The Truth About Hanukkah

It’s Hanukkah and I am in hiding. I don’t want to see Facebook posts and news items about weird creative Hanukkah candelabras in which each flame stands for some new-fangled liberal cause. I don’t want to see the significance of potato pancakes explained to senators or read that Obama is Jewish in his soul.

I want to keep Hanukkah close to my heart, away from those who would tamper with its true meaning which is this:

The Jews fought a war against assimilation and won.

Those flickering Hanukkah lights have nothing to do with equality, integration, and multiculturalism. They have nothing to do with coexistence. They have nothing to do with charity. They have nothing to do with peace.

The candles, in fact, have everything to do with insulating the Jewish people from outside influences which might contaminate them and draw them away from their God.

The story of Hanukkah, the real story, and not the pretend stories that people tell you, begins in 174 BCE when Antiochus IV decided to consolidate his reign by imposing a single culture and religion on those who lived in the region of the Seleucid Empire. Seeing Judaism as a threat, Antiochus outlawed Jewish practice and installed Jews who had come under the influence of Greek culture (Hellenism) in positions of Jewish influence in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

Torah scrolls were burned. Many Jews were killed for refusing to give in to Antiochus’ decrees. They would die rather than give up their God and their faith in favor of Hellenism.

The altar of the Temple was defiled by a Hellenist Jew and that was the tipping point. Matthias killed this man with his sword and then it was all-out war. The Jews formed legions and fought back against those who would destroy their faith.

They fought against integration.

They fought against multiculturalism.

They fought against coexistence.

They fought assimilation—the outside influences that would drown out the voice and spark of the Jewish soul within.

And won.

On Hanukkah we light the candles to advertise the miracle with which our God graced us and this was a miracle having to do with religious practice and the Jewish Temple. After its defilement, the Temple had to be cleansed and restored. The golden candelabra known as the Eternal Light, meant to burn around the clock, needed to be kindled once more. But the candelabra had been stolen and there was no pure olive oil to be found.


Detail from the Arch of Titus.


A candelabrum was quickly fashioned from some other metal and miraculously, a small cruse of pure oil was found. It would take eight days to procure more olive oil. We are not talking about just any olive oil, but oil that bore the seal of the Jewish High Priest. The seal meant the oil was ritually pure. The small cruse of oil that had been found lasted the entire 8 days it took to obtain more of this ritually pure oil, the only type acceptable for kindling the Ner Tamid, the Temple candelabra.

The Hanukkah lights are thus kindled in a place where it can be seen from the street to advertise the religious miracle that God granted the Jewish people. This is the main religious observance connected to Hanukkah: advertising the miracle of the oil that lasted long after it should have burned out. The miracle revolves around the restoration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The miracle is directly tied to the victory of the Jewish people over Hellenist culture, which threatened to destroy JEWISH culture.

What is Hellenist culture? The Greeks worshipped the beauty of the body, human form, and sports. They loved philosophy and just government and invented the concept of democracy.

There is some overlap between Greek thought and Jewish thought and it is for this reason that Hellenism attracted so many Jews during the time of the reign of Antiochus. Greek thought, like Jewish thought, was considered advanced, high level. But the similarities between Greek and Jewish thought were superficial. And insidious.

Today we hear that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. We hear Israeli leaders state that Israel is both Jewish and democratic. But Judaism and democracy bear only a cosmetic resemblance to each other. A close analysis of democracy shows the philosophy is antithetical to Judaism in myriad ways. By definition, a Jewish state cannot be democratic.

Democracy, unlike Judaism, has no natural built-in safeguards to protect it from subverting religious law, for example. According to democratic norms, for instance, if enough people want gay marriage legalized, gay marriage is legalized, despite prohibitions against homosexuality in all three major religions.

By the same token, if enough Israeli voters wish to give the Arabs a state on Jewish land, this is what will be done, since the majority rules. If the majority of UN member states say that Palestine must be created on Jewish land and Israel is a UN member state, so it shall be. This would happen in a democracy despite the religious narrative of the bible and despite the unequivocal historic and archaeological evidence that Israel is the indigenous land of the Jewish people.

What is right and just, does not, in a democracy, much matter. What matters is what the majority of the people, at a given time, have decided. In a democracy, the desire and will of the people supersede and trump God’s will every time. Hellenist Jews, multicultural Jews, integrated and assimilated Jews accept this as the natural course of things. What is popular at this point in time, shall rule.

Hanukkah stands for the rejection of these populist Hellenist values in favor of eternal norms created by God.

If we are to succeed as a Jewish State, we will need to stop pretending about the meaning of Hanukkah. It has nothing to do with coexistence or adopting the values of a world gone mad. Hanukkah is about cherishing our own Jewish religion and bringing it close. It is about understanding that we are the Chosen People and that our land is our land, our religion our religion, our beliefs our own forever.

Hanukkah is about nothing more and nothing less. And shall remain so for the ages.



Varda Epstein

A third-generation-born Pittsburgher on her mother’s mother’s side, Varda moved to Israel 36 years ago and is a crazy political animal who spams people with right wing political articles on Facebook in between raising her 12 children and writing about education as the communications writer at Kars for Kids a Guidestar gold medal charity.

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