December 31, 2015


I recommend a recent film called Experimenter, a dramatization of the work of the American Jewish psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933-1984), released this past October by Magnolia Pictures. It stars Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder, along with other stars.

The series of experiments conducted by Milgram at Yale University concerned the way people respond to and obey figures of authority. They measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts even when they conflicted with their personal consciences. The participants drew slips of paper to divide into “teachers” and “learners”. But some of the participants were, in fact, confederates—actors who would always be designated as the “learners”, unbeknownst to the actual participants, who would always be the “teachers”.

Sitting in separate rooms connected only by speakers, the teacher asked a series of questions. If the learner got the answers wrong, he was given an electric shock, rising each time in intensity. In fact, the learner was not being shocked, but the teacher would hear cries of pain and then pleas to stop as the current got stronger, since actors were playing the parts of the victims.

The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised his psychological study to answer the question at that time as to how Eichmann and his accomplices in the Holocaust were morally able to just follow orders. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. However, as the film shows, the experiments were highly controversial.

In 2014 a paper in the British Journal of Social Psychology by researchers Professor Alex Haslam (University of Queensland), Professor Stephen Reicher (University of St Andrews), Professor Kathryn Millard (Macquarie University), and Professor Rachel McDonald (University of Kansas) argued that the meaning of the experiment has been misunderstood. They analyzed the feedback that 659 of the 800 volunteers provided at the end of the experiment, after the set-up had been revealed.

Most volunteers said they were very happy to have participated.Because they did not think they had done anything wrong.  They were convinced that they had made an important contribution to science. This tends to confirm the idea that perpetrators are generally motivated not by a desire to do evil, but by a sense that what they are doing is worthy and noble.

Of course when we apply such ideas to Hitler’s Germany, one can see how the German tendency towards accepting authority, combined with its quasi-religious worship of Hitler and his regime, might have led so many of its citizens to really believe that murdering Jews was a noble cause. Hannah Arendt argued that it was simply the “banality of evil”. I cannot help but see this as an apologetic, whether conscious or not, for her love for and rehabilitation of the Nazi philosopher Heidegger. But that really ignores the issue of what leads or causes such human betrayal of good. Professor Reicher and his colleagues’ critique is only concerned with the morality of the experiment of course, not the issues it originally sought to address.

“Shock Room,” was a film by Professor Kathryn Millard that explored how people make the choice to obey or disobey authority, which challenges the Milgram “Obedience to Authority” paradigm and reevaluates its conclusions. Instead of a latent capacity for evil, we just want to feel good about ourselves. So it was not a willingness to inflict pain on other humans, but rather a desire to please.

Another controversial experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or a prison guard, conducted at Stanford University in 1971 by psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his team. The participants adapted to their roles beyond expectations. The guards enforced authoritarian measures beyond their original brief and with unexpected gusto. The experiments were terminated prematurely because of it.

Zimbardo argued that that the situation, rather than their individual personalities, caused the participants' behavior and that results are compatible with the results of the Milgram experiment. Nevertheless several outstanding psychologists disagreed including Erich Fromm and Peter Gray finding faults with Zimbardo’s experiment.

When acts of prisoner torture and abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were publicized in March 2004, Zimbardo was dismayed by official military and government representatives' shifting the blame for the torture and abuses onto "a few bad apples”, rather than acknowledging it as possibly systemic problems of a formally established military incarceration system.

This is what disturbs me about our current intellectual world. We have a built-in, I would say intellectually conditioned, tendency to look for THE answer, as if there were only one. The Theory, The Explanation, when there are usually several that may even sometimes conflict. There is no doubt in my mind that amongst those who murdered Jews (throughout Europe, I might add) were some sadistic sub-humans, some who were ideologically and religiously educated to think of Jews as vermin that needed to be destroyed, others were eager to do their duty and please their superiors. On the other side, there were a number of exceptions who retained a moral compass despite everything the world around them and their own evil impulses might have been pressurizing them to do.

