When Christmas and Hanukkah coincide, as they do this year, both faith communities must be vigilant against the war on Christmas and Hanukkah being waged by those seeking to undermine Judeo-Christian values and rewrite history.
Israel goes to great lengths to show respect for its Christian citizens and is the one country in the Middle East where Christians are not persecuted. Tourists to Bethlehem, however, are confronted repeatedly with the false message that Jesus was not a Jew, but a Palestinian Arab.
Palestinians and their antisemitic enablers sponsor slick PR gimmicks like “Christ at the Checkpoint” that absurdly claims that Jesus was Palestinian and so if he were alive today, he would be persecuted by Jewish soldiers at Israeli security checkpoints. This perverse form of Cancel Culture goes back to Yasser Arafat, who claimed that Jesus was an Islamic militant. Such revisionist history uproots the very source of Christianity and is completely ridiculous, as even history’s most notorious antisemites acknowledged Jesus’ Jewish identity.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis waged their own war on Christmas and tried to reinterpret the holiday, precisely because they were so hostile to the Jewishness of Jesus. Even Hitler could not have imagined denying that Jesus was a Jew and so he tried rewriting lyrics to Christmas carols, encouraged mothers to bake swastika-shaped cookies and tried inserting pagan, Aryan symbols into the holiday.
Appreciating the history behind Hanukkah can provide a proper response to the Palestinians, who are egregiously attempting to rewrite history.
King Antiochus IV, who reigned over Jerusalem from 215 BCE to 174 BCE, forced his subjects to renounce their religions and abandon their cultures. In his brutal effort to eradicate the Jewish faith, Antiochus prohibited Torah study, and the observance of Shabbat and kashrut under the strict penalty of death. The ruthless king removed the High Priest from his position and defiled the Temple by erecting Greek idols there.
Under this crushing religious persecution, a small band of Jewish rebels led by Matityahu and his son, Judah, united in a fight against the mighty Greek army and in defense of the God of Israel. When Antiochus learned about the rebellious Maccabees, he sent a large military force to wipe them out. Though the king’s army vastly outnumbered the Maccabees in numbers and weapons, the small group of freedom fighters defeated their powerful adversary and liberated Jerusalem from foreign occupation.
THE MACCABEES entered the Temple, cleared it of idols and rededicated it in 139 BCE. Upon entering the Temple, the Maccabees found only enough pure olive oil to rekindle the golden menorah for one day. Yet, by a miracle of God, the oil burned for eight days.
While the holiday is widely known as the Festival of Lights, it is really the Festival of Miracles, commemorating, “the wonders He performed for us in those days and in ours.” Indeed, the modern return of the people of Israel to the land of Israel in the 20th century was also a victory of a small number of Jews over a much larger enemy force.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the newly birthed state of Israel, which was immediately attacked by eight well-trained and well-armed Arab nations. Miraculously, the infant country with only 600,000 citizens, many of whom were survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, held on and defeated their much stronger attackers.
Two decades later, the neighboring Arab countries tried again to wipe Israel off the map and push the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. In 1967, against seemingly insurmountable opposition, Israel likewise persevered in battle, tripling its territory and reuniting Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty – for the first time since the Maccabees controlled the city – in the miraculous Six Day War.
And the miracles continue
Today, the Jews have returned to their ancient and everlasting homeland. The once desolate soil of the area that used to be known as Palestine is lush and fertile once again, and Israel is a world leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. One almost has to contrive willful blindness not to see the miracles of biblical proportions that God has performed for Israel over the last century. This is why, after centuries of persecution and antisemitism, so many Christians are now standing with the Jewish people and supporting Israel.
Tens of millions of Christians around the world are overwhelmingly pro-Israel for they see the success of the Jewish State as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. As such, the ancient Jewish lessons of faith and freedom on Hanukkah are particularly relevant to Christians today.
Hanukkah commemorates the ancient Jews’ stubborn loyalty to their God and their land despite efforts by strong forces preventing them from practicing their faith. God rewarded the Jews for their dedication by performing miracles on their behalf, which we remember today by lighting the menorah.
When Christmas and Hanukkah share a date, it’s an opportunity for Christians and Jews to celebrate our shared history, our common origins in this region, and the values we both hold dear. And while it is true that there are important differences between Jews and Christians and our two holidays, what unites us is far more significant than what divides us. And so, when both of our faith traditions are confronted with the deliberate falsification of history, Christians and Jews must stand together to dispel the darkness by bringing more light and illumination into the world.
The writer, a rabbi, is the founder of Israel365 and the editor of The Israel Bible, which are both dedicated to strengthening relationships between Jews and Christians in support of Israel. He can be reached at: [email protected]