Columns - 2010


    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    For years, Chanukah has suffered from increased commercialism due to its proximity to Christmas (which itself suffers due to its proximity to every mall in the country). Look no further than Chanukah's transition to giving presents instead of gelt. (Guilt, on the other hand, was always, and is still, given for all eight nights, and beyond.)

    And what ever did happen to HanuClaus?

    Christmas sales start earlier each year; so much so that this October there were sales for next year's holiday.

    Just as purists have said Christmas has lost its religious significance, so have some said about Chanukah. So, here and now (yes, right now when you're reading this) the grand return of Chanukah to its roots begins with an exploration of Chanukah's religious significance.

    Of course, Chanukah is based on the book of Maccabees, known for its Maccabre humor. The religious importance of Chanukah is obviously linked directly to that of Maccabees.

    According to the Talmudic volume Wikipedius, the book of Maccabees, "in modern-day Judaism... has no official religious status." This is mainly attributed to the book of Maccabees not having paid its temple dues for several years, and not answering the phone on Super Sunday.

    Unlike the book of Esther, read between drinks on Purim, the book of Maccabees does allude to the Big G and some miraculous miracle-making. However, Esther was accepted into the biblical canon, while Maccabees wasn't deemed to be canon fodder. It's possible the book of Maccabees just came too late, but some scholars say that while Esther was accepted early decision, Maccabees was overlooked because Judah's SATs just weren't as good.

    So the book of Maccabees is part of the apocrypha, much like the notion of a humor columnist finding a girl by the holiday season who's both naughty and nice. In truth, Maccabees is one of three books in the so-called Hebrew Apocrypha, being not part of the Bible but still treated with some importance, such as annual mention in humor columns.

    While there are four or five debatable books of Maccabees out there, Judaism pays attention only to the first. For one thing, it's the only one originally written in Hebrew. Or Aramaic. Nobody's certain which, as the original text no longer exists. (Thus the Talmud teaches: This is what happens when you don't back up your computer.) But the other books are all Greek to Judaism.

    So, because Wikipedius also teaches that Maccebees "is often of great historical interest," let's review the accrued interest.

    About a hundred years after Alexander the Great conquested Judea, the Greek leader Antiochus IV, the original IV drip, ruled. He tried to suppress the Jewish religion, which would have been easier in a region where the Jews didn't live. But he tried it in Judea, prompting the Jews to open the sluices against the Seleucids.

    Antiochus had sacred objects removed from the Temple in Jerusalem, slaughtering many Jews who got in the way of the Starving Students moving chariot. He also forbade circumcision under pain of death, which was ineffective because, in this rare historic case, the punishment as described actually matched the crime.

    Antiochus imposed other parts of Hellenistic culture, including Helen Slater as Supergirl. He also introduced gymnasiums, and their inevitable byproduct that has plagued the Jewish people for generations: gym memberships. (Although, admittedly, in recent years, this innovation has virtually saved many Jewish Community Centers.)

    This also was the forebear of exclusive clubs. Much like 24 Hour Fitness today, Hellenistic gyms required men work out nude, so everyone could tell whether the members really belonged.

    Mattathias, whose name is Hasmonean for "Mighty Thighs," witnessed these atrocities for eight years. But after seeing "Supergirl," he rallied the Jews to revolt against the Hellenists. Early on, a hundred Jews are slaughtered because they wouldn't fight on Shabbat. Many Jews, mostly survivors, soon decided that they must fight on Shabbat, because it's harder to remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy if you're dead.

    Two years into the revolt, the Temple was retaken and restored, including the well-known miracle of one day's oil lasting for eight days in a menorah with no presents under it.

    A century before, Archimedes, Principal of Syracuse, ran through the streets naked, shouting that he'd discovered Eureka, California. On this day, Judah ran through the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming the commemoration of Chanukah, and that the gyms would start providing towels.

    But while most people think this was the end, with Mattathias and his five sons, including Judah, eating happily ever after, it wasn't.

    Mattathias died a year before the Temple was restored. Judah became leader and retook the Temple. Antiochus died a year after, as did another Maccabee, Eliezer, whose hopes and body were crushed while attacking an elephant upon which he thought the enemy leader rode. Judah himself was killed four years later.

    Judah's brother Jonathan took over and eventually was killed, giving way to his brother Simon. Simon became the first official ruler of the semi-recognized Hasmonean dynasty. After he was killed, his son John Hyrcanus took over, but only after negotiating a better retirement plan than his predecessors.

    The length of the Hasmonean dynasty's rule is commemorated in the duration of the aftertaste of your mother's latkes (not forever, but longer than you'd expect). However, it is said that when Hyrcanus's rule ended, of natural causes, the kingdom of Judea rivaled the size of Solomon's.

    The book of Maccabees covers forty years of occupation and revolt, starting around 175 B.C.E., in the tradition of the Israelites who recurringly quarreled for forty years in the desert after they exodused from Egypt. Thus, Chanukah celebrates that history cannot be allowed to repeat itself. Again.

    Doug Brook, author of the heretofore unseen play "What Ever Happened to HanuClaus?" will honor the Maccabees this Chanukah by getting hammered. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.