Saturday, December 17, 2005

From Maccabean Warriors to Hasmonean Kings to Roman Slaves

A nephew of Ezra the Scribe[1], who helped build the Second Holy Temple, rose to become the High Priest of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He was known as Shimon HaTzadik, Simon the Just, and was a remnant of the original Men of the Great Assembly established by Ezra the Scribe[2]. He not only served as the High Priest of the Holy Temple for forty years[3], but he was also the spiritual leader of Jewish nation in his time. The Talmud[4] elaborates on the fact that during his reign as High Priest, the state of affairs in the Bais HaMikdash was above natural and miracles occurred on a constant basis. The legitimacy of the Holy Temple was so recognized and honored, that even the gentile king of the Greek Kingdom, Alexander the Great, sent gifts and sacrifices to the Holy Temple[5]. In fact, Rabbi Shimon HaTzadik is reputed to have met the prized student of Aristotle and ambitious world leader, Alexander the Great of Macedonia. The latter even signified his submission to the Jewish High Priest by descending from upon his horse to greet the great Rabbi[6]. Alexander the Great ruled over the entire world[7] in the name of the Greek Kingdom. After his death, the Greek Kingdom in that region splintered with Egyptian Greece ruled by the Ptolemys and Syrian Greece ruled by the Seleucids. Upon the death of Shimon HaTzadik, a fight erupted between his two sons over who should continue their father's priestly duties. In the end, neither Chonyo nor his brother Shimi became the High Priest, but rather Shimon HaTzadik's brother Elazar succeeded in the position[8] and was afterwards succeeded by his son Menashe. Shimon HaTzadik passed on the Masoretic tradition to his main student who succeeded him in his academic roles, Antignus Ish Socho (Antigonus man of Soko).

Antignus Ish Socho, who lived at the time of an influx of Hellenistic ideas, edified the dictum, "Do not be like the servant who serves the master in order to receive wages [i.e. rewards], rather be like the servant who serves the master not in order to receive wages [i.e. without impure motives].[9]” He had three successful students who became leaders of the Torah community: Yose ben Yoezer of Tzreidah became the Nasi ("President"), Yosef ben Yochanan of Jerusalem became the Av Beis Din ("Head of the [Rabbinical] Court"), and Yochanan became the Kohen Gadol ("High Priest") of the Holy Temple. However, two of Antignus' students, Tzadok and Baysus, ignored the high ethical purport of their teacher's maxim and arrived at the conclusion that Antignus was teaching them there is no future divine retribution for good or bad in the World to Come. Based on this they asked, “why a worker should work all day [in This World] if he will not receive his payment [reward] in the World to Come?”[10] Because of this grave misunderstanding, they began to lead lives of great epicurean proportions and indulged in all the forbidden pleasures to have more gains in the physical world. Their followers are branded Tzedukim (Sadducees) and Baysusim (Boethusians), respectively.[11] Eventually, the Sadducees came to completely reject the Oral Torah—which was given at Mount Sinai along with the Written Law—entirely and thus they clashed with the rival Pirushim (Pharisees) who wholeheartedly followed the Oral Torah.

During this time in Jewish History, there was a plethora of varying factions and sects within the Jewish Nation. The Samaritans (Koosim) were foreign peoples who were displaced by King Sennecharib of Assyria and were relocated to Samaria in the Land of Israel. They were mainly idol worshippers who offered sacrifices on Mount Gerizim. After the rise of Sadducism, the Samaritans made an unholy alliance with the Sadducees and the Jewish idolaters of Alexandria. Philo writes of various sectarians who were called "Essenes" and other groups of ascetic Nazirites who abstained from many physical pleasures, yet strictly adhered to the Torah law[12].

