Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chatty this morning

I seem to have a lot to say today. Last night, the Torah group met. I was exhausted because I was thinking so much about how I wanted to finish the yoga series for Mr. Iyengar's 91st birthday, this Sunday, that I couldn't sleep. All kinds of ideas were going through my head, but I didn't get up because I knew I had to work the next day and also go to torah group in the evening, after work.
Meanwhile, I haven't prepared at all for Chanukah, which starts Friday, except by buying and packing a few gifts. The majority remain in piles by the side of my bed, read to be packed. I bought too much wrapping paper, and it is everywhere.
But I went to Torah group, which this time consisted of a special Chanukah presentation, given by a member of the group, Pat Schlup, who grew up on a farm in the midwest (I think it was in Nebraska), and converted to Judaism later in his life. Pat is very knowledgable about Judaism and Torah, reading voraciously. He told us about the origins of the holiday, which have been somewhat mystified by tradition.
Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Torah or Jewish Bible. Nominally, it commemorates the Jewish victory over the Greek-influenced forces of Antiochus, a tyrant who wanted, as usual, to wipe out the Jews by preventing them from celebrating the rites and rituals of Judaism and forcing them to assimilate to Greek forms of worship.
The usual version of the tale we are taught has a rag-tag bunch of guerilla fighters, the Macabees, overcoming Antiochus and his forces, against terrible odds, and restoring to Jews their independence and right to worship. We are also told, as children, the tale that the rabbis made up, about the mysterious vial of oil in the temple Antiochus had violated, which was only enough to last one day, but managed to last for 7, so the temple could be rededicated.
The truth of the matter, it seems, is much more complex and dark. The Macabees were a questionable bunch. Brilliant military tactitions (sp?), they were cruel and tyrannical rulers.
So the rabbis banished the tale of their military victory from the bible proper. It survived only as an apocryphal book, Macabees, preserved by the Catholic church.
Yesterday, we read for the first time this banished book. It was very odd. Pat related that the word "macabre" is supposed to have originated from this book, which relates in gory detail the terrible cruelty of Antiochus. Besides blood and gore aplenty, which would make a snuff film addict salivate, the diction and the tone of the book is suspiciously Christian, even though it was supposedly written well before Christ. It speaks of resurrection, an alien concept in Judaism, and seems to embrace martyrdom with the hopes of heaven. At least in the Judaism that has survived to this day, this kind of thinking is certainly not what we're used to hearing. There were martyrs, yes, but they never held out the hope of being reborn because of their faith.
Since the Catholics were the ones who preserved this book, it is possible that the text is corrupt, that they tinkered with it, or perhaps even wrote the whole thing. Or perhaps this is a relic of a suppressed strain of thought in Judaism? We will never know, but it's interesting to think about.