Why I’m Tired of Chanuka Speeches Against Greek / Secular Culture


I love Chanuka. It’s a great time for family with a rich history teaching a multitude of lessons for people of all ages. The lights, songs, prayers and foods really enhance the holiday.

The above said, one thing that bothers me is how, year in and year out, Rabbis of the Haredi sector teach how Chanuka is meant to show that Jews need to turn away from Greek/secular culture. They more or less maintain that we need to focus on cultural aspects that are uniquely Jewish and not of other nations.

My issues with that are:

1. Culture-wise, there’s nothing “Jewish.” When one looks into it, practically everything is taken from non-Jews, including style of dress, music, and food. What makes it “Jewish” is being retro between 30-300 years in the aformentioned aspect, and maybe adding a little twist to make it a little different.
2. Chazal, the biggest Rabbis who ever lived, enjoyed warm relationships with Greek philosophers.
3. The second Beis Hamikdash, renovated by Herod, actually may have looked closer to a Greek temple in design and less like what the Temple Institute shows. What did Chazal say? That he who didn’t see the Temple post-renovation never saw beauty in his life (Maseches Sukkah 51b).
4. In the Mishna/Gemara every other word for an item, as well as every other “Jewish” name, is Greek.

how the temple may have looked

Therefore, turning away from Greek culture can’t be it. What’s interesting to note is that the full immersion into Greek culture became the end itself rather than as a means to an end in terms of serving Hashem. It appears that when the Greeks made decrees against Torah, Bris Milah, etc. that this was what the Jews were really fighting against. They were fighting against not being allowed to serve Hashem, as well as using Greek culture as a means against Hashem and not for it.

Therefore, I’m tired of this type of Chanuka speech teaching essentially an exercise in futility. Everything is foreign. The question is whether or not we use it towards Hashem’s service or not, with some exceptions as pointed out in Maseches Avodah Zara. Once we serve Hashem will the “light” truly shine in all of us.

Happy Chanukah!