Your RDA of Irony

My Hanukkah Medley

Menorah resizedTonight is the beginning of Hanukkah.  Over the next eight nights, we will light an increasing number of candles, probably trying to find a decent song for the Holiday.  You will notice that this was the one miracle that Jesus didn’t attempt; either that or getting rid of the Romans would have converted us.

Jews obviously can write music.  Count the Gentiles of  Tin Pan Alley….That didn’t take long.  Yet, what can explain our inability to write “Rhapsody in Jew” for Hanukkah?  I wonder if it can be attributed to our other great creation:  guilt.  Perhaps we have a belated regret that we didn’t slightly assimilate sooner.  Are we Parthenon-plussed?



If only we could go back in time.  Imagine me on the steps of the Temple….

Here’s what Hellas has to tell us.

Achilles, Socrates, Ptolemy and Sophocles.

Can William Kristol compare to these?

All we are saying is give Greece a chance.

All we are saying is give Greece a chance.

Why be bereft of these gifts?

Philosophy, comedy, and best of all democracy!

Let’s not dwell on sodomy.

All we are saying is give Greece a chance.

All we are saying is give Greece a chance.


And now for my usual pedantics….

The Story of Hanukkah: Hellas, No. We Won’t Go!

In the second century BCJ (before Cousin Jesus), Syria extended far beyond the borders of the country that we know and love. It also included Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Israel and Lebanon. (Lebanon still may be part of Syria.) This very large kingdom was a fragment of Alexander’s Empire that had been divided among his generals. Seleucus grabbed it, and his ancestors continued to rule it two centuries later.

Seleucus was Greek as was the ruling caste; and these Hellenes made themselves comfortable by recreating the Greek culture in their kingdom. The same was true of the other grasping Greek and Macedonian generals. Egypt, under the Ptolemies, was Hellenized. There were Hellenized satraps in Afghanistan and India. (Even the statues of Buddha started to look remarkably like Apollo.)

A descendant of Seleucus, Antiochus the Third attempted to expand his empire into Greece. However, Rome had the same idea at the same time. Guess who won? The Romans pushed him out of Greece and then defeated him in Asia Minor (190 B.C)

His son Antiochus the Fourth inherited a smaller empire; however, he tried to make it more cohesive by imposing uniform Hellenization. But one province, with a very idiosyncratic theology, did not really appreciate the glories and gifts of Greek civilization.

Who could resist all the enticements of Western civilization? Art, theater, medicine, bathing! Had we been a little more receptive, “Pygmalion” could have been a musical 2000 years sooner.

My ancestors must have been real ingrates. In fact, those Semitic fundamentalists were so unappreciative of imposed western values that they rose in rebellion. (Do you think that history repeats itself?)

The Greeks were then obliging enough to lose the war. This was at a time when the Jews hardly ever won–obviously long before there were Nobel prizes in Economics or Emmy Awards for comedy writers.

In any case, but for Jennifer Aniston’s ancestors, we wouldn’t have Hanukkah as a psychological shield against the veritable avalanche of Christmas.

  1. Leah says:

    A rabbi once told me that current scholarship’s thinking on Hanukkah is that there was a year during which a war was bad enough– maybe the Maccabean rebellion– that Sukkot could not be observed. At the time, Sukkot was a very big deal, a one-week harvest festival accompanied by the usual necessary sacrifices and gathering at the Temple. So it was postponed for a couple of months, and celebrated late. This rabbi told me that the story of one day’s oil lasting for eight was a Talmudic trope that arose later to justify this (otherwise unpardonable?) delay. I may have the details fuzzy– I heard this about 12 years ago– but that’s the gist of it.

    As you know, I believe that we celebrate Hanukkah to mark an important Jewish invention: deep-fat frying.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Leah, Cholesterol does sound like a Hebrew word. On a NPR interview, Simon Schama gave a similar interpretation of Hanukkah as a Sukkot substitute; he attributed it as a political stunt by the Maccabee dynasty to self-aggrandize its glory. Of course, the same family invited the Romans into Judea. The Romans proved harder to invite out.

  2. Susan Lieberman says:

    Civilization would have been much improved if we’d turned more stories into musicals a lot earlier.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Susan, So as the Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney of Judea, what shows should we produce: “The Druid of Oz”, “My Pharisee Lady”, and “Porgy and Bris”?


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