For centuries, Hanukkah and Christmas have been linked in the popular imagination through incidental timing. This year, Hanukkah’s next-to-last day falls right on Christmas. But those holidays have far more important things in common than timing or gift-giving.
In their unique way, each holiday celebrates human dignity and freedom, thus reflecting the fundamental values of their respective sister religions, Judaism and Christianity.
Hanukkah commemorates a revolt led by Jews in the second century B.C. against Antiochus IV, who ruled Israel for the Seleucid Empire, one of four that emerged after Alexander the Great’s generals divided his vast holdings following his death. Antiochus sought to eradicate the Jews’ identity, in accordance with the Greek worldview’s secular focus.
“The Greeks looked down at the Jews for having, in their eyes, a very primitive faith,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said. “The Greeks had Homer’s Iliad, the Odyssey. They had Greek tragedies, poetry, philosophy. They look at this idea of prayer and faith and belief in God as something very primitive. So they banned it.”
Yet that faith, expressed in the 10 Commandments and the Torah, represented a turning point for human civilization. It reflected the idea that God values human freedom, especially since God is the ultimate free being in the universe, and God created humanity in his free image.
“The 10 Commandments are not a list of rules,” Dennis Prager wrote. “The commandments prove that God wants mankind to be free: ‘I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.’ Following the commandments actually frees us from the terrible consequences of sin, making our lives better.” (Emphases in original).
Nevertheless, Antiochus banned any vestiges of Jewish religion and culture, including the Torah. He even desecrated Jerusalem’s Temple by erecting statues to Greek gods and goddesses and by sacrificing pigs to them. Antiochus went so far as to proclaim himself “epiphanes,” Greek for “divine manifestation.”
But in 168 B.C., a rural priest named Mattathias started the revolt. After refusing to sacrifice to a Greek deity, Mattathias killed a Jew who acted in his place and a Greek guard. He then fled to the nearby hills with his five sons. Two years later, when Mattathias died, his son Judas formed a guerrilla army to fight Hellenized Jews and Seleucid troops. That army earned the nickname “Maccabees,” Hebrew for “hammers.”
In 164, the Maccabees took Jerusalem, overthrew Antiochus and reconsecrated the Temple. Reconsecration involved relighting the menorah, which had to be illuminated continuously. The Maccabees had only enough oil to keep it lit for one day. But in an apparent miracle, the oil lasted for eight days. When Jewish families light menorahs, they celebrate the Maccabees’ victory and its ultimate sign.
“It is a celebration of triumph by the few against the many, by the weak against the strong, by the committed and principled against the pagan and the unprincipled,” said Breitbart News’ Joel Pollak, an Orthodox Jew.
Boteach believes Hanukkah’s essence animates a basic desire in the human soul.
“(The Maccabees) always served as a source of inspiration to freedom fighters and people who seek liberty throughout the world,” he said, “which is why the menorah has become a universal symbol of religious liberty.”
Nearly 200 years later, an anonymous baby born in a stable and sleeping in a feeding trough would issue a powerful challenge on behalf of human freedom and dignity.
In Christian theology, Jesus of Nazareth represents the ultimate connection between the human and the divine, since Christians consider Jesus to be part of the Trinity as God’s only begotten son.
In his earthly condition, just like the vast majority of this planet’s inhabitants throughout time, Jesus knew neither wealth nor societal privilege. Like the rest of humanity, he experienced a vast array of personal pain: the death of loved ones, the frustration of being misunderstood by those closest to him and constant, unwanted conflict with his society’s leaders.
In his ultimate agony, Jesus endured a trial by a kangaroo court, received a death sentence despite committing no crime and suffered the most excruciating form of execution the authorities could devise. Yet that death defined his life.
In Christian theology, Jesus’ death provided the ultimate atonement for human sin. As a result, a holy, righteous God can establish a relationship with anybody — regardless of race, class, culture or gender — who rejects sin and embraces that atonement as personal redemption. That simple theological summary contains profound implications.
By allowing his only begotten son to take human form, God pointedly identifies with the human travail that unanticipated and unwanted circumstances impose. In so doing, God silently states that human dignity ultimately has nothing to do with circumstances. By allowing his only begotten son to experience a tortuous death, God declares that those created in his free image are worth liberating from the self-imposed slavery of sin.
Yet 2,000 years later, those who worship utopian politics disregard the principles that Christmas and Hanukkah embody.
Just as the Nazis tried to exploit religion, just as the Communists tried to destroy it, the “woke” do both. When not mocking Christian or Jewish, as the secular Hellenists did more than 2,000 years ago, the “woke” subvert Christianity by redefining it. Ibram X. Kendi, the self-proclaimed anti-racist, epitomizes the tactic.
“Jesus was a revolutionary and the job of the Christian is to revolutionize society,” Kendi said. “The job of the Christian is to liberate society from the powers on earth that are oppressing humanity. That’s liberation theology in a nutshell. Savior theology is a different type of theology. The job of the Christian is to go out and save these individuals who are behaviorally deficient.
“Anti-racists fundamentally reject savior theology. That goes right in line with racist ideas and racist theology, in which (racists) say, ‘You know what? Black people, other racial groups, the reason why they’re struggling on earth is because of what they’re behaviorally doing wrong, and it is my job as the pastor to sort of save these wayward black people or wayward poor people or wayward queer people.’ That type of theology breeds bigotry.”
Kendi’s caricature rejects the biblical view of a human race created in a divine image yet universally afflicted by sin. Instead, Kendi distinguishes between “oppressors” and “victims,” with “oppressors” being irredeemable and “victims” being unaccountable. In doing so, Kendi arbitrarily defines each group’s members by race, gender and class. Common humanity becomes irrelevant.
In the process, Kendi and his “woke” allies seek to re-create humanity in their own image. Just as the Nazis had the Aryan Superman, just as the Communists had the New Socialist Man, the “woke” have the Social Justice Warrior: an ideological fanatic dedicated to eradicating “white privilege” while imposing “diversity,” “inclusion” and “equity” throughout society.
But Christianity’s and Judaism’s highest ideals, expressed in Christmas and Hanukkah, challenge the self-perceived, semi-divine right to domination that all utopian totalitarians demand — whether Nazi, Communist or “woke.”