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ULC Holidays: Green Hanukkah

candles, tree, ULC, Jew, Judaism, menorah

The shape of the menorah as a tree captures the blending of Jewish tradition with modern environmentalism

Few holidays shine as bright in the December season as the Jewish festival of lights, Hanukah. But through the celebration and tradition lies a new set of interpretations surrounding the story of Hanukah. One is that of environmental awareness and conservation, which those who seek to become a rabbi or to be ordained through ULC, must attempt to understand.

The first version of the miracle of Hanukah was told as part of the Talmud, a collection of Jewish traditions and laws, in the book of Maccabees. Everything from the Jewish revolt against King Antiochus IV and the one day’s supply of olive oil that lasted for eight days originates from the Talmud, written almost 600 years after the event itself. What’s interesting is that the Talmud, in its list of Hanukah traditions includes proper use and conservation of oil for the Menorah. The only reason given is both as a remembrance for the miracle of Hanukah and to set an example for what is expected from each Jewish family.

One of the traditions of Hanukah is a reading of a section from the book of Zechariah, chapter four, is read out load. The story is a vision before an angel of the Lord of a Menorah with seven lamps in between two olive trees. The traditional interpretation was that the prophet Zechariah foresaw a truce between the Jewish leader Zerubbavel and the high priest Yehoshua in order to rebuild the temple after the Babylonian exile. However, it is important to note that olive oil was used to light the fire of the Menorah. The bigger significance is that this truce beyond temple and state is built on sustainability; as long as the trees still stand, there will be oil for the Menorah. Once the trees are cut down for cheap fuel, the power of the fire is lost forever.

What’s often lost in the retelling of the story of Hanukah is the revolt itself against Greek King of Syria who attempted to impose foreign customs and laws on the Jewish community in the name of reason and civilization. In much the same way, oil and coal companies wish to convince local communities that not only is drilling and mining safe, but the only real option for energy independence. From the events of the gulf coast and mining disasters in the Appalachian regions shows how helpless local populations can be in the face of corporate carelessness and need to destroy natural resources in the name of gaining profits. For the Jews of the 2nd century BCE, the only option was rebellion in order to maintain their way of life. For our world today, a strong message needs to be sent to the energy companies; that the depletion of our resources is intolerable.

Hanukah has always been the story of what can be accomplished when a group of people effectively utilize what resources are available instead of squandering that fuel. As someone who wishes to become a rabbi or be ordained through the ULC, Hanukah can be used to send a message of personal responsibility to the environment and making our precious few resources last for generations to come.

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