Friday, November 22, 2013

HANUKA: Why we don't celebrate the military victories of the Hashmonayim?

As we explained yesterday, the victory of the Jews over the Greek army was not considered just an epic military triumph but a great miracle that HaShem granted us.  For two centuries the Jews remembered and celebrated these victories and the events that represented a turning point in the fight against the Hellenization of the Jews.  Megilat Ta'anit was an ancient book of chronicles composed at the beginning of the common era by Hanania ben Hizqia. In it we can find a record of all the holidays, a total of  thirty-five, which celebrated the victories of the Macabeem (also known as Hashmonayim).

Some illustrations: 
  1. The 13th of Adar. "Yom Niqanor". In that day the Macabeem defeated the large army of the Greek general Niqanor. 
  2. The 14th of Nisan, when the Jews recovered the city of Ceasarea. 
  3. The 22nd of Elul, when the Hashmonayim brought to justice those Jews (meshumadim) who joined the enemy's army . 
  4. The 22nd of Shebat, when Antiokhus  came with his powerful Seleucid army and surrounded Yerushalayim. It was very unusual for the King himself to come and lead his army. But Antiokhus wanted to make sure that this will be the final battle against the rebellious Jews. His intention was to destroy Jerusalem and kill all the Jews living in the city. On that day, news came to Antiokhus that the Parthians were rebelling against him in the capital city of his Kingdom. Antiokhus decided to postpone his final attack against the Jews. He took his army back to Herat where he was defeated and killed.    
Upon the destruction of the second Bet haMiqdash, in the year 68 ACE, the Rabbis reasoned that we should not be celebrating these "national" holidays anymore once we are defeated, enslaved and in exile. They suspended then all the celebrations of military victories recorded in  Meguilat Ta'anit (=batela meguilat ta'anit) except Hanuka, because of the miracle of the oil.  This is why Hanuka's celebration, lighting candles, does not focus on military victories, but mainly on the miracle of the oil.  Still, in Hanuka's prayers ('al hanisim) we do mention the victories of the Hashmonayim and we recite the Halel, thanking HaShem for the miraculous ways He saved our ancestors from their powerful enemies.  

        (Psalm 120:7) אני שלום וכי אדבר המה למלחמה