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Orthodox Conundrum

Dec 19, 2022

Something about Chanukah speaks to almost all of us... which highlights the fact that the message of Chanukah retains enough ambiguity that different groups can understand it in different and even contradictory ways. This ambiguity goes back to the very earliest days of the holiday’s celebration while the Second Temple still stood; it’s reflected in Rabbinic sources and in our liturgy, as well. And that, in turn, leads to a number of fascinating questions about what Chanukah is really about, when we look at it through an historical lens. Chazal famously ask, "Mai Chanukah" - "What is Chanukah?" - and that question still needs to be answered today. Scott welcomes Dr. Malka Simkovich to the podcast in order to address that question, and to hear her fascinating insights about what happened before, during, and after the Maccabean revolt.

Dr. Simkovich discusses the story of Chanukah, whether our sources for the Chanukah story should be considered historical (and the associated question of what history meant to people living 2000 years ago), the discrepancies between the story as presented in Masechet Shabbat and in I and II Maccabees, the false binary of emphasizing the miracle of the oil versus the military victory, how early Christians saw the Hasmoneans as Christian martyrs and whether Al HaNisim was written partially in response to that appropriation, why Chazal developed an ambivalent attitude toward the Hasmonean dynasty, what historical event in 63 BCE is widely ignored but changed the course of Jewish history, the different ways that Jews in Israel and in the diaspora understood Chanukah, the concept of “Common Judaism,” what mistaken message do too many people derive from Chanukah, and more. And along the way, Dr. Simkovich also offers some tantalizing ideas about whether our sacred texts are actually describing history as we understand it - and why a more relaxed attitude toward that question might be helpful for all Orthodox Jews today.

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Music: "Happy Rock" by