Unclean Food

I teach at a large, public university in the Bible belt. It has a reputation for conservatism, and there are said to be many Christians among its students. As a public institution it is, however, rigidly secular in its outward appearance and official pronouncements, so this is one place where it is not beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

We do have a thirteen-foot menorah on the principal public plaza, though; which was raised last night with the assistance of the President (a Mormon), and is presumably slated to remain in place for the duration of Hanukkah. As I was in the neighborhood, I strolled through the plaza this morning, to see the menorah, and to see any other symbols that might have been raised to mark the holiday season.

There weren’t any.

I would not be surprised if there is a Tree in some other prominent place, and secretaries have hung stockings, ivy and tinsel in the offices, but such symbols of Christmas as exist are all of the jingle-bells, snowman and green-jacketed-elf variety. I doubt a crèche would be legal.

Speaking at the menorah dedication, a local rabbi explained the menorah as a symbol of “religious freedom in general,” said the Maccabean army fought for freedom to “practice their faiths [sic] openly,” and assured the audience that Hanukkah was a holiday that “all faiths can identify with.”

As a matter of fact, the Maccabees were what we today call fanatics and fundamentalists. Their enemies were Hellenized Jews who were supported by Antiochus IV, the Seleucid King. The Hellenized Jews were what we today call liberals. When Antiochus profaned the Temple by dedicating it to Zeus, he was really establishing the religious tolerance that is typical of empires: rational hedonism (i.e. Epicureanism) for the elites and promiscuous polytheism for the hoi polloi.

Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees and the purification of the profaned Temple. If it represents anything, it represents rejection of religious freedom and assertion of a national right to religious orthodoxy. As the rabbi said, this is something “all faiths can identify with,” but I do not think he would be happy if they did.

I would not be pleased if Christian students tore down the menorah and “purified” the plaza with a crèche, but I would have to say that any students who did this were exhibiting the fighting Maccabean spirit.

It is utterly bizarre that Hanukkah and the Maccabean Revolt should have become a symbol of multicultural tolerance and ecumenical brotherhood, when Antiochus and the Hellenized Jews were the liberals.

Then the King wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that each should give up his customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the King. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion . . . . But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved not to eat unclean food.” (I Maccabees)

Actually, it isn’t bizarre.  It’s ironic.  We can’t give up our customs fast enough, and we smack our lips over a plate of unclean food.

18 thoughts on “Unclean Food

  1. Pingback: Unclean Food | Neoreactive

  2. Given the general ignorance, it’s maybe not so surprising that the ninety-nine percent haven’t the faintest notion of Hanukkah other than as an acceptable non-Christian holiday. Barely any of my self-identifying Christian students (I teach at a completely and resolutely secular state institution) have the faintest notion about the fundamental, differentiating tenets of Christianity, which they claim to espouse.

    Our Fall Semester began unusually early this year and, of course, it comes to its term just that much earlier than usual. I suspect that it’s a deliberate way of avoiding Christmas hence also of avoiding the active suppression thereof. “Just go around it.”

    I have told the story before but I repeat because it is worth publishing now and then. From the president of SUNY Oswego every year I receive a bland “Holiday Greetings.” From a member of the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department at a major Islamic university under whose aegis I chaired a dissertation, I receive every year an unambiguous Merry Christmas.

  3. I had a Jewish professor who said Hanukkah was the day of the year he felt most conflicted about, since he taught ancient Greek as a profession.

    That’s kind of bizarre that the Rabbi actually said that and expected people not to even look it up. It’s a completely repugnant interpretation to the story and meaning of the holiday. What may be even weirder is that he might not even know.

    • It is ironic that Hanukkah has become a relatively important holiday for secularizing Jews who want to be part of the American holidays, but can’t quite swallow Christmas, since they are the counterparts of the Hellenized Jews the Maccabees were fighting against. It must hurt them to celebrate the victory of their ancient enemies.

  4. Pingback: Unclean Food | Reaction Times

  5. I find it repugnant to be honest. Hanukkah is a holiday all people can identify with? No it isn’t. This is exactly why there is hostility towards the Jews, this blatant display of cultural imperialism that affirms a sneering derision against Christians. Knowing, as they do, that no Christian symbols can be erected in public, the correct thing to do would be to leave the square bare. Instead, a knife is twisted by certain Jews and their enablers.

  6. I think this use of a menorah is merely a symbol of shallow ignorance and unspirituality – if the menorah was functioning, in this context, as a genuine religious symbol: it wouldn’t be there in the first place.

    Indeed, the best interpretation is that this is a subversion and degradation of religion per se – like a more insidious and subtle version of a Santa Crucifix.

    From where we are now, in The West, in public discourse, any genuine religion of any kind is a threat to the nihilist establishment.

    • Yes, the degradation of religion isn’t so often sacrilege as frivolity. Sacrilege is an attempt to neutralize a powerful symbol. Frivolity treats a dead symbol as a joke.

      Talk of religious freedom can be serious or frivolous. The serious version says that it is important that the answer be your answer. The unserious version, delivered with a wink, says the answer is not important because all answers have the same value (which is zero).

      • The guy in dirty jeans chatting with his girlfriend as he processes to receive the Blessed Sacrament is a greater threat to religion than is the Satanist scheming to steal a consecrated Host for a black Mass. I agree with this, of course, but it is worth teasing out an example of the principle.

        The good priest at my parish (the apparently light in the loafers one) frequently rants in his homilies that the opposite of love is not hate: it is indifference. It’s a surprisingly useful and flexible thematic element in orthodox homiletics.

  7. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/12/13) | The Reactivity Place

    • The menorah can be passed off as a symbol of the imperial cult, just as the statue of Zeus was in the days of the Maccabees. Historically this is nonsense, but who cares about history? Christianity has historically repudiated the imperial cult, which would have been happy to place Christ in the Pantheon with the other gods, just as it is today happy to put the Cross on the Coexist bumper sticker with other religious symbols. Christianity repudiates relativism, so the imperial cult (being relativistic) repudiates Christianity. Christians are (mostly) modern Maccabees, with the big difference that we are not winning.


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