Return to Previous Page
Rabbi Jack Moline Website
Home | Profile | Works | Links
Points of View
Maccabees and Founding Fathers
My Point of View, December, 2012
© Rabbi Jack Moline

In pretty short order we will be observing Chanukkah (or Chanukah or Hanukah). What we have learned about this holiday over the years has created a potpourri of messages that serve us well in many contexts - it is a celebration of devotion, or freedom, or tolerance, or uncompromising piety. And we often hold the Maccabees up as examples of heroic and principled fighters.

Of course, we are at the opposite end of the year from the Fourth of July when we commemorate our Founding Fathers and their declaration of independence from the King of England. What we have learned about them, even in a tenth of the time we have imagined the Maccabees, has also served in a varied of contexts - they were wise men, or contentious, or egalitarian, or slaveholders, or pious or blasphemers. And how many American political candidates have appealed to some version of their foresight or original intent!

It's worth considering what happened in the two hundred years and change after each of these two groups of men initiated their legacies. The Maccabees, more accurately known as the Hasmoneans, established themselves as the rightful and religiously faithful leaders of a Jewish homeland previously ruled by a foreign power. They chased the Hellenizers out of office and restored both the kingship and priesthood in accordance with the Torah's mandates...for a while. It was only a few generations before squabbling, jealousies and greed caused the Hasmonean dynasty to devolve into a parody of itself. By the time of the first century of the Common Era, a vaguely Jewish in-law of the original clan by the name of Herod had so corrupted the government and the Temple that the rabbis of the time needed to reinterpret Chanukkah as the celebration of the miracle of the oil.

The American story turned out a little different. Whether by design or accident, the Founding Fathers created a society flexible enough to grow with new understandings of the Constitution - not to mention geography, human rights and foreign relations - but rigid enough to maintain its form of government through the ups and downs of economic shifts, complicated political relationships and war, both internal and external. In the midst of bitter conflicts at home and abroad, leadership has passed from elected President to elected President (and other legislators) without interruption or challenge by force every four years. It is a record to be proud of.

The best of the Hasmoneans and the legacy of American democracy can be found in one place: the State of Israel. Other than the United States and Canada, Israel is the only democracy that has never had that democracy interrupted or compromised in its history, in spite of the very complicated neighborhood and circumstances in which it finds itself. And the promise of the Maccabees (along with, to be honest, some of their later shortcomings) are integrated into Israeli society.

As you count the number of candles in the Chanukkiyah, count the blessings, too, of the historical legacy of the Maccabees, the good fortune of living in the USA and the continuing miracle of the State of Israel.

Home | Profile | Works | Links

Comments or Questions? Email