The battlefield in the struggle between the Sadducees and Pharisees was the High Priesthood[13]. It became increasingly common for Sadducees, who were inherently richer because of their greed-inspiring theodology, to “buy” the High Priesthood. The eventual successor to Shimon HaTzadik was Shimon’s righteous great-grandson, Chonyo III. During his term as a High Priest, he had to battle Hellenistic Jews, as well as influence from the Greeks, Sadducees, and Samaritans. However, his term was short-lived because his brother Yeshua, who Hellenized his name to “Jason,” offered a bribe to Antiochus IV Epiphanies, then the Seleucid ruler, to have himself appointed as the High Priest. Jason called for a gymnasium to be established in Jerusalem near the Holy Temple. To maintain their status as Antiochenes (honorary citizens of the Syrian capital Antioch), Jerusalemites performed licentiously naked athletics in the gym which were always preceded by sacrifices to the pagan god Heracles/Hercules. Eventually, the highest bidder for the Kehuna Gedolah (high priesthood) was Menelaus who was not even from the Kohanaic tribe who replaced Jason. In an attempt to regain power, Jason attacked Jerusalem with one thousand men while Antiochus was away in his Egyptian campaign. Upon Antiochus’s return, he destroyed the rebels in the city and desecrated the Holy Temple while reaffirming the evil Menelaus’s power. Apollonius, whom Antiochus appointed as his military commander in Judea, fortified the citadel of Acra in an effort to put pressure on the neighboring Temple. At this point, King Antiochus Epiphanes of the Syrian Greek Kingdom ordered the cessation of the sacrificial services in the Holy Temple and instead altars of pagan idol were setup for hogs and other non-Kosher animals to be offered. He outlawed and prohibited observance of the Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh laws; dietary laws; the circumcision[14]; and family purity laws. All copies and possessors of holy writings or the Torah were burned. Merely stating that one was Jewish was punishable by death! Antiochus also murdered the ninety year-old former Kohen Gadol, Elazar, the son of Shimon HaTzadik[15]. These wicked anti-Torah precepts of Antiochus forced the Jews to rebel against their Syrian-Greek overlords in order to preserve their holy way of life. To counter the efforts of the Syrian-Greeks, they formed a militia called the “Maccabees”[16]. Although greatly outnumbered, the Maccabees fought the Syrian-Greeks with all their resources and might.

In addition to the great military heroes who fought the Syrian-Greeks, three righteous women stand out in the effort to preserve Torah life. Chanah—whose name is sometimes given as Miriam bas Tanchum[17], Miryam bas Nachtum[18], or is left anonymous[19]—and her seven sons were killed by Antiochus after each son successively rejected the sovereign’s invitation to eat sacrificial pig offered by Governor Phillip in the king’s honor. Each son flatly rejected the king’s advances and quoted a different verse (each one in either Exodus or Deuteronomy) before being executed. After her last son’s premature death, Chana remarked that while Abraham bound only one son upon an altar, she bound seven sons upon altars, each of whom died as a martyr to preserve the Jewish way of life. In the end, Chanah eventually lost her sanity and threw herself from a roof, whereupon a Heavenly voice exclaimed, “The mother of the children is joyous”[20].

Another great woman during this period was the daughter of the Kohen Gadol who taught Jewish women throughout history to preserve their special modesty. She[21] was betrothed to a Kohen. However, the Syrian-Greeks had issued a decree that all brides-to-be should first submit their virginity to one of their officers. Thus, when the date of her wedding arrived, the Syrian officials in charge of such impure matters came to defile the bride (and thus make her forbidden to her Kohen husband[22]). The Maccabees saved the day by successfully battling against the offending officials and their troops. This day, the 17th of Elul, was once celebrated as a holiday[23]. Another woman, a widow named Yehudis[24], pretended to sexually submit to the immoral legislature, and thus she was granted a private audience with the Syrian general Holofernes, who was besieging Jerusalem because of the previous incident. She gave him cheese to eat and quenched his thirst with wine thus causing him to fall asleep, intoxicated. Mimicking the acts of Yael[25], she cut off Helefernes’s head and paraded it around the Greek military camp causing great confusion amongst the Greek army[26]. As a result, eight months later, in Kislev 3597, came the greatest victory won by the Maccabean army.

The battle against the vast Syrian-Greek armies was won miraculously and providentially in the first century B.C.E. by the small Maccabee army led by Mattathias’s son Judas Maccabaeus. Afterwards, the victorious Maccabean army entered the Holy Temple, which had been previously desecrated by the Syrian-Greeks, to restore the Temple’s services, specifically the lighting of the Menorah (Candelabra). However, they found that all the jugs of pure olive oil had been unsealed and contaminated by the impure Syrian-Greeks. After much searching, they finally found one small jar of oil –enough for only one day’s worth of fire from the Menora-- that was pure and still sealed by the Cohen Gadol. Inexplicably (actually miraculously), this small jar of oil burned in the golden Menorah for an entire eight days[27]. At this point, the victorious Hasmonean Priests also removed the idolatry-polluted stones of the altar and erected a new altar[28]. The combination of the miraculous victory over the much stronger Syrian-Greeks coupled with miracle of the olive oil and rededication of the Temple, prompted the Rabbonim of the time to establish a holiday on the 25th day of Kislev known as Chanukah. Chanuka is a portmanteau of “Chanu” (meaning “they rested”) and “Kah” (meaning “[on the] twenty-fifth”), and alludes to the re-dedication of the Beis HaMikdash[29].

