Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The untold story of Chanukka

The decrees of Antiochus Epiphanes forbidding the practice of Judaism in 170 BCE, was the straw that broke the camel's back, and what triggered the rebellion of the Jews (or the Macabeem) against the Greek army. 

The tensions between the Jews and the Greek empire started long before that. Around the year 320 BCE Alexander the Great conquered Israel (and the rest of the civilized world). At the beginning, he demanded what was considered a normal token of submission, that his statue be erected in the Bet-haMiqdash. The Jews, of course, politely refused and offered him instead, that every Jewish child to be born in that year, be named Alexander in his honor.  Alexander accepted the offer and left the Jews relatively in peace. 

After his death, Alexander's empire was divided between his three generals and a period of hellenization began. The Greeks introduced their new values everywhere: sports and competition; art and the idealization of external beauty; theater and the entertainment industry, and more.  These new cool things were immediately and happily adopted by the whole world, except for the Jews. 

During the next 150 years, the Hellenist tried to assimilate the obstinate Jews to Greek culture. They first targeted the most vulnerable strata of the Jewish people: the rich and famous, those who had most to lose for their disobedience. They lower their taxes, promised good positions and generous pensions, and slowly but surely, the most influential Jews became voluntarily assimilated. The peak was reached when the High Priests, Jason and later Menelaus, attended the sport competitions in a stadium built right next to the Bet haMiqdash, instead of leading the services to God in the Temple. 

While many followed the ways of the assimilated Jews, still, most Jews remained loyal to their faith. And that is when Antiochus lost his patience with the Jews...   

(To be continued....)