Archive for Saturday, December 4, 2010

Faith Foum: How has the commercialism that has affected Christmas changed Hanukkah historically?

December 4, 2010


Hanukkah should be celebrated for its true meaning

Rabbi Neal Schuster, senior Jewish educator, KU Hillel, 722 N.H.:

Conventional wisdom has it that Hanukkah gets far more attention than it deserves; after all, it’s only a minor festival; not even biblical in origin; the only reason we give gifts during Hanukkah is because everyone else is giving Christmas presents.

Christmas has become commercialized, and so Hanukkah became commercialized, too, and is now blown way out of proportion; all so that Jewish kids will have something that matches the bigness and fun of Christmas.

But what is Hanukkah really about?

It is about an ancient struggle for religious freedom; the victory of a small Jewish army over their far-more-powerful Syrian-Greek oppressors; it’s about remembering the story of the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days instead of one.

Hanukkah is about all of these things, yet beneath the simple story was the reality of a complex struggle within Judean society of the time — between those who wanted to abandon their Judaism in favor of Greek culture, and those who wanted to maintain Jewish beliefs and practices, even in the midst of the ubiquity and appealing universalism of Hellenism.

In the context of contemporary commercialism and the super-sizing of a once minor holiday, the deeper history has become staggeringly relevant. Today, the salient question of Hanukkah is not can a tiny force attain victory against a larger oppressor, rather, it is the question of whether or not a people can be fully enmeshed in a larger and overwhelming culture without compromising or abandoning its distinctiveness. Can we embrace American universalism without losing who we are?

To me, this is the essential question of Hanukkah, and I can think of no better time to grapple with it than when nearly everyone else around us is celebrating that inviting and alluring other holiday. You know, the one with the tree.

— Send e-mail to Neal Schuster at

True happiness should define holidays, not materialism

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, Chabad Jewish Center, 1203 W. 19th St.:

We need to admit that the struggle of materialism has affected not just the holidays we celebrate during this season, but in fact the entire endeavor of religion.

Today, religious truths are filtered through the perspective of autonomy, individual happiness and materialism. I will join a congregation as long as it makes me happy, I will celebrate a holiday as long as it makes me happy, I will remain in a marriage as long as I am happy. Happiness today is defined as personal pleasure and contentment; hedonism.

Before the rise of materialism, happiness had an entirely different meaning — happiness was achieved through appreciation for the very value of life itself. Studies have shown that the happiness derived from even the greatest material object disappears after nine months. True happiness stems from the core of our being, not as a result of our materialistic state.

Just look at a young child. Children don’t need to learn strategies for positive living, and they don’t need a reason to be happy. They need a reason to be sad. If a child cries, we ask, “What’s wrong?” If a child laughs and plays and dances around the room, we don’t ask, “What’s the big celebration about?” A child is happy by default; for no reason at all.

As we grow older and become more materialistic, we lose this childish contentment. If you see an adult walking around with a big smile, you ask, “What’s wrong with you, why are you smiling?”

As soon as we forget about what we need and instead focus on what we have, our childlike joy comes flowing back and we are happy. For after all, our happiness is not somewhere out there; it rests within, in that part of us that is forever young and forever giving — our soul.

Join us as we tap into this true happiness at the annual community-wide Chanukah celebration in downtown Lawrence, at 6 p.m. this Sunday in South Park.

— Send e-mail to Zalman Tiechtel at


FloridaSunshine 7 years, 5 months ago

Rabbi Schuster: After all the time I've been reading and commenting on Faith Forum, yours is the only commentary I've read by clergy that is full of some kind of "angst" which is difficult to put a finger on, but is definitely there. I am a Christian, and I do celebrate that "inviting and alluring other holiday. You know, the one with the tree." Please don't lump me in with other Christians who may have been disrespectful to you or whatever your reason is for being so defensive in your discourse. I studied Judaism with an orthodox study group at one of the synagogues where I used to live. I love the traditions of Judaism and I love the people (all Jewish) I met while attending the study. They were wonderful. And after all, my Lord and Savior was Jewish!! So, please, don't include me in your obvious disdain for Christians who celebrate the birth of Christ. You disappoint me...

FloridaSunshine 7 years, 5 months ago

Rabbi Tiechtel...

Thank you for a beautiful and joy-filled answer to this week's question on Faith Forum!! I know just by reading your words that I would enjoy meeting you and talking with you...wish I could have been in town for the celebration in South Park. I would have looked you up for sure to say "hello"...hope you all had a wonderful time!!

deec 7 years, 5 months ago

I'm not sure how you are reading defensiveness or disdain in this piece. I don't see that at all. To me, he's merely pointing out that it can be a struggle to maintain cultural roots and still fit in to the dominant culture. You seem way more defensive than he does.

FloridaSunshine 7 years, 5 months ago

C'mon, his remarks line by'll "get"'ll sense it. Unless, of course, you have some reason for NOT wanting to "get" it or sense it. Hmmmmmm.....

I, personally, love the story of's beautiful. I think it's a great loss for Hanukkah to come at all close to the commercialization that Christmas's Christendom's great loss that Christians and their children think of nothing but presents, presents, and more presents for Christmas.

A couple of weeks ago in my granddaughter's 2nd grade class, (public school), the teacher asked the question, "What is the most important thing about the coming holidays?" My granddaughter (age 7) was the only one who wrote..."It is the birthday of Jesus." The teacher had the students' papers taped around the classroom doorway when we went to the school "holiday" play last night. I couldn't believe my eyes. (And there are a few Jewish children in her class, by the way...) Not one child mentioned anything to do with religious happenings other than my granddaughter.

deec...I'm not the one DISDAINFULLY stating Christmas as the holiday, "you know, with the tree". It was Rabbi Schuster. Give me a break!!! I would never say anything so DISDAINFUL against Judaism. EVER. And I expect, especially from a rabbi, the same respect.

Blessings to you, deec!!!

Wadde 6 years, 9 months ago

  its a season to give up of ourselves and instill the nature of God in our lives our self 
  through others...

Wadde 6 years, 9 months ago

  its a season to give up of ourselves and instill the nature of God in our lives our self 
  through others...

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