My father’s second yahrzeit is 27 Kislev, the third day of Chanukah. My father would often observe that the Chashmona’im were the first army in history to engage in battle not for a military victory, nor a territorial conquest, or even for political reasons. Their motivation was purely for ideological reasons. The survival of Torah was their only concern. Their battle was with the Syrian-Greek overlords as it was with the Hellenist Jews who looked to uproot the Torah as the spiritual force behind Judaism. This is alluded to in the Al HaNisim, in which we thank Hashem for delivering the wicked into the hands of those who are dedicated to Torah.
It would not be Chanukah if I did not mention the following story. Rabbi Avrohom Kellner z”l , my brother-in-law Rabbi Yisroel Kellner’s father, was a rav in St. Louis in the late 1950s. One year, the local Jewish community held a Chanukah gala, which attracted Jews of all persuasions. Included in that group was the Reform rabbi.
Rabbi Kellner, seeing the Reform rabbi at the party, went over to him and asked, “What are you doing here celebrating Chanukah? You lost!”
That, perhaps more than anything else, synopsizes what the Chanukah victory truly represents. It is ironic that the most secular Jews today celebrate Chanukah depicting the Chashmona’im as great war heroes overcoming a powerful enemy. This is undoubtedly true, but they were much more than that. They were an army fighting against the reformers and assimilationists of their time. Had they been around today, their primary target would have been those who have chosen to corrupt the meaning of the Torah and who have turned their back on Israel. Unfortunately, today as then, the Chashmona’im would have been in the minority.
The question is: Who are the fighters for Jewish ideology today? Who stands tall as Torah Jews?
Incredibly, the Jews on the left have declared war on their brethren. Just last week, the assumed new Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy, announced that he will remove the notorious anti-Semite, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Remember her? She is the one who never misses an opportunity to trash Israel. Plus, she is the ultimate ingrate against our very country that saved her life in Somalia. “It’s all about the Benjamins” is her famous quote for describing the “control” AIPAC and the “Jewish lobby” have over Congress.
You would think Jews would be dancing in the streets, as not one Democrat, including some of our friends in the House and the Senate, said a word against her.
But the usual suspects, J Street, Truah, the Union for Reform Judaism, et al, condemned Mr. McCarthy for saying that he would remove her. She has not proven to be anti-Semitic, they claim. Beat that for self-hating drivel! We need the gentiles to stand up for our cause. So sad.
On the other hand, I was very dismayed to hear from some otherwise responsible Orthodox Jews that they have to give Donald Trump a pass on the Kanye West/Fuentes affair. After all, no one has done more for Israel and the Jews than Donald Trump. There is no doubt that Trump was the best thing to happen to the Jews. That is why I was such a fan of his. And I hope the day will come when I can be a fan of his again. But to sweep under the rug the boost that he gave notorious anti-Semites is not something one can understand. Who will ever take us seriously in our screaming about anti-Semitism if we give its enabler a pass? Where is our self-respect? Where is our ideology? I was glad to hear Dov Hikind express these sentiments via Twitter.
No wonder we say at every candle-lighting “ba’yamim haheim baz’man ha’zeh – in those days as well as ours.” We need those Chashmona’im! I think my father zt”l would agree.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.