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Yosef Hayyim Yerushalmi and Hanukkah

Yosef Hayyim Yerushalmi will probably be remembered most for his book Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory. I am sure that much will be written about it in the coming months, and I cannot but echo Yaakov Lozowick’s recommendation to read it. Its publication generated much controversy and it is one of those few books which is discussed time and time again. See here for some bibliographical references. There is one quote brought by Yerushalmi in Zakhor (the beginning of chapter 4) which is always bouncing around my head.

Thus a situation has developed which is quite paradoxical in human terms: The barriers of the past have been pushed back as never before; our knowledge of the history of man and the universe has been enlarged on a scale and to a degree not dreamed of by previous generations. At the same time, the sense of identity and continuity with the past, whether our own or history’s, has gradually and steadily declined. Previous generations knew much less about the past than we do, but perhaps felt a much greater sense of identity and continuity with it…
-Hans Meyerhoff, Time and Literature

I think that this is an appropriate thought for the day before Hanukkah. Would most Jews be able to keep celebrating Hanukkah, at least in the way that they are used to, if they knew about the complicated and still contested understanding of events surrounding the “historical Hanukkah”? Some people just ignore history and live by the myth and its traditions, the challenge for those who aren’t willing to live a totally bifurcated intellectual and spiritual life is to develop a mature religious belief that is aware of the complexities of religious history and tradition at the same time. חג אורים שמח.

One Response to “Yosef Hayyim Yerushalmi and Hanukkah”

  1. 1
    Jeffrey R Woolf:

    I don’t understand. Doron Mendels is yet another ‘buster of myths’ whose so-called ‘discovery’ is not very impressive. Banning the most central of Jewish rituals is highly unusual for polytheist leaders, and could have led nowhere by to assimilation. It is also a clear causus belli. Furthermore, makes absolutely no sense (especially forty years after anthropological insights began to enrich historiography) that an entire literature or martyrology would be made up of whole cloth.

    This smack of yet another instance of historians searching for a headline (vide, Ariel Toaff).

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