Lighting the Menorah at Plymouth – Extra Info

Lighting the Menorah at Plymouth

The Festival of Lights, and sustainability, it’s relevance in the modern world

Drawn on location with the kind permission of the then President of Plymouth Hebrew Congregation, the late Mr Percy Aloof.

Today Jews affirm a different vision of strength.

Although the battles of the Maccabees War were largely military, there was an important ideological dimension.

Survival and the survival of the entire planet depends on our ability to create a sustainable world of caring, a world of peace and justice, a world in which every human being is treated as valuable, with potential, an embodiment of the spirit of God.

This is why Jews recognize as sisters and brothers in the spirit of tikkun olam, all those people who retain the commitment to global transformation toward a world of tolerance and kindness, peace and social justice, ecological sanity and treatment of human beings as deserving of respect and caring and generosity.

Jews call this behaviour and belief “spiritual.” – and the process of striving toward it as ‘tikkun olam’.

 

First night: The candles are lit at dusk in December, the exact dates vary from year to year following the ancient Jewish calendar and can be found on the internet, and then add one more candle each night through eight night Sunday evening, January 1st, 2006.

The story of Chanukah

When King Cyrus of Persia allowed the remnants of the ancient tribes of Judah and Benjamin to return from the exile imposed upon them by Babylonian conquerors in the seventh century before the common era (bce), they formed the kingdom of Judea.
As part of the Persian Empire, and later as part of the empire of Alexander the Great, Judea had relative autonomy to shape its own internal religious life.

When Alexander the Great died at the end of the fourth century bce, his empire split into three rival factions, and Judea was caught between two of them: the Seleucids, centered in Syria, and the Ptolemies, centered in Egypt.
For the next one hundred and fifty years, these two kingdoms warred and each sought to incorporate Judea as part of its empire.

Alexander had introduced the Jews to Hellenistic Greek culture-its philosophy, its literature, and its impressive technology and power.
Forcibly dragged into the larger Mediterranean world, many Jews could see that “the real world” was dominated by wealth and power.
Some Jews, primarily those who lived in and around the larger cities, saw an opportunity to join this larger world by becoming merchants and traders, or by establishing political and economic relationships with others in the Hellenistic empire.

It was apparent to these Jews that their tribal religion would have little meaning to those who had conquered the world.
The religion of their fathers seemed irrelevant in a world reshaped by the “modern” realities of science; they were drawn by the allure of a society that worshiped the body and saw reality in terms of what could be tasted, touched, and directly experienced by the senses.

These Jewish Hellenizers saw no point in resisting Greek rule.
Their goal was to live in peace with the powers that ran the world.
They could benefit from the connection to the expanding trade of the Hellenistic world.
On the other hand, the vast majority of the Jewish people were small, independent farmers, who lived on the land and brought its produce to Jerusalem three times each year to celebrate their hard-won freedom from slavery.
They bore the brunt of the oppressive taxes imposed first by the Greeks, and then, alternately, by Seleucids and Ptolemies.
These Jews resented foreign rule and detested the city-dwelling elites who seemed to be culling favour with the Hellenistic conquerors, imitating their ways, abandoning the religion of the past, and becoming worshippers at the shrine of political and cultural “reality.”

Judea’s plight worsened considerably in the early part of the second century with the ascendance to the throne of the Seleucid Antiochus IV.
Claiming that he wanted to “protect” udea from the Ptolemies, Antiochus invaded Judea and marched toward Egypt, where his armies were defeated.
He turned back to Judea and attempted to impose Hellenistic culture by force.
He ordered the Temple in Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Greek gods and forbade the practice of circumcision, kashrut, and observance of the Sabbath. To the already assimilated elites of the city, the new rules were insensitive, but did not constitute a major crisis.
Perhaps Antiochus was a boor, but the culture he represented was “happening,” while the Jewish religion he forbade was a remnant of the past.

Yet many of the people in the countryside, burdened by Seleucid taxes that expropriated more of their wealth, found the Hellenists’ narcissistic fascination with their own power repugnant.
The essence of their now-banned religion was its insistence that there was a single God governing the universe who made possible freedom from oppression.
It was in the name of that God that they joined a rebellion against the Seleucids under the leadership of a country priest named Mattathais and his five sons (of whom Judah became the most famous, known as “the hammer” or Maccabee).

These Maccabees, as they came to be known, rejected the notion, shared by their contemporary Jewish establishment, which it would be pointless to fight, that one would do best by appeasing the ruling class, learning their language and ways, and accepting their system of oppression.
The Maccabees understood Judaism as teaching that “the spirit of the people was greater than the man’s technology,” or, in traditional Jewish terms, “not by power, and not by might, but by My spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”

To fight against superior military force was totally illogical and unrealistic from the Hellenizers’ standpoint.
But the Maccabees rejected assessments of “realism” that derived from the framework imposed by the imperialists, and drew instead upon the Jewish religion and the stubborn spirit of a people who had come to believe that every human being was created in the divine image, hence had a right to be treated with respect and decency.
These were people who could not submit to the rule of the imperialist, and whose religion taught them that they need not, because the central Power of the universe was a power that rejected the reality of oppression.
Their Torah told the tale of their origins in a slave rebellion against another imperialist power thought to be invincible-Egypt of the Pharaohs.

Armed with these stories, the Maccabees and their followers used guerrilla tactics to win the first national liberation struggle in recorded history, against the mightiest military power in the world.
In 165 bce they retook Jerusalem, purified and rededicated the Temple (chanukah means dedication), and rekindled the eternal light that was to glow therein.
The fighting continued many years more, but eventually the Maccabees and their descendants (called Hashmona’im) set up an independent Jewish state.

Today Jews affirm a different vision of strength. Our survival and the survival of the entire planet depend on our ability to create a world of love and caring, a world of peace and justice, a world in which every human being is treated as an embodiment of the spirit of God. This is why we recognize as sisters and brothers in the spirit of tikkun olam, all those people who retain the commitment to global transformation toward a world of love and kindness, peace and social justice, ecological sanity and treatment of human beings as deserving of respect and caring and generosity–and we call this behavior and belief “spiritual.” – and the process of striving toward it as ‘tikkun olam’.

The Traditional Blessings for Lighting Chanukah Candles:

The Ritual

On each night of Chanukah Jews light candles, starting with the shamash (one candle used to light the others) plus one candle, and then adding one additional candle each night for a total of eight nights.
The tradition is to sing, dance, and rejoice in our liberation and our freedom.
Money is often given to children, charity and some families give a modest gift each evening to the children provided they understand it is not “Christmas”!

The traditional blessings over the candles:

All nights:

  1. Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav, vetzivanu, lehadleek ner, shel chanukah. (Blessed are you, the Force that rules all of existence, who sanctifies us by giving us a way of life directed by holy commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Chanukah.)
  2. Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melech ha’olam, she’asah nisim la’avoteynu, bayamim hahem, bazman hazeh. (Blessed are you, the Force that rules the universe, who made possible miracles for our ancestors, in those days, and also makes the same possible for us in our own times.)

Add on the first night or the first time one actually light Chanukah candles this year:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melech ha’olam, shehechiyanu, vekee-imanu, veheeg-iyanu, lazman hazeh. (Blessed are you, the Force that rules the universe, who has kept us in life, made us flourish, and made it possible for us to reach this happy occasion.)

 

Drawn on location with the kind permission of the then President of Plymouth Hebrew Congregation, the late Mr Percy Aloof.

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