Following this event, Matisyahu the Hasmonean became the Kohen Gadol assumed the leadership of the Jewish people in establishing the Hasmonean Dynasty which rules the Jewish nation for one hundred and three years[30]. A year later, his eldest son Yehuda/Judah the Maccabee[31] became the first in a series of Hasmonean rulers in the newly re-named Judea, or the Second Commonwealth of the Jewish Nation. The Talmud[32] relates that before the Hasmonean ascent to power, there was a certain wealthy Greek aristocrat named Nikanor[33] who used to wave his hands toward Judea and Jerusalem and say, “When will this [region] fall into my hands?” When the Hasmoneans rose to power, they cut off the thumbs and big toes of this man and hung them on the gates to the Golden City and said, “Here [are the extremities of a man who] spoke with haughtiness, and his hands wove over Jerusalem. Do upon them [i.e. the fingers and toes] revenge.” Despite the initial victory, the leader of the Maccabean Army, Yehuda, suffered the loss of his fifth brother Elazar who drowned in elephant dung and still continued to fight with the Syrian-Greeks. Yehuda himself was killed soon after in battle near Elasah, west of Jerusalem. After four months of lacking a leader, Yonason (Jonathan) Maccabaeus, the second brother of Yehudah, arose to the rulership of the newly-independent Judea. He fought and won a decisive battle against the Syrian governor Apollonius in 147 B.C.E. Yehonossan lived to a ripe old age and died happily; his post was given to another brother, Shimon[34]. The daughter of Shimon the leader of the Jewish Nation and High Priest married the Egyptian Ptolemy, who allegedly murdered his father-in-law Shimon, along with his two sons. He was thusly succeeded by his third son, Yochanan (John) Hyrcanus.

The reign of Jochanan/Hyrkanus/Yannai was at the peak of the Hasmonean dynasty’s rule in terms of its maximum territorial boundaries and highest prestige. Although he was the High Priest of the temple for 80 years, in the end of his life, he became a Sadducee[35]. It is said that Yochanan the Cohen Gadol merited to hear the voice of heaven, much like his predecessor, Rabbi Shimon HaTzadik[36]. Upon his death, his offices were divided amongst his heirs; his son Aristobulus succeeded him as High Priest and his wife as "Queen Regent". The son, Aristobulus, however, desired his father’s supreme powers and so he ordered his mother and his brothers imprisoned and took the executive office for himself. He was the first of the Hasmonean Kings to act like a king inasmuch as he began wearing a royal crown. King Artistobulus dishonored the position of Kohen Gadol and did not wish serve in that capacity. After Artistobulus’ death in 103 B.C., Alexander Jannaeus (also known as Alexander Jannai/Yannai), performed the levirate marriage (yibbum) to his brother Artistobolus’s widow Salome (Shelomis) Alexandra and thereby took his place as monarch.

King Yannai, who adopted a Sadducee stance, sought to wipe out all the Pharisee Rabbis, and did so with the exception of his wife Shlomzion brother, Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach, the spiritual leader of the Jewish Nation at the time[37]. The relations between King Yannai the Sadducee and his Pharisee brother-in-law were very much strained the former even threatened to execute the latter for failing to give an accurate number of Nazirites who were offering sacrifices in the Temple[38]. The Talmud[39] relates a humorous tale in which Yannai must rely on Rabbi Shimon son of Shetach (the only surviving Rabbi) to know the Halacha about a certain Bracha (blessing). The Mishna[40] teaches that Martha the daughter of Boethus, a widow, bribed King Yannai into appointing her husband-to-be Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Gamla[41] as the Kohen Godol. Yannai was antagonized for his dubious lineage and some claimed he descended from slaves[42]. Following the death of Yannai, Judea prospered under the reign of Queen Shlomzion Alexandra. Because of her brother’s high status in the Torah world, she befriended the Pharisees (unlike her second husband) and thus the state flourished because of G-d’s blessings[43]. The resulting civil war between the brothers Hyrcanus III and Aristobulus II after their mother Sholom Zion’s death invited the Romans to Judæa and caused Antipater the Idumean (the eventual progenitor of the Herodian dynasty) to rise to power.

After the death of King Hyrcanus (Yannai/Alexander) II, the widow of the king, Shlomzion/Alexandria, became the queen on the commonwealth. She was a wise and G-d fearing woman, who allowed the Pharisees to rule over the Sadducees. Torah life prospered so much so during her reign that HaShem blessed the nation by only causing rain to fall on Friday nights so as not to inconvenience workers[44]. It has been said that the Satan had no power while she was Queen[45]. She appointed Hyrcanus II, her eldest son who was a Pharisee sympathizer, as the Kohen Gadol. Her second son identified with the Sadduceean movement, so she appointed him as the general of the Sadducee army. During the reign of Salome Alexandra, Judea fortified a treaty with the Roman Empire which was physically represented by golden images erected in Rome and Jerusalem. Upon the death of Queen Alexandra, it was agreed upon that Aristobulus II would become the King, while Hyrcanus III would serve as the Kohen Gadol.

