Thursday, December 16, 2004

 

Chanukat ha-Kaaba?

Aziz Poonwalla brings up a fascinating parallel:
Happy Hanukkah!

To all my Jewish friends in the blogsphere, especially Jonathan, Diane, and Matthew.

The story of Hanukkah is fascinating to me because of the narrative about pagan desecration. Judaism is as strongly monotheistic as Islam (not that Christianity isn't monotheistic, but the other two faiths seem to place more emphasis on monotheism in their daily practices and observances, in my admittedly superficial observations). Therefore the struggle to resanctify pagan defilement of the single most important Temple seems strongly echoed in the Prophet's SAW cleansing of the Ka'aba, which was built by the grand patriarch of monotheism, Ibrahim Nabi (Abraham) and defiled by the pre-Islamic pagans (jahilliya). The Prophet SAW and his successor Ali AS cleaned out the Kaaba at the end of the (bloodless) conquest of Mecca, an event beautifully rendered at the end of the movie, The Message. I find a strong parallel between Hanukkah and the reclaiming of the Kaaba, as it's a theme that lies at the very heart of the concept of faith - an affirmation, and struggle, to assert Truth over falsehood.

This theme is also a parable for our times. The struggle against the "pagans" may not be about the numerical quantity of gods we follow, but rather about the universality of human liberty. If the day comes where constitutional liberalism[2] spreads to every corner of the globe, then a memorial much like Hanukkah might be worth envisioning - one candle, for every century that mankind labored under tyranny and oppression.

[1]I am tempted to use the spelling "Chanukkah" instead of Hanukkah, but am not sure what transliteration of the Hebrew word is more accurate since i have almost no experience in Hebrew pronounciation. With Arabic words like Qur'an, I do tend towards a stricter transliteration because I have knowledge of the difference in sound represented by the Q rather than the K, the presence of the apostrophe, etc. I fear it would be presumptous of me to write Chanukkah without the analogous knowledge of what pronounciation the spelling difference represents.

[2]I have learned that freedom is not synonymous with democracy, and sometimes is even its enemy. The true measure of liberty is constitutional liberalism, not democracy for its own sake. This is a strongly Madisonian view, but after reading Fareed Zakaria's book, it's hard to dispute the evidence of history. More on this later.
(It's "Chanukah", by the way. Only one "k".)

This is the kind of multicultural comparative history that is comparative history at its best and most useful. Obviously there is no real connection between the rededication of the Temple and the reclaiming of the Kaaba, but still, both faiths celebrate a redemption of a central religious spot. I don't know the significance in Islam of the reclaiming of the Kaaba, but Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday for a number of reasons, including the regrettable fact that the Hasmonean kohanim (known collectively to us as the Maccabees) became religious dictators themselves after leading the successful rebellion against the Syrian Greeks. The rabbis of a couple hundred years later felt it was wrong to celebrate a military victory, so they fastened on the rededication of the Temple (the word "chanukah" means dedication) and the miracle of the oil, based on the words of the prophet Zakhariah: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, sayeth the Lord of Hosts."

Chanukah has become a significant holiday in the United States, at least, because of its unfortunate conciding with Christmas. As numerous rabbis have pointed out, that's a shame, because Chanukah celebrates the refusal of the Jews to assimilate to the practices of their neighbors! In a way, it's a shame to see some Jews succumb to the rampant commercialism of Christmas, when Chanukah has its own, exclusively Jewish charms: lighting candles in the dark, eating potato latkes (yum!), and playing dreidel. Gifts are nice, but they should be seriously secondary.

Anyway, Chanukah 5765 is over (ended yesterday afternoon), but I just read this post (thanks to the Head Heeb) and wanted to comment on the interesting point its author brought up.
Comments:
Thanks for a marvelous read, Blogger! I often wonder about these things when I start to get back into southern living at home catalog. Where do you think the desire comes from? Doesn't it seem like a natural human thing to want something like southern living at home catalog?
 
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Comments: "
Thanks for a marvelous read, Blogger! I often wonder about these things when I start to get back into southern living at home catalog. Where do you think the desire comes from? Doesn't it seem like a natural human thing to want something like southern living at home catalog?
 
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