Friday, December 30, 2005

Search Terms to this Site analyzed

The Site In General
voz is neias – “What’s news?”     
chareidi define and define chareidi     - There is an interesting wikipedia article about Hareidism and Chareidi Jews (also known as the Ultra-Orthodox or Heimish Jews) – Why couldn’t you just put the URL of this site into the address bar of your browser and find it that way, why did you have to search the URL to find the site?     
chug chasam sofer – This is the Israeli Yeshiva run by HaRav HaGaon Usher Weiss. I have on occasion met him and/or heard him speak. He’s very gishmak. It is also the name of a Kashrus organization in Eretz Yisroel.
reb chaim brisker – Also known as the Grach. See Chaim Soloveitchik.
chaim haqoton – The small Chaim. That’s who I am.
rchaimqoton     - That’s my username and the first part of my URL.
pronunciation of chaim  - I’m assuming you’re wondering about the first two letters. Sometimes it is written as H or the sound of the Ches is denoted with a dot inside an H. Or in plain Hebrew you can write it as ח. - It’s like the CH or KH in the word Ch/Khanuka, with a “ayim” at the end. Speaking of Chanukka…

Chanuka Terms (This essay)
miriam of Boethus – a Rich widow who a paid a lot for her fiancée to become the High Priest.
chanukka nights of prayer – That’s exactly what Chanukka is. A time to pray  to–more specifically to thank—g-d for his gracious help in the world.
chanuka baba batra     - Are you referring to the story of Herod?
king herod mariamne honey – That’s the famous story on Bava Basra 3b mentioned in the essay in which Herod preserves her in honey. By the way, a person loses their status as a relative after death. Thus, technically there is nothing wrong halachikly with having sexually relations with a dead person who was forbidden to you when she was alive, however, I would think it falls under the issur of Lo Tishaqtzu or Kedoshim Tihyu.  
jewish history chanukah matisyahu yochanan Yonason – Those were a lot of terms in one search. I hope you found what you were looking for.
kabbalistic Hanuka – Ask Madonna, Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, or Michael Burg.
khanuka Halakha – Are you looking for a specific Halacha or in general? I’m not a posek, I’m  not even a ba’al Halacha. There are barely any people nowadays who can qualify as a poseq anyways. Ask you local orthodox compotent Rabbi.
eliezer brother of Mattathias – He was actually his son, if I remember correctly.
judith daughter Yochanan – Wasn’t that a cheesy story?     
should noahides light a menorah – I don’t know. But that’s a good question. Do any of my readers know? (Do I even have any readers?)
khanuka 2005 – It’s all going to be 2006 during Chanuka.     
rambam sefer hamitzvos principle 1 – This is when the Rambam (Rabbi Doctor Maimonides) describes authority that the Rabbis have in establishing new laws. Included in this section is Chanuka and the mitzvahs of Purim.
antigonus ish Socho – See Pirkei Avos in the first chapter.
kohen gadol family tree Onias – The two are unrelated. I have somewhere in my room a family tree of the Koahanic family of the Hasmonean era, and additionally Onias (Choni) lived during that period.     
pig alexander Aristotle – Yup, all philosophers and their students are pigs.     
Chanuka – The 25th of Kislev is when they rested, the Maccabbees led by Juda beat the Yevanim. Speaking of Judah the Maccabi…

This post was mentioned at

Judas Terms (This Essay)
hasmonean, judah maccabbee – What about him?
maccabee elephant—It’s unfortunate, but one of the Hasmonean brothers drowned in Elephant dung during the war of independence.

Jesus/Teves/Winter Terms (This Essay)
yeshua shulchan aruch – Jesus in the Shulchan Aruch? I made a mistake on that essay, by the way, it was a footnote in the Mechon Yerushalayim of the Tur not the Shulchan Aruch. Sorry to all my readers (both of you) who looked it up and couldn’t  find it.
tekufas teves and adam harishon – See the story in Avoda Zara 8a.
creation seven day maharal     -- I’m not sure if this was for this essay or for the wine essay. Or both. That post was mentioned at and

Ideal Jew (This Essay)
difference between a jew hat and a fedora     - Isn’t a Fedora called a Jew Hat?

Holidays and Holy Days (This Essay)
yuntiff      -- The Yiddish phrase used for the Hebrew equivalent, “Yom Tov” or Good Day. It means holiday or festival.

