Comparing 'fanatic' Maccabees to modern 'Jewish hard-core'
Writer David Brooks throws the lovable winter holiday into the midst of an unlikely, and fiery, debate.
Hanukkah is one of the most beloved holidays within Jewish-American circles. However, one man - researcher, journalist, and commentator David Brooks - has ignited an expected flame around Festival of Lights tables across America this year.
A New York Times op-ed piece, "The Hanukkah Story," penned by Brooks and published during the holiday's first eve, is stirring heated debate table-side, as well as in the Jewish blogosphere.
Some readers declared their holiday "officially ruined," calling on Brooks to be ashamed, while others praise him for shining a light on the true nature of the lovable winter festival.
In his article, Brooks seeks to trace the historical underpinnings of Hanukkah, thus refuting its governing myth of "the story of unified Jewish bravery against an anti-Semitic Hellenic empire."
The writers emphasizes the fact that the Maccabean Revolt took place in a time of internal Jewish discord which culminated in what he sees as a Jewish civil war.
While the Maccabees, who the writer says are "best understood as moderate fanatics," were "fighting heroically for their traditions and the survival of their faith," Brooks emphasizes the fact that the language they chose to justify their rebellion was in fact that of Greek law.
"They were not the last bunch of angry, bearded religious guys to win an insurgency campaign against a great power in the Middle East, but they may have been among the first," Brooks wrote in his New York Times article.
While Brooks' moral to the Hanukkah story - that there is no such thing as a clean victory - isn't necessarily new, some more inflammatory comments did seem to hit a nerve with his readers, including his mentioning of the forced circumcisions the Maccabees conducted on Hellenized Jews and the idea that "Rabbis later added the lamp miracle to give God at least a bit part in the proceedings."
One reader went as far as arguing that Brooks "be content to see pigs slaughtered before a statues of Zeus and Apollo in the Temple," while others wrote they considered his article a personal affront, one which threatens to spoil the taste of the traditional holiday doughnut.
"What an inappropriate article," wrote Valerie from New York in her comment to the Brooks' op-ed. adding that the piece "quotes history while fully distorting the facts - and attempts to take the joy out of a beautiful holiday with a tradition of hope and renewal."
"In spite of your 'faux' intellectualism, this will be a beautiful night of family gatherings, of embracing our friends, our children and grandchildren," Valerie added.
A reader from Evanston declared his holiday "officially ruined," adding, however, that he did "appreciate the history lesson, as well as the honesty. Hard not to wonder what other lies my Sunday School teacher told me."
This latest comment made a direct reference to Brooks' article, where the writer attacks "generations of Sunday school teachers," while also mentioning the fact that West Bank settlers tell the story as one which shows how the "Jewish hard-core defeated the corrupt, assimilated Jewish masses."
A reader from Corning, New York, said he admired Brooks' "courage in attempting to clarify the complexities of this religious/political experience."
"I wish, growing up, I was taught about the mix of the spiritual and the nasty in Catholic history. You'll probably catch hell for your honesty," the reader added.
Some readers who were postivily impressed by the article, which they considered thought-provoking, were surprised to find out that they were unable to upload its link to the social networking service Facebook, as some agile readers had already reported the piece as "offensive content."
Another commentator said he was "shamed by Mr. Brooks 'Story,' saying that although he considered himself to be "well-educated and a history buff, but I thoughtlessly assumed that Hanukkah is a happy holiday."
"I'm aware that there must be other views, but I'm also aware that Mr. Brooks is not simply telling an old story; he's telling us about human history, ourselves, and where we are now, a nation divided by religions and politics and wars in a world just as divided. And yet we are preparing for holidays, all of which were born from cataclysmic violence, humans feeding the earth with the blood of humans - all for 'good' causes," the reader added.