Hanukkah in a Dark Israel: There's More Than One Way to Defile a Temple

Maybe, if only by vile example, the racists and supremacists have something positive to teach us about Hanukkah, after all. Something about re-dedication of this defiled Temple which we call the state of Israel.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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A model of ancient Jerusalem with the Second Temple: The name of 'Hanukkah' is from its rededication.
A model of ancient Jerusalem with the Second Temple: The name of 'Hanukkah' is from its rededication.Credit: Orel Cohen
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

"1 And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his firepan, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. 2 And there came forth fire from before the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." Leviticus, Chapter 10.

Before Hannukah was about light, it was about darkness. What can cause it. Who promotes it, and how.

Here in Israel, these days, it's the way the guy in charge likes things. Cold and dark. He likes his people that way, too. He is betting that the foulness and the ill-will in this darkness of theirs can make the rest of us feel uneasy, unmoored, abandoned, dependent. Paralyzed. Cold and dark.

Before Hannukah was about redemption, about re-dedicating a temple, it was about how a place like that gets defiled. Around here, for years now, the people running things, and the far-right punks set loose with their strange fire of arson and beatings and incitement, have been teaching us one lesson, over and over:

There's more than one way to defile a Temple.

For two thousand years of exile, the Temple, the Bet Hamikdash, was an incorporeal ideal, passionately and bitter-sweetly held, a striving for something better, a quest for something that would last, something sustainable. A place Jews could call home and safe refuge, the soft place to land, a place that would exist not at the expense of others, but in harmony with others.

Instead, in the here and right now, in the name of an imminent brick and mortar Temple, we've been taught lesson after lesson about darkness. We're just about accustomed to it. But not quite.

Right now, in time for Hanukkah, we're swamped with test cases, to see if our eyes and souls really have made their peace with the darkness.

- Ignoring and dismissing the explicit ruling and harsh rebuke of Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef forbidding Jews from going up to the Temple Mount and thus inflaming already critical-mass tensions, right-wing politicians and hardline rabbis continue to urge visiting the location and speak of the eventual replacement of the site's Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, with a Third Jewish Temple.

- Rav Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, bans the Women of the Wall from holding a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony with a large menorah in the women's section of the holy site, arguing that this may offend many worshippers there.

- Pretending to act in our defense and our interest, Kahanist criminals, apparently members of the far-right, ostensibly religious, ostensibly "anti-assimilationist" Lehava organization, attack a Jerusalem school where Jewish and Arab children study together. They incinerate a first-grade classroom by collecting and setting fire to a stack of books, among them Bibles and Korans.

Maybe, if only by vile example, Lehava and its comrades - the racists and supremacists and bullies and opponents of equality and democracy who claim to represent The People, the true children of Israel - have something positive to teach us about Hanukkah, after all. Something about rededication of this defiled and degraded Temple of ours which we call the state of Israel:

Hanukkah is the time when light begins. Hanukkah is the time when the light of day gets longer, at the direct expense of the dark. Hanukkah is the time when Jews once began to banish darkness with nothing more than light.

A century ago - anticipating the consummate injustice of the "dark regimes" which our leaders so frequently decry, and which our policies increasingly resemble - A. D. Gordon, a local prophet of social justice, had this advice for us:

"There will be no victory of light over darkness until we grasp the simple truth: that instead of battling the darkness, we must increase the light."

Hanukkah is the story of a new beginning. Of starting to banish darkness with nothing more than light. And so it can be today: to begin to banish humiliation of minorities, with nothing more than respect. To begin to banish inequality and repression, with nothing more than the freedoms and protections and due process we accord ourselves.

It's already starting. And not only because on Tuesday, the eve of Hanukkah, police raided the homes of several Lehava members, arresting the group's leader and nine others on suspicion of incitement to violence and incitement to racism.

It's starting this week: On Thursday night, Women of the Wall is asking women all over the world, to light one of the holiday candles in support of their group, and to share a photo of that candle with Rabbi Rabinowitz.

On Saturday night at 7:30, there will be an inter-religious candle-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem's First Station, dedicated to reconciliation between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The event is sponsored by a number of groups, among them the New Israel Fund, the Zion egalitarian congregation, and Tag Meir.

This Hanukkah, it's time to put the candles to work.

And another thing: Vote on March 17. Vote for light. Let it out.

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