Even though both brothers were satisfied with this arrangement, Antipater, an Idumean servant and advisor to Hyrcanus, convinced Hyrcanus that he truly deserves to be the king. This sparked a fight between the two brothers over the kingship until they agreed to submit to Emperor Pompey of Rome for arbitration. Both brothers sent enormous bribes in order to be chosen as the king, and in the end, Pompey decided that Hyrcanus III should rule. During this quarrel, Roman legions ransacked Jerusalem killing many Jews but left the Holy Temple in tact and from then on, Jerusalem became a vassal city to the Roman Empire and was obligated in paying Rome a yearly tribute (tax). Eventually, Pompey changed his mind and made Aristobulus the King and demoted Hyrcanus back to Kohen Gadol; this once again triggered a civil war between the two sons of King Alexander Hyrcanus Yannai II.

At one point during the civil war between Hyrcanus III and Aristobulus II, the one had a blockade around the walls to the Holy City of Jerusalem with the other trapped inside[46]. In order not to disturb the daily sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple (which lay within the city walls), a basket containing some gold dinarim was sent over the walls to the besieging soldiers and they returned the basket with a small lamb. However, one day, at the behest of a Greek philosopher, instead of a lamb, the besieging en sent a pig to the Temple; the men knew very well that a pig is unclean with regard to the sacrifices brought in the Temple and thus was unfit for use as a Korban. While the basket with the pig was being pulled up the wall to those within the city under siege, the pig stuck its dirty nails into the walls of the Holy City, which prompted a heaven-sent message in the form of a national earthquake[47]. The date of this event is recorded in history as the 17th of Tammuz. At this point, it was decreed by G-d that His Holy Temple in Jerusalem should be destroyed as a punishment to His beloved nation. It was during this civil war that the Romans were invited to Judea to mediate the conflict; they stayed until 68 C.E. when they destroyed the Holy Temple. In the end, Aristobulus was either poisoned by the Sages of Jerusalem or was executed by Roman authorities, leaving Hyrcanus III as the undisputed King of Judea.

During the civil war between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, there lived a great pre-Tannaic Torah scholar named Choni ha-M’agel (Honi the Circle-maker). Megillas Taanis[48] relates that he was famous for having G-d accept his prayers for rain. One time there was such an awful drought that even in the month of Adar (late in the winter season) there was still no rain, so Choni drew a circle on the ground and proclaimed that he will not leave the circle until G-d sends rain. It immediately began drizzling, whereupon Choni told G-d that he requests a full rain, not a mere drizzle. Thereupon, the rain began to pour down very hard, and Choni again informed G-d that that was not what he requested because such a powerful rain could ruin crops instead of hydrate them. At this point, a proper rain finally descended from the heavens. After the incident, the leader of the Jewish community, Rabbi Shimon Ben Shetach, sent a letter to Choni telling him, “If you were not Choni, I would have decreed an excommunication on you.” The Gemara continues to say[49], that sometime after this incident, Choni saw a man planting a carob tree and inquired of him as to what was his purpose if the carobs would only begin to grow into an edible fruit form after seventy years. At that time, Choni fell into a deep sleep and woke up seventy years later to see the man’s grandson eating from the fruits of the carob tree. The Talmud concludes the story by stating that Choni died of depression when no one believed his claims that he was Choni haMagel. However, Josephus Yosiphon writes in his book “Antiquities of the Jews" (Sefer HaYuchsin) that Choni was executed by John Hyrcanus II when he refused to pray for the fall of his brother Aristobulus and instead prayed that G-d not hark to the entreaties of either brother, during the infamous siege of Jerusalem. The Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edels HaLevi (1555-1631) from Krakow) resolves[50] the apparent question on Josephus from the Gemara, by explaining that Choni was presumed killed by Hyrkanus II during his besiegement of Yerushalayim; however, in reality he merely fell asleep for seventy years and died later. Others say that Choni lived to so long that he was alive in the times of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, an Amora. Some explain that Choni was actually the Tanna Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair[51]. During the days of Choni, the Kohen Gadol, Elyoeni ben Hekef, prepared a Red Heifer which had only been done previously by Shimon HaTzadik, Ezra the Scribe, and Moses[52].

Neither of the brothers emerged victorious in their bloody civil war, as Antipater the Idumaean, a slave to the Hasmonean family, befriended the Roman powers and became ruler of Idumea (which was a division of the Syrian province of Judea), while Hyrcanus III was the titular head of Judea. Twenty-one years after Hyrcanus III was established as the undisputed ruler of Judea and was granted all his former territory by Julius Caesar, Antignus, a son of the Hyrcanus' brother Aristobulus, joined with Pigras the Parthian King and usurped the throne with Persian help. However, in 37 B.C.E., Herod, a son of Antipater, used Roman help to gain the throne for himself and was styled King Herod the Great.

