As I noted earlier on this blog, atheist firebrand Christopher Hitchens finds Hanukkah wholly objectionable, whether it’s the miracle or the Maccabees’ Hasmonean dynasty. The JTA’s Ami Eden takes him to task for lumping the two aspects of the holiday together:
By emphasizing the miracle of the oil, the rabbis in the Talmud were essentially attempting to write the Hasmonean rulers that Hitchens so detests out of the story. Yes, the rabbis’ narrative is still an anti-Greek one, but even from Hitchens’ perspective, this shift in emphasis should be seen as progress.
Over on Jewcy, cartoonist par excellence, Eli Valley, and his iconoclastic collaborator, David Kelsey, offer their own comic take on Hanukkah, combining the acid assessment of Hitchens with Eden’s nuance.
A word of praise for an oft-overlooked genre: the newspaper illustration. This past Sunday’s New York Times Book Review offered the Jewishly minded reader two especially good examples of the art — drawings that with a few quick brushstrokes manage to capture their subject’s essence.
The first, accompanying Christopher Hitchens’s new book, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” came in the form of an ashtray with stubbed-out cigarettes forming the symbols of the three great monotheistic religions: the cross, the crescent and the Star of David. Now for those who don’t know, Hitchens is a proud and heavy smoker who wrote with passion against the cigarette ban instituted in New York by Mike Bloomberg some years ago. And so, in artist Christoph Niemann’s relatively simple picture you have conveyed three quite complicated concepts — Hitchens, religion and a good measure of disgust.
The second image was better still. Alongside a review of “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” — novelist Michael Chabon’s counter-history in which Israel does not become the Jewish homeland and Alaska does — an artist who goes simply by the name Max offers a Tlinkit totem pole topped by a shtreimel-wearing Hasid. It’s a delicious contrast. But then you start thinking, a fur shtreimel in Alaska kind of makes sense. It’s certainly better suited to the Alaskan climate than it is to the weather in, say, Williamsburg or Jerusalem.
One quibble: The Lubavitchers, the sect on whom the novel’s Verbover Hasidim are quite clearly modeled, happen to be among those Hasidim who don’t wear shtreimels.
A second quibble: The shtreimel in the picture bears a striking resemblance to an all-season radial. Then again, given Alaska’s unforgiving terrain, you never know when you might need a spare.