Single, simplistic theories are always suspect. Conditioning, pressure, human nature, prejudice, dehumanization—they all played a part. But above all, it was and is a human problem. We require strong disciplinary structures and standards. This is precisely what we lack now in Europe where anti-Jewish sentiment is increasing and being tolerated by more and more people living in supposedly civilized societies. Whole groups all around the world are being vilified—whether it is Israelis, Jews, Muslims, or blacks. We are no longer looking at individuals, but at generalizations. Social and educational conditioning create an atmosphere in which certain types of violent reactions are encouraged. And there are political consequences when such group pressure affects parties too eager for power at any cost. Let us not deny that there is some of this in our own ranks. But not everyone in such environments responds violently or inhumanely. We need to look to our own souls as well as the state of the society we live in. An effective spiritual religious education needs to emphasize both.

May we have a happy and peaceful 2016. But happiness and peace need to be consciously and positively worked for. They do not happen by chance.

December 24, 2015

Factory Farming

Those who work in education delight in their successes and regret the failures. Very often those one expected to shine burnt out and those one expected to struggle shone. One of my pupils was such a disaster academically at school that I wrote on one of his reports that “he was heading like a lemming to disaster", and indeed at that time he was. But he was such a cute and charming little terror that it was hard to be too tough on him. Besides, anyone who is strong enough to defy peer group opinion to become a vegetarian has got to have guts. Today Jeremy Coller is highly successful in the world of finance. He still defies category, convention, and “normality”.

One of the big questions anyone who works hard to make money and succeeds way beyond expectations ought to be asking himself or herself is what then? Not enough do. There is no tradition in Judaism of seeing money as the source of all evil or of disparaging wealth. Neither is there a tradition of thinking that wealth in itself says anything about those who have it. Money is only a means to an end, and if one has it, one has an obligation to use it positively and humanely.

The crucial question that one really needs to ask is what the end is; to what purpose one will put one’s wealth? Some of the richest men and women do indeed set up foundations and charities to give away vast sums. The sad fact is, however, that those who do remain a very small minority. Most fritter and waste or pass on their wealth to those unworthy or incapable of looking beyond their own appetites.

My late father often used to say disparagingly, usually when people who could refused to help him with his educational dreams, “You can tell what God thinks of money by the sort of people he gives it to.” He once had to apologize to a wealthy property man who refused to help him with Jewish education but gave millions to the Monkey House at London Zoo. At a fundraising dinner for Israel, my father had commented on why someone would want to give money to monkeys rather than humans and had said that obviously he had more in common with monkeys. (But that was my father. Witty, articulate, emotional, and sometimes shooting from the hip and regretting it afterwards. We are a family of mavericks.)

So when Jeremy told me he had set up a foundation and one of its primary aims was to stop factory farming, I was impressed. The url is, where you will find the heading FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return). If you are interested you can see it for yourself. I deplore factory farming. Altogether I believe that the process of killing animals for food is an industry of cruelty from rearing to transport to slaughter. I also believe that most of those who seek to ban Shechitah (the Jewish method of slaughter) are anti-Semites, because if they REALLY cared for animal welfare they would try to ban ALL animal slaughter.

I also believe that the kosher meat industry is largely complicit in the betrayal of values in regard to cruelty to animals about which the Torah is clearly concerned. Orthodox Jews in general look askance at vegetarianism. Partly because it is seen as coming from a different cultural world, partly because the Torah approved of animal sacrifices as well as vegetable, and partly because of the tradition on Sabbaths and festivals of feasting on meats! On a recent flight my Charedi neighbor noticed I had ordered a kosher vegetarian meal, and he leaned over and asked me how I, as an apparently religious Jew, could eat vegetarian!!!

I look forward to the day when modern techniques of artificially producing substitutes will change and then eradicate the industry altogether. I also identify with those great rabbinic authorities who called it pure paganism to swing chickens over your head as Kapparot, atonement before Yom Kipur. They called it Darkei Emory, Emorite custom. So I am on board 100% with the aims of the foundation.

The only question I have is over the limited aims of eliminating factory farming as opposed to outright banning of all animal slaughter. But I can see that it makes sense to proceed in stages against what is, after all, one of the most popular of human activities and one of the major providers of jobs. Besides, I believe that time, economics, and ecology will bring about the end of the business eventually. Meanwhile, day by day, billions of sentient creatures are being treated inhumanely.

But there are two other issues: the “Hitler loved his dog” argument and the priority argument. Hitler apparently was a vegetarian and so opponents of vegetarianism will often say that this proves that vegetarians love animals more than humans. Anyone familiar with the laws of logic or the limitations of generalizations will realize how facile such an argument is.

