A Zionist Hanukkah

Modern Hebrew culture made of Hanukkah a celebration of the new, self-reliant Jew.

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Perhaps the most daring rejection of the traditions of Hanukkah in popular Israeli music is the song Anu nos'im lapidim ("We are carrying torches"), the lyrics to which were written by the poet "Ze'ev" (Aharon Ze'ev, 1900-1968) and published in his 1951 collection Pirhei Bar ("Wildflowers"). Sung to a march beat, the song is an anthem of the self-sacrificing pioneers of modern Israel, who, in the italicized lines, contrast their lives with those of the Maccabees as described in the Babylonian Talmud: "We are carrying torches. In the dark night the paths shine beneath our feet, and whoever has a heart that thirsts for light--let him lift his eyes and his heart to us and come along. No miracle happened for us. No cruse of oil did we find. We walked through the valley, ascended the mountain…."

The lyricist does not directly deny the historicity of the Talmudic account of the oil that miraculously burned for eight days. He does, however, contrast the ancient tale of God's deliverance of the Jews with the mythic accomplishments of the pioneer generations of modern Jews returning to their homeland.

In this, as in so many features of Zionist culture, those modern Jews in Israel and elsewhere who shaped secular Zionism have both appropriated and rejected central features of the way Jewish historical memory has preserved the past, recasting the old in startling new forms.

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Rabbi Peretz Rodman

Peretz Rodman is a Jerusalem-based rabbi, teacher, writer, editor, and translator. He was a founding editor of MyJewishLearning.com.