the Bar Kokhba revolt is not only a
great piece of Jewish military history it’s also a lens on life in contemporary
Israel so first a quick review about 60 years after the Romans took over
Jerusalem and destroyed the temple a faction of the Jewish people supported
violent resistance and Bar Kokhba led them in a guerilla uprising despite an
overwhelming of hosing military force they triumphed and re-established Jewish
self-rule Bar Kokhba was heralded by some including the giant Rabbi Akiva as
a messiah who would make the Jewish people independent again and he was
reviled by other Jews who considered this whole revolt crazy folly this was
an inspiring tale when the modern State of Israel was founded were scrappy
survivors beleaguered by surrounding enemies and it is our destiny to
overcome the odds Bar Kokhba incorporated Jewish symbols and language
into this rule and inspiration for Zionist leaders to do the same this was
just a nationalism for a collection of people who happened to be Jewish it was
a Jewish state that incorporated all sorts of Jewish symbols like putting a
lulav and a tug on the coins for instance that was very useful for early
modern Israelis they weren’t building a Russian or Yiddish speaking state it was
a Hebrew speaking Jewish State Bar Kokhba worked as a Zionist icon setting
this precedent and while the Bar Kokhba rebellion was romanticized by Israelis
for a long time in truth it was a total catastrophe for the Jewish people the
first jewish-roman war was bad for the Jews but the rebellion was far worse the
revolt was initially successful but after two and a half years of Jewish
rule Rome returned with a vengeance killed ruthlessly paved over Jerusalem
insult and exiled nearly all of the Jews it was the end of Jewish sovereignty for
nearly 2,000 years the rabbi’s of the Talmud Bhum owned the revolt and its
horrific consequences the blood ran so thick and deep that it was up to a
horse’s nostril in blood their writing has a feeling of if we had
just let go of this nationalistic fantasy the death and sustained exile
never would have happened here’s the paradox of how Zionism relates to
religious Jewish history it sees itself as continuous with these stories but in
some cases it rejects their lessons so the fact that Israelis would claim Bar
Kokhba as a great Last Story of Jewish nationalism
even though religious tradition was like our cook beau was terrible and created
all these problems it makes total sense because they’re embracing the heroic
element of the story while ignoring the religious ramifications in fact in the
1980s Israeli intellectuals started questioning the use of this story as
inspiration when we follow messianic figures into actual political
consequences they said it ends badly this isn’t the only time Zionism took
the part of a story that worked and left the religious piece out for instance
there was a fascinating tiny group the 1940s Canaanite movement that claimed
ownership to the Land of Israel while rejecting nearly all of the religious
traditions or a bigger example Chanukah for most of history rabbinic judaism
de-emphasized the military side of it and made it much more about the
religious miracles of you know we found enough oil to light the temple and the
larger idea of light in the darkest time of the year and the spiritual aspect of
God providing miracles it wasn’t until contemporary Israel that
the military side of the Hanukkah story starts being revived as the main
emphasis tsiyon has encountered a religious holiday and made it a holiday
of heroism about a small number of people who defeat the enemy
people who live like me talk like me are fighting against an evil invader
yeah okay I can connect to that Israeli children’s Konica music leans toward
military marching songs and if you can trust that to the sweet spirituality of
Hanukkah in America it’s extraordinary what’s happened in different Jewish
cultures is that we mold our holidays based on our political realities
we live Jewish lives filtered through the lens of what’s happening today and
there are two different today’s one in Israel and one in America
seeing how Judaism is different over there
invites you to think about how your experience of Jewish holidays and
history has been shaped by what’s going on here one last example Israelis like
huge bonfires on log filmer in part to celebrate the victories of Bar Kokhba
yet Americans hardly know this holiday exists we are shaped by our surroundings
and whether we realize it or not religion even its history
continues to be shaped as well