During the time of year when religious beliefs and traditions inevitably seem to be watered down in order to make them more palatable and politically correct—Christmas is about being nice to others and Hanukkah is about lights—it’s nice to see that some people are still willing to celebrate the particulars of their faith.
If you haven’t heard of the Maccabeats—an all-male Jewish acapella group that started at Yeshiva University a few years ago and has several times broken into the top 10 of Billboard′s Comedy Digital Tracks chart—you should get on YouTube immediately. Each year the Maccabeats release a Hanukkah tune that uses the music of a pop song to tell the story of the Maccabees’ defeat of the Greeks. Previous years have featured “All About that Neis” (Neis is the Hebrew word for miracle) set to the tune of “All About that Bass”) or another called “Latke Recipe” set to the tune of “Shut Up and Dance With Me.”
This year’s song “Hasmonean: A Hamilton Hanukkah,” which was performed at the White House a few days ago, is, you guessed it, a parody of the musical Hamilton but with lyrics about the Jewish fight for freedom to worship in the second century BC. The American patriots are singing “I’m not gonna betray our God” while King George is predicting that they will bow down to him “like Zeus.”
It is the perfect fusion of two histories, with neither given short shrift. The Maccabeats themselves are Orthodox Jews who are, as evangelicals sometimes like to say, “in the culture without being of the culture.” They have found a way to make Jewish history and faith inspiring and joyous to new generations of children and adults, but the appeal of their lyrics is universal and, as this most recent addition suggests, deeply American.