A similar faulty argument is the priority argument, which says that one should give to human charities first. Of course there are priorities in life. But prioritizing does not necessarily require to focus on only one area of charity. As the Talmud (Bava Metziah 71a) says, “The poor of your city come first.” But that did not stop the Talmud (Gitin 61a) from saying that “one should provide for the poor of the non-Jewish world in addition to one’s own poor.”

It is true that I have argued previously that there are so many more members of other religions (and of no religion at all) that one ought, as a Jew, to give priority to Jewish charities. But that does not mean one should not give to other causes too. I deplore those Jews who refuse to give to any Jewish charity at all as much as I deplore those Jews who give large sums to organizations that actively try to undermine Judaism or Israel. But that doesn’t mean I am in favor of giving ONLY to Jewish charities. However, I do believe in giving only to charities that support the values that I do. It is obvious to me that the Torah is concerned with treating animals humanely. Perhaps that’s a subject for another occasion, as is the rabbinic dispute as to whether the laws in the Torah that appear to be motivated by concern for animal welfare may in fact be intended to heighten human sensitivity.

Either way, Jeremy Coller’s mission strikes me as fully consonant with Jewish values (although I very much doubt that is why he got involved). Besides, he gives to Israeli and Jewish causes too. I am delighted that he has proved me, and the rest of those who feared disaster, wrong!

December 17, 2015

Yossi Sarid, Frenemy?

I was in Israel when Yossi Sarid died. Who was he? Most Jews in the diaspora have no idea. On the face of it, he was another left-wing secular Israeli politician, a former Knesset member and government minister. But he was also a weathervane of Israeli society. He witnessed the transformation of Israel from a European, secular Zionist, socialist experiment into a predominantly right-wing, more religious, and successful capitalist state.

He was stridently critical Israel’s drift to the right, politically and religiously. He was against Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. He believed that Israel should only respond to aggression defensively. But he was much more than just another left-wing politician. As I watched his funeral on Israeli television when I was in Israel two weeks ago, I was moved by the secular ceremony and very conscious of what a loss he was to Israeli society.

When I first came to Israel in 1957 as a fifteen-year-old, I was seen off by my parents at Victoria Station in London and traveled by train to Marseilles. Then I boarded the Zim Line’s SS Theodor Herzl. And after four days of sailing I reached Haifa Port. No four-hour flight in those days. As I disembarked, the local dockers stared at me with disgust. One of them yelled that I should take off my kipa because in Israel one did not need the religion of exile any more.

I arrived at my yeshiva in Jerusalem and on the first Shabbat went to see the local blood sport. Ultra-Orthodox youngsters were throwing stones at policemen, protesting against traffic disturbing their quarter on Shabbat. There was a counterdemonstration protesting the serious injury to an artist who, in the darkness of the Shabbat night, had driven his motorbike into a chain that some pietists had placed across the road to block traffic coming into their area from the outside. All of a sudden a tender, an open-sided truck with wooden seating, a common vehicle in those pre-luxury days, stopped near the religious demonstrators, and out jumped a gang of secular kibbutzniks, who started beating them up as the Border Police stood by and did nothing.

A few months later on a trip to Tiberius, I was staying at the youth hostel and asked for candles for Shabbat. The director told me that such religious nonsense was unnecessary in modern Israel, and if I wanted to persevere with out-of-date customs I should return to England.

I mention these incidents because they were typical of the mood in much of Israel in the 1950s, and they explain why I felt such antipathy to the ideologically secular. Secular Zionism had always dreamed of consigning religious Judaism to the world of the ghetto. It wanted to establish a modern, socialist, religion-free utopia in the Land of Israel. The extreme left wanted nothing to do with Judaism. They rejected Jabotinsky’s attempt at synthesis. There were moderate secularists like Berel Katzenelson who offered a middle approach. But they were marginalized.

I had met plenty of nonobservant Jews before, and I never thought there was only one way of being Jewish. But I never had time for those who resolutely opposed Judaism on principle and actively undermined religious life wherever they could.

