President-elect Donald Trump in Fayetteville, N.C., on Dec. 6. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
In the months leading up to the recent election, numerous pundits expressed concerns about a Trump presidency, were he to win. Among the many reasons cited in support of these concerns was his fondness for a populist rhetorical style that, over the many months of the campaign, succeeded in mobilizing a dark corner of the electorate associated with racism and anti-Semitism.
As the election drew nearer, this concern morphed into personal accusations of racism and anti-Semitism against Donald Trump himself, undoubtedly part of a wider strategy to mobilize progressive forces to vote against him on Election Day. Even after Trump won the election, the anti-Semitism accusations continued, allegations that rose to a deafening crescendo when he appointed Breitbart supremo Steve Bannon to his White House team as chief strategist and senior counselor.
The denunciations of Trump and Bannon do not require my rebuttal. There have been numerous others who have adequately addressed these charges and repudiated them. The point I wish to address is the seemingly boundless anti-Trump enthusiasm of so many leaders and opinion-formers in the Jewish-American community, who confidently assert that to be pro-Trump amounts to a rejection of Jewish values. On Sept. 14, for example, an article by Daniel Kirzane, a Reform rabbi from Kansas, appeared in The Forward, with the headline “Why I’m a Jew Against Trump.” It began, “Never in the history of American politics has a man so antagonistic to Jewish values achieved as much acclaim as Donald Trump has.” Although Kirzane conceded that Trump is not an anti-Semite, this point was marginal to his thesis, which proclaimed that any political rhetoric amounting to incitement against minorities rendered the personal convictions of the person uttering them irrelevant, as anything that could be construed as the targeting of minority groups is the epitome of “un-Jewish.”
Besides for the fact that this is simply not true, it would seem that Kirzane and his ilk are eager for all of us to live in a minority dictatorship. The smaller the group, the more its views must be respected, even venerated. Mainstream values honed over centuries and millennia are of no concern, disposable and irrelevant to those who wish to accommodate minority interests in order to uphold an ideology they tell us is lofty and superior. The general public has become so accustomed to the arguments behind ubiquitous campaigns for the advancement of progressive ideals that many have either jumped aboard or been browbeaten into complicit silence. Those who have the audacity to swim against the tide are either vilified or accused of endangering the whole structure of democracy and freedom that progressives argue must be protected at all costs.
I could not disagree more. The moral relativism and unraveling of ethical standards advocated by the progressive left is a minefield posing a greater danger to democracy and freedom than any of us really understands. Although promoted as a natural evolutionary process, what we are witnessing unfold is a social experiment that undermines the very freedoms it purports to uphold.
The Chanukah story is usually presented as a Jewish war against the Greeks. The anti-hero Greek king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, is portrayed as a heartless dictator who imposed anti-Jewish decrees on Judea, and was ultimately overthrown in a revolt led by the Maccabean priestly family.
The truth is rather different. Two rival Jewish high priests, Jason and Menelaus, vied for Greek support by trying to outdo each other in their attempts to Hellenize Judaism and Jews, most of whom were hostile to these changes but who felt themselves powerless to counteract the hijacking of everything they held sacred by a political elite more interested in holding onto power than in the needs or interests of the majority.
In the end, despite the active support of a powerful Greek army, the Hellenizers were rooted out and the Jerusalem Temple was reclaimed by representatives of this previously voiceless traditional group, who immediately acted to reintroduce unadulterated Judaism to this holiest of shrines by finding and lighting the Temple menorah.
The Talmud recalls that the Maccabees found just one container of uncontaminated oil with which to light the menorah, and although the oil in the container should have lasted only for a single day, the lights miraculously burned for eight days, by which time a new batch of oil had been produced to use going forward. To commemorate this miracle, we observe Chanukah each year for eight days. Rabbi Joseph Caro, author of the definitive code of Jewish law “Shulchan Aruch,” points out that the miracle actually lasted for only seven days, as we know the oil they discovered was enough to last the first day. In which case, why do we celebrate Chanukah for eight days and not seven?
Hundreds of answers have been suggested in what has become a rabbinic sport. My own suggested answer is that the miracle of the first day was the victory of traditional Judaism over the overwhelming and seemingly unbeatable forces of modernization and progress that had eroded Judaism to such an extent that its most public representatives had become almost indistinguishable from the dominant Greek cultural influences of the era. The Maccabean family later evolved into the Hasmonean ruling dynasty and ultimately proved to be as problematic as the Hellenizers they had overthrown. Nevertheless, the victory of traditional Judaism over a progressive agenda endured and survived them, and all the vicissitudes faced by Jews in every subsequent period. That is a miracle truly worth celebrating on the first day of Chanukah.
The Trump presidency represents much more than the victory of a political novice over a deeply entrenched political establishment. It is nothing less than a counterrevolution of those wishing to press the reset button so that a “minorities agenda” is no longer the only voice heard in the corridors of power. So while not everyone feels comfortable celebrating the victory of Donald J. Trump, every traditional Jew should embrace the victory of traditional values over the corrosive progressive agenda that has dominated our lives for far too long.
Rabbi Pini Dunner is the senior rabbi at Young Israel of North Beverly Hills Synagogue.