A syncretic religious holiday

Recently posted on Facebook, this melding of the traditions of Judaism with the traditions of Jedi-ism for the holiday season, in French:


(#1) ‘May the light be with you’: the Jedi Master Yoda wields a lightsword menorah for Hanukkah (Fr. Hanoucca) — Happy Hanukkah! (Joyeuse fête de Hanoucca!)

Background 1: Crif. The composition is credited (lower right corner) to Crif, the Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France, which (according to its Facebook page) was founded on 5/22/43 (the dating is signficant) and fights for the Jewish people, in France and around the world, acting more generally against against racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia. Not at all a frivolous group, but they have a sense of humor — and the image of a Jedi knight fighting for the Jews with light (combining two elements of the Hanukkah story, military action and miraculous light).

Background 2: Hanukkah. Hanukkah 2019 begins the evening of Sunday Dec. 22nd and ends the evening of Monday Dec. 30th. About the holiday, from Wikipedia:

Hanukkah … is a Jewish festival commemorating 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 …

Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. The festival is observed by lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, called a menorah (or hanukkiah). One branch is typically placed above or below the others and its candle is used to light the other eight candles. This unique candle is called the shamash … Each night, one additional candle is lit by the shamash until all eight candles are lit together on the final night of the festival.


(#2) On Amazon, a  rainbow Pride flag menorah t-shirt (maker not identified) — available in white, asphalt, slate, and baby blue

Other Hanukkah festivities include playing the game of dreidel and eating oil-based foods, such as latkes and sufganiyot, and dairy foods.

[the traditional origin story:] When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted and services stopped, Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BCE, Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned brit milah (circumcision) and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple.

Antiochus’s actions provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattathias (Mattityahu), a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. It started with Mattathias killing first a Jew who wanted to comply with Antiochus’s order to sacrifice to Zeus, and then a Greek official who was to enforce the government’s behest (1 Mac. 2, 24–25[34]). Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi (“Judah the Hammer”). By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this event. Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the kohen gadol (high priest) was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

Background 3: the Jedi knights. From Wikipedia:

The Jedi are the main protagonists in the Star Wars universe. The Jedi Order are depicted as an ancient monastic, academic, meritocratic and quasi-militaristic organization whose origin dates back approximately 25,000 years before the events of the first film released in the franchise.

Jedi were powerful Force-wielders and adjudicators tasked by the Galactic Republic to be the guardians of peace and order in the Star Wars galaxy; they defend and protect all sapient life, never attack. The Order consisted of polymaths; teachers, philosophers, scientists, engineers, physicians, diplomats, and warriors. The Jedi moral value system viewed purity of thought and detachment of emotions as essential to enlightenment. Jedi philosophy emphasized self-improvement through knowledge and wisdom, adherence to slave morality, and selfless service through acts of charity, citizenship, and volunteerism; this ideology is a recurring theme in the Star Wars universe. The Jedi denounce emotions as the root cause of mortal suffering; they believe fear, anger and love cause sentient beings to lash out in conflict and impede rational action to do what is objectively correct action. Their traditional weapon is the lightsaber, a device which generates a blade-like plasma powered by a Kyber crystal or other focusing item …

The fictional organization has inspired a real-world new religious movement, Jediism.

Background 4: Yoda specifically. Although Yoda has come up in many postings on Language Log and this blog, mostly in connection with his unusual syntax (in English), I seem not to have posted about him as a character. From Wikipedia:

Yoda is a fictional character in the Star Wars universe, first appearing in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back. He is a small, green humanoid alien. In his first appearance in the original trilogy, the force ghost of Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi describes Yoda as the Jedi master who trained him and asks Luke Skywalker to seek Jedi training from Yoda, which Luke does and later uses to fight against the Galactic Empire. The character reappears in Return of the Jedi where he reveals his age to be 900, making him the oldest living character in the Star Wars franchise.

