Hanukkah’s message for how we live today


More than 2,000 years ago, the Syrian-Greek tyrant who ruled over Jewish Palestine decreed that Jewish religious observance was outlawed in his kingdom. At his command, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was defiled, and observance of the Sabbath and Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) was outlawed.

This led to the Maccabean revolt that miraculously succeeded in forcing the Greek overlords into retreat and reestablished Jewish sovereignty over the Holy Land.

What does all this have to do with us in America today? Surely one of the messages of Hanukkah is that religious diversity should be cherished and intolerance must be fought.

The Greeks wanted everyone to worship as they did and were outraged by the Jews insistence on following the traditions of their ancestors. They saw this as an affront, and acted accordingly. Fortunately, they were on the wrong side of history.

We live in a time of political polarization when the rights of religious minorities to worship God as they see fit has been questioned by some in our own country. That is why it is particularly important for us to remember the lesson of Hanukkah and embrace religious pluralism.

Societies that value and respect religious diversity understand that there are many paths to serving the divine. They have the humility to know that the divine reality is far greater all of our very human conceptions of God.

Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote: “No religion is an island. There is no monopoly on holiness. There is no truth without humility. Let mutual concern replace remnants of mutual contempt as we share the precarious position of being human.”

Rabbi Andrew Warmflash is the spiritual leader of the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre.