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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What? You expected a Kwanzaa quote? 

Quote of the day, from DadTalk:

[M]ost of you know that a Dreidel is a spinning top used to celebrate Hanukkah....It’s a nice gateway toy for teaching your kids how to gamble.

Takahiro delves into this aspect of the celebration, ignoring everything else about Hanukkah:

now since i used to be a super jew, i prob know more about the dreidel than most....There are four letters on each side of the dreidel, which form an acronym in hebrew that stands for 'a great miracle happened there' or if you are in israel, 'a great miracle happened HERE' that miracle? well, the jews (macabes) defeated the greeks or something, its not important. there was also some oil that lasted for 8 days, also not so important. now that we know the history, let's get to the gambling.

Or let's not. Incidentally, I found this hilarious parody of the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" story:

“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there was no Judah Maccabee and that Chanukah is a load of crap. Papa says, ‘If you see it in Blog d’Elisson, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, was there a Judah Maccabee?” - Patty O’Furniture

Patty, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All they care about is that fat red-suited guy who schleps presents to Yenemvelt and back. All minds, Patty, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, goornisht, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Patty, there was a Judah Maccabee.

He existed as certainly as dedication and courage and devotion exist. He kicked some serious ass back in the day, Judah did, throwing the Greco-Syrians out of Judea and reclaiming the holy Temple. His struggle was a struggle against assimilation, against those who would be seduced by the pop culture of the day. He fought his battles so that we Jews would retain our cultural identity and not be swallowed up in the prevailing pagan mainstream. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there had been no Judah Maccabee! It would be as dreary as if there were no Pattys. (Or furniture.) There would be no candle-lighting then, no singing Ma-oz Tzur (or even those stupid dreidel songs), no commemoration of the miraculous rededication of the Temple. No Judah? We would even today be schmearing ourselves with olive oil and burning pig hearts as sacrifices to Zeus. And our Christian friends would have no Christmas - for the culture that gave rise to Jesus would have been wiped out. The eternal light - the ner tamid - with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished....[continued]

From another source, here's a bit more on Antiochus IV (the ruler against whom the Maccabeans rebelled):

According to the account of 1 Maccabees, the High Priests at Jerusalem appointed by Antiochus were involved in systematically changing the traditions of the Jews that were based on the laws of Moses, to make them conform to Greek beliefs. A gymnasium was constructed in Jerusalem, and instead of learning their ancient law, the priests engaged in wrestling contests in the Greek fashion, which meant they were naked. Those who were circumcised endeavoured to conceal it....

And here's more:

When he came to power, Antiochus IV soon proved himself to be no friend of the Jews. He mounted an effort to destroy them and all worship of the true God. He had any Jew who would not worship the Greek idols put to death. Praying to God, or observing the Sabbath according to The Fourth of The Ten Commandments were also capital offenses. Mothers found with circumcised infants, according to Jewish law, were killed along with the child. He had many scrolls of the Holy Scriptures burned, although many were very likely saved by being hidden out in the wilderness in a manner similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The greatest outrage committed by Antiochus IV occurred in 167 B.C. when he entered the Temple...in Jerusalem, erected an altar to the pagan god Zeus, and sacrificed a pig on it. That desecration, dated as the 25th of Kislev according to the Bible Calendar, triggered the Maccabean Revolt by the Hasmoneans....Their eventual victory and cleansing of the Temple is still commemorated by Jews today by the annual Festival of Hanukkah.

According to Jewish tradition, at the time of that rededication there was not enough undefiled oil available for the Menorah in the Temple, which was supposed to burn continuously each night. Nevertheless, the single day's supply of oil that remained burned miraculously for eight days, until a fresh supply became available. The eight-day festival was begun in commemoration of the miracle, and has continued right to the present time.

So where did the dreidel originate? Ironically, it was known in ancient Greece (_sn't _t _r_n_c, d_n't y__ th_nk?):

Both dreidel and grogger are traditional European toys, although the names they go by in non-Jewish cultures are quite different from the ones we use.

The English (and Latin) name for the dreidel is teetotum -- and you can look up its history in the Oxford English Dictionary. It turns out to be an ancient gambling toy, known in ancient Greece, and with national variations on the letters on the faces of the toy....

Although the fact that the Dreidel goes back to Greek times makes it possible that it was known in the Hashemonean kingdom, the fact that the Hebrew letters on the sides make a mnemonic that fits the pattern described above when used as initial letters of Yiddish words suggests that the dreidel entered Jewish culture through the Yiddish speaking Ashkenazi and is not of ancient origin....

In the Jewish world, according to Schauss's guide to Jewish Holy Days, the playing card fad of the middle ages led the rabbis issuing a series of edicts condemning excessive gambling. They didn't ban the dreidel, though, perhaps because the "A great miracle happened there" interpretation of the letters allowed the dreidel to escape their wrath....

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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