatory rules compelling adoption of Hellenist beliefs and practices by all the inhabitants of the Holy Land.

The mandate was a direct threat to Judaism and was opposed by the Jewish High Priest and Jewish lay leaders led by the Maccabi family. This opposition led to open rebellion by the Maccabi family and their supporters, known as the Maccabees, against the mandate and marked the first time in history a people fought for their religious freedom.

In 138 B.C.E., the Maccabees prevailed and the Temple was restored and rededicated that same year. Thus a precedent and principle was established by the Jewish people that all peoples of the world have a fundamental right to religious freedom. This is the true and important significance of Chanukah.

Today that struggle for religious freedom continues by the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Yazidi Christians in Iraq, the Coptic Christians in Egypt and the Uyghurs in China, as well as by many other minority religious groups throughout the world.

If the story of Chanukah is to be elevated to higher stature and importance in world history as it should be, credit the Maccabees and the Jewish people as the initiators of the struggle that continues to this very day to free humanity from the religious oppression of those who would forcefully impose their beliefs on others by denying them the fundamental right of religious freedom.

If you wish to comment or respond you can reach me at melpearlman322@gmail.com. Please do so in a rational, thoughtful, respectful and civil manner. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah!

Mel Pearlman holds both a B.S. and M.S in physics as well as a J.D. degree and came to Florida initially to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs as a young physicist. He has been practicing law in Central Florida for the past 45 years. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; on the District VII Mental Health Board, as Special Prosecutor for the City of Winter Park, Florida; and on the Board of Directors of the Central Florida Research and Development Authority. He was a charter member of the Board of Directors and served as the first Vice President of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as its first pro-bono legal counsel.


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