There are certain renowned figures in history whose relationship with their Jewish heritage was so tenuous that they had no hesitation in accepting Christianity, but was strong enough that it shaped their lives. One such example is the renowned German poet, Heinrich Heine.
Many well-known Jewish songs are based on words from the Bible. While a vast majority of them are based on Tehillim (Psalms) one of the most famous is almost a direct quote from Genesis: Od Avinu Chai, “Our Father Still Lives.” In this song, however, an inferred meaning of the words is utilized, rather than the actual meaning in the Torah.
From lighting the Hanukkia to eating fried latkes and doughnuts, pretty much every Jewish school kid knows that Hanukkah celebrates the Maccabees’ improbable military triumph over the Greeks and the miraculous oil that burned in the Menorah for eight days instead of just one. But few children—or even adults—know that several scholars believe that some of the most beloved Hanukkah traditions are actually rooted in pagan and seasonal traditions.
Tonight we will light the final Chanukah candles. Let us take just a few more moments to make Chanukah real in our minds by placing it in its historical context:
Mattityahu (Mattathias): A High Priest descended from the Hasmonean line, Mattityahu lived in Modi’in with his five sons. Mattityahu started the rebellion against the Syrian-Greeks when he refused to sacrifice a pig to a Greek god and then slew the Jew who volunteered to do so.
While Jewish holidays are known for their food (except Yom Kippur, of course), most of these foods are not known for being particularly healthy. Chanukah is no exception. Forget matzah or apples, those are healthy in comparison–pull out your deep fryer, because Chanukah is a celebration of oil.
I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
With dreidel I shall play!
What does Noah’s son Yaphet have to do with the story of Chanukah and the mitzvah of circumcision?
“Rock of Ages let our song / Praise thy saving power / Thou amidst the raging foes / Wast our sheltering tower….” This is the first verse of Maoz Tzur as translated, loosely from the original Hebrew, by Marcus Jastrow and Gustav Gottheil in the late 1800s.
Last week, we looked at famous people often misidentified as Jews. Due to either a self-serving bias or a buy-in to modern Jewish stereotypes, we claim the likes of Stephen Colbert and Joy Behar as co-religionists. In the same vein, we are often surprised when we find out that famous people who lack that Jewish je ne sais quoi are, in fact, members of the tribe. These are the top celebrities that, believe it or not, are actually Jewish.