At the onset of the Herodian rule in Jerusalem, Merimi, the daughter of Alexander ben Aristobulus (great-granddaughter of King Hyrcanus) was the last remaining princess of the Hasmonean family. She was intended for marriage to Antipater’s son, Herod, the Roman governor of the Galilee. However rather than to violate the prohibition of a Jewess marrying a gentile slave, she jumped off a roof thereby committing suicide. When Herod was crowned King of Judea in Rome, after fleeing them from a Parthian invasion of Jerusalem (in 40 B.C.), he justified his right to the kingdom by showing off his Intended wife preserved in honey for seven years. Apparently, he committed acts of necrophilia upon the deceased Jewish princess[53]. His suspicious nature led him to have tax collectors and many other such government officials, including the former-King Hyrcanus and his family, executed. However, this did not satiate his Machiavellian hunger and so he executed thousands of Pharisee sages, too. The Talmud[54] states that King Herod killed out all the Rabbonim of his time save for Bava Ben Buti, who was an advisor of his. However, Tosafos[55] say this is not meant literally, for at least the sons of Beseira remained because Hillel became the Prince during this time, and was awarded the Crown in Torah by his predecessors the sons of Beseira who were scholars in their own right. After many deaths, Herod realized his wrong ways and decided to repent; Bava Ben Buti told him that to achieve forgiveness he must repair/remodel the crumbling Holy Temple. Herod the Great complied with the sage’s words and the Talmud relates that this rebuilding was divinely assisted, for during the reconstruction period, rain only fell during the night so as not to disturb the day workers[56]. The beauty of this new building was so apparent that Chazal stated, “One who has not seen the Temple of Herod has never seen a beautiful building”[57]. In the end of Herod’s life, a golden eagle–a symbol of Herod’s friendship to the Romans—affixed to the Temple walls became subject to controversy when a Rabbinical Scholar at the behest of his Rebbe smashed it, as he would any idol.

King Herod wiped out the entire Hasmonean family through executions and assassinations. The bloodthirsty Herod even killed many of his own family, leaving only three sons after his death: Herod Archelaus ruled Judea, Herod Antipas ruled Galilee, and Herod Phillip ruled Batanea. Emperor Tiberius of the Roman Empire eventually vacated the position of King of Judea and made Judea into a Roman province vassal-state. After befriending Tiberius while imprisoned in Rome, Agrippa, a grandson of Herod the Great, used his favor with the Roman Emperor to secure himself a position as King. However, this continuation of the Herodian dynasty was short-lived and after the death of King Agrippa I, Judea return to Roman rule under Emperor Claudius.

A great-grandson of Herod, Marcus Julius Agrippa, eventually inherited the right to oversee the Holy Temple. He is styled in Jewish History as King Agrippa II or Aggripas HaMelech. The Mishna[58] tells of an incident in which this king adopted the Jewish law of gathering the entire nation in front of the Temple after the holiday of Succos of a Shemitta (Sabbatical) year (it is called HaKhell). The King is supposed to read select passages from Deuteronomy, including Deuteronomy 17:14-20. When Agrippa reached Deuteronomy 17:15, he began to weep because as a descendant of Hasmonean slaves, he knew he was not considered a proper Jew. The Jews gathered there comforted Agrippa by staying, “You are our brother” (for although he was a descendant of Herod, his mother was a proper Jewess). The Talmud[59] says that at this moment the Jews were liable for destruction for false flattery[60]. Both Rashi explains in the Mishnah that Agrippa lived during the destruction of the Second Holy Temple. After Agrippa’s death, his kingdom was given over by Roman Emperor Claudius to Marcus Antonius Felix, a freedman from Rome. This former slave acted overly cruel to the Jews and even incited inter-Jewish violence by fueling the Sicarii (meaning “dagger” in Latin, the Mishnaic Hebrew word is Sikrikin[61]) movement. This slave used his influence in the Roman court to grant himself a pardon from Emperor Nero (who eventually converted to Judaism) for murdering thousands of Jews and Syrians in Caesarea, Palestine. It was Nero who went Vespasian and Titus to Jerusalem in the final days of the Holy Temple before it was destroyed in a fiery holocaust.

Even as history dimmed for the Jews toward the end of the era of the Second Holy Temple, a beacon of light shone for the last few decades. In the kingdom of Adiabene, Prince Monobaz II and his mother Queen Heleni (wife of her brother King Monobaz I) decided to convert to Judaism. The two immigrated to Jerusalem where they brought gifts to the Holy Temple. Queen Heleni donated a golden mirror which glowed early in the morning to signal the proper time for reciting the Shema and a golden tablet with the passages regarding the Sotah[62] inscribed on it King Monobaz donated golden rims bases and handles for all the vessels used in the Holy Temple[63]. The Queen herself even accepted upon herself the Nazirite vow and lived for many years as a Nazir[64]. After she died on a trip in Adiabene, her son King Monobaz II sent her remains to Jerusalem to be buried with the king of Israel[65].

