Well, that was awkward.
Catholic News Service, which, as it’s name implies, is a denominational news agency, and tweeted a rather chirpy message of inclusion Sunday before last, reading, “Hanukkah begins at Sundown. Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate!”
The problem is that evidently there are no fact checkers at CNS because while the photo they chose to accompany their tweet was an ancient stone relief depicting a menorah, it was from the Arch of Titus — an enormous, first century marble affair — depicting Roman soldiers making off with the golden menorah, as well as other spoils of war, from the Temple of Jerusalem, which they’d destroyed.
Which is sort of like a denominational news agency tweeting out an illustration of Christ being flayed with whips by Roman soldiers with the greeting, “Easter begins at sunrise. Happy Easter to all who celebrate!”
That’s not how that works. That’s not how any of that works.
Thinking back, no one taught me about Hanukkah growing up. From age 7 and upward on my school bus, most of us kids would have told you, quite impressively, after chatting to the one Jewish kid in our neighborhood before linking it to what made sense to our underfunded, public school brains, that “Hanukkah is like Christmas for Jews. It’s in December and, actually way better because they get presents for eight days!”
I certainly didn’t understand the significance of Hanukkah until learning from Jewish friends in my mid-20s. There’s an awful lot of history involved, including terrible violence and persecution before rebuilding the Temple, and the most succinct definition I found was from chabad.org:
“In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G-d. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.
“When they sought to light the Temple’s Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.
“To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.”
Indeed, the word, Chanukah, or, Hanukkah, is Greek for “dedication.”
Then, just like with Southern Baptists, the holiday is celebrated with special prayers and a lot of fried food.
And if you’re puzzled by the written form “G-d,” as opposed to “God,” Rabbi Davidson from the same site explains, “Our caution is founded on an understanding of the third of the Ten Commandments, ‘You shall not take His name in vain.’ Although this verse is classically interpreted as referring to a senseless oath using G-d’s name, the avoidance of saying G-d’s name extends to all expressions, except prayer and Torah study.”
There is actually far more than what I’ve copied and pasted, but as I have limited column space, I have to be economical with this explanation.
At the end of the day (coincidently, sundown), while I’m sure that Catholic News Service had only the best of intentions in tweeting out its holiday greeting, it can be more than a trifle distressing if your religion seems continually misunderstood as well as targeted to this very day for its insistence on merely being.
I wanted to end this by simply writing “shalom,” but then I thought I’d better return to Rabbi Davidson’s tutorial as, like many Christians, I thought the word simply meant “peace.”
I learned that as with many Hebrew words, shalom has several meanings. Shalom can mean peace, or be a greeting. Shalom is the name of G-d. It’s a name for boys, although for girls too. And shalom is very much, Rabbi Davidson writes, “a key”:
“The more shalom we bring to the world, the quicker will we attain completion and true, everlasting peace.”