11 December 2020

‘Help us to overcome
the darkness of
prejudice and hatred’

A Menorah among items on display in the Monastiriotes Synagogue in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In my Friday evening prayers and reflections, I regularly draw on the Authorised Prayer Book, edited by the former Chief Rabbi, the late Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, and Service of the Heart, published over half a century ago in 1967 and prepared by Rabbi John Rayner and Rabbi Chaim Stern, who wrote or rewrote many of the prayers.

This evening is second night of Hanukkah, which began last night [10 December 2020] and continues until nightfall next Friday [18 December 2020].

Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה‬) commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.

The story of Hanukkah is one of resistance to hatred, prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism. It is a story that too many Christians are unaware of, both its narrative and its significance.

The theme of darkness and light is important in both Jewish and Christian traditions at this time of the year, and in the Jewish calendar, but is also a theme that resonates in a year of social and psychological darkness, swept in unexpectedly by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Service of the Heart, this reading is offered for the Sabbath in Hanukkah:

‘We thank you, O God, for the redeeming wonders and the mighty deeds with which you saved our fathers in days of old at this season.

‘In the days of the Hasmoneans, a tyrant nation rose up against our ancestors, determined to make them forget your Law, and to turn them away from obedience to your will. But in your abundant mercy, you stood at their side in their time of trouble. You gave them strength to struggle and to triumph, that they might serve you in freedom.

‘Through your spirit the weak defeated the strong, the few prevailed over the many, and the righteous were triumphant. Then did your children return to your house, to purify your sanctuary and kindle its lights. And they appointed these eight days of Dedication, to give thanks and praise to your great name.

‘Grant, O God, that the heroic example of the Maccabees may inspire us always to be loyal to our heritage and valiant for truth. May your holy spirit help us to overcome the darkness of prejudice and hatred, and spread the light of liberty and love.’

Shabbat Shalom

Hanukkah Sameach

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