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...or so the story goes. Modern scholars consider that the historical truth of this may be that Antiochus intervened in an internal conflict between assimilated Jews in the cities and more conservative Jews in the countryside. The New York Times recently published an opinion piece to this effect, in which the author notes that he, an English-speaking American who eats pork occasionally, feels like the modern equivalent of a Hellenized Jew. I'm a Reform anti-Zionist non-kosher atheist and my father is a Presbyterian, so I myself often feel like a Hellenized Jew. Almost everyone feels like a "fake Jew" or "Jew... ish" every so often.
On the other hand, you can read the Hanukkah story as condemning those Jews who stood by or even assisted while a major empire engaged in persecution and oppression of other Jews. And this, too, is certainly still a conflict in our community - support for Trump has majorly divided the 29% of Jews who voted for him from the majority who see him as a threat to us. Allowing him to go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem was not only offensive to me politically but religiously - what is he if not a pig?
It's a complicated story with complicated effects, and nothing in it is black and white. This post has certainly gone on well beyond Discworld, but I thought it might be an interesting lens with which to look at the text.
Two thousand years back (plus a couple centuries), the land then known as Judea was conquered by the Seleucid Empire. You can think of the Seleucid Empire as basically Greek; it was vaguely descended from Alexander the Great's conquests, but Alexander the Great's inheritance problems could (and have) filled several books, so we'll skip over the fine details. This conquest had a lot of complicated cultural effects, one of which was some Jewish "Hellenization"; some Jews began to adopt elements of Greek culture, like the Greek language, style of dress, and things like gymnasiums and wrestling. Some of them also adopted the Greek gods. The parallels to a lot of patterns of assimilation here are obvious, as are those to Thud!; some of Pratchett's dwarfs, especially the younger ones, are beginning to act more Ankh-Morporkian.
In both Ankh-Morpork and Judea, this caused a lot of cultural tension. In Judea, the king, Antiochus, decided to crack down on Jewish life and worship to shore up his empire (he was worried about other things, like the Parthians and Rome, and it seemed like a good move at the time). The story in the book of 1 Maccabees goes that he forbade worship of the Jewish god, demanded all Jews worship the Greek pantheon, and set pigs on the Holy Temple. The story also says that there was resistance to this: when the Greeks arrested a woman and her seven sons and demanded they eat pork, they refused. The soldiers tortured each son to death, one by one, promising it would end if they just ate the pork, but none of them gave in - including the mother, who died last, after watching her sons die.
When soldiers tried to force one Jewish priest, Mattathias, to sacrifice to Zeus, he refused. Another Jew stepped forward to sacrifice to Zeus instead. Overcome with fury at what had happened to his people, Mattathias killed this Jew and declared rebellion against Antiochus. He and his sons were called the Maccabees, or, "the sledgehammers", and they led a popular revolt against the Greek occupation that would last for seven years. The parallel to Mattathias here, depending on how you read the Hanukkah story, might be to Ardent or Hamcrusher; Ardent, as noted, has the power to spark serious violence in this environment.
I have noticed more Christmas-celebraters actually at the movies with us in the past five or so years, though, which I can’t explain.
And then, one week into January, I shattered my ankle and used crutches until June.
It was a sharp awakening into what snow means practically! February was a Snowmageddon that year - people were literally skiing to work - and no one closed offices or the MTA, so I was required to hop around in the most unsafe conditions you can imagine.
But it was also, shockingly, one of the nicest experiences of my life. I don’t think a single day went by when someone didn’t ask me if I wanted help across a slippery intersection - old Russian ladies with enormous fur coats, young men with blue hair and makeup, other folks with canes or who were limping, tiny exchange students who barely spoke English. They would do this at rush hour! It blew every remaining illusion I had about New Yorkers being uncaring out of the water.
I remember one particularly rough day, when my hands were blistered and I could hardly touch my crutches and I sat down and sobbed in public, when the doorman of the building I was in came out to sit with me and comfort me. We’d never met before, but he found the number of a good taxi service for me, and told me everything would be all right, and when the taxi came he hugged me and said in the thickest Bronx accent, “You’re lucky you broke your ankle in New York. New Yorkers are tough.” I’d only lived in New York for half a year at that point, and I was very afraid to call myself a New Yorker, and it meant more than I could say to hear this total stranger see me sobbing in a lobby and take the opportunity to welcome me into the family.
I’ve been in the snow for about five years now, but it’s still pretty magical for me. Partially because it is a new and unusual treat, still, but also because it really does bring back some memories of hardship that I don’t want to forget.
Then the solar eclipse happened on Monday and I looked directly at it about five times. So that shows me.
