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Chanukah: Is it Political or Spiritual?

By Rabbi Kalman Topp

On Chanukah we celebrate the victory of a courageous native minority over a powerful invader of Israel. The lights of the Menorah are the symbol of that victory.

What is the meaning of the victory?  Many Zionists over the past century have viewed Chanukah as a national political holiday on which we celebrate the importance of military activism which led to the renewal of independent sovereignty. The more traditional rabbinic perspective, however, has viewed Chanukah as a religious holiday on which we celebrate G-d’s providence and our devotion to the Jewish faith even in the face of hellenistic influences.

Our Religious Zionist, Dati Leumi community emphasizes both elements. We believe that the struggle of the Chashmonaim was national-political and religious-spiritual. It was the liberation not only of the Jewish land but also of the Jewish spirit.

After all, the Jews understood that a Judaism observed minimally would end up not being Judaism at all. They needed to reassert their commitment to Torah and mitzvot to ensure that they didn’t assimilate into the foreign culture. But the Jewish people also recognized the crucial importance of being politically active and militarily fierce. The “many were defeated by the few” not only because of the providence of God but also because we, “the few,” were relentless in engaging in the fight.

We declare in the Al Hanisim prayer that these miraculous events occurred “Bayamim hahem, bizman hazeh” which could mean “in the past, during this time of year” or it could mean, as Rav Soloveitchik preferred, “in the past and re-occurring in the present.”
 
Understood in the latter way, Chanukah’s dual theme of political activism and religious commitment provides the blueprint for the survival and success of the Jewish people in contemporary times. It is this dual theme which is a driving force at Beth Jacob where we have many opportunities to become more politically active and to become more religiously attuned. You want to truly celebrate Chanukah this year? Beyond lighting the menorah, playing dreidel, and eating too many latkes, here are a couple ideas:

If you haven’t done so already, sign up for the transformational AIPAC Policy Conference in DC, March 1-3 or/and join our outstanding Friends of Israel political action committee to meet our U.S. Senators and Members of Congress, and help shape American policy.

Join one of our many dynamic study groups or Torah programs where you will not only meet new people but you’ll also be challenged with exciting ideas that will expand
your mind, energize your spirit and deepen your Jewish faith.
Shabbat starts Friday: 7:13PM
Shabbat ends Saturday: 8:12PM
Mon, August 19 2019 18 Av 5779