Hitchens on Hanukah

It's the last night of Hanukah. The nine candles on the menorah are burning brightly. We've had multiple celebrations over the last 8 days, with latkes, parties, gelt, presents. And then I discover this. Christopher Hitchens calls Hanukah an "explicit celebration of the original victory of bloody-minded faith over enlightenment and reason."

I had thought Hanukah was about the Jews of the 2nd century bc holding their own against their persecutors, but according to Hitchens, they weren't just holding their own, but quashing a sect of Hellenized Jews. And what, asks Hitchens, was so bad about being Hellenized? The Greeks were the "culture that celebrated beauty both in art and in the human body, presented the world with the triumph of rational thought in the works of Plato and Aristotle, and rejoiced in the complexities of life presented in the theater of Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes." This was naturally appealing, by contrast with "the grim old routines of the Torah."

As far as I'm concerned, Hanukah is about...well, it's really about holding your own in a "Christian country" (as some call it). It's the un-Christmas. And it's, well, lots of fun. I could swear I read somewhere that Hitchens has a Jewish wife and they sort of slightly celebrate Jewish holidays with their kids. Would it really be so bad??!

Dec. 12

I was going to say more about this, but now I don't have to because Daniel Radosh says it all so perfectly here.


Anonymous said...

How about Hitchens on football or chess? Is it possible to enjoy those games of encroachment, capture, kill, conquest? I suspect he would say yes. It's just annoying to have those meanings shoved in your face when you're trying to enjoy the food and gifts. I think Christmas and Chanukah would be much better without all that burning oil and poor baby stuff. Just a nice wholesome shortest day of year noted by bringing in something green and lighting it up and eating and eating and eating.

Yes, Hitchens has a Jewish wife and is between 1/8 and 1/40th Jewish himself, depending on who tells the story.


Jean Kazez said...

I'm sure that chess is very wrong-- a celebration of monarchy and aggression and, etc. One other nasty thing I heard about Hanukah lately--all those candles add to global warming. Help! Is nothing sacred?

I think his mother was Jewish (but brought up Christian) and definitely his wife. I could swear I read somewhere he owns a dreidel.