UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
Separation of Religion or Belief & State
THE HANUKKAH STORY
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Tolerance for Diversity of Religion
United Nations, Governments,
Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
The Hanukkah Story, by David Brooks, New York Times Op Ed, Friday 11
“They had no interest in religious
liberty within the Jewish community and believed religion was a collective
regimen, not an individual choice.” “The Maccabees heroically preserved the
Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a
self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the
struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and
article on the eve of Hanukkah is an example of the complexity and sensitivity
in the formation of a religion and an idealistic ‘what if’ human rights and
respect for diversity were around in 167 B.C. As this interpretation of Jewish
history points out the struggle then as now to honor freedom for religion or
belief goes on: surely one of the best
hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other
beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the
name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve
conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.
Human rights are individual rights. Article 18
Paragraph 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or
whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community
with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in
worship, observance, practices and teaching.
No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair
his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief may be
subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to
protect public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and
freedoms of others.
Comment 22 on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
December 11, 2009
By DAVID BROOKS
Tonight Jewish kids will light the menorah, spin their dreidels
and get their presents, but Hanukkah is the most adult of holidays. It
commemorates an event in which the good guys did horrible things, the bad guys
did good things and in which everybody is flummoxed by insoluble conflicts that
remain with us today. It’s a holiday that accurately reflects how politics is,
how history is, how life is.
It begins with the spread of Greek
culture. Alexander’s Empire, and the smaller empires that succeeded it, brought
modernizing ideas and institutions to the Middle East. At its best, Hellenistic
culture emphasized the power of reason and the importance of individual
conscience. It brought theaters, gymnasiums and debating societies to the
cities. It raised living standards, especially in places like Jerusalem.
Many Jewish reformers embraced these
improvements. The Greeks had one central idea: their aspirations to create an
advanced universal culture. And the Jews had their own central idea: the idea
of one true God. The reformers wanted to merge these two ideas.
Urbane Jews assimilated parts of Greek
culture into their own, taking Greek names like Jason, exercising in the
gymnasium and prospering within Greek institutions. Not all Jews assimilated.
Some resisted quietly. Others fled to the hills. But Jerusalem did well. The
Seleucid dynasty, which had political control over the area, was not merely
tolerant; it used imperial money to help promote the diverse religions within
In 167 B.C., however, the Seleucid king,
Antiochus IV, issued a series of decrees defiling the temple, confiscating
wealth and banning Jewish practice, under penalty of death. It’s unclear why he
did this. Some historians believe that extremist Jewish reformers were in
control and were hoping to wipe out what they saw as the primitive remnants of
their faith. Others believe Antiochus thought the Jews were disloyal fifth
columnists in his struggle against the Egyptians and, hence, was hoping to
assimilate them into his nation.
Regardless, those who refused to eat pork
were killed in an early case of pure religious martyrdom.
As Jeffrey Goldberg, who is writing a book
on this period, points out, the Jews were slow to revolt. The cultural pressure
on Jewish practice had been mounting; it was only when it hit an insane
political level that Jewish traditionalists took up arms. When they did, the
first person they killed was a fellow Jew.
In the town of Modin, a Jew who was
attempting to perform a sacrifice on a new Greek altar was slaughtered by
Mattathias, the old head of a priestly family. Mattathias’s five sons, led by
Judah Maccabee, then led an insurgent revolt against the regime.
The Jewish civil war raised questions: Who
is a Jew? Who gets to define the right level of observance? It also created a
spiritual crisis. This was not a battle between tribes. It was a battle between
theologies and threw up all sorts of issues about why bad things happen to
faithful believers and what happens in the afterlife — issues that would
reverberate in the region for centuries, to epic effect.
The Maccabees are best understood as moderate
fanatics. They were not in total revolt against Greek culture. They used Greek
constitutional language to explain themselves. They created a festival to
commemorate their triumph (which is part of Greek, not Jewish, culture). Before
long, they were electing their priests.
On the other hand, they were fighting
heroically for their traditions and the survival of their faith. If they found
uncircumcised Jews, they performed forced circumcisions. They had no interest in
religious liberty within the Jewish community and believed religion was a
collective regimen, not an individual choice.
They were not the last bunch of angry,
bearded religious guys to win an insurgency campaign against a great power in
the Middle East, but they may have been among the first. They retook Jerusalem
in 164 B.C. and rededicated the temple. Their regime quickly became corrupt,
brutal and reactionary. The concept of reform had been discredited by the
Hellenizing extremists. Practice stagnated. Scholarship withered. The Maccabees
became religious oppressors themselves, fatefully inviting the Romans into
Generations of Sunday school teachers have
turned Hanukkah into the story of unified Jewish bravery against an
anti-Semitic Hellenic empire. Settlers in the West Bank tell it as a story of
how the Jewish hard-core defeated the corrupt, assimilated Jewish masses.
Rabbis later added the lamp miracle to give God at least a bit part in the
But there is no erasing the complex
ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through
all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no
honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The
lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled
with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices.
Tandem Project is a non-governmental
organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and
respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to
freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple
conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the
right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations
Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination
Based on Religion or Belief.
The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative
Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions
and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not
tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are
raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and
Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the first Alliance of Civilizations
Madrid Forum; “Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for
constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities,
among cultures, among and between nations.”
1968 the UN deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Religious Intolerance because of the sensitivity and complexity of
reconciling a human rights treaty with dissonant worldviews and voices on
religion or belief. Instead, in 1981 the United Nations adopted a non-binding
Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of
Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief in support of Article 18: http://www.tandemproject.com/program/81_dec.htm.
of Religion or Belief and State reflects
the far-reaching scope of UN General Comment 22 on Article 18, International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1993, UN Human Rights Committee.
and genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief are
between people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the
right not to profess any religion or belief. It calls for open dialogue on:
awareness, understanding, acceptance; cooperation, competition, conflict;
respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse
rights protect freedom of religion or belief; religion or belief does not
always protect human rights. In this respect human rights trump religion to protect
individuals against all forms of discrimination on grounds of religion or
belief by the State, institutions, groups of persons and persons. After forty
years suffering, violence and conflict based on belief has increased in many
parts of the world. UN options may be to gradually reduce such
intolerance and discrimination or call for a new paradigm deferred since 1968.
it time for the UN to draft a legally binding International Convention on
Freedom of Religion or Belief: United Nations History –
Freedom of Religion or Belief.