Murder and Morals (This essay and this essay)
stoning execution halachah     -- There is an entire chapter in Sanhedrin which details these laws. I suggest you look there.
mishnah horayos conclusion – The Mishna says that a Mamzer (illegitimate child born from the forbidden incestuous relations) who is a Talmid Khacham (Torah Scholar) is due more honor than a Kohen Gadol (High Kohanic Priest) who is an Am Ha’artez (stam a guy who knows nothing about Torah).       
bible/genocide – That’s what the essays discussed, read them to know my opinion.

This post was mentioned at:

the sword of moses, haqoton.     
the sword of moses, qodesh.     
I have no clue how someone searching those terms find my site, but I wonder what they mean.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Winter's Darkness

In the non-Jewish world, the winter season is dubbed “the holiday season,” yet, ironically in the Jewish world it is deemed a time of darkness and fright. In the five month (sometimes six month, during a leap year) winter, there are only two Jewish holidays: Chanuka and Purim. Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Sperling quotes[1] the Likutei HaPardes, which states that there was a custom in Europe to refrain from learning Torah on winter nights in the Bais Midrash because the enemies of the Jews would go out and mercilessly beat random Jews whom they saw outside or in the streets. Therefore, he says, the Great Rabbis of the previous generations decreed that on such nights Talmudic scholars should learn in their own houses and should not stroll outdoors[2]. Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Alter (1799-1866, famed author of Chiddushei HaRim and first Rebbe of Ger) relates that a certain priest asked Rabbi Yonasan Eibeshitz (1660-1764, died in Metz, Rav of many cities including Posen, Prague, Altuna, and author of many books/seforim) an interesting question based on the custom cited above. If the entire world depends on Torah learning for its continual existence[3], then how can the world survive if the Jews stop learning during certain periods of the year as per the custom? Rabbi Yehonossan Eyebeshitz answered that the fulfillment of a custom constitutes Torah learning and thus, by refraining from learning in instances where the custom calls for such action, the world has its lifeline. In defense of this custom, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Schapira (1785-1841, celebrated author of the Bnei Yissaschar, and Rebbe of Dinov) explained that Kabbalistically, the Hebraized name for the Christian object of idolatry (i.e. Jesus) represents the angel of dogs. He told that it occurred many times that Jews violated the decree and still went to learn in the Bais Midrash during the winter; as a result, vicious dogs followed them back into their houses and attacked them.[4] This exemplifies the fear that Jews had of the winter months and the pain caused to the Jewish community during the winter season; the Jewish fear and darkness of the winter season is a direct result of the Christian holidays.

The penultimate halachik authorities, the Arba'ah Turim (“Four Rows,” written by Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher Ba'al ha-Turim, circa. 1270-ca 1340) and Shulchan Aruch (“Prepared Table,” Maran Rav Yosef Ben Ephraim Karo, 1488-1575), enumerate[5] the fast days which are no longer observed. In their listing, they explain that on the eighth day of the month of Teves[6], the Egyptian-Greek king Ptolemy Talmai ordered seventy Jewish elders to translate the holy Torah from Biblical Hebrew into Greek (the product is now known as the Septuagint) and thus he caused darkness to overcome the world for three days[7]. The simple explanation of the cryptic end to the story is that Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (“Reish Lukish”) once explained[8] that a certain verse describing darkness[9] refers to Greece who darkened the eyes of Israel with her despotic anti-Torah decrees. Thus, the actions of the Greeks, who represent darkness, brought upon darkness to the world because of their interference with the sustaining factor of the world, namely the Torah. However, how does this account for the specific mention of three days in the writings of the medieval poskim (Halachik deciders)? Both the Tur and Shulkhan Aruch mention that on the ninth of Teves there was also a fast day in the previous generations, but both state that they did not know the reason for that fast day. On the tenth day of Teves, as all observant Jews know, there is a fast day that was accepted to commemorate the besiegement of Jerusalem by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar[10]; the fast was already accepted in the times of Zachariah and is referred to in scripture[11] as the “Fast of the Tenth”. Thus, technically, starting from the eight of Tevet, there are three fast days in a row, which correspond to the three days of darkness mentioned, which resulted from the writing of the Septuagint.