Thus is the tragic end of the Hasmonean Kingdom: they were overruled by their Edumean slaves and were eventually wiped out completely. The name of their country, "Judea", which represented a Jew’s thanks to his Creator, was changed by a foreign power–the Romans—to "Palestine" to downplay the Jewishness of that region. In fact, the second generation Amora, Shmuel, stated[66] that anyone who claims descent from Hasmoneans must be a slave. What caused the Hasmoneans to fall from such a high ladder to become the lowest of the low? Furthermore, in the Chanukka liturgy, the Hasmoneans are used only as a placeholder to describe when the events occurred as if they had nothing to do with the great miracles which happened (it says, “In the days of Matisyahu…”), they merely lived in those times. What caused Chazal to institute the Al HaNissim (“About the Miracles”) and Ma’oz Tzur (“Mighty Rock”) prayers in such a fashion –and completely omit and mention of the Hasmoneans in the HaNeyros Hallelu prayer recited immediately after the candle lighting—in a way that almost seems to trivialize the Hasmoneans? Nachmanides[67] writes that the Hasmonean Kingdom violated the scriptural precept that the “[king’s] scepter shall not be removed from [the tribe of] Yehuda”[68] by moving the Kingship into the domain of the priests. For this, the Hasmonean family was punished and thus their role in the miracle in Chanuka was marginalized.

Critics of the Holiday of Chanuka falsely claim that just as the Christians adopted a pagan holiday for their religion that was celebrated on December 25, the Jews followed suit and adopted a holiday for the Kislev (Casleu) 25. They claim that the first mention of Chanuka is in the Talmud, which was completed in the middle of sixth century, after St. Peter created the Christian holiday. However, this is simply not true for Hanuka is mentioned in Mishnaic and pre-Mishnaic literature which predate—or at least was concurrent with—the establishment of Christianity. Nevertheless, to this the critics counter that the holiday is only mentioned as a significant day[69] and vaguely in conjunction with candle lightning ritual[70], but that the Mishna makes no mention of the miracle of the oil which occurred on Kislev 25. The simple answer is that the Gemara[71] quoted most its references to Chanuka and the miracle therein from various teachings called Braisos. These teachings were Tannaic in nature and thus were concurrent with the Mishna, but for whatever reasons were not included in the Mishnah itself by its editor Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi (known as “Rebbi”). The question, however, arises why Rebbi did not include the teachings of Chanuka in his compilation of the Mishnah. One cannot answer that he omitted the details of Chanuka because it was only a rabbinic holiday and thus did not deserve recognition in the Oral Law that was supposed to explain the Written Law, because Purim was also a rabbinically established holiday and Rebbi devoted an entire tractate to its laws. Rather one must answer like the Chasam Sofer (cited above) that the Hasmoneans actually sinned after their rebellion when they instituted the Kohanic Kingdom, and since Rebbi was a descendant of the Davidic dynasty, he felt a degree of animosity towards the Hasmoneans who “stole” the scepter from his family and tribe. However, this explanation seems to view Rebbi in a bad light for being petty enough to omit important historical details because of a family grudge. Instead, Rabbi Yehuda Dov Zinger answers[72], that Rebbi omitted the miracle with the oil and Hasmonean victories because he feared that it might insult his Roman friends[73]. They might say that it would be degrading to them that the Jews –who were at that time subservient to the Romans—achieved victories of the Greeks with miracles.

Certain parts of Chanuka, such as the liturgy, seem to imply that the miraculous military victories are the focus of the holiday, yet other parts, as the Gemara[74] seems to explain that the establishment of the holiday was due to the miracle with the oil and it downplays the militia’s victories. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv—a leading Torah authority in Yerushalayim—says[75] that these two points of view is the source of the dispute between the students of Shammai and Hillel[76]. The two houses of thought argue as to whether one should light one candle the first night of Chanuka and add another one for each subsequent night (Bais Hillel) or whether one should light eight candles on the first night and subtract one for each subsequent night (Beis Shammai). Bais Shammai believes that Chanuka was established as a remembrance for the great physical victory over the Syrian-Greeks, which re-established the authority of the Kohen Gadol and occurred before the Temple was cleansed. They believe the first night is the time for feeling the happiness that resulted from this and thus the first night is the apex of Chanuka. The Talmud says that Bais Shammai lowers the number of candles each night to parallel the seventy bulls offered during Succos (Tabernacles) which starts with thirteen bulls the first day and one less bull is offered per day until the seventh day[77]. The victory over the Greeks’ influence is tantamount to a victory over all non-Jewish influences and the seventy bulls of Sukkos are offered for the seventy nations of the world. Bais Hillel believes that that establishment of Chanuka was because of the miracle with the oil that symbolized the cleansing of the Jewish souls from the impurities put upon them by the Hellenist culture. This cleansing was a gradual process, which began with the first night of Chanuka and continued for the eight days climaxing on the last night. The amount of candles lit is supposed to parallel the spiritual state of the Jews in Judea that was on the rise.