My favorite food-related experience, though, was when I was waiting in line to grab falafel at a halal stand - I live in New York, so halal is more common than pretzels or hot dogs - and the guy standing in front of me, this ten-foot-tall blond kid with a face like Captain America, turns to me and goes, "So, like, what is falafel?"
Being in a hurry and also living in New York, I get suspicious, think "is this gonna be some kind of racist thing,", go, "It's... chickpeas."
"What are chickpeas?" he says. "Is that some kind of meat?"
Gradually I realize this child is serious. It comes out that he was born and raised in a tiny town in Montana, is a college freshman, has lived in New York all of a month. "I keep coming across weird foods," he says. "Like, at this dorm event they gave us this white stuff, and I thought it was meat, but it wasn't meat? It had some really weird name! I can't remember it now."
Tofu is not the only thing this kid has literally never heard of in his entire life. As far as I can grasp from our conversation, he has spent his life eating meatloaf, baked potatoes, and mushy carrots, seven days a week. I ask him if he has ever eaten Thai, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, halal, kosher, Chinese, Mexican?? "They had a Panda Express in my town," he says.
I reach up roughly seven feet, take him by the shoulders, and say, "I'm about to change your life."
I never saw him again, but if I have ever done a good deed in my life, good Lord.
Dorfl's holy day - the word "holiday" obviously comes from "holy day", through the Old English haligdæg, and the Jewish word for holiday is "yom tov" which also means "holy day" - means he can't work, and it starts at sunset. All Jewish holidays do, in fact, start at sunset! (There might be one that doesn't, but I am only a secular Jew who paid attention in Hebrew School and not a rabbi or scholar, and therefore I am not learned enough to know what it is if it exists.)
This is - or so I was told - because of the parts of Genesis that say "and there was evening, and there was morning, a first/second/third/etc. day". All days are considered to start at sunset and end at sunset. This means that if a certain Jew is fasting, or not using electricity, or something like that, they'll start that behavior when evening begins.
The idea that the day begins at sundown is something we have in common with Muslims! which is awesome. We calculate what counts as "sundown" slightly differently: for Jews it's when three stars are visible in the sky, and with Islam it depends on the sighting of the moon. Our modern conception of the new day "beginning" at midnight comes from the Romans, who considered midnight exactly halfway between sunset and sunrise. (I am wildly oversimplifying here. Timekeeping across the Roman Empire varied wildly; the Judeans and Athenians still held the new day to start at sunset, and even in Rome proper, timekeeping was a hot mess.) If anyone knows why Christianity dropped the Judean/Israelite timekeeping methods in favor of the Roman ones, let me know!
Biers also obviously works better as a metaphor for a gay bar - I have thought Angua's exact monologue in gay bars, and the "you... gravitate to it" is weirdly real, my God - and of course the "having a conversation with someone who doesn't realize you're XYZ" works for a large number of identities that aren't visible, or where you can pass as non-XYZ. I look very very stereotypically gay (on purpose, of course), and yet some folks are... very oblivious as to what I'm signalling; I don't look very Jewish, since I inherited my looks from my non-Jewish dad, and Hoo Boy have I had the "[anti-Semitism] [anti-Semitism]" "my guy, can you not" "UH, BUT YOU DON'T LOOK JEWISH" conversation.
The words in Father Tubulcek's mouth are, of course, gently analogous to words from the Torah (a.k.a. the Old Testament, a.k.a. the Pentateuch, a.k.a. the Five Books of Moses, a.k.a. That Thing You Know What It Is There's Too Many Names To Keep Them Straight). Baking the first people out of clay is both mildly Abrahamic (Genesis is a bit vague and self-contradictory, but there's implications that God is supposed to have made the first man and woman out of dirt) and mildly ancient-Greek - Prometheus did the same thing. "Thou shalt labor all the days of your life" sounds a bit like the part just after the first man and woman are kicked out of the Garden, "Thou shalt not kill" is obviously from the Ten Commandments, and I'm not sure about "Thou shalt be humble". (Very few people would describe the God of Moses as "very liberal, not big on commandments", which I think is pretty funny.)
Dorfl!!! All right, so: the German word for city is "Stadt", which is pronounced like "shtet". The German dimunitive (much like -ito or -ita in Spanish, or -ette in French), is -l; around the time Jews were first forming Yiddish out of bits of every language we could find in Eastern Europe and then some, like a curse-laden linguistic gefilte fish, Jewish towns started being called "shtetls", or "little cities." The German word for town is "Dorf"; "Dorfl" is thus a play on "shtetl". (It's possible that the Yiddish word for town is dorf, too, but I speak German and Yiddish has been lost in my family for a couple generations. Anybody know?)
Aaaand "NOW THREE HUNDRED DAYS ALREADY" is a classic Yiddish construction - "[sentence] already?!" is a classically Jewish speech pattern - gotta run to work bye!