Rosa Parks and Hanukkah: Why Ignorance Isn’t Always Bliss

On the Thursday night before Hanukkah began, I attended an event called A Sip of Eser, an introductory session to the ten-part young adult learning program Eser (meaning 10) run by Hebrew College in nearby Newton, MA. Amidst the tumult of a Boston bar, and alongside several dozen people I had never met, I heard rabbinical student, Seth Wax, tell a Hanukkah story none of us had ever heard.

In Hebrew school we learned that Antiochus—an evil king—banned Jews from practicing their religion, defiled the Temple, and generally made life terrible for the Jews. Then, the Maccabees, led by Judah, valiantly waged war on their oppressors and won, miraculously reclaiming the Temple and keeping the lamp lit for eight nights.

The story that Seth told us, one that was also told by David Brooks in a 2009 New York Times column, went a little differently. In this version, the Jews were living quite happily, reaping the benefits of living in the strong, culturally rich, and reason-driven empire created by Alexander the Great. For the most part, the Hellenist rulers respected local religions languages and traditions.


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