Now, over 50 years later, it is clear that secular Zionism as an ideology has failed to replace tradition and on the contrary has lost support and numbers. It has certainly not offered either a spiritual or institutional alternative of any significance. This does not mean, of course, that Orthodox or Charedi Judaism has won the battle. Too many Israelis are completely disaffected with tradition. But the religious have grown, not disappeared, as the secular pioneers once hoped. Once the standard-bearer of secularism, Ben Gurion’s Mapai party that ran a command economy on socialist lines, dominated Israel. Nowadays its heirs are struggling to challenge to the Right Wing and a dynamic culture of enterprise and innovation.

Yossi Sarid was the standard-bearer of secular, left-wing Judaism in Israel. Unlike most of his colleagues, he was well versed in Judaism, a master of sources, and an elegant speaker and writer in literary Hebrew. But above all he was a man of principle, idealism which I respect even when I disagree with the ideals. He always expressed himself openly and honestly and calmly, no matter how controversial or unpopular his views.

He, as indeed did I, objected strongly to the role of religious parties in Israeli politics. He attacked their politicized manner of blackmailing and refusing to take responsibility for every aspect of the country’s activities. He despised corruption of any sort, both secular and religious, and everything he did he measured by the ethical standards of Judaism.

It was typical of him that he insisted that no rabbi or cantor or representative of institutionalized Judaism be present at his funeral. Yet his two sons and daughter joined together in reciting the traditional Kaddish most movingly.

Sarid strongly supported the idea of a state for all its citizens and of the peace process. He was an opponent of the occupation. He was a strident critic of Israel’s moral and political failures and thought more should have been done to accommodate Palestinian aspirations. But he also recognized the failings and limitations of the Palestinian people and their leaders.

He was, in other words, a Jewish renaissance man, a man for all seasons. As I listened to Amos Oz’s dirge (in which I sensed too much negativity and bitterness) I felt a powerful sense of regret and loss that Sarid’s much more balanced and softer voice would no longer be heard. I can respect the left’s opinion even if I disagree with them. But I think they have abandoned a Jewish commitment for the neo-Marxism of many of their forbears. This, I believe, is a luxury we cannot afford at this moment. Any more than we can afford right-wing fanaticism. But I still think that for the health of Israeli society the honestly held voices of the left need to be heard as an important counterbalance to check the extreme jingoistic intolerance of much popular support on the right.

We need different voices. His was unique, because for all his criticisms he was still overwhelmingly committed to the survival of Israel, Jewish culture, and Jewish morality. We are increasingly reverting to tribalism and tribal conflict. We need voices that can inspire our tribes to work together. He was a man I admired, and there are not many of those left nowadays.

December 11, 2015


Puddingstone is a novel by Mark Mirsky about a Jew growing up the area near Franklin Park in Boston in the 1960s. It's a world where young Irish bullies torment young geeky Jewish boys. The main character is Maishe Ostropol. Hershal Ostropol was a popular figure in Yiddish humor, and the name “Maishe" is the Lithuanian accented Hebrew version of “Moshe”. He represents the comic Jewish struggle to find a place in a strange world, in an America of WASPs, Amerindians, and Irish. All he has to comfort him are his dreams of Bar Kochba, the Jewish version of Superman, or the Golem of Prague. Failing those saviors, there’s always the hope of a Jewish Messiah. Its actually a relevant theme for Chanukah, the physically strong Jewish hero, the soldier in contrast to the scholar, the pietist. Should we have to choose?

The title, “Puddingstone”, refers to a composite stone found in the Boston area that was formed when glaciers crushed different rocks together to produce a conglomerate that resembled a pudding with bits of fruit mixed in. It is the Boston equivalent of a “melting pot” or “Irish Stew”.

The book is a lively and humorous intertextual romp through a mélange of cultures. Unlike so many American Jews writing about their Jewish roots, Mark Mirsky celebrates Jewish culture and scholarship. He gives expression to a yearning for resolution and yet an affirmation of difference. The art and skill of the author, as well as his humor, suffuse the work. And the graphics of Inger Johanne Grytting are a delight. It is an important testament to an age in which Jews were the underdogs struggling to rise in an alien and often physically abusive environment. We thought in my generation this was all over, the irrational hatred. Sadly it is not.

I never experienced the physical anti-Semitism that Maishe Ostropol did or that was once prevalent in parts of Boston and New York. I was fortunate not to be brought up in an inner-city ghetto. The anti-Semitism I experienced in England was of a different order. Living in the Oxfordshire countryside, the worst I experienced was name-calling when I complained to the manager of the local movie theater because the price of the tickets went up. Or on the soccer field when we played the local non-Jewish schools. And there we gave as good as we got.

