I was delighted to see the video of our Vice-President Elect and her husband offering a Chanukah message. I was struck by their warmth, and also by their interpretation of the festival's meaning. I was pleased that they avoided the oversimplifications and historical inaccuracies often heard in public remarks about Chanukah, and instead shared what the holiday means to them. You might want to watch it now and then read the rest of my note:
VP Elect Harris says, "I love Hanukkah because it really is about the light, and bringing light where there has been darkness." And then she associates that light-bringing with Tikkun Olam, which she interprets as fighting for justice and the dignity of all people. With this interpretation our VP-Elect is closely aligned with the great majority of American Jews for whom Tikkun Olam is a core value and a key component of their Jewish identity.
But it's important to understand that our tight focus on Tikkun Olam is part of the vibrant, modern, very American branch on the great, living tree we call Judaism. Over thousands of years of history, Jewish communities all over the world developed their own distinctive concerns and cultural constructs, which they saw as rooted in Biblical precedents; we associate Tikkun Olam with the stirring messages of the Hebrew prophets, though the term never appears in the prophetic writings. As scholar David Biale observes, "Every generation weaves its image of the past out of the cloth of its present." (Cultures of the Jews: A New History, page xxix)
What I want to emphasize here is that the Harris-Emhoff Hanukkah message is appropriate, heartfelt and meaningful in a uniquely Jewish-American way. The message may not resonate so well for Jews in other parts of the world, but that's alright. We need to accept and celebrate that our texts and traditions are always open to interpretation. That's what makes Torah an Eytz Chayim, a Tree of Life.
I warmly recommend this fascinating article: The Place of Tikkun Olam in American Jewish Life
It's long! A thorough reading is worth the time, but you could also read the first three sections, skim the rest and go to the conclusion.
Chag Hannukah Sameach!