Reprinted from The Jewish Observer. (First appeared in the February 1966 issue, and reprinted in the 25th anniversary issue, January 1989.)


The following is a translation of an article which appeared in Maariv, Israel's most popular newspaper. It was written by Shmuel Shnitzer of Maariv's staff an appeared on Friday December 24, 1965, while the Jews in Israel and throughout the world were celebrating Chanukah. From the windows of every home the small flames of the Chanukah lights flicker, calling to mind deeds of days gone by. When we were young and more innocent, deeds of such wonder and surprise generated great enthusiasm in our hearts. But now that we have grown older and wiser, they stir within us a sense of uneasiness.

In the past everything about the miracle of Chanukah was quite simple; it was clear whose side we were on in the dramatic struggle of the "few" against the "many." Man, by his nature, supports the weak against the strong, even when the struggle is unrelated to him; and he extends his sympathies to the "Davids" against the "Goliaths." This was certainly the case in this war of the "good" against the "wicked," and the "pure" against the "unpure," and there was never any doubt who were the pure and who the impure.

But today, in this advanced and sophisticated generation, the division is not quite clear. In a time of a "Shabbos Law," disputes over the port of Ashdod, "religious coercion," and a stubborn rabbinate, we need re-think the entire parsha of the rebellion of the Maccabees. We must re-examine their objectives and philosophies to determine if they were really so right. It may become clear to us that in the light of the wisdom we have accumulated in recent years, their victory was not a victory for freedom, but rather for reaction. We may come to the conclusion that the ideas which motivated the battle against the Greeks were not so sublime as they first appear to be. It may prove to be the case that modern man living in the twentieth century would be embarrassed to be associated with such ideals.

Let us then attempt to translate the recounting of the war of the Maccabees into the idiom of the present to determine how it would appear to the eyes of a citizen of the modern State of Israel.

First we must ask ourselves which side in that war represented progress, and which side represented reaction and a blind clutching at the values of the past.

It is certainly not self-evident that the zealous and provincial family, from the outskirts of a town in a small suburb of Judah, represented progress. Had Matisyohu and his sons read Plato? Were they familiar with the teachings of Aristotle? Was there a theater in Modin where one could see the works of Aristophanes, Sophocles or Euripedes? It is hardly likely. More likely, the Maccabees were essentially opposed to "culture," to the universal culture which had encompassed the civilized world and developed the aesthetic sense of all the nations. What justified these provincials in standing up against the glory of Greek civilization? Was it the spiritual isolationism of a small tribe which rejected anything new and any change? Was it the petrified laws established a thousand years earlier? their "Shabbos Law"? their "religious coercion"? their violent opposition to raising pigs? Was it with these ideals that they hoped to defeat Greek culture?

And what chauvinism these Maccabees had! In a time when the nationhood of their people was a thing of the past - when the bell had tolled for the great empires, they sought to renew the independence of their tiny tribe and withdrew from a mighty empire that opened the door for them to the entire range of culture, to set up a small nationalistic enclave which would serve as a testing ground for ancient ideas and a hot-house for developing new strains of fanaticism.

Who Was Right

Without doubt, Antiochus Ephiphanes was right, and not Matisyohu Hakohen; particularly in light of the behavior of the Maccabees when success began to smile upon them. Having murdered a government official who was only doing his duty, Matisyohu fled to the hills and together with his sons organized a campaign of guerilla warfare against progress (without, of course, seeking a consensus from the other citizens of the land, and ignoring the official governing bodies which were opposed to the war) .

When they conquered, they went up to Jerusalem, and - without conducting an election - they drove all of the hellenists from their positions, and established martial law with religious coercion - by all indications more severe than what exists today.

More so; within days these religious zealots converted their provincialism into a state; a state which was totally theocratic. Residents of the occupied areas were given a choice between conversion and death. Those who did not agree with the violent and chauvinistic views of the new rulers were subject to capital punishment.

Ultimately the new rulers extended their domain to the port of Ashdod, and if we may draw conclusions from their general attitudes, they most likely forbade all work on Shabbos. We can also assume that tourists of those days did not find accommodations in the Maccabean hotels for bacchanalian celebrations.

They achieved national independence; but rather than using it to establish a progressive government open to the influences of the times; rather than adopting Greek expansiveness and opening their doors to the influences of civilization, they converted their land into a spiritual ghetto where all the wisdom of Greece was banned. . . .

Were they with us today, we would be forced to organize a "League" against them; to solicit progressive citizens to sign petitions, and to organize an information campaign against their narrow-mindedness, their fanaticism and their obscurantist views. It was their good fortune that they passed away many years ago, and so we are now able to proclaim them as national heroes.

An interesting paradox isn't it? - but we are living this paradox today.

We don't extinguish the Chanukah lights in protest against the "religious coercion" of the Maccabees. We kindle the lights, we fry the latkes, and we recite the b'racha "for the miracles" . . . and we wage an absurd war against the Jewish faith.

We may not realize - or we may have sublimated our realization - that we are one of the few nations in the world today which tolerates an organized campaign against the Jewish faith; one of the few nations wherein the treasures of Jewish culture are publicly denigrated from the roof-tops; one of the few nations wherein hatred is poured out against religious Jews -because they are religious Jews.

