As Chanukah departs, let’s take one last look back at the Maccabees’ triumph over the Hellenists. Was it a victory of ideas as well as a physical conquest?
Imagine a routine day of an average citizen before the Maccabees arrived. The majority of Jews had succumbed to the Hellenist culture imposed upon them by Antiochus Epiphanes. An ordinary citizen’s thoughts upon awakening might be “Who won last night’s javelin finals?”
At the well, in the fields, at the tavern, people talked about athletes. An upstart defeated the champion wrestler. The record-setting marathon runner was suspected of ingesting prohibited strength-enhancing herbs. A certain shopkeeper could procure the best stadium seats for you, if you handed over a week’s wages.
People with disabilities offended a central belief of a Hellenist: the body was to be perfected and worshipped. A Hellenist couldn’t bring himself to even consider hiring or marrying a “defective” disabled person.
When the Maccabees overthrew the Hellenists, they promoted holiness rather than beauty, and goodness rather than physical perfection. How long and to what degree did their ideas influenced the average Jewish Hellenist? Did a
shift towards the spiritual improve attitudes towards people with disabilities?
Viewing Today’s Society through “Chanukah Lenses”
Imagine a routine day of a typical American. The majority of Americans have succumbed to the culture imposed upon them by the media.
An ordinary citizen wakes up on Friday, wondering who won the Thursday night football game. On the Web and on the radio, in the office and at the bar, people talk about sports. An upstart usurps a basketball star. A baseball legend is suspected of ingesting steroids. The office manager could procure the best stadium seats if you handed over a week’s wages.
The “man on the street” too often views People with disabilities as “imperfect bodies,” needing a “cure.” Scientists and science writers wax eloquent about wheelchairs which climb steps, and surgically implanted devices that “make the blind see,” neglecting laws mandating architectural accessibility and the availability of material in accessible format.
How many bachelors would marry a woman with a disability? How many employers would consider hiring workers with disabilities?
Legislation that mandates accessibility and programs that promote inclusion have greatly improved the lives of people with disabilities. Our enduring victory, however, will come when people’s hearts understand that perfecting the soul and aspiring to holiness are more important than perfecting the body and worshipping beauty.
Centuries before Chanukah, the prophet Zechariah had a vision of a menorah of pure gold. As we continue our struggle for inclusion in a society which still praises promotes physical prowess and perfection, let us recall God’s message to Zechariah in that vision of the menorah:
“Not by might, and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”
A native of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Rabbi Michael Levy attributes his achievements to God’s beneficence and to his courageous parents. His parents supported him as he explored his small home town, visited Israel and later studied at Hebrew University, journeyed towards more observant Judaism, received rabbinic ordination, obtained a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and lectured on Torah- and disability-related topics.
As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center (www.yadempowers.org), Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons –boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org