It is worth taking note of the words of the Hanukkah songs that families sing along with their little children around the menorah, after the kids sing them endlessly in their preschools and in the lower grades in school, too.
Let us start with Ma’oz Tzur (Rock of Ages), probably the most popular of Hanukkah songs, which opens with the words: “O’ Fortress, Rock of my salvation, unto thee it is becoming to give praise.” Nonreligious children also know it by heart and sing the plea to God as our fortress, refuge and salvation, the only one who is deserving of praise, with full intent.
Not exactly something appropriate for the atheistic worldview, but no big deal. Tradition and all that. But then the song continues: “Let my house of prayer be restored, and I will there offer thee thanksgivings.” Those singing are pleading to God to rebuild the Temple, and there they will sacrifice thanksgiving offerings to him. These words are in contradiction to my views and don’t sit well in my mouth – but let’s let that go too, it’s a holiday, etc.
And then we reach the next line: “When thou shalt have prepared a slaughter of the blaspheming foe.” Imagine the children singing these words in their high-pitched, clear voices, the song of little angels. Imagine the parents singing in their thundering voices, full of tribal excitement – also because at this point the song begins a rousing melodic turning point.
What do the words say? What, in fact, are we singing here? What is the “slaughter?” It is simply a massacre. “When thou shalt have prepared a slaughter,” is in other words when the Blessed Holy One will cut off the seed of Amalek, erase his memory from the face of the earth. No less than a massacre, like a big pogrom, like an “Aktion.” The massacre of Amalek. Of all the enemies of Israel. Not just the enemy’s soldiers, but everyone: Children, women, civilians, elderly.
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The families of Israel gather on Hanukkah, religious and secular, around the Hanukkah menorahs, and cheerfully declare their watchful expectations for a massacre / pogrom / Aktion to be carried out against the enemies of the people, and with an emphasis on slaughtering the “barking foe,” in other words, the enemy that brazenly voices (like a barking dog) words of contempt toward Jewish belief.
This is in short, a joyous call by the entire family for a jihadist religious war. It is so sweet and heartwarming to think about it that it arouses a desire to gorge on jelly donuts and latkes. When we talk about slaughter and jihad, we want sugar in our bloodstream.
The first stanza, the one everyone sings, ends with the words: “Then I will complete with song and psalm the dedication of the altar.” More words of praise and glory to God who slaughters and a promise to make sacrifices on the altar of the Temple. Imagine in your hearts this song being sung in the Temple itself, broadcast live during prime time on television, including the offering of the sacrifices. The entire people, and commercial television in particular, have something to aspire to.
And what about “these candles?” The song in which the entire House of Israel thanks this selfsame slaughtering God, thirsty for the blood of victims, for “the wars and the salvations.” This is a song that incites war gaily – and not war in the singular, but in the plural, wars. When it’s good, it’s good, and we want more. The wars are the salvation, they are the redemption. And the gratitude for them (what would we have done without them?) does not apply just to the wars of the past but also to the wars that will come “soon and in our times,” in the present: “In those days, as in this time.”
What is war? It is to drive out the darkness. It is: “We have come to banish the darkness,” which always raises morale. “Each person is a small light, and together we are an unwavering light.” What is the individual? He is a small light. To massacre, the individual must surrender his or her independence and merge into the masses. These are the beliefs and these are the values of Hanukkah songs. Happy holidays.