Hanuka: Dedicated to Resisting Militarism Through Peace Education

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

As we approach Hanuka, the Festival of Lights, we can either promote the rabbinic message of Hanuka as dedication to spiritual illumination and peace education  OR emphasize Maccabean militarism as necessary to achieving victory over opponents. Many in the Jewish community will try to promote both, but that is impossible. Our tradition warns us: either choose the way of the book or choose the way of the sword. If we choose the sword, we can no longer be faithful to traditional nonviolent values associated with the book.

The rabbinic tradition largely supports nonviolence: “Not by military might and not by force of arms, by My spirit.” This is the prophetic verse chosen by the sages to illuminate Hanuka! Today, many Jewish people believe military strength is the way to achieve lasting security. While all states have had legitimate security needs, militarization and military occupation were traditionally regarded as evil. Yes, evil. The prophets continually denounced militarism. The sages believed that even lifting one hand to threaten another is ‘rasha‘, that is, violent, unjust and a sin. “Once the arrow is released from its bow, not even the mightiest warrior can bring it back.” Militarism has a life of its own which breeds corruption, systemic violence and the degradation of humanistic values. Militarism is not Jewish.

I find it ironic, given current Jewish loyalty to Israeli militarism by mainstream Jewish institutions, that Hanuka’s traditional emphasis on active nonviolence arose during Roman Occupation. The rabbinic sages framed the holy day as a reminder that our spiritual power comes from remaining steadfast to compassion and good deeds. We are told to think of ourselves as cohainim, spiritual educators. We don the cohenet mantle and light a menorah in the window at sunset, as people return from the market place, in order to create a public witness to our faithfulness to upholding human dignity and love. This is the true source of human strength.

Hanuka also means education. Light symbolizes Jewish dedication to rekindling the altar of peace education! Great is peace, was the message of the sages. This meant refusing to cooperate with Roman militarism. The sages initiated a boycott which forbade the buying and selling of military equipment to either Romans or Jews.  Jewish rabbinic law forbid Jews to derive pleasure or benefit from any products that promote systemic violence. Yes, BDS has Jewish roots in rabbinic tradition. So, how do we increase light today? By supporting resistance to Israeli state militarism through peace education as well as noncooperation with militarism through BDS.

If you use olive oil to light your menorah, please listen to Iyad Burnat in the video above and remember that the olive tree has been tended by Palestinians in the holy land for millennium, and, thus, traditional knowledge about the olive tree has been largely kept by the Palestinian community to this very day. A collective tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. The Annexation Wall, which, when completed by 2020, will be twice the distance of the Green Line in the West Bank. As for security: 85% of the Annexation Wall is NOT on the Green Line. 

The true miracle of Hanuka today is giving public witness to the absolute necessity of putting militarism aside and rededicating our commitment to human dignity as a force more powerful for achieving security and peace.  And lest we forget, the children of Gaza are dying. I have learned from many young Gazans that they regard education as their main form of nonviolent resistance to Occupation. Education gives them hope. The message of nonviolent resistance is alive and well among Palestinians. Israelis would benefit from listening and responding to the traditional messages of Hanuka instead of promoting the Maccabees on steroids. 

Light a Candle for Gaza

by Rabbi Alissa Wise

On the morning of December 27, 2008, the sixth day of Hanukkah, Israel initiated a massive military assault against Gaza it called “Operation Cast Lead.”  The name of the operation was a reference to a popular Hanukkah song written by the venerable Israeli poet Chaim Nachman Bialik:  “My teacher gave a dreidel to me/A dreidel of cast lead.”

When Israel’s military actions ended on January 18, some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed. Among the dead were hundreds of unarmed civilians, including some 300 children.

Today is the sixth day of Hannukah—and we pause today to remember the lives lost three years ago, and the devastating blockade that continues to this day. This Hannukah, we invite you to light a candle for Gaza.

As you gather to light the Hannukah candles with your community and/or family, consider adding some moment of reflection on Gaza. You might include:

Discussing how Hanukkah, the festival that enshrines the ongoing human struggle for freedom, the season that seeks to shed light on the dark places of our world, can be a time for us stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed.

Researching the restrictions that continue to rob the people of Gaza of a life of normalcy and dignity. After all, Israel’s military assault occurred in the midst of a crushing blockade that Israel has imposed upon Gaza since January 2006. Despite Israel’s claims to the contrary, its blockade remains very much in force. You can find the most recent reports issued by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement for information on the restrictions of movement for Gazans.

Reflecting on the personal testimonies from Gazans who lived through Israel’s military assault indicate tragedy beyond human comprehension. Here is one such account – excerpted from Amnesty International’s 2009 Report, “Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction”:

After Sabah’s house was shelled I ran over there. She was on fire and was holding her baby girl Shahed, who was completely burned. Her husband and some of the children were dead and others were burning. Ambulances could not come because the area was surrounded by the Israeli army. We put some of the injured in a wagon tied to the tractor to take them to hospital. My nephew Muhammad (Sabah’s son) picked up his wife, Ghada, who was burning all over her body, and I took her little girl, Farah, who was also on fire. My nephew Muhammad-Hikmat drove the tractor and my son Matar and my nephews ‘Omar and ‘Ali also came with us and took the body of baby Shahed and two other bodies. Sabah and the other wounded were put into a car; other relatives were also leaving. We drove toward the nearest hospital, Kamal ‘Adwan hospital. As we got near the school, on the way to al-‘Atatrah Square we saw Israeli soldiers and stopped, and suddenly, the soldiers shot at us. My son Matar and Muhammad-Hikmat were killed. The soldiers made us get out of the wagon. I ran away with ‘Ali and ‘Omar, who had also been shot and were injured. Muhammad, Ghada and Farah were allowed to go on but only on foot and the soldiers did not allow them to take the dead.

This Hanukkah, please light a candle for Gaza.