Before understanding what significant connection the three days of fasting have to the three days of darkness, one must first understand what the reason for the establishment of the fast on the ninth day of Teves was. Many of the commentaries[12] on the Tur and Shulchan Arukh[13] explain that on the ninth day of Teves, Ezra the Scribe (and—some say—his counterpart Nehemiah) passed away[14], and a fast was established in his memory. In fact, the Taz (an abbreviation of the commentary Turei Zahav, “Golden Rows,” written by Rabbi Dovid Ben Shmuel HaLevi Segal, 1621-1663) expresses astonishment about the fact that the Mechaber (lit. “Author”, used in reference to Rabbi Caro who wrote the Shulchan Aruch) did not explain this as the reason behind the institution of a fast day on the ninth of Teves. Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829-1888) explains[15] that the reasoning behind the fast was originally not known, but in subsequent generations, it was revealed as the yahrzheit (Yiddish for “yearly anniversary of death”) of Ezra HaSofer. Rabbi Yaakov Chayim Sofer (1870-1939) differs[16], and explains that Ezra’s yahrzeit was actually on the tenth of Teves, but a fast was decreed on the ninth in order to differentiate between the reasons of the two fasts; otherwise, the Tenth of Teves would only be remembered as one of its two anniversaries. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Daud (1110-1180) explains[17] that on this day that Jews of Granada, Spain were massacred, and the son of Rabbi Shmuel Ibn Naghrela HaNaggid (993-1056), the vizier to the Spanish King, was murdered. Another explanation of the former fast on the ninth of the month is recorded in a footnote to the Machon Yerushalayim edition of the Shulchan Aruch[18]. The footnote quotes from the Vilna print of Megillas Ta’anis (the pre-Mishnaic “Scroll of Fasts”) that states that on the ninth day of Teves, “that man” was born; “That man” is a Jewish euphemism for Jesus, and accordingly, the fast was decreed on his birthday as would have been decreed for any day of pain and suffering. This ninth day of Teves is the middle day of the three days of darkness and abstention from food, which included the eighth and tenth days of Teves.

Rabbi Eliyahu (Makatovsky) Kitov (1912-1976) wrote[19] that there seems to be a link between the three days of fasting in Teves and three days of darkness mentioned in both the Tur and Shulchan Aruch after their descriptions of the Greek translation of the Torah. However, he does not explain the correlation between these seemingly unrelated two matters. Furthermore, “darkness” is inexplicably mentioned in respect to another Jewish winter anniversary, namely Purim. The Talmud[20] cites an exegetical statement from the Amora Shmuel who explained that the name of the Persian King was “Achashverosh”[21] because he blackened (hushcharu) the faces of the Israelites in his days like the bottom of a burnt pot. What does it mean that Ahasuerus blackened, or darkened, the faces of the Jewish people of his time?

Perhaps, the answer can be given based upon various selections from the Gemara that seem to associate the lack of eating (i.e. fasting) with darkness and the blackening of one’s face. Rav Nassan Bar Abba said in the name of Rav[22], “all [people] who anticipate [i.e. rely on] the table of others, [the] world is darkened for them, for it says[23] ‘He wanders about for bread [i.e. food]—where is it?—the day of darkness is ready in his hand’.” When a man does not eat, but rather waits for others to feed him, his actions are tantamount to fasting in his denial of food, and thus the Gemara teaches that the world is dark for such a person, for only food can bring to him lightness. A proof to this is the explanation in the Gemara[24] why Caleb son of Jephunneh was given a different name in Chronicles 1 4:5, where the Scripture called Caleb, “Ashchor,” instead of “Caleb” because he blackened (hushcharu) his face through fasting. Rashi[25] explains that Caleb sat many fasts requesting divine help to save him from the evil influence of the spies[26]. Because of his many fasts, his face blackened and darkened. The same idea can be said about the Yehudim in the times of Achashveyrosh that as a result of Ahasuerus ‘s evil decrees, the Jews sat for three days fasting[27] and thus they faces blackened. One can say that the blackening of the Jews’ faces was caused directly by Ahasuerus. This is why Shmuel said that the king’s name was Achashverosh because he blackened the faces of the Israelites; it is because he caused them to fast and thus darken their faces. This understanding can also answer why Shmuel specifically compared the blackness of their faces to the bottom of a burnt pot because he was trying to hint that it was connected to matters relating to food.

This also leads to a better understanding of Tur and Shulchan Aruch who spoke about three days of darkness following the translation of the Holy Torah into the profane Greek language. Since there were three days of fasting in a row—the eighth of Teves because of the translation, the ninth because of Jesus’ birthday or the death of Ezra, and the tenth because of the besiegement of the Golden City[28]—the faces of the Jews blackened. When the faces of G-d’s chosen people darkened, it was as if the entire world itself darkened.