… Two other members of Yoda’s unnamed alien species are known … Very little is known about Yoda’s alien species, though all three are powerful in The Force

Background 5: The Force. From Wikipedia:

The Force is a metaphysical and ubiquitous power in the Star Wars universe. It is wielded by “Force-sensitive” characters throughout the franchise: heroes like the Jedi who seek to become one with the Force, while the Sith and other villains exploit the Force and try to bend it toward their will. The Force has been compared to aspects of several world religions, and the phrase “May the Force be with you” has become part of the popular-culture vernacular.

The greeting. “May the Force be with you” is the all-purpose Star Wars greeting, expressing a generalized wish for good luck or good will. It’s George Lucas’s variation on the Arabic greeting salaam ‘may the peace be upon you’ / Fr. ‘Que la paix soit sur toi’ (or its Hebrew counterpart shalom).

From Wikipedia:

As-salāmu ʿalaykum … is a greeting in Arabic that means “Peace be upon you”. The salaam is a religious salutation among Muslims when greeting, though it is also used by Arabic speakers of other religions, such as Arab Christians. The typical response to the greeting is wa ʿalaykumu s-salām … “And peace be upon you, too.”

This greeting appears in greatly abbreviated forms in many languages from Malagasy to Urdu as some variant of salām

And see NOAD‘s note:

excl. shalom: used as salutation by Jews at meeting or parting, meaning “peace.”. Compare with salaam. ORIGIN from Hebrew šālōm [‘peace, harmony, wholeness’].

Now Yoda does it in French. First in English, Elizabeth Dowsett and Shari Last’s 2011 Mysteries of the Jedi:


(#3) Publisher’s note: Mysteries of the Jedi is a dynamic visual guide that brings the Star Wars galaxy to life for a new generation of Star Wars fans. In it, younger readers will meet all the Jedi heroes from Anakin to Yoda, understand what it takes to become a Jedi, find out how to wield a lightsaber, discover the secrets of the Force, examine the tools of the Jedi trade, and more!

Here you see the original image for the lightsaber menorah version in #1.

The 2013 French translation didn’t just translate the title, as Mystères des Jedi, but instead substituted a French version of “May the Force be with you”:


(#5) Engl. May the Force be with you! > Fr. Que la Force soit avec toi!

Pretty straightforward, given the use of complementizer que ‘that’ + a subjunctive clause to convey wishes. The other linguistic point is the choice of 2sg pronoun, (a form of) tu vs. (a form of) vous. Usually labeled as familiar tu vs. polite vous in textbooks, though these labels come very far from describing the actual uses. (A reminder here that Labels Are Not Definitions.) For discussion, see my 2/10/19 posting “French 2sg pronouns”, about the choice of T vs. V pronouns and the choice of address terms.

In the case at hand, the choice of the T pronoun toi (over the V pronoun vous) aligns with the generally egalitarian ethos of the Star Wars world; avec vous would suggest an inappropriate degree of social distance between Yoda and his addressees.

In #1, the people at Crif have taken us from the Star Wars world, plain and simple, to the world of Jewish cultural practices, to wish us a happy Hanukkah. There’s a Star Wars joke in there — we still have one foot in the Star Wars world — but mostly we have an organization wishing the Jews of the world (and others as well) a happy Hanukkah, which might reasonably be seen as a situation is which a pronoun that was respectful towards the addressees would be called for. La Force ‘the Force’ has been replaced by la lumière ‘the light’ (alluding to the light of the olive oil burning in the Temple vessels and to their modern symbolic substitute, the light of the menorah’s candles); and the pronoun has been upgraded to the respectful vous. Though toi would not have been out of the question, the Crif staff had to choose; there’s no 2sg pronoun neutral between the T pronoun and the V pronoun.

Which brings us to Joyeuse fête de Hanoucca: Que la lumière soit avec vous.

3 Responses to “A syncretic religious holiday”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Is the founding date of Crif “significant” because it took place while France was under German occupation, or is there something specific about May 22, 1943?

    Might the vous in the Crif slogan simply be intended as plural, without any “level” implication?

  2. [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky looks at a syncretic, Jewish-Jedi, holiday […]

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