Dec 22, 2008, 07:26AM

Holiday Cheer

Hanukkah as the Jewish holiday of intolerance.

Heavy stuff:

1. Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, the famous Jewish celebration of religious intolerance, a commemoration of a great victory by the reactionary Hasmoneans against their Hellenizing opponents (and their Seleucid allies. That Hanukkah is understood in America is celebrated as a festival of religious freedom says something about how the meaning of a tradition is inevitably in the hands and minds of living tradents, but it says something more profound about the relationship between religious liberty and _in_tolerance. Religion (as opposed to conscience) is a corporate rather than an individual matter – Milton may have belonged to a sect of one, but most of us who are in any meaningful sense religious are members of corporate bodies extending through time and space. And corporate bodies to exist at all must define their boundaries: this is who we are, this is what we believe, this is how we behave. And this requires an implicitly if not explicitly excluded “not that.” This being the case, if freedom of religion means, most fundamentally, the freedom to be a heretic, it equally means the freedom to declare that the other guy is a heretic. In a very real sense, a social environment that is hostile to religious intolerance must necessarily be hostile to religious freedom. So, ironically, the modern transformation of Hanukkah from a festival of intolerance to a festival of religious freedom is no transformation at all!


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