The stage was set by Syrian conquerors of the Jewish state who ruled nearly 200 years before Christ. Antiochus (Epiphanies) commanded Jews to worship pagan gods, a religious abomination to the People of the Book and one God.
Rather than submit to oppressive power-holders, a group of Jews, led by the family Maccabee, took up arms. Struggling against a vastly superior, well-equipped force, Jews resisted for more than three years, from circa 162 to 165 B.C.
The Maccabees, as the entire resistance became known, finally pushed the pagan worshippers from their temples. By various estimations, the struggle cost thousands of Jewish lives.
As Hanukkah’s candles are lit in the coming days, this nation’s Christian and even non-believers should rejoice with its Jewish fellow Americans. The Maccabees foiled government attempts to dictate divine concepts to the citizenry.
Nothing could be more significant. The capitulation of the Jewish religion and replacement of the God of the Bible with the worship of a pantheon of spirits might have adversely affected our own history.
There are approximately 5.5 million Jews living in America today. They were more than welcome here in 1790, said President George Washington.
Writing to a Jewish congregation in Rhode Island, the first president said, “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
For “happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens,” he wrote.
America was unique among nations in 1790, a lighthouse on a rocky cliff. It remains an example to governments yet attempting to control religion for their own purposes.
Even now we see the drama being played out in Egypt, where a Christian minority and many freedom-loving Egyptians fear the coming of Sharia law and a long, dark night of oppression.
The United States owes a moment of reflection to those who have struggled against dictators for the cause of religious freedom.
Hanukkah presents all an opportunity for just such reflection.