By Alan Caruba
Hanukah began at sundown Sunday evening. A friend of mine points out that all Jewish holidays begin at sundown because the ancient Jews didn’t have watches or clocks; just the sun that rose reliably in the morning and set in the evening. That’s how time was told for centuries.
By watching the heavens, the ancients got pretty good at developing calendars to know when each of the seasons began.
Hanukah celebrates the reclaiming of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem from the Assyrians and its reconsecration in the second century BCE. Oil was burned for light and, as the story goes, there was only enough for one night, but it lasted for eight. As miracles go, it’s not an especially big one.
The real miracle, of course, is that a people—the Jews—can trace their history back 3,500 years and that their religion was re-written as the basis of two of the world’s major religions. At the heart of Christianity is the story of a Jew named Jesus, his disciples, and the virtual creation of the faith by a Jew named Saul—later called Paul—who enjoyed Roman citizenship. He was educated in both cultures. The longing for a messiah had been around a long time by then.
Historians attribute the stubborn refusal of Jews to yield to Roman rule as a key factor for the downfall of the empire. Some nasty work by barbarians finished it off. In 70 AD, the Romans disbursed the Jews and many found sanctuary in Babylon. The mutual history of the Persians and the Jews goes back to those times and was always one of tolerance and friendship until Islam was introduced there. Some Jews still reside in Iran today though I would not want to trade places with them or the Baha’is, another persecuted minority. If you want to visit a beautiful Baha’i temple, you will find one in Haifa , Israel.
At the heart of Islam is a profound hatred of Jews and, not surprisingly, of Christians. Mohammad warned Muslims not to take either as friends saying, “they are only friends to each other.” Well, Christians do not have a very good record of friendship as far as Jews are concerned. In one of the most Christian of nations, Germany, at the midpoint of the last century, they tried to round up every Jew in Europe and kill them.
If you want a miracle, I suggest the reestablishment of Israel sixty years ago after centuries of life in the Diaspora was as great a miracle as one can imagine in modern times. Jesus was one Jew sacrificed for his faith in his day (the story that the Sanhedrin gave him over to the Romans must be taken with some skepticism. Jews would not have turned their co-religionist over to pagans.) But then, the New Testament was written decades after the actual events.
Today’s Israel came into being only after the sacrifice of six million innocent souls. Surely the religious scholars can find a miracle in that if they look hard enough.
And, of course, the Muslims were and are the most opposed. If the Jews could reconstitute Israel after two thousand years, what does that say of an Islam that wasn’t invented until a thousand years after Judaism and seven hundred years after the advent of Christianity?
It was during the Maccabean Revolt that the temple in Jerusalem was recaptured. The Jews were not a passive people. They knew how to put up a good fight. So Hanukah, a relatively minor celebration in Judaism, is really about a military victory as much as the story of the oil lasting longer than expected. That’s not unusual in history which is mostly about battles won and lost.
A new war has been declared against Christians and Jews by a fundamentalist element of Islam. It’s not a war that should be taken casually. It well may be, however, that the war will transform or reform Islam in significant ways. That, too, would be a miracle.