But, we will respond, these things are done in Russia, not in Israel! We even make it our responsibility to demand freedom of religion for Jews -every other place in the world. We rise in the international tribunals of the world to protest the failure to permit Jews to pray, to observe Shabbos and Kashrus, to circumcise their sons, to bury their dead in keeping with Jewish law-in other countries.

And we fail to realize, that here in the land of the Jews a dangerous wall is being built between the irreligious Jew and the religious Jew; ugly strains of hatred are developing; an attitude of mockery grows toward the Jew who observes mitzvohs - an attitude which until today prevailed only in the most antisemitic countries.

A Dangerous Wall

We fail to realize that for the Orthodox Jew it is becoming difficult to breathe here; he is suspect in the eyes of the secular Jew. Nasty libels which recall the libels of anti-Semites against Jews are taking root: The "religious" want to take over the country; they are buying up land to strengthen their position; they are engaged in a war of conquest in order to step-by-step force their views on the entire land.

We fail to realize that the opposite is taking place: What is happening is that more and more secular Jews who in the past related to religious Jews with tolerance and understanding (as it should be in a civilized society) are beginning to relate to them with hatred and constant opposition. It may reach the state that a man who observes mitzvohs may no longer feel himself at home in this country.

Antisemitism has frequently been used as a tool for political movements to achieve otherwise undesirable aims. The Nazis gained power in Germany by the use of hatred against the Jew which made it possible to unite the Right and the Left into a single force against the "plutocratic" Jews and the "bolshevistic" Jews. I fear and suspect, that hatred against religious Jewry is beginning to serve this purpose in Israel's political life. Mouthing libels and slanders and through proven techniques which were previously used against all Jews, various political factions are attempting to gain easy popularity in order to strengthen their positions for matters unrelated to the question of religion.

Familiar devices are used, inspired by the propaganda from whose poisoned wells European Fascism drank in the thirties. Using similar caricatures of Jews with beard and paios and traditional dress, they spread the idea that if a port is closed on Shabbos it would be a threat to each citizen's freedom After all, in a truly free land people should work seven days a week, and should they rest for one day - the country would be in the clutches of the religious minority.

The notion is deliberately spread that we have solved all problems of national productivity, but in order to achieve the high level of other countries all that is lacking is that there be work shifts on Friday nights.

Flames are Fanned

With calculated malice, a technical problem is made out to be a matter of principle; differences are sharpened; the flames of conflict are fanned. As small a matter as traveling several hundred extra meters on Shabbos in order to avoid offense to one's fellow, becomes a major national issue, and a principle for which one must choose death rather than transgression.

Jew is urged to hate Jew, and the Jewish state girds its loins to battle the Jewish faith.

The dangerous poison of hatred of religion continues to permeate our hearts and minds. Slowly we are being led to believe that all of the religions of the world are relevant to the times, but we relegate Judaism to the Middle Ages. All religions must be offered every advantage and potential, but the Jewish faith must be denied consideration. A Xmas tree in an Israeli hotel -most necessary; but Shabbos rest in Ashdod is ugly, degrading and must be forbidden.

The poison is seeping up to the top. The number of people is diminishing, who dare to state publicly and clearly their belief that it is possible to find a modus vivendi, that there is no need for the tensions engendered by the question of religion, that there is no problem that cannot be solved with a little understanding and broad-mindedness, and mutual respect.

The position that there is no room here for religious war and that the State of Israel should guarantee the religious Jew every potential for the religious life, as is the case in non-Jewish nations, is loosing its appeal in the atmosphere of divisiveness brought about by those who conspire against the unity of our people. The simple realization that internal peace must come before external peace; that differences between Jews are easier to resolve, and should more readily be resolved - than differences between Jews and non-Jews, is no longer "in style." The pacifist in foreign affairs becomes the militarist on the home front. Those who are prepared to make compromises with the nation's borders in order to achieve even dubious peace with our enemies from without, are not prepared to yield even a drive through a religious area [on Shabbos] to achieve peace with our brothers within the land. The reasoning is quite simple. Abdul Nasser and Hussein, apparently, are concerned with the well-being of Israel; Moshe Shapiro seeks to undermine it.

When this approach becomes the official position of top leaders; when it gains support among the masses; when coalition negotiations reach a dead-end because all problems but that of religion can be resolved; then the time has come to sound the alarm; then it becomes obvious that the agitators who are interested in destroying national unity and set Jew against Jew, have succeeded in their work to a greater extent than we realized, and to a greater extent than we dare permit.

This can be counted as a victory for those who desire conflict; who seek to zealously undermine the limited Jewish strength and its strongholds; who have tried in the past to loosen the bonds which tie the Jew in Israel to the Jew in the Gola, and who now endeavor to blur the bit of unity we still enjoy. But those who believe in the common destiny and in the unity of our people in spite of differences and points of view, must understand that religious Jews and non-religious Jews dare not be torn apart in the land which holds the remnants of Jewish existence and Jewish hopes.

Whoever is convinced that we are one people, whether religious or secular; that we share one destiny, must know that he shoulders a historic responsibility when he decrees that in the State of Israel Jewish religion must be in the opposition, because those values which prompted the Maccabees to go to war, are only able to arouse shame and hatred in our eyes.

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