That rise in the spiritual state of the Jews never yet reached its zenith, for it continues to proceed even nowadays. Based on this, Rabbi Nosson Meir Wachtfogel (1910-1998), the Mashgiach of Lakewood, teaches that Chanuka is supposed to be a time on perfecting one’s proper behavior and attitudes. It is also a time for one to learn Torah and do all that we can to cause the coming of the Moshiach who will bring the dedication of the third Bais HaMikdash speedily and in our days: Amen.



[1] See Abrabanel's introduction to Nachlas Avos who says that Shimon HaTzadik's father, Yehoshua, was the brother of Ezra the Scribe.
[2] Avos 1:2
[3] Yoma 9a
[4] Yoma 39a
[5] See Seder HaDoros Year 3408
[6] As related by the Talmud in Yoma 69a
[7] See Tosafos to Megillah 11a
[8] It was under the auspices of Elazar Kohen Gadol that seventy (-two) sages were certain to the islands of Greece by Ptolemy Talmai to translate the Torah into Greek. The resulting product is known as the Septuagint.
[9] Avos 1:3
[10] Avos 1:3 and Avos D’Rabbi Nosson ad loc.
[11] Rashi Ibid.
[12] See Seder HaDoros, Year 3460
[13] See Chanukah: Its History, Observance, And Significance (A presentation based on Talmudic and traditional sources) by Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz (Artscroll)
[14] Even many circumcised Jews who participated in sporting events in the nude went to painful lengths to conceal their circumcisions; such a practice is Biblically prohibited and is punishable by Kares, see Yevamos 72a.
[15] See Seder HaDoros, Year 3610
[16] Which is an acronym of their battle cry, “Mi Kamocha B’eilim HaShem” based on Exodus 15:11. The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe to Miketz and glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer §100:29) writes that it is also an acronym for Matisyahu Kohen ben Yochanan.
[17] Lamentations Rabbah 1:50
[18] Pesikta Rabbasi 4:44
[19] Gittin 57b
[20] Psalms 113:9
[21] Her name is sometimes given as Channah and she was either the daughter of Elazar, Matisyahu, Chashmonai, or Yochanan; her name and lineage is unclear due to conflicting sources
[22] Because of Leviticus 21:7
[23] Megillas Ta’anis, a pre-Tannaic scroll of minor Jewish
[24] Some identify her with the apocryphal Judith who lived during the times of Nebuchadnezzar or with a Yehudis who lived during the reign of King Cambyses II of Persia.
[25] Judges 4:17-22
[26] It is because of this story that some communities have a custom to eat dairy products on Chanuka to commemorate this small victory, see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 670:2.
[27] Shabbos 21a
[28] Avodah Zarah 52b
[29] “Chanukas” means dedication; see Psalms 30:1
[30] See Avodah Zarah 9a
[31] This essay, which I wrote about Yehuda the Maccabee, appeared in the Jewish Press, Chanukah 5766. The title is "Hero":
Throughout history, there were many extraordinary Jews who have had the qualifications to be classified a "Hero." These heroes accomplished many things during their lifetimes. Many taught Jews the proper way to live or won battles. One of these heroes is Yehuda "The Maccabee." This person teaches us timeless lessons in how to live and act.
Yehuda taught and still teaches Jews to live with the trait of perseverance. This characteristic is personified in him because of his undying will to rid the Jewish world of the Hellenistic influence stemming from the Syrian-Greeks. Even when the Greek armies outnumbered his men, the Maccabee warriors, Yehuda never gave up and continued trying to free the Jewish nation. He maintained his perseverance even after his brother, Elazer, died from drowning in elephant dung. The common idiom, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," alludes to the many battles that Yehuda fought. One who teaches such an important quality through his actions can surely be called a highly important hero.
Yehuda is likened to President George Washington, a great American hero. Just as the Americans fought for freedom from the oppression of the British colonization, the Maccabees fought from the oppression of the Syrian-Greeks who outlawed certain religious practices essential to the Torah life. Judah sought to gain liberty from the Greeks, who even violated their own rules, as the British violated “No taxation without representation” in America. In addition, just as the American economy and lifestyle outweighed the English influence and culture within two centuries; the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty saw the downfall of the Greek-Empire (and rise of the Roman Empire) within 200 years of their defeat to the Jews. The Hasmonean-Kingdom, which was a direct result of the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks, was the apex of the Second Commonwealth in terms of territory and world influence.