During the winter, when the days are shorter, and the dark nights are longer, one must keep in mind the darkness which lurks in the outside world. The Talmud tells[29] that after Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, he noticed that the days began to grow shorter and shorter (because this occurred in Tishrei, around the time of the autumnal equinox). He thought that HaShem was doing that as a punishment for his eating the fruit, so he fasted for eight days in repentance for the “original sin”. When he saw the period of Teves (the winter solstice) from when the days began to grow longer again, he figured out that the way of the world is to have longer and shorter days depending on the time of the season, and thus he made an eight-day festival. The next year he celebrated all sixteen days as one long holiday. The Talmud[30] also tells of a similar story of when the first night fell and Odom HaRishon was scared that it was a punishment for his violation of the prohibition to eat from the Eitz HaDa’as. We see from these two stories that darkness and night are really forms of evil and punishment, but especially punishment for sins regarding eating forbidden items. Throughout the entire dark winter, there are only two sources of light: The light from the candles lit to commemorate the miracles of Chanuka and the light emanating from the Jewish nation’s learning of Torah throughout the "winter Zman"[31]. Accordingly, there are always at least two days of Chanuka that are to be celebrated in the month of Teves, which follows Kislev. The rest of the light for the dark winter must come from the Ohr HaTorah, the light of the Torah. Amongst the gentiles, there are many holidays celebrated on or near the day of the winter solstice, including but not limited to Yalda, Saturnalia (a pagan holiday named for the governing planet of Teves, Saturn), Christmas, Karachun, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Zamenhof Day, and of course, Kalenda/ Calenda[32]. Those holidays which Adam, the first man, established in the winter were originally done for the sake of heaven to give thanks to G-d, but in the subsequent millennia, the festival was perverted into becoming days of pagan impurity, licentiousness, and extreme frivolity. This is also why darkness and fear fall upon the world during the winter times.

[1] Ta’amei HaMinhagim, “Reasons of the Customs,” pg. 500, Eshkol edition
[2] Historically, the Lithuanian Jewish communities did not accept this custom from the onset.
[3] See Nefesh HaChaim 4:11
[4] It is interesting to note that the Dinover Rebbe himself passed away on the 18th of Teves.
[5] Orach Chaim, §580:2
[6] Rabbi Eliezer HaKallir, the son of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai seemingly wrote in his Krovetz (liturgical poem) for Chanukah that this event occurred on Chanuka, not a week after.
[7] Megilla 9a-b
[8] Midrash Genesis Rabbah 2:4
[9] Genesis 1:2
[10] Based on Jeremiah 52:1-27 and Kings 2 25:1-7
[11] Zechariah 8:19
[12] Be’er HaGoleh, Beiur Heitiv, Mishna Berura, et al.
[13] Orach Chaim, §580:2
[14] See Seder HaDoros, Year 3448, which has an alternate version that Ezra passed away on the tenth of Teves, not the ninth.
[15] Aruch HaShulchan
[16] Kaf HaChaim
[17] Sefer HaKabbalah
[18] ad loc., published in Jerusalem in 1994
[19] Sefer HaToda'ah (“The Book of Our Heritage”) exposition on the month of Teves
[20] Megilla 11a
[21] Esther 1:1
[22] Beitza 32b
[23] Job 15:23
[24] Sotah 12a
[25] To Sotah 12a
[26] See Numbers 13-14
[27] Esther 4:3
[28] Ezekiel 24:1
[29] Avodah Zarah 8a
[30] Ibid.
[31] As seen from Rabbi Yehuda’s explanation of “light” in regard to Purim in Esther 8:16, see also Proverbs 6:23
[32] The pagan holiday still celebrated by some which was mentioned in the Talmud in Avodah Zarah 8a

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

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Hero

The main Chanuka essay is already six pages long with more to be added. It will hopefully be completed in two or three weeks in time for the holiday. However, in order to quench my readers’ thirsts, I will publish a recently revised rehashed essay from a few years ago that I wrote regarding Yehuda the Maccabbee. It is purposefully limited to 450 words, but it’s purpose is more to get the reader’s into the holiday spirit—the Khanuka spirit—rather than to serve as a scholarly analysis of the issue.

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.

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