Chanukah is the festival brought to us by Jewish zealots. It was the military victory of guerrilla fighters and rogues against Greek-Syrian repression. In victory they were rehabilitated by history. Time has a way of sanitizing and forgiving inappropriate actions in the pursuit of appropriate goals. Pass the latkes.
The revolt wasn’t completely sanitized, though. The Book of the Maccabees has been relegated to the Apocrypha, never admitted into the biblical canon. Nevertheless, not only did “a great miracle happen there,” but something worth studying. When is it OK for a band of zealots to fight, and why?
Another Jewish revolt of zealots appears to be brewing “there,” in the hills of ancient Samaria and Judea, this time by Jews against the Jewish army, the IDF. This is shocking to all who recognize the citizens’ army as a cornerstone of Israeli society, where so many sons and daughters serve. It was unconscionable for angry Jews to attack Muslim holy sites in Israel; now this.
To explain is not to condone but to understand, and to warn. The West Bank could be teetering on anarchy. While the great majority of those living in Jewish communities there have been peaceful citizens, a relative few have become violent, with regularity, in retaliation for Palestinian attacks that have been coming with a regularity all their own. Settler fear and fury has been exacerbated by Palestinian attempts at declaring statehood, which would render Jew-free the Jewish West Bank heartland, where Jews have lived for centuries, with the exception of 1949-1967.
The massacre of the young Fogel family of Itamar is still raw. In an area adjacent to Itamar, three homes, a shul and two other buildings were built in their memory, all torn down by the IDF, labeled unauthorized expansion.
This week, some 50 young Jews violently invaded an IDF base after rumors that the IDF would destroy other unauthorized communities. One general said he was shocked at the “hatred” for the IDF. Jewish leaders on the West Bank called the rioting “shameful and disgraceful.” Former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky, of Itamar, said if the “appalling” attacks on the IDF continue, “then I have no more place here, I will not stay in this place.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken out forcefully. “We need to stop this now,” he said. “This is something small that could become something larger and bad. We will stop it now.”
Unlike in Maccabee times, this is an unjustified revolt for it is aimed not against foreigners prohibiting religious practice but a Jewish state. While peace with the Palestinians seems a distant dream for now, peace among Jews in the Zionist state is a priority. This year’s flickering candlelight on Chanukah should remind us not only of the miracle of survival over the centuries but of the need to keep emotions from bursting into flames of anarchy.