December 24, 2004
Christmas, Hanukkah and political correctnessBy Jack Kemp
A federal judge yesterday upheld the city's ban on Nativity scenes in public schools after it was challenged by a Catholic mom from Queens.Andrea Skoros of College Point charged that her two sons, Nicholas, 10, and Christos, 8, were "coerced" into coloring menorahs at their elementary schools. The complaint also alleged the boys were taught the story of Chanukah but not about Christmas.
City Department of Education policy permits "secular holiday symbols" such as Christmas trees, menorahs and the Islamic crescent and star.
— New York Daily News, Feb. 19, 2004
If a display of a menorah isn't a religous symbol, how come I recite Hebrew ancient prayers when I light the candles of my menorah? This rationalization and ruling is insulting to Christian and Jew alike.
Any Jew who thinks that the banning of Christmas stories and symbols will not be followed by the banning of Jewish stories and symbols is deluding him or herself. Period. Perhaps Martin Niem�ller 's words will help.
First they came for the Jews
— Pastor Martin Niem�ller
A friend of mine told me that he recently heard on the radio the latest liberal talking point saying why it is OK to have a public menorah (Hannukah candelabra) but not a Nativity scene. A menorah supposedly commemorates a secular holiday about a revolt against the Syrian Greeks, not a religious holiday like Christmas. The court case quoted at the top claims the menorah isn't a religious symbol.
This is a shallow and vapid legal fiction, an attempt to interpret events to people the left assumes care as little about history and religion as they do — or they feel are a captive audience in public schools. And at the same time, the left is producing more animosity among Christians than they theorized the movie The Passion of The Christ would produce. The movie the left should be concerned with is The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, for it is the Grinch they most resemble: mean, bitter and shallow. I would hope all this leads to support for school vouchers, increased religious school enrollment and more home schooling.
But I must first thank The left for bringing this up, because it made me recall part of Hanukkah's secular history that needs to be retold now to everyone because it is as timely a history lesson today for people of all faiths as it was thousands of years ago.
During the time Antiochus Theos Epiphanes (a descendant of Alexander the Great who I will now refer to as Antiochus) ruled over the Jews of Israel over two millenia ago. Antiochus made a systematic attempt to destroy the Jewish religion and cultural memory. He prohibited the practice of the Jewish worship, ordered the sacrificing of pigs, an unkosher animal, in the Great Temple in Jerusalem. If Antiochus were a PETA member, he might have forbid Jewish ritual slaughter of kosher animals on other grounds, but since his culture slaughtered and ate pigs, that was his decree.
Antiochus also forbid the Jews to observe their major holidays and even their first of the month religious observances in their own country. If he were alive today, he could be head of the ACLU. You may object here and say Antiochus tried to impose a different religion on the people than their own, implying that what the ACLU does is "fair" because it restricts public displays of all religions. To this I say that while a restriction on all religions enables one to rationalize that you are not being persecuted for your beliefs, but merely obeying� "a government policy to not offend anyone," for most practical purposes there is not much difference between restricting Judaism or Christianity in favor of another belief or in favor of no religion at all. No religion at all quickly becomes the religion of worshipping the state, which exists as the Supreme Power in the absence of God. Both types of persecutions deny the observance of one's faith and cut people off from their spiritual roots, the spiritual roots of America's Founding Fathers, I might add. And I'll also add America's Founding Mothers.
Some of you may also remember that Bill Clinton tried one year to have the Post Office not issue an annual Christmas stamp, but the hue and cry was too great for that to stand. Now we know why Bill Clinton was always carrying a Bible: he was looking for advice from Antiochus in the Hanukkah story on how to lessen the influence of the major religion in America.
One article I read said that Antiochus also forbid local coinage to have Jewish religious symbols and words on them, similar to current attempts by liberals to remove "In God We Trust" from American money. Or like the ACLU getting the cross taken off the seal of the City of Los Angeles. I guess the liberals figured that none of the English speakers could figure out the religious connection to the city's translated name — and none of the Mexican immigrants understand what "Los Angeles" means in Spanish. Will they next try to ban Anaheim's Major League Baseball team's name, The Angels? But I'm going off on a tangent.
The prohibition of coinage with Jewish symbols on it is supposedly the origin of "Hanukkah gelt" (money), either actual coins or the chocolate coins with Hebrew symbols and language on them. These are used today to show children and adults that their religious beliefs and symbols are not removed from the items of their daily life and they are still revered, whether the origins of this practice actually go back to Antiochus or not.
Although the Jews were somewhat assimilated into the Hellenistic culture of that day, all this ancient political correctness was the last straw and led to an open, armed revolt against the Greeks. I have seen websites that argue that the war was more important than the miracle of the oil in the Temple lasting for eight days, but this is sophistry, spin — or as they call it in Brooklyn, b.s. There would have been no war without the religious oppression that lead up to it. As for the miracle commemorated, it occurred after the three year revolt when the small one day oil supply for the Temple lasted for eight days while the Temple was purified and rededicated, thus the eight candled menorah that the New York Federal judge said had no religious significance. You could also make a case that the military victory over the larger Greek army was also a miracle.
One of the uses of that Hanukkah gelt is to have children play a game with a four sided toy top called a dreidl. It is perhaps one of the "non—religious" holiday symbols allowed in your local public school. A dreidl has a Hebrew letter on each side symbolizing the phrase Nes Gadol Hayah Sham (Miracle Big Happened There, in Hebrew grammar). You might want to explain this to a liberal and then ask them if Hanukkah is the secular commemoration of a revolt, why do Hanukkah toy tops refer to a miracle? I suspect the question will make them feel even more "uncomfortable" than being made to sing Jingle Bells.
If American public schools want to teach children history and cultural diversity involving a Jewish miracle, then they should also teach the history of the majority faith Christian miracle of Christmas.
Jack Kemp is not the politician, nor is he a rabbi. He tells us he the direct descendant, on his mother's side, of the Orthodox Jewish scholar and religious school founder Schomo Rabinovitch, who wrote the classic Hassidic work Tferet Schlomo.