Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy Chanukah

Chanukah, the Jewish "Festival of Lights" celebrating a great victory for religious freedom in the second century BC, comes early this year.

This evening we had the pleasure of enjoying the lighting of the first candle with our triplet grand-daughters. Of course we ate traditional latkes (potato pancakes). Our grandchildren's Rabbi is anything but traditional. Not only is she a woman, but a woman married to a woman! Definitely not my grandfather's kind of Rabbi, but she is wonderful!

We hope everyone enjoys the winter holiday season with friends and family.

Chanukah is not an "important" Jewish holiday as it celebrates an event that occurred after the Hebrew Bible was completed. However, in modern times, in competition with Christmas, Chanukah has assumed major proportions.

I think it is fair to say that both Christmas and Chanukah really co-opt the Roman "Saturnalia" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia . That winter holiday is based on the Greek "rebirth of the Sun" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice). The ancients noticed that the Sun rose lower and lower as November and December wore on. There was a danger, if the trend continued, the Sun would not rise at all, and everyone would freeze. So, around the winter solstice, when the Sun begins to rise higher and higher, everybody lighted candles and were thankful the Sun was reborn.

So, "Yo Saturnalia", and "Merry Christmas", and "Happy Chanukah" and, for all the atheists in our group, have a "Wonderful Winter Solstice" (or, fellow Seinfeld fans, "Festivus for the Rest of Us")!

The Glickstein Family

PS: Note on English spelling of Chanukah (vs Hanukkah or Hanuka, ...)

The Hebrew Spelling is:

Reading from right to left, we have the consonant CHet (throat-clearing gutteral sound like the Scottish loch and German Bach) with the vowel A below it; the consonant Nun; the vowel U (as in blue); the consonant Kaf with the vowel Ah below it; and, finally, the consonant Hey. When I was a child, it was always written as "Chanukah".

However, some linguists got into the act and decided that "CH" was not the best way to represent the gutteral Hebrew sound the way it had traditionally been represented in loch or Bach. They used an H with a mark over it. Well, that got simplified into a plain H, and, as a result, many people pronounce it as "Hanuka".

The problem with that spelling is there are only six letters! You need eight if you are going to put one letter on each of the eight candles. So someone, who must have been unaware of the Hebrew, added an extra K in the middle and an H at the end, and the result is HANUKKAH which has become the standard spelling in major US media. Please note there is only one Kaf in the Hebrew spelling, so there is no justification for the double KK.

Please, as a Christian friend told me: "Put Christ back in Christmas and the CH back in Chanukah!"


Howard Pattee said...

We also celebrated Chanukah here at our retirement community. We have only 90 residents and we celebrate everything we can think of. We get more food and drink that way. The only complaint about the atheists is that they have no celebrations. The traditional prayers were spoken in Hebrew and translated into English. The menorah was up-to-date with LED-lit “flames”

joel said...

Happy Holidays to one and all, whatever your persuasion. I scratched my head at Ira's dating of Saturnalia as the precursor of Chanukah and stumbled across the following. Having viewed "The Lion's Gate" with no tourists or other distractions around, I would wish to be one of the lucky few to watch the sun enter the cairn at Newgrange. Awe is an incredibly interesting emotion.

Prehistoric Europe: One of the most impressive prehistoric monuments in Europe is at Newgrange, in Brugh-na-Boyne, County Meath, in eastern Ireland. It covers an area of one acre, and has an entrance passage that is almost 60 feet (18 m) long. Above the entrance way is a stone box that allows the light from the sun to penetrate to the back of the cairn at sunrise on the winter solstice. Live video and stills from this site are also available on the Internet. It has been dated at about 3,300 BCE; it is one of the oldest structures in the world.

Ira Glickstein said...

One Great Thing about America is, as Howard says, "we celebrate everything we can think of". Why not, as Joel did, celebrate the Winter Solstice as humans did some 5000 years ago, watching the low risen Sun reach the back of a long, narrow cave?

My son-in-law in Andover had a copy of god is not Great [note the lower case "god"]. I read it and plan to post a New Main Topic on it. Here I will confine myself to Christopher Hitchen's reaction to what he calls "Hannukah" (he can't even spell it wrong the "right" way as major media do :-(

"Hannukah" is, in his words, a "vapid and annoying" holiday where "the Jews borrow shamelessly from Christians in the pathetic hope of a celebration that coincides with 'Christmas'".

Sorry it annoys Hitchens, but our grandchildren and children and fellow Jews northwest of Boston were anything but "pathetic" as we joyously lit the candles and consumed more than our share of latkes. In a multi-generational recognition, Vi and I and our family had the honor of lighting one of the candles at a multi-congregation event in Chelmsford (where they pronounce the "Ch" as in "chain".)

On the drive home we joked about the Eastern European town of Chelm (with the "Ch" throat-clearing as in "Chanukah"), populated by Jewish fools in tales written by Sholom Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Hitchens, a former Marxist who lost his faith in that futile cause, seems to wish the same fate on all true-believers and even half-believing revelers like us Conservative and Reform Jews.

The Maccabees, the heros of our Chanukah story of religious freedom, "were forcibly restoring Mosaic fundamenalism against the many Jews .. attracted by Hellenism." In doing so, they sired "the stench of Calvin and Torquemada and bin Laden ... a poisonous branch that should have been snapped off long ago."

He believes it would have been better for monothesim to have been wiped out by Hellenists in 165 BC because that would have prevented the excesses of Christianity and Islam!

Ira Glickstein