Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hanukkah Feedback

Before I posted “Achieving Hanukkah” (see Sunday, December 25), I wrote to Leigh Lerner for some historical checking. My oldest friend, he’s also a Rabbi in Canada. The rest of this post is his.

“Please excuse the slow response. We just returned from Israel last night on a flight plan which could only be described as anti-Semitic. (Hotel wake-up, 12:30 AM, leave hotel 1:30 AM, leave Ben Gurion 5:30 AM, arrive Zurich 9 for 4-hour layover, arrive home with luggage in hand at 5:30 PM, precisely 24 hours after the wake-up call.)

“It was so punishing that I now believe all my sins are forgiven for the year to date, so I plan to shorten Yom Kippur services by 25%.

“Weather department: on our visit to Masada, it rained. I’ve got shots of rainbows taken from its heights (see above). The place averages 40mm a year.

“My math on Alexander’s date agrees with yours, 3429. The ‘since creation’ dating system is a product of medieval scholarship, however. It’s usually listed as (e.g.) 5766 A.M., anno mundi.

“Your question brings up a very little-known fact: Alexander himself is the reason for a certain Jewish dating system, minyan ha-shtarot, the dating for documents: Not the arrival of Alexander in Israel, but the control of it by his general Seleucus, progenitor of the Seleucid dynasty centered in Syria and Babylonia, was taken as Year 1 for this dating system, which is 312 BCE. There are still Jewish communities which date all their documents, like Jewish marriages and divorces, by this system. For an interesting reference which concerns the Jews of India, see

“Back to Israel: there’s so much new in the state that it’s dizzying. Hanukkah’s town, Modi’in, is probably Israel’s 5th largest city now, soon to pass Be’ersheva. It’s right between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on the freeway, and a fast train is going in that reaches them both, so many secular Jews are leaving Jerusalem to live there (it’s only about 22 miles away, and you can see Tel Aviv on the far horizon). Couples who have one spouse working in T.A., and one in Jerusalem, live there, too. Last time we visited, 10 years ago, Modi’in did not exist as a city.

“We walked the entire length of the Western Wall, thanks to a tunnel that was dug alongside it. This is the tunnel the Palestinians claim goes under the Temple mount, violating their territory. I can testify that it does not go under the Temple mount. You can see Herod’s stones the entire length of the way. We had one fellow with claustrophobia who barely got out, so we had to walk through the Muslim quarter, as opposed to turning around and going back through the tunnel. The army accompanied us. Such is life there.

“We saw the fence/wall while traveling a new toll road which bills drivers via transponders. It abuts the Green Line for many miles, so the fence/wall is quite evident. It’s mostly a fence with electronic movement detection equipment, but when it approaches a town, it becomes a wall that looks a lot like sound barriers on a typical US urban freeway. Road blockades are more of a problem for Arabs, I should think, and they exist wherever there is transit from Israel to potential Palestinian Authority territory. Having traveled the length of the Jordan River to return to Jerusalem, I was glad to see the blockades in place for our own safety.

“P.S. There has long been an Israeli fence along the Jordan River, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, according to all accounts I heard, loves it. It keeps the Palestinians out of Jordan and saves them from having to declare more Black Sundays. All best for lots of light, Leigh.”

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