As Shabbat goes out on Saturday night, Jews around the world will begin to celebrate the eight-day festival of Chanukkah, which commemorates the triumph of the Jewish spirit over the forces of persecution and tyranny in the year 164 BCE.
On the second day of the festival, on December 10th it will be UN Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
That declaration for the first time in human history spoke of universal rights for all individuals, irrespective of culture or creed, and the obligation of all nations to acknowledge those rights.
But Human Rights is not just an issue of the rights of individuals, it also concerns the rights of dissident groups and the rights of peoples – particularly the rights of minority peoples at risk of abuse by the majority.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written in the shadow of the Nazi Final Solution – the attempt to eradicate the whole of European Jewry – which was almost accomplished.
But the lessons of the annihilation of six million Jews have not been learnt. Since the Sho’ah – the Holocaust – and after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, abuses of human rights have multiplied under multifarious tyrannical regimes the world over.
Millions of individuals have been tortured and murdered because they were members of dissident groups or because they were members of minority peoples.
Millions of individuals continue to be tortured and murdered for the same reasons.
But we all know that these abuses were not a twentieth century invention. Throughout history tyrannical regimes have attempted to create monolithic societies and to suppress all signs of difference and dissent. And tyranny, persecution and oppression persist today in the twenty-first century in many places across the globe.
The events which led to the creation of the festival of Chanukkah almost twenty-two hundred years ago teach us that the achievement of genuine universalism, of one world united in peace, with universal rights and respect for all will only be realised on the basis of the recognition of pluralism and the celebration of diversity.
As we approach the Jewish people’s annual festival of lights, may the accumulating flames proclaim a message of hope and inspire us to participate in the great task of Tikkun Olam, of repairing the world.
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah