Today we are all Ultra-Orthodox

Thursday, 29 November, 2018 - 2:07 pm

I generally dislike using the arbitrary labels that are applied to describe Jews. I have little use for terms such as Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Modern-Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Reconformodox… need I go on? In fact when people ask me if I am Ultra-Orthodox I often reply, “No, I am industrial strength Orthodox.”

Now I understand that the labels are used to differentiate between ideologies… but people, not so much. However, in the spirit of the colloquial usage of those terms, I present the following.

The Talmud, when discussing the method for observing the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights, offers the following. “The Sages taught…: The basic mitzvah of Chanukah is a candle for each home, every day. The mehadrin, (those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvot,) kindle a daily light for each member of the household. The mehadrin min hamehadrin, (those who are even more meticulous,) adjust the number of lights daily. Beit Shammai say: On the first day one kindles eight lights and, from there on, gradually decreases the number of lights. And Beit Hillel say: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases the number of lights.”

Now if we took a survey among the millions of Jews who observe Chanukah, we would hard pressed to identify even one who follows the basic, or even the meticulous, method of lighting the candles. On Chanukah all Jews become “industrial strength-Orthodox” performing the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights in the mehadrin-min-hamehadrin (highest possible) way.

This could the subject of a fascinating anthropological study of Jewish holiday observance… but I would like to offer the Chassidic explanation for this phenomenon. The core of the story is the Hellenist attempt to get the Jews to dilute the devotion to their religion. Study and practice, but don’t go overboard. Stick with the logical part and discard the rest. When persuasion didn’t work they resorted to violence. When attacking the Temple, they specifically targeted the pure oil, as it represented everything they didn’t appreciate about Judaism – a supra-rational devotion to G-d and His commandments. That is why the miracle revolved around the pure oil. The Maccabees demonstrated an “industrial strength” devotion to G-d by insisting on kindling only pure oil and G-d reciprocated with a miracle in kind.

So it all makes sense. When we celebrate Chanukah, the miracle of oil and the dedication of the Maccabees, of course we go all out and do it the most ideal way. That’s what they did; and that’s what G-d did in return.

Wishing you all a bright and joyous Chanukah. Look forward to seeing you all at the Riverwalk on Sunday at 4 pm.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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