Links for Superhero Hellenists

In issue two of Foreskin Man, the superhero takes on Monster Mohel. (Foreskin Man)

“Bye Bye Boobies” parties gain ground. (Jewish Woman Magazine)

Israel’s greatest natural resource: their sewage. There is plenty of good drinking water to be drunk from Israeli sewage water. (CNN)

Star of David built atop Iran Air headquarters is finally noticed and slated for removal. (Gizmodo)

Jerusalem and Islamabad share Intel. (JPOST)

Photos from the Sephardic Music Festival (so far). (Flickr)

The Reform attempt to paper over the harshest criticisms of Chanukah. (RJ)

What do you think?

About The Author

Bernard Mendelbaum

Bernard Mendelbaum is a retired insurance policy man from Rye, New York.

9 Responses

  1. Laurence Kaufman

    One would expect Heeb to be sophisticated enough to recognize that, on any multi-poster blog, the opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsor. Thus your positioning Dr. Berkson’s reasoned analysis of Chanuka as “The Reform attempt to paper over the harshest criticisms…” is misleading, not say ignorant.

    The Reform approach to Chanuka is thoroughly detailed at

    Assigning modern relevance and placing events in both historic and contemporary context is totally consistent and compatible with Reform’s approach to Judaism, and hardly represents a papering over. To so label it says much more about Heeb’s own posturing than it does about Reform Judaism.

  2. William Berkson

    My essay is not “the Reform” attempt but my own effort to understand the meanings of Chanukah. The cartoon you link to follows to me the cheap path of sneering at the bad in the story, of which there is plenty, and ignoring the good. It is a complex story, and a challenge to us today. The cartoon treatment doesn’t cut it. If you want to engage the issue, come on I’ll answer.

  3. Bernard Mendelbaum
    Bernard Mendelbaum

    William Berkson,

    Thanks to you and Laurence Kaufman for your comments.

    William Berkson, My issue with your essay includes this statement:

    So at this point Mattathias and his sons and their followers were not fighting about the niceties of how much of Greek thought to adopt. They were fighting about whether they would have any choice at all.

    Perhaps at this point, perhaps not. But certainly just a little later, the Hasmoneans were anything except about “choice.” They were about religious “choice” the way Westboro Baptist is about a woman’s right to choose abortion. Forcibly converting and circumcising isn’t really about “choosing Judaism,” at least not to our pampered western ears.

    I doubt choice ever had anything to do with their motivation. Agreed?

    Politically, the Hasmonean grab for the monarchy in addition to the priesthood wasn’t addressed in your essay, but that is a significant problem, because though the Jews were not democratic, prior to the Hasmoneans, they did have a division of power. This balance of power was destroyed by the rapacious Hasmoneans.

    This isn’t to say that nothing can or should be celebrated about the holiday, and certainly, the Reform deserve credit for not pushing that eight-day miracle oil story.

    Or do they? Do Liberal Christians get credit for writing an essay noting that belief in Santa Claus is not, in fact, mandated for the celebration of Christmas?

  4. William Berkson

    Bernard, thanks for your reply.

    Your comments conflate the issue of the actions of the Hasmonean Kings with the successful rebellion by Mattityahu and his sons. The Pharisees, who became the Rabbinic sages after the fall of the Temple, often were persecuted by the Hasmonean Kings, and they had no love lost for them. They specifically excluded the books of Maccabees from the canon of the Tanakh, so that Chanukah is deliberately NOT about the Hasmonean kings. Much of this recent discussion, including your comment does not recognize that the Tannaim were much closer to the events and well aware of the failings of the Hasmoneans, and were very careful about what they wanted to celebrate, and what not. The only “official” account of the meaning of Chanukah is in the “al nissim” prayer in the Tanakh. It is restricted to the victory in the war against the “wicked Greek kingdom” who “rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and to force them to transgress the statutes of Your will.” And God is thanked for the delivery of “the arrogant into the hands of those who were engaged in the study of Your Torah.”

    In my opinion, what the Al Nissim prayer says is accurate as far as it goes, but does not tell the whole story. You can fault the Sages for suppressing the history: the civil strife over assimilation that preceded the deeds of the corrupt high priests, and the rotten actions of the Hasmonean Kings. But you cannot fairly fault them for celebrating these things: these are precisely what they did NOT want to celebrate, and did NOT want to have as the “meaning of Chanukah”. Prayer is restricted to the victory over those who would suppress the Torah, and the purification and re-dedication of the Temple. It most notably avoids any celebration of the establishment of the Hasmonean kingdom.

    If you read it carefully, it does not even praise Mattityahu and his sons, but praised God for what He did in “those days.”

    So my complaint about the current smearing of Chanukah is that it fails to understand why the Sages wanted to celebrate Chanukah—and what they didn’t want to celebrate.

  5. Bernard Mendelbaum
    Bernard Mendelbaum

    William Berkson, you wrote,

    The Pharisees, who became the Rabbinic sages after the fall of the Temple, often were persecuted by the Hasmonean Kings, and they had no love lost for them.

    Right, so why did you write, “But in spite of this, reform and scholarship thrived, carried on by the Pharisees, a party under the Hasmonean Kings.”

    My main Chanukah issues with the sages is for inserting that bogus miracle oil story, and suppression of history, yes.

    In terms of the contemporary smearing of Chanukah, I don’t think the target is what the sages “didn’t want to celebrate,” but what the masses do celebrate as if it were fact.

  6. William Berkson

    Bernard, now we’re more on the same page. I also have a problem with the oil story, but it’s not part of the official celebration, meaning the prayers to be said at Chanukah. The oil story is not in the Mishnah, but in the Gemara, Shabbat 21b, where it is not attributed to any particular Rabbi. I read in the Wikipedia article on the Talmud that comments without attribution are held by modern scholars to be post 500 CE, which is to say it is a late legend. So it is not due to the sages who worked under the Hasmoneans, such as Hillel, nor the post-Temple Tannaim who created Judaism as we know it.

    It is evident that there is a long history of contention over the meaning of Chanukah. But to be fair neither the al nissim prayer nor the oil legend celebrate the character of either the warriors or the later Hasmonean kings. Nor, incidentally do they condemn Greek wisdom, which the sages in fact acknowledge. So we can say that the history of the event itself and the history of the celebration are complex, but the current dismissals of it as celebrating fanaticism or bad monarchs get it wrong in any case—and that is what my comment over at was about.

    Thanks for your stimulating comments. And Happy Chanukah!

  7. William Berkson

    Reading the above I caught a mistake. I wrote the “al nissim prayer in the Tanakh” That should have been, of course the “al nissim prayer in the siddur”, the prayer book.

  8. Frank McGinness

    Now Foreskin Man vol.2 is out. Of course circumcision in the USA has lost all identity of being Jewish. It is an American meme passing out of favor for what America stands for -equality; equal protection; right to self; freedom of religion not to be forced by marking the body.
    Here’s to getting on the ballot in San Francisco so the voters can speak their mind. Voters who less that 10% circumcise. Don’t cut girls, don’t cut boys- it’s simple.

  9. Laurence Kaufman

    Mr. McGinness’s comment ought to be removed, as irrelevant to the discussion at hand.


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