Although the Maccabees initially lost their battles because of the elephants, which were first brought in to warfare by the Carthaginian general Hannibal against the Romans, the outcome of the war was a victory for the Maccabean militia. When the Hasmonean-Kingdom was created by Yehuda’s family, the Jews worshipped HaShem with more fervor. They rededicated the formerly desecrated Bais HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. The Maccabees were victorious in ridding the Jewish people of the unfair decrees of Antiochus. They were also victors in the war for Jewish independence and in fighting the influence of the impure Syrian-Greeks of the time.
A synonym for hero is victor; Yehuda was undoubtedly a victor. Therefore, he is indeed a crucial and significant hero in the history of the Jewish people. He influences Jewish History and daily life with the values that are learned from him.
[32] Ta’anis 18b
[33] The Maharsha, ad loc., points out that this man is not the famed Nikanor of the same name who donated the doors for the Second Temple.
[34] See Seder HaDoros, Year 3636
[35] Yoma 9a, Brachos 29a. One opinion associates this Yochanan the Kohen Gadol with Yannai who is mentioned below.
[36] Sotah 33a
[37] See Avos 1:8
[38] Jerusalem Talmud, Brachos 7:2
[39] Brachos 48a
[40] Yevamos 61a
[41] According to Tosafos in Bava Basra 21a, he was the righteous man who established the national educational system for Torah in Judea, however other Rishonim such as Tosafos Yeshonim, disagree with this premise and assume that they were two different people and were merely homonymous.
[42] Kiddushin 66a
[43] See Ta'anis 23a
[44] Taanis 23a
[45] See Seder HaDoros, Year 3688
[46] In Bava Kamma 82a, Hyrcanus was inside Jerusalem while Aristobulus was outside, but in Menachos 64a and Sotah 49a it is vice versa.
[47] Sotah 49b
[48] Treatise Ta’anith, a pre-Mishnaic work, this citation is also included in the Mishna Ta’anis 3:8)
[49] Ta’anis 23a
[50] Ta’anis ad loc.
[51] Seder HaDoros, Year 3621
[52] See Parah 3:5
[53] In fact, such post-humus intercourse is called “ma’ase hordos,” which means Herodian Acts, in Talmudic literature; e.g. Tosafos on Yevamos 55
[54] Bava Basra 4a
[55] Ad loc.
[56] Ta’anit 23a
[57] Baba Bathra 4a, also see Josephus in Wars 5:5 whose account is apparently verified by Rashi in the end of Baba Batra 3b
[58] Sotah 7:8, 41a
[59] Sotah 41b
[60] Tosafos ad loc. explains: a Jewish king is required to have both a Jewish mother and father to be legitimate, thus Agrippa’s kingship lacked halachik legitimacy
[61] See Gittin 56b, Bava Basra 47b, etc…
[62] Numbers 5:11-31
[63] Yoma 37a-b
[64] Nazir 19b
[65] See Seder HaDoros, Year 3804 at great length
[66] Kiddushin 70b
[67] Ramban to Genesis 49:10
[68] Genesis 49:10.
[69] Bikkurim 1:6, Rosh HaShana 1:3
[70] Bava Kama 6:6
[71] Shabbos 21-24
[72] Ziv HaMinhagim
[73] As is evident from many places within the Talmud, e.g. Sanhedrin 91b, many selections in Avodah Zarah, et al., Rebbi was intimately close with the Roman Emperor Antonius.
[74] Shabbos 21b
[75] See Divrei Aggadah on Chanukah
[76] Ibid.
[77] See Numbers 29:12-34

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Whatis the exact location where the Chasam Sofer says this about Rebbi?
Thank you

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

See the Ta'amei HaMinhagim on Chanukka. There's where I got the quote from.

Anonymous said...

in note 31 you wrote that the roman empire was then at their rise.
actually didn't they help the macabees against the syrian greek?

I loved the article.

a lechtigen chanuka

Anonymous said...

Excellent history - 1. Do you have any dates for the births and deaths of this royal family?

2. Luke the physician, in the Protestant Bible, suggests that Joseph - 'surrogate father' of Jesus. was from the house of David, and gives a genealogy Luke 3:25, that shows Joseph being a descendent of Mattathias. Is this the Hasmonean Mattathias? With his mother Mary, being a cousin and related to the current High Priest; was this a branch of the old royal/ high priest line that had survived the Romans and Herod?

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