Thursday, November 21, 2013

SPECIAL EDITION: The untold story of Hanuka

The tensions between the Jews and the Greek empire started long before Hanuka. Around the year 320 BCE Alexander the Great conquered Israel. At the beginning he demanded what was considered a normal token of submission in those days: that his statue be erected in the Bet-haMiqdash. The Jews, of course, politely refused. They offered him instead that every Jewish child born in that year would 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 (=embracing Greek future and religion) began. The Greeks introduced their new values everywhere in the civilized world. Promiscuous pagan practices, idol-worshiping, sports and competition, the idealization of external beauty, theater and the entertainment industry, etc.  These new, cool and very popular "values" were immediately and happily adopted by every people in the Greek empire. Except for the Jews. 

The Hellenist tried to assimilate the obstinate Jews by non-violent means. They first targeted the most vulnerable strata of the Jewish people: the rich and famous. Those who had most to lose for disobedience. They enticed their betrayal by lowering their taxes, giving them good governmental positions and generous pensions. Slowly but surely the most influential Jews became assimilated. The peak of this situation was reached when one Shabbat, the High Priest Jason, attended the sport competition in a stadium built right next to the Bet haMiqdash, instead of leading the services to God in the Temple!  But while many followed the ways of these assimilated Jews,  most Jews still remained loyal to their faith.  

The Greeks realized that they had tried peacefully to assimilate the Jews for 150 year. But it was not working.  In the year 169 BCE  Antiokhus Epiphanes decided that it was time to stop being nice and persuasive... Now, it was the time to impose the Greek values upon the obstinate Jews. Antiokhus led his armies into Jerusalem. First, he stopped the offering of the daily sacrifices. Then, he seized and desecrated the Temple.  After finishing with the Temple he continued by imposing a new lifestyle to the individual Jews.   By 167 BCE practicing Judaism was a crime punished by execution. Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, Kashrut and particularly, circumcision were banned. Jews were forced to publicly bow-down to idols. At the beginning they did not fight back. Thousands of Jews chose death instead of worshipping idols. But something changed. When the Greeks entered  the city of Modi'in, Matitiyahu haKohen, the leader of the town was ordered to offer a sacrifice to an idol. He refused. He fought and killed those who were carrying the orders of Antiokhus. He was the first Jew that instead of martyrdom (=letting himself to be killed) chose rebellion, and thus, started the armed insurrection against Antiokhus the tyrant. With God's help, Matitiyahu and his sons defeated the powerful Greek armies in several battles and at the end, in 165 BCE they restored the Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel.  

Rabbi E. Melamed says that, ironically, it was Antiokhus' impatience what saved the Jews.  Had the Greeks been more patient, massive assimilation might have eventually taken place, and the consequences would have been devastating.  It was providential, heaven-sent, that Antiokhus lost his patience. By forbidding the practice of Judaism, the Jews--even the assimilated Jews--were inspired to react and start the rebellion (Penine Halakha , zemanim, 218-220)

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

Naive Australian volunteers discovering the truth 
of the Palestinian plight