THIS FRIDAY marks the beginning of Chanukah, an eight-day festival of freedom. It commemorates the Jewish victory over the Hellenistic empire of Antiochus IV over 2,100 years ago. In 165 BCE, the Maccabees reclaimed the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to God's service. The Hebrew word for "dedication" is chanukah and the annual event is marked in homes by lighting one candle on the first night, adding one candle each evening and culminating with eight candles on Chanukah's last night. Gifts are exchanged, and special prayers and songs are part of the festival liturgy. Chanukah, like Christmas, is a festival of light.
The Maccabees battled to preserve their religious and national identity. The Emperor Antiochus had attempted to destroy Jewish freedom by banning the teaching of the Jewish scriptures and by building idols, including a statue of himself, in the Temple. By overcoming Antiochus, Jews overcame a dictatorial regime. However, a change of rule is not enough; a successful fight for freedom requires internal as well as external transformation.
One example of transformation can be seen in the comment of Franz Rosenzweig, the Jewish thinker who almost converted to Christianity, about the saying of Jesus in the Gospel of John (vi,14) that "no one can reach the Father except through me". Rosenzweig does not attempt to get round this saying, indeed he asserts that it is true when one considers the millions who have been led to God through Jesus Christ. However, he continues:
The situation is quite different for one who does not have to reach the Father because he is already with Him. Shall I become converted, I who have been chosen?
Rosenzweig here introduces us to a crucial question of interfaith dialogue: can religious people give each other the theological space within which to flourish?
We Jews need to ponder the purpose behind the creation of Christianity and Islam. Does Jesus the Jew have any significance for us? What is the meaning that two billion followers of Jesus read the Jewish Bible? As for Islam, what is the significance of 1.2 billion Muslims' sharing many of the same customs as Jews (such as dietary laws) and adhering to a strict monotheism?
For Christians, there needs to be a profound reflection on the survival of the Jewish people and of the vitality of Judaism over 2,000 years. The question of the validity of Judaism challenges some of the proclamations of Christian triumphalism. How can Christianity differentiate itself from Judaism without asserting itself as either opposed to or simply the fulfilment of Judaism?
For Muslims, there needs to be serious reflection on the creation of the state of Israel as an act of national liberation following nearly 2,000 years of powerlessness and homelessness. …