Monday, November 17, 2014

From Chanukah to Christmas, the History of IT

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                     

                                             My two chanukias.  We light another candle each night for 8 nights

Being we are so close to celebrating Chanukah, a time when the Hasmoneans, the family of Mattathias, defeated the armies of Antiochus, and became the royal family of Judea, it's time to find out what happened to our heroes.
The principals of this family believed in freedom, including religious freedom.  It was the very belief in their Maccabean revolt.  John Hyrcanus, one of the early Hasmoneans, had conquered the country lying to the south of Judea, Idumea and he forced the entire population, tens of thousands of people, to convert to Judaism!
We have been under the gun of forced conversions since then.  This had been the only time in our history that we had done such a terrible thing.  It only took 100 years for these descendants of our Chankah heroes to wreck the country and violate our ideals.
 Herod, one of the Idumean descendants, was picked as king over Judea by the Romans who had invaded, and he had no feelings in his heart.  He was anti-social, for he ordered the High Priest to be killed along with his own wife and children, truly more Roman behaviors than Judea, for sure!  He was like Nero or Saddam Hussein of Iraq.  He ordered thousands to be killed.
General Pompey had conquered Judea in 63 BCE, where 3 million Jews lived.  4 million other Jews were living in other parts of the Roman Empire at that time.  The population of the whole Roman Empire was not greater than 70 million, which is about what today's Turkey has as their population.  No fewer than 1 of every 10 Romans was Jewish.  This was the "only time in history that Jews formed so large a part of the known population of the Western world!"

The Jews were living under insane conditions.  Right and Wrong meant nothing these days to the government.  Innocent people were being murdered at the whim of the king.  The Jewish society was split on how to deal with it.  One trend of thought turned out to be the Zealots and the other were the Essenes.

The zealots were revolutionaries.  They wanted to expel the Romans and restore Judean independence, which was a very normal idea.  How to do this?  They decided to use terrorism against the Romans and against any Jew who opposed their methods.  One has to remember that this all happened about 2,000 years ago, but in reading about it you'd think these terrorists were Hamas or IS.  They mixed in large crowds and stabbed to death political opponents who would have been Romans or Jews that were regarded as turncoats.
This earned them the title of the Sicariis or dagger men. Today they would be called terrorists.   Their logic was that if courageous fighting had conquered Antiochus, equal courage would defeat Rome. Who can argue with that?  They were brave men, but they had no idea how strong the Roman armies were.
The Essenes were the hippies of their age, the dropouts, who became the first Jewish monks.   They also wanted some radical change, but not  from being under the Roman thumb.  They were looking for change in themselves!  They were New Age people!  They figured that society was too corrupt and would never be improved.  They withdrew from all society and gave up normal comforts of life like men later in Catholicism who did this sort of thing in monasteries.  They were the first ever to follow a strict pattern; prayer, work and purification.  They were very strict.  They had to be neophytes for 3 years before they were accepted as full members.  They are known for writing the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It came to be that some lived in cities and others lived far away in the desert in spiritual search for G-d.  One realizes that they had given up women in all this, which made their group very small and had little effect on Judaism.
The Sadducees were another Jewish group.  Like about 95% of the Jews of the United States today, there were some Jews who were also enjoying wealth and power even while under Roman rule like the Romans were doing.  They wanted things to remain on an even keel.  They formed a conservative political party and were called the Sadducees, a name they borrowed from Zadok, the first High Priest of the Jerusalem Temple.  A large number of priests belonged to this party.  They were priests who were very strict in interpreting the laws of the Torah and didn't want to deviate from old priestly traditions even in the new and unusual circumstances they found themselves in.  In other words, they weren't keeping up with the times.   It was a fairly small group.  They were powerful for many years.                                                        
                                  Rabbi Akiva (50-135 CE) Greatest scholar of his time
Another political party in existence was the party of the people who were made up of the rich, poor, farmers, laborers, priests and commoners.  They were called the Pharisees, meaning separate one.  They weren't moderates of their age, not middle of the roaders, but were dedicated and creative with leaders who risked their lives for their beliefs.  In matters of their Jewish religion, they were extremely strict.  However, they could be flexible and realized that many ancient laws had to be re-interpreted so that they held meaning for their own age.  They were creating revolutionary changes to outdated practices, but the Torah continued to be a meaningful force in their lives. They also kept our practices enjoyable for families.  It was they who initiated the practice of the woman of the house to light extra lamps just before sundown on Friday.  It led to today's ceremony of lighting candles to celebrate the beginning of the Sabbath.
Out of the Pharisees came a great teacher, Hillel (1st century BCE) .  His reputation spread so far that Jews came from distant lands to Judea to study with the Pharisees and especially Hillel.  they accepted students from every walk of life.  They would save a life even it it meant breaking or modifying laws when necessary.  Outstanding scholars were Shemaia and Avtalion who became in turn, teachers of others.  Hillel set up his own school and followed the example of his master teachers.  He taught to love peace and pursue peace, to love all creatures and bring them near to the Torah.  He was the one faced with the smart alec student once who asked his teachers to teach him Torah while he stood one one foot, and if he could, he would convert to Judaism.  He tried several teachers who just sent him away, but Hillel quickly replied, "What its hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah.  The rest is commentary.  Go and learn.  This is called the Golden Rule today.  The man converted.

The story continues.  Pompey returned to Rome and was defeated by Caesar and was then murdered by an Egyptian assassin. 

