Monday, August 11, 2008

Tisha B'Av, Hannukah, and a play..

I have been working on a play called Playing Dreidel with Judah Maccabee. I wrote it for a theater interested in a holiday play, but I find myself reflecting about it now, just after the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av.

Perhaps holiday is the wrong word for a day spent fasting and mourning for the loss of the First and Second Temples, in Jerusalem. Supposedly, both temples were lost on the ninth of Av, and Tisha B'Av (literally a date, like 9/11) commemorates that loss.

Hannukah is sort of the flip side of Tisha B'Av. It commemorates the day that Judah Maccabee retook the temple from the Selucids (A Hellenic culture). The whole burning of the oil for eight days idea came later, as did the dreidels, the latkas, and especially the presents.

It was soon after Judah Maccabee retook the Temple that a split occurred in Judaism. There were those (the Pharisees) who thought that worship could happen outside the temple. After all, hadn't the Jews worshiped even without the Temple? There were those (the Sedducees) who thought nothing could happen outside the Temple.

Yochanan ben Zakai (considered by some to be the first Rabbi) even thought there could be worship without animal sacrifice.

In some ways, the Pharisees were the first Jewish radicals.

Then the temple was destroyed. End of argument. Beginning of Judaism as we know it.

And though any destruction is a tragedy, I am moved to ask, was the destruction a bad thing for Judaism? Old style Judaism resembled Catholicism more than anything else. A high priest, with complete power. A strict hierarchy. Authority above all

Without the Temple, we suddenly had the Talmud as the main authority--full of conflicting opinions, disagreement, radicalism, and independent thought. The rabbis and the Talmud brought not only a religion that substituted prayer for animal sacrifice but a religion without one central figure whose word was law for all. Which brought on endless disagreements, which continue to this day.

And, if I may be so bold, most of what I love about Judaism lies in those disagreements. I love that the Talmud can list different opinions, all different, and call them all valid. I love the radical thinking that Judaism inspires. I love the fact that Judaism values questioning.

I suspect if Judah Maccabee saw what has become of Judaism, without the Temple, he would barely recognize it.

So my goal is to be honest to those feelings and thoughts while still having a play that celebrates Hannukah.

An enjoyable challenge..


Kasheri said...

Here is a question that reveals my profound ignorance: why is it called "Judaism"?

The thing that drew me to Methodism was the flexibility of the theology. It differs from church to church, of course, but most Methodist ministers whom I've met embrace the idea that there are many paths to grace. I have always liked religious faith but have found highly offensive and absurd the idea so often espouse of "we got it right, you've got it wrong. Therefore, you're going to hell, no matter what you do." That just makes no sense to me. I suppose it should not be surprising that I would gravitate toward an inclusive theology.

Theater of Ideas said...

It comes from "Judah" which was the name of the country in 1 BCE that is roughly equivalent to what we think of now as Israel. In fact, ancient Israel split in two, and the northern state continued to be called Israel while the southern one (which included Jerusalem) called itself Judah. It was called Judah because it founded by the Tribe of Judah (which was later joined by the tribe of Benjamin). These are the "found" tribes from which modern Jews descend, as opposed to the lost tribes of the North who were conquered and dispersed.