It’s Hanukkah! Or, somewhat more accurately, Khanike! You know, it’s like Diwali for Jews!
Every year, or at least most years, I find myself stuck between two Khanike stools: on the one hand, I am very much aware that it is a Minor Holiday, with a problematic history, mostly based on ahistorical fables and silliness. On the other hand, I am very much aware that for current American Jews it is one of the most prominent holidays in the year, and probably for most households the one that takes up the most hours of preparation, celebration and observance. From a scriptural and liturgical perspective, it’s no Shavuos, but from the perspective of actual lives of actual Jews Like Me, Shavuos is no Hanukkah.
Don’t get me wrong—I always enjoy the holiday. Fried foods, gambling, pretty lights, maybe a bissel storytelling, what’s not to like? I’m not a big gift-giver, but there’s nothing wrong with an exchange of little things. I don’t resent Chanukah.
Although, of course, the experience of Chanukah in America is kinda resentable. My insistence—historically correct!—on the minor holiday status is rooted in defensiveness, specifically against the insistence that this time of year is The Holiday Season, as if Spring and Summer and Autumn were not Holiday seasons. And I really do resent the cultural sense that of course every real American will be celebrating a gift-giving holiday in December, even though I do actually celebrate a gift-giving holiday in December. Usually December.
And, of course, there’s the problematic history of the holiday and its origins. The story celebrates zealots and separatists, and embraces violence and terrorism. The story is filled out with fables (well, lies) about miraculous oil and secret Torah study and other nonsense.
So it was good to read Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s essay on Hanukah and Adult Faith: Moving Past Two-Mindedness, which, more or less, starts from the idea that we can leave aside the question of whether it is a major holiday or is not, or if it ought to be or ought not to be a major holiday. We can start from the question: what if we wanted to make it a major holiday? How could we do that in way we find actually meaningful and joyous?
I don’t know that I follow Rabbi Ruttenberg as far as her answers, and perhaps not even as far as her questions, but I really do want to follow her into that mindset.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,