"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities."



“Hanukkah celebrates the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness.”

Christopher Hitchens

“Hanukkah is…the Feast of Lights. Instead of one day, we got eight CRAZY nights!”

Adam Sandler

Hanukkah, which this year began incredibly early, on Thanksgiving, is one of those holidays that serious humanists could just as easily do without. But because of our Christian friends, it has perhaps a hundred times the importance it deserves. It is the ultimate “coattail” holiday. It thus merits brief consideration here.

Hanukkah actually got a boost from the Christians, first because it happens to be a winter festival of lights. Jewish kids needed something to celebrate in the lands of the diaspora in which Christianity predominates – otherwise, as I can attest from personal experience, Christmas feels like a gigantic party that you are not a part of. South Park’s Kyle spoke eloquently for many of us when he sang of how tough it is to be a Jew at Christmas. But Adam Sandler redeemed our respect with his Hanukkah Song (”don’t smoke marijuanica”), in three versions, yet. Indeed, Adam Sandler is our Hanukkah miracle!

The second boost came when the gift of gelt – i.e., cash, a tradition which still persists – morphed into actual gifts, again in imitation of the Christians. Now Jewish kids could get gifts on eight nights!

Return of the Taliban

Sigh. Hanukkah celebrates, in part, the rededication of the temple in the second century CE by a bunch of Jewish Taliban. It was the restoration of the old-time religion. Once again, the relatively primitive, tribal Jews were in (temporarily victorious) conflict with a secular, rational, cosmopolitan culture, this time the Greeks. (We were the hillbillies of the ancient world, but we caught up quickly once the Enlightenment opened up secular opportunities.)

The eight-night thing comes from a generally Jewish tradition of weeklong seasonal celebrations. The political triumph, then, was grafted upon the already existing Winter Lights Festival, and traditions were added along the way – the dreidel, the eight-night miracle, and many others.

Hanukkah’s OK

Hanukkah is OK, insamuch as I see nothing wrong with celebrating light in midwinter, as long as it is metaphorically taken as manifest in the humanistic virtues. Thus, we can rededicate ourselves to being better human beings and to improving the world (the traditional Jewish ideal of tikkun olam). This includes advancing the cause of reason, opposing the many offenses and excesses (and the tax-free status) of religion. As we near the darkest point of the year, let us resolve that the darkness of religious ignorance go no further, that it begin to yield to the light, starting with this very day.

You might dedicate each of the eight candles to one of the humanistic virtues: love, courage, compassion, tolerance, reason, dignity, generosity, charity, and whatever personal quality one is working on that year.

Happy Hanukkah to one and all. Time is passing way too fast.


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Comment by Alan Perlman on December 28, 2013 at 7:30pm

Thanks so much, GC.  I first encountered this list and Marilyn herself in 1979, the year I joined The Birmingham Temple.

Comment by Grinning Cat on December 28, 2013 at 6:07pm

You might dedicate each of the eight candles to one of the humanistic virtues ....

A bit late for this year's Thanksgivukkah, or early for Hanukkah 2014, but...

Marilyn Rowens published such a list in Humanistic Judaism, Winter 1979 (quoted in "Let There Be Lights! : A Secular, Cultural, Humanistic Celebration of Chanukah" by Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer, The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism).


The first light is
the light of REASON.
It is the light of reason that teaches us
to see the difference between right and wrong.

The second light is
the light of SELF-ESTEEM.
It is the light of self- esteem that inspires us
to believe in ourselves.

The third light is
the light of COURAGE.
It is the light of courage that gives us
the strength to stand up for our beliefs.

The fourth light is
the light of FREEDOM.
It is the light of freedom that reminds us
to take responsibility for our own lives.

The fifth light is
the light of LOVE.
It is the light of love that enables us
to care for those in need.

The sixth light is the light of LOYALTY.
It is the light of loyalty that helps us keep
our promises to those who depend on us.

The seventh light is the light of GENEROSITY.
It is the light of generosity that encourages us
to give even when we do not receive.

The eighth light is the light of HOPE.
It is the light of hope that leads us
to a vision of a better world.

Comment by Alan Perlman on December 2, 2013 at 4:14pm

I've been saying for years that just as aggression and violence are the hallmarks of Islam, passivity and over-dependence on Imaginary Friend have been emblematic of Judaism -- and the cause of WAY too much Jewish slaughter and misery.

Comment by Grinning Cat on December 1, 2013 at 10:20pm

Hanukkah celebrates, in part, the rededication of the temple in the second century CE by a bunch of Jewish Taliban.

I was upset to hear, the other night, in the Hanukkah radio program by Leonard Nimoy and the Western Wind, the story from the book of Maccabees of the Syrian-Greek officer demanding that the townspeople of Modi'in offer sacrifice to the Greek gods. When a Jew stepped forward to comply, Mattathias killed him, as well as the officer -- and this is uncritically reported as if it were a good thing.

There are things to celebrate about Hanukkah -- such as the virtue of taking action rather than waiting around for God to work a miracle (as the Society for Humanistic Judaism points out) -- without endorsing the replacement of one religious repression with another.

Comment by Grinning Cat on December 1, 2013 at 9:57pm

The idea of dedicating the candles to different humanistic virtues reminds me of this HumanLight candelabrum/candelabra or "menorah" (so to speak), where the initial letters of the named principles form the mnemonic backronym "REASON":

Atheism / Agnosticism
Secular Humanism
Occam's Razor

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