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..
17 hours ago