"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chanukah: Absolute truth, not pluralism!

Due to the common coincidence of Chanukah and a certain other widely celebrated non-Jewish holiday, there is a tendency in secular circles to lump them together, and for Jews and non-Jews to cheerily wish one another “happy holiday.” Which holiday, you ask? Whichever holiday one happens to be celebrating around “holiday season.”

At first glance, this seems to be a positive practice. Isn’t it important to promote darkei shalom, “ways of peace,”[1] acceptance, and goodwill between the Jewish people and the gentile nations? 

 In a similar vein, the holiday of Chanukah is often presented to the world by well-meaning Jewish spokespeople as a holiday celebrating religious freedom from those who seek to impose their beliefs on others. They say the story of Chanukah goes like this: The Jewish people wanted to practice their religion, the ancient Greeks oppressed them and denied them their rights, so the Jewish people courageously revolted and won, recovering their right to religious freedom. So what then is the message of the lights of Chanukah? The celebration of the universal right to religious freedom, or, in modern terminology, pluralism. 

It is indeed necessary to seek creative and dynamic ways to pleasantly explain difficult concepts in Judaism, but it is unacceptable to water down the message in the process. In this case not only does the above presentation detract from the message, and not only is it is misleading, but it turns it on its head. 

Let it be said unambiguously: Chanukah has nothing to do with pluralism, and its message could not be more different. 

The Talmud states that the light of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) was “testimony to all the world’s inhabitants that the Divine Presence rests amongst the Jewish people.”[2] “From it [the Menorah] light goes forth to the world”[3] via the “windows that were wide and narrow.”[4] The windows of the Beis HaMikdash were narrow inside and broad outside, so that light could go forth from them to the world. Ultimately, this light reached the entire universe, for the nature of light is that as long as nothing intervenes (such as clouds or physical objects) the light spreads ever further without limitation, until the ends of the universe.[5] 

What was the message of this light that shone to all the nations, and that was restored when the Beis HaMikdash was miraculously recaptured by the Macabbees? It was the light of the Divine Presence, the holy light of G–d’s absolute Truth. This is the significance of the finding of the jar of pristine olive oil untouched by the Greeks, with the seal of the Kohen Gadol intact. This represents a level of pure, unadulterated truth, uncompromised and unaffected by foreign values. 

Any falsehood necessarily conflicts with this truth. Thus, although other religions contain certain elements of truth, which are elements that stem from Judaism (e.g., the concept of G–d’s oneness promoted by Islam, and the concept of the Moshiach promoted by Christianity[6]), since they also contain falsehoods, these religions are incompatible with Torah. For only Torah is the “Torah of truth”[7], the absolute truth, and the other religions are, well, poor imitations. 

 Indeed, it is necessary to respect all mankind since they are created “in the image of G–d,”[8] and to maintain peaceful relations with non-Jews on a collective and individual level. However, it is morally wrong to distort the truth in a vain bid to make Judaism more palatable to the secular mind. Pluralism is a secular value, one that maintains that all beliefs are equally acceptable and legitimate. This idea is of course pure nonsense, for two opposite beliefs cannot both be true.[9] 

The Torah rejects this fallacious philosophy and teaches that there exists absolute truth—the Torah—and everything else, which is a mixture of truth and falsehood; there exists absolute goodness—the Torah—and everything else, which is of a mixture of good and evil.[10]

Thus, the Torah does not teach that it is good and proper for non-Jews to follow other religions, or no religion, doing whatever they please as long as they don’t harm (or preach to) others, for those belief systems are predicated upon principles at odds with the divine doctrines of the Torah. 

 Rather, the Torah teaches that all mankind should be encouraged to recognize the One G–d of the Jewish people, and unite to follow the Noahide laws as prescribed in the Torah.[11] This is the true message of Chanukah to the world. Thus, the Rebbe encouraged[12] organizers of public Menorah lightings to take the opportunity to publicize the importance of adhering to the Noahide laws.

So let us set the record straight: In the time of the second Beis HaMikdash the Maccabees sought to serve the one true G–d, the path of absolute truth and goodness, rejecting all other religions and belief systems completely. The Greeks, who followed the evil lifestyle of hedonism and the false doctrine of paganism, sought to prevent this. However, with the help of Hashem the Jewish people fought courageously and won. Truth triumphed over falsehood, good over evil. So may it be for us, especially with the coming of Moshiach, who will reveal the absolute Truth of G–d to the entire world, and thereby automatically vanquish atheism, paganism, and all other non-Torah beliefs forever. 

[1] Gittin 61a. 
[2] Shabbos 22b. 
[3] Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachos, 4:5. 
[4] Divrei HaYamim 6:4. Menachos 86b. 
[5] Hisva’aduyos 5747, Vol. 3, pp. 491-492
[6] See Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 11:4, in the section removed by the censor. 
[7] Blessings on the Torah. 
[8] Bereishis 9:6. 
[9] Likewise, wishing “happy holiday”—and not specifying which—smacks of this pluralism. 
[10] The Rebbe related: “There is a famous story of the Rebbe, my father-in-law, that on one of his journeys several people were debating and expressing different opinions about the approach of Torah to the political philosophies, and with which one it is consistent. Each person pointed to a source in Torah for his philosophy. When they asked the opinion of the Rebbe, my father-in-law, he responded, ‘The Torah, since it is the ultimate truth and good, includes all the good aspects of all the other philosophies’” (Kuntres Inyanah Shel Toras HaChassidus p. 2). 
[11] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:10. 
[12] Hisva’aduyos, 5747, Vol. 2, p. 133.


  1. I always thought of the right to religious freedom as the right to practice your own religion - no matter how wrong it may be.

  2. Indeed, that is a correct understanding of the secular concept of religious freedom. My point in the post is that this idea has no basis in Judaism, and that it has no connection at all with Chanukah.

  3. Thank you Rabbi Oliver for the link to your article, which I highly encourage my readers to check out.

    Interesting how similar our titles were, both using the phrases "absolute truth" and "pluralism". I loved how you used explain Chanuka, contrary to popular understanding, has nothing to with pluralism. Ironic also is that the Maccabees are currently portrayed in some circles as these mighty soldiers fighting for Jewish nationalism, instead of the Torah scholars fighting for Hashem's Torah that they really were.


Thank you for your comment! :)