Several weeks ago, the Jewish world shook its collective fist at Ann Coulter’s audacity in admitting on CNBC (Oct. 8) that she, a Christian, believed in Christianity: “We just want Jews to be perfected,” said Coulter. “That’s what Christianity is.”
The Anti-Defamation called her “anti-Semitic.” They lectured her about the power of words “to injure others and fuel hatred.” On the Web, the popular blog Wonkette, blared, how will Coulter “finally complete Hitler’s Dream? She’s going to convert all the poor lost Jews to her religion,” although Coulter had no plans to do that. From across the United States came editorials and organization press releases demanding news shows blacklist her. But now Chanukah, of all things, is getting slashed and burned in ways
far more offensive than anything Coulter ever said, but with almost no media or organizational defense of the old holiday, or condemnations of its critics.
Jewcy, an online hipster magazine praised by The Guardian in the UK for being “a cultural icon at the forefront of a new wave of Jewish culture and pride,” greeted Chanukah (Dec. 4) with the headline, “A Very Osama Hanukkah.”
Writer Steve Almond describes himself as assimilated and intermarried, but his wife wanted to convert to Judaism so he did some homework: He concludes, “Osama Bin Laden may be the person on the planet most attuned to the joys of Hanukkah.” After all, the Maccabees were an “insurgency,” and Eliezer, one of the Maccabees, who died sacrificing himself in battle, “sounds to me like a Biblical version of the suicide bombers who launch themselves at military convoys in Iraq. He isn’t trying to kill and maim innocent bystanders, so it’s not an exact comparison, but his mindset is essentially the same: He relishes the chance to give his life in exchange for the glory of the cause, and his own name.”
When Judah Maccabee decapitated an enemy general, Almond writes, “isn’t the gesture really just an old school version of the decapitation videos Al Qaeda uses today to horrify its Western foes?” Chanukah is “about a strain of unchecked aggression that infects those who are convinced that God is on their side.”
Slate, a usually excellent online journal, offered this headline (Dec. 3): Chanukah “celebrates the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness.”
The writer, Christopher Hitchens, author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” argues that if Judaism would have been conveniently eliminated by the Greek-Syrians, “we would never have had to hear of Jesus.” And “without the precedents of Orthodox Judaism and Roman Christianity… there would be no Islam, either…. When Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.”
So far, no condemnations of Slate or Hitchens, no fist shaking across the continent and, to the best of our knowledge, no major media rebuttal except by Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun.
In Israel, environmentalists charged that lighting Chanukah candles contributes to global warming. This is a serious charge. As syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman wrote earlier this year in The Boston Globe (Feb. 9), “Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers,” and she’s not the only one to make that comparison. Can we expect media support for legal ordeals, boycotts and reprisals against “green” denial as there is for Holocaust denial?
Gil Hoffman reports in the Jerusalem Post (Dec. 4), “In a campaign that has spread like wildfire across the Internet, a group of Israeli environmentalists is encouraging Jews around the world to light at least one less candle this Hanukka to help the environment. The founders of the Green Hanukkia campaign found that every candle that burns completely produces 15 grams of carbon dioxide. If an estimated one million Israeli households light for eight days, they said, it would do significant damage to the atmosphere.”
Liad Ortar, the campaign’s cofounder, told the Post, “Global warming is a milestone in human evolution that requires us to rethink how we live our lives, and one of the main paradigms of that is religion and how it fits into the current situation.”
Rabbi Benny Lau of Jerusalem’s Ramban Congregation, who considers himself an environmental activist, told the Post, “People in the green movement who have an agenda have unfortunately made it anti-religious…. The damage ends up being a thousand times the benefit.”
Tikkun’s Rabbi Lerner, driving force behind the interreligious Network of Spiritual Progressives, told The Jewish Week in a phone conversation, that Hitchens, and other malevolent critics are “simply ignorant of the history of interpretation of Torah that has developed over the course of the past 2,500 years. From the perspective of many of the anti-religious types in our society, there is really no difference between fundamentalist religion and religion as a whole. In liberal and progressive circles, and (not just liberal) academic circles, there is deep antagonism toward religion, a deep conviction that religion is fundamentally irrational, and that those who believe in God are at a lower level of intellectual and psychological development.”
He added that Tikkun to some extent is isolated by Jewish liberals “because we’re pro-God.” He laughed at the “ludicrous” greens who see Chanukah as a threat to the earth rather than a gift to it.
And somehow, all over the world, Jews lit candles, told the old stories, praised God and enjoyed the eight days and nights as they have for centuries, undeterred by the assault dujour, each assailant thinking himself more enlightened than his Jewish targets.
The Chanukah lesson for the new wave of bitter atheists and anti-God radicals, says Lerner, is that when people are “faced with the choice between an imperialist system that is ‘enlightenment’ oriented, and a religious system that is love oriented, people choose the love.”