As an adult it was much more veiled and genteel. Minorities in Britain were made to feel “tolerated”, on sufferance, not really belonging. I recall a conference of the of headmasters the top British Public Schools in 1975 when I was asked to say “grace”. Several headmasters, men who influenced the next generation of Englishmen, walked out in protest because, as they explained awfully apologetically afterwards, “Don’t take it personally old chap, but the organization has always had been a Christian one, and we’d like it to stay that way.” Believe me, that would not happen to a Muslim in England today.

The USA was always much more immigrant friendly than Britain. But that did not mean it was easy, or that it didn’t treat some minorities disgracefully (it’s always been better in theory than practice). All Irishmen were wife-beating drunks, all Italians were Mafiosi. Now all Muslims are terrorists, and according to Donald Thump, Mexicans are rapists. Jews got it on all sides. The Irish Catholics hated them for being Christ-killers. The wealthy Americans accused then of being filthy, primitive commies, and the rest thought that all Jewish finance controlled the world. Let’s not forget Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, and the rest of the Jewish mob.

Catholics, in particular, had an animus towards Jews, because until Pope John XXIII it was still Church dogma that Jews were guilty of deicide and cursed for rejecting Jesus. Amazingly it is the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, this significant document, official papal policy that reversed thousands of years of hatred and prejudice. (And today I read that the Vatican has just issued a clarification to complement what was seen as a gap in the Nostra Aeate document, and it now adds the rider that the Church no longer seeks to convert Jews to Catholicism.) It still has not seeped down to the lower reaches of the church in many parts of the world. Even today most immigrants from Catholic South America arrive with negative attitudes towards Jews, which after a generation or two disappear. How ironic that nowadays in Europe the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is now so favorably disposed to the Jews.

Until recently young Jewish Americans were largely unaware of the history of anti-Semitism in the USA. Peter Stuyvesant initially refused to allow Jews to contaminate his vision of a Christian New York until the Dutch East Indies company ordered him to relent. Washington wrote a magnanimous letter to the Jews of Rhode Island. But both Generals Ulysses Grant and Tecumseh Sherman were vocally anti-Semitic. Although millions of Jews came into the USA during the nineteenth century, legislation was introduced specifically to exclude Jewish immigration in 1924.

Between the World Wars, the notorious Father Coughlin spewed vicious, primitive anti-Semitism over the radio to millions. Henry Ford poured millions into anti-Semitic publications in Dearborn, Michigan. I wonder what he would say to the fact that Dearborn is now home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the USA. President Roosevelt faced enormous pressure against going to war against Germany, because it could be seen as a Jewish war. Many, including Joseph Kennedy, were pro-Hitler and American companies supported him. President Truman’s wife refused to host Jews in her home. Most Ivy League colleges had restrictions on Jews well into the 1950s.

We thought we had left all this behind. But spurious antagonism and misrepresentation has returned in force. In many American universities Jewish students now find themselves uncomfortable at best, bullied at worst, by ideologically antagonistic faculties and abusive student bodies. The Internet and social media are flooded with vicious anti-Semitism, staged videos, and a dishonest doctoring of history. Sadly, this will only be reinforced with thousands of new refugees who, although they deserve refuge, will in many cases bring the generational hatred of Jews with them. Fortunately, in the USA there are so many different minorities that no single narrative will prevail. That, of course cuts both ways.

The circle of history is constantly turning. And that is no bad thing. For when we Jews have it too comfortably (as Moses predicted thousands of years ago) we usually drift away. Only a challenge or a threat brings out the best in us. But in the end the only thing that will keep us alive and vibrant will be the degree to which we are committed to, fluent in, and enjoy all that is positive in our heritage. Otherwise, if we are ignorant, our label is just an embarrassment to be escaped from, one way or another.

Happy Chanukah.

December 06, 2015

Chanukah Mixed Messages

The Chanukah story is a good example of how a religious culture can develop over time and why.

