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Sunday, November 1, 2009



Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Dec 13, 2009 8:02 PM PST

This essay is dedicated to my friend Lee Wilson, who together with other brave souls in Peace Now in Israel is resisting the wave of fear that has gripped the nation and allowed the dark forces of paranoia to hold sway of the electorate. In protesting the hypocrisy and violence of the conservative Netanyahu government at considerable personal risk, they are challenging the order that so men either cowardly or greedily seek to maintain at all costs to the People that they have been chosen to represent.

The following represents one possible interpretation of the story of the conflict and triumph by the soldiers of Judea that led to the restoration of the temple of Jerusalum after it had been profaned by Antioches II of Syria. It is based on the Wikipedia version of events as it appears online today.

Hanukkah is that joyous time of year when for eight days the Jewish descendents of Abraham celebrate the victory of Judah “The Hammer” Maccabee over a foreign invader who had defiled the Temple of Jerusalem. Each night, a candle is lit to signify the fabled miracle of the lamp that burned for eight days from a single day’s supply of oil. The number eight may reflect the mystical belief that it signifies the eternal, being one day beyond the seven in which the world is said to have been created.

The invasion of Judea during the reign of the conservatives had ostensibly been provoked by a “liberal” faction of Jews exiled by conservative high priests of the “pro-Egyptian” faction. As history is written by the victors, the rebellion of the Maccabees is generally described as one of the Jewish people over an invader, but according to some sources it amounted to a victory of one group of Israelites over another. In reality, it is likely to have been both.

Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple after Judah Maccabee led a force that defeated the Syrian allies of the “reform” Hellenic Jews who had been exiled for challenging some of the traditional practices of the Orthodox leaders of the faith. The reform Jews had been in the ascendancy in Jerusalem until they lost out to the conservatives who primarily represented the people of the countryside. It is likely that socioeconomic factors played a role in the defeat of the liberals, as such things are generally blamed on the ruling elite whether or not they are at fault. It is reasonable to assume that in Israel at that time, as in America today, hard times breed a new respect for orthodoxy, tradition and authoritarian leadership.

According to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the exiled “liberal” faction had requested help from a Syrian king in overthrowing the conservative priests ruling Judea. Josephus wrote that as the king was already inclined to invade, he was only too glad to accept the invitation. It is unclear whether his utter defilement of the Temple and Jewish traditions was a reward or punishment for those who gave him the keys to the kingdom, as surely his utter rejection of all that was Holy to Jews was not what the liberals had intended. The result was that a mass revolt took place against both the foreign king and his “liberal” supporters and their reformist beliefs. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, his father and his brothers, Judea was recaptured and the Temple and Orthodox Judaism were restored in Judea.

According to this version of events, Jews around the world celebrate the victory of conservative, God-fearing Jews over heathen invaders who had been invited into the country by former leaders who had failed to respect tradition. An alternative interpretation is that the failure of the conservatives to support reasonable reforms may have led to the very economic decline that perhaps caused the fall of the liberals. I will leave that to knowledgeable scholars to debate, but I would like to comment on possible parallels of this story with today.

In America today, we find ourselves facing a decline in orthodoxy among both Jews and gentiles, as reflected in the decline in membership in almost all mainstream churches over the last four decades. Although fundamentalism remains strong in some subcultures among Christians, Jews and Muslims throughout the world, in general Americans have begun to join Europeans in questioning the wisdom of allowing other men and women to tell us what to believe about the meaning of Holy Scriptures or the nature of God.

I believe that this openness to questioning orthodoxy represents a healthy move toward a more pure democracy. It is critical that in both Israel and America, believers and nonbelievers alike protect the right to worship according to the dictates one’s conscience, free of any influence of the state in favor of one belief system. Supporting one brand of religion over another by definition tramples the rights of both other religionists and nonbelievers.

Let us join hands during this season around the Menorah, the Christmas tree or in the mosque and pray for men and women to realize that our differences are less important than our common needs and desires. Let us fervently hope that we will begin to work together to help each other find the eternal peace, health and happiness that we all wish upon those we love. Let us forget the sins of the recent and distant past long enough to visualize the possibility that eternal peace is possible.

In the words of John Fogerty:

Put a candle in the window,
'cause I feel I've got to move.
Though I'm going, going,
I'll be coming home soon,
'Long as I can see the light.

Pack my bag and let's get moving,
'cause I'm bound to drift a while.
When I'm gone, gone,
you don't have to worry long,
'Long as I can see the light.

Guess I've got that old trav'lin' bone,
'cause this feeling won't leave me alone.
But I won't, won't be losing my way, no, no
'Long as I can see the light.

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Oh, Yeah!

Put a candle in the window,
'cause I feel I've got to move.
Though I'm going, going,
I'll be coming home soon
long as I can see the light.

Long as I can see the light.
Long as I can see the light.
Long as I can see the light.
Long as I can see the light.

Rick Staggenborg, MD

Soldiers For Peace International

From the US provincial capital of New York, New York

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