     Herod  became so insanely cruel that he ordered his men to kill all Jewish leaders as soon as he died so there would be no rejoicing the news about his death.  The soldiers refused to obey and the anniversary of his death became a day of celebration.  His chosen heir was overthrown by the Jewish people.

     Hillel left a family from which leaders came out of for the next 400 years.  He had established a living tradition of study,  piety and humanity which still lives on.  Just look at Chabad.  That is a great example.

Hillel started Judaism on the right foot of teaching us to be observant but humane and this formed the basis of future Jewish thinking and Jewish life.  This became mainstream Judaism.  The Zealots had brought revolution to the land but destruction to themselves.

Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus were kind to Jews in their realm.  Jews didn't have to serve in the military because they couldn't keep kosher food or observe the Sabbath there.  But Herod had been terrible.  When he finally died, Rome ended the monarchy and put in their own man, a procurator who was like our governors.  They were replaced regularly to keep them from becoming too rich!  Because of this, each one tried to steal as much as he could while in office.

 Pontius Pilate was a procurator and he was one of the most bloodthirsty and corrupt.  He ordered executions without trials, stole Temple funds and sent disguised solders among the Jews who massacred the demonstrators and casual onlookers.  Even Romans protested his brutality, and they were raised in an era of such things, so you know how bad it had become.

Jews no doubt were suffering terribly.  They prayed for help.  "They had a tradition going back to the prophets that a descendant of King David, who had lived 1,000 years before (1010-970 BCE) would free his people from tyranny and resestablish an independent kingdom of Israel.  He would be the perfect ruler, totally just and righteous and bring peace and happiness to the world.  He would be annointed with holy oil like a king and so would be called "the annointed." or in Hebrew-Machiach, pronounced as Mashiakh or in English, Messiah.

Some thought that Joshua, or in Greek, Jesus,  was the messiah they all were waiting for.  This is who the Christmas story is all about.

It's important for people to understand that few facts are known with certainly about him.  We do not have one word written by him or by anyone who ever saw him.  Information comes from a book called the New Testament which is written by many authors and who were born as much as 100 years after his death.  They disagree with each other in important areas.  They wrote as spokesmen for the belief that he was divine and not as historians.  Jewish belief is that we are all humans and nobody can be divine.  Smart, yes, but not divine.

This idea of Jesus being divine was a belief in Greek and Roman religious thinking.  Their gods were part human and part gods from Olympus.  Today, new age historians with a program on TV (History 2) believe in people from outer space landing on earth and they might be replacing the god theory by somehow getting our females pregnant and improving our race that way.

Then we have Erdogen, president of Turkey coming up with Cuba having Muslims building a mosque on their hill in 1153 AD (CE for Jews)  in which he is actually rewriting history to fool the Cuban people to convert to Islam. We have the Palestinian Muslims rewriting history as well in order to have the right to take Israel from the Jews and drive them into the sea.  It seems that some people are unabashed in altering historical facts in order to gain something for themselves.

The Jesus story is that he died on the cross, just like thousands of Jews with and before him.  To most all Jews, his death was proof that he was a human, and continued to pray for a Messiah to come.  Paul, who became St. Paul, believed that Jesus had come back to life after 3 days of death in order to rule in heaven, so he was still king.  This is how he is referred to by Christians as the Messiah (annointed with oil).  In Greek, Messiah is Christos--Christ.

Christian teachings became more anti-Jewish.  The New Testament portrays Pontius Pilate as a sensitive man who only wished to save Jesus's life.  The Jews were portrayed as bloodthirsty and merciless and stopped Pilate from saving his life.  Jews have had to live for 16 centuries with this story which has caused the persecution of Jews or anti-Semitism because people were taught that Jews were the murderers of Jesus.
               Christmas gifts in green and red, Christmas colors                                                        

                                                             Chanukah Gelt-a gift

It's strange that Chanukah and Christmas both come in December, both joyful celebrations where both people give presents.  We've learned to live and let live, even after such a history.  Jews no longer are terrorists like the Hasmoneans stabbing people in crowds, but we see others hating us doing this very ancient 2,000 year old  aggressive attack today, modern Muslim terrorists.  Christians are still producing anti-Semitism, but not to the degree practiced for the past 2,000 years.  Yet it still is happening.

 Just the other day a rabbi was stabbed in the neck while walking to his synagogue by a Muslim.  Muslims are rioting in Jerusalem.  Terrorism comes in the form of ramming crowds of pedestrians with cars and killing a few.  It had been coming from rockets, missiles and mortars from Gaza.  Now it's coming from threats from Imans in Iran of being totally wiped out.

Yes, Jews, especially those living in Israel, are praying for the Messiah to come along and change things for the best.  2,000 years of praying and waiting; we don't give up.  The arch of Titus in Rome remains among ruins of the Roman culture, a reminder of the grandeur of an empire that disappeared centuries ago.  Judaism never left and Israel arose from the ashes.
Vespasian made a victory coin showing a Roman soldier next to a crying widow.  Israel's 1958 coin celebrating its 10th anniversary has a happy woman holding her baby in the light of freedom as her husband is kneeling to plant a tree.  Above their heads it says, "Israel Liberata--"Israel Freed."  Israel is free, but there are those who are trying to destroy it.  L'Chaim (To Life) and " to Freedom for all!"

Resource: My People, Abba Eban's History of the Jews Volume I
The New Standard Jewish Encclopedia


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