It is, in fact, based on historically documented events, corroborated by several sources, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The bare bones of the narrative are that after Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE his empire was carved up amongst rival generals. The Syrian successors to Alexander, the Seleucids, won control over Judea from the Egyptian Ptolemies. At first they continued Alexander’s policy of allowing different religions autonomy so long as they accepted Syrian authority and kept the peace. Unfortunately, as we know, the Jews have always been an argumentative and divided lot! High Priests played politics, bought their positions, and the Syrians soon lost patience with the Jewish political and religious infighting. Antiochus the 4th tried persuasion first, but then stupidly tried to force the Greek religion on the Jews.

Actually much of the upper classes, including the priests, had already largely assimilated. They were the ones who introduced the theater and circus into Jerusalem. Had he left them alone, there’s a good chance they might all have abandoned their religion, as they often did during the periods of the judges and kings. But you know, the moment you try telling Jews what not to do, they jolly well go and do the opposite! In 168 BCE he took over the Temple and desecrated it. The more pious of the Jews rose up in rebellion, initiated by Matityahu but led by his son Judah.

A series of Syrian commanders were sent with relatively small armies to suppress the rebellion. Internal political strife and invasions from the North and East kept the main Syrian armies occupied. And as for those who did come ready to fight, on several occasions a crisis back home called them back. Judah certainly won some battles, and on the 25th of Kislev 165 Judah regained the Temple, even though a Syrian garrison remained in the Citadel. The rededication of the Temple took eight days (as in Solomon’s original ceremony), and that turned into the eight-day festival we call Chanukah, which literally means “dedication”.

The oldest sources we have are the Books of the Maccabees, written originally in Hebrew. They were excluded from the Jewish canon and preserved in their Greek translation by the Church. The other source was Josephus, a Jew who defected to Rome during the Jewish Wars. There he received a pension and wrote histories of the Jews—The Antiquities of the Jew, The Wars of the Jews—and defended Judaism against the anti-Jewish propaganda of Apion (doubtless an NGO delegate to the UN).

None of these sources refer to the miracle of the oil. That makes its appearance in rabbinic literature hundreds of years later. The popular Talmudic source is in Shabbat 21b: “When the Greeks entered the Temple, they desecrated all the oils. So when the Hasmonean dynasty overcame them, they could only find one jar of oil with the High Priest’s seal, with enough to last for one day. A miracle happened, and it lasted for eight, and they fixed these days as a festival with Hallel and Thanksgiving.” Now, many religious scholars have sought to reconcile the miracle with eight days, when of course the first day was no miracle. But when we deal with what we might call a religious agenda, such details are irrelevant, because the issue is one of the message rather than the facts.

It is natural that the spiritual leadership will want to focus on religious messages, whereas those of a more historical bent will be more interested in verifiable facts. The narrative of the oil is an example of a spiritual message of survival, continuity, and Jewish values as opposed to Greek ones. After all, what could be more Greek than fighting?

Both Josephus and the Maccabees talk about how the Jews in Judea had refused to fight on Shabbat, and this had led to a series of massacres. It was Matityahu who gave the order to fight on Shabbat. This seems to have been an example of rabbinic innovation. But then, according to rabbinic law one may desecrate Shabbat to save one’s life. I always thought this part of the narrative sounded like a Samaritan problem, because they were the ones at that time who tended to take the Torah at face value without interpretation. So too did the Sadducees, the priestly caste. Matityahu spanned both, a priest and a member of the rabbinic camp. So in truth the story line seems confused at best.

And there’s another issue. Some argue that the emphasis on lights was a response to Zoroastrianism, which worshipped fire and often forbade Jews from lighting fires in synagogues, whereas in homes it was another matter. Then of course Christianity was keen on lighting up too, particularly during the winter solstice. Chanukah has become a Jewish Christmas for many. The story of Chanukah combines two very different ideas. The lights can be seen as representing soul, spirit, and reconciliation. Whereas the emphasis on defeating the Syrian Greeks is emblematic of conquest.

All of this underlines the differences that have always existed in Judaism on political and spiritual levels. Nothing much has changed. Today these very same disagreements tear us apart. Should we fight to protect ourselves or sit and pray? Should we try to find some accommodation with other cultures or refuse to engage? It seems to me that a narrative, regardless of its origins, can represent religious creativity and innovation. It can add an important dimension to the physical. Life is a holistic issue in which we try to reconcile disparate narratives and messages and try to find a balance.