I have never been a fan of Lubavitch’s drive to put up giant Menorahs in the public square. It is usually done where one finds a giant Christmas tree. I’ve always felt that it was a bit self serving and besides the point of Chanukah to do so.
Pirsumei Nissa (spreading the story of the Miracle which took place on Chanukah) is one of the prime characteristics of the holiday of Chanukah. And Lubavitch uses this rationale for putting up these giant Menorahs. But is it really Pirsumei Nissa? I’m not so sure. Our such our sages gave us specific instructions how to go about that. And it was codified in Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch. No where does it say that we are obligated to put ourselves on display alongside Christmas.
Yet this has been the policy of Lubavitch for as far back as I can remember. There it is: Two symbols of two religions standing side by side in common bond. We are all brothers. Is that what Chanukah is all about? I don’t think so. (Of course Lubavitch wouldn't say so either but that is kind of the impression one gets from these displays)
Chanukah is about the Nes Nister which was victory of the Chashmanaim (The Maccabees) over a superior occupying army… enemies who tried to destroy our religion. It is about the Nes Nigleh of the Pach Shemen (the cruise of pure oil) that lasted for eight days instead of only one. Eight days is the time it had then taken to process more pure oil. It has absolutely nothing to do with brotherhood or Christmas trees. What exactly is being said about Chanukah by making sure that where ever there is a Christmas tree, there is a Chanukah Menorah? But that is what Lubavitch does. I do not see any real value in it. Instead I see problems.
And nowhere was that demonstrated more than in SeaTac International Airport operated by the Port of Seattle this week. In an effort to push Lubavitch’s policy of putting Menorahs wherever one finds Christmas trees, Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, the Lubavitch Shaliach in Seattle had threatened to sue the airport for refusing to allow a huge Menorah to be put next to their tree. What this has done is open up an avenue for good people, American Christians to think ill of the Jewish people. “Why are these Jews trying to take away our Christmas symbols?” “Where is their holiday spirit?”
From an article (one of many) on the subject:
“Bogomilsky threatened to drag Port of Seattle officials into the nearest courthouse where it is definitely unconstitutional to display religious symbols. …The decision to remove all the airport’s Christmas trees rather than fight Bogomilsky’s lawsuit or give in to his demands led to a protest by other airport workers and to an international news story.”
Do we really need to read items like this in the media?
What purpose does it serve for this young rabbi to threaten the good people of Seattle with a law suit? What will he accomplish? He certainly does not generate any good will. Credit must be given to the citizens of Seattle for the enormous restraint they showed in not attacking this rabbi, Jews in general, or Judaism. They mostly showed disappointment. This is a real tribute to the low level of real anti-Semitism that exists in this country.
But this rabbi risked exacerbating it with his lawsuit. Is a big Menorah display really worth all the negative publicity generated by such a threat? I don’t think so. He has withdrawn the hreatened lawsuit and the Seattle airport has re-installed their trees. And they promised to be more ecumenical in the future. But was all this worth the bad vibes he generated? Absolutely not. He had to know that he was going to generate ill will but that did not stop him. Of course as soon as the publicity became too negative he withdrew the lawsuit. But it was very self serving of him to begin with to even consider it let alone threaten it.
It has long been the contention by civil libertarians that Church-State issues should prevent any religious symbls from being displayed on public property. I tend to agree with them in principle although one could argue that a tree has absolutely no religious value what so ever to any Christian denomination including the Catholic church. But even if it does, what harm does it do to Judaism if we let them have their tree?
Let them have their tree. And let us have Chanukah and celebrate it the way we are supposed to, not by grandstanding and making spectacles of it with large Menorahs in the public square. Rabbi Bogmilsky and all of Lubavicth would do well to abandon this entire custom of erecting giant public menorahs next to Chrstmas trees. Instead of that they should be encouraging lighting it the way one is supposed to, in the home, by a window the way the Shuchan Aruch tells us to. And maybe another incident like this can be avoided in the future.