Sunday, November 9, 2014

What Happened After Chanukah to the Maccabees and to Israel?

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                               

The first night of Chanukah this year is on the 16th of December.  This holiday commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greek armies of Antiochus IV, who thought of himself as a god.
          Mattityahu, patriarch of the priestly Hasmonean clan during the time of the Seleucid Dynasty-Greek kings who reigned from Syria.  He dared to step forward to challenge the Greek soldiers and to those who acquiesced to their demands.  He was backed by 5 sons, and killed the idolators and destroyed an idol.  "All who are with G-d, follow me!" he called out.  

This revolt began when Mattathias killed another Jew who was about to sacrifice to a Greek god, something Jews just didn't do.  Antiochus was the king of Syria and controlled all of Israel.  He bordered on insanity.  His title, Epiphanes, meant "the manifest God."  His enemies called him Epimanes-"the madman."  This is what Jews were up against.
The Romans had gone from a republic to an empire.  They loved bloodshed and dedicated their state to military expansion, something like IS today.  They loved brutal spectacles in the Roman Colosseum's, massacres of as many as 3,000 people to provide Romans with one day's "entertainment, live entertainment."  Their history and love of bloodshed was a part of their society dedicated to military expansion.

Once the Roman armies began to occupy new territories as they did in 400 BCE, no force was able to stop their slow but steady advance.  By 275 BCE they had take the Italian peninsula and within 100 years had gained control over Greece and the Western Mediterranean.  When they went into Egypt they had become involved in our Jewish history.  Antiochus Epiphanes was ready to attack Alexandria but Rome ordered him to leave Egypt at once.  He asked for more time to think about it.  The messenger told him to draw a circle around himself and he had to reach his decision before stepping out of it!  He had to withdraw his armies, but was furious and wanted revenge.  That was when he decided to force his Jewish subjects to convert to his Greek religion.
                                                                    Judah Macabee    
The Jewish revolt began in 167 BCE and 2 years of fighting against the Greeks went by before Judah Maccabee was able to defeat their armies and recapture Jerusalem.  On the 25th of Kislev, 165 BCE, they took back and rededicated the Temple.  After 400 years of rule by Babylonians, Persians and Greeks, Jews were again the masters of their own country.

And then the Romans came into power.  By 135 CE the Romans had killed General Bar Kokhba who had retaken Jerusalem from them and held off the Romans for 3 years.  For 200 years Judea was a province of the Roman Empire.  The Hasmoneas, the family of Mattathias, had become the royal family of Judea.  They ruled for 100 years.  Their children forgot the principals their fathers had fought for, the philosophy of Judaism.  They stopped supporting the principles of religious freedom, basic to the Maccabean revolt.                                                              
 John Hyrcanus was one of the early Hasmoneans , son of Simon,  and ruled from 135 to 104 BCE.  He conquered the state of Idumea which lay to the south of Judah and he forced the entire population, tens of thousands of people, to convert to Judaism.  The Hasmoneans were terrible rulers and had wrecked the country.

There were 9 good years from 76 to 67 BCE when Judah was ruled by a woman, Queen Salome Alexandra (141-67 BCE).  She was kind and gentle and brought unity to the country.  When she died, her 2 sons battled for the throne.  They didn't want to start another civil war so asked Pompey who was in Syria to decide between them who was to rule Judah.  He was smart.  He seized Judah for Rome.  This was in 63 BCE.
"Salome Alexandra, the sister of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, the famous leader of the Sanhedrin, was the wife of the first Maccabean to take on the title of “king” since the destruction of the first Holy Temple. The name of this great-grandson of Mattathias was Judah Aristobulus.
After her husband’s death, Salome freed the king’s oldest brother, Alexander Jannai, who had been imprisoned by her husband, and married him, in accordance with Jewish law, since she was left childless."  She had reversed Jannai's policy  towards the Pharisees, traditionally by his dying request.  She handed internal control to the Pharisees but kept the responsibility for the army and foreign policy.  She then appointed her oldest son, Hyrcanus, as high priest and heir but he was opposed by his brother, Aristobulus.  Josephus, the Jewish general and writer, was critical of her since he wrote for the Roman audience.  
The Romans turned around and gave the control of the country to a family from IDUMEA, people that had been forced into Judaism.  In reality, they were still pagans who didn't respect Judaism or Jews!  The throne was given to Herod( 73-4 BCE).    He was the son of Antipater the Idumean by his Nabatean wife, Cypros.  He celebrated his new position by going to Rome for his coronation where he offered sacrifices to the Roman god, Jupiter.

Herod  was an odd sort.  He trusted no one and killed anyone he suspected of disloyalty, another Saddam Hussein.  He had the High Priest murdered as well as his wife and sons.  The Emperor Augustus said of him that it was safer to be one of Herod's pigs than one of his children!

Thousands were dying at his command.   He didn't want to think about this so he concentrated on his building projects for himself like fortresses to protect the land and give himself places of refuge in case of a revolt against his rule.

He did rebuild the Jerusalem Temple and made it more splendid that the first Temple of Solomon but just to show off his wealth and make himself more important.  It had nothing to do with the religion.  In fact, he had a huge golden eagle mounted on the Temple gate, a violation of the 2nd commandment which prohibits making statues of animals.  It was a sign of loyalty to Rome and the symbol of the Roman Empire.  Jewish patriots tore it down so Herod had 42 of them arrested and burned to death.  On the other hand,  he was very two-faced as  he appeared as a spokesman and protector of the Jews to the Jews, but he was one mentally sick person.

King Antiochus the Greek (175-163 BCE) had wanted to strip away our way of life and its spirituality and holiness.  They wanted us to forsake the G-dliness of our study of Torah.  Their culture was of pragmatic materialism and it left no room for an invisible god and the Jews' special relationship with Him.

General Pompey the Roman (106-48 BCE) walked through the Temple and went into the Holy of Holies, where no Jew dared enter except the High Priest on Yom Kippur only.  He found nothing in there.  No Ark of the Law.  It had disappeared when the Temple of Solomon was destroyed.  No idol, no priest or priestess delivering messages from the gods like he was used to seeing.  An invisible god was not something he could understand.  The times were bad.  No one was there to stop him.  Jewish independence was at an end.
A great Rabbi once said that "You cannot chase away darkness with a stick.  You have to turn on the light."  The way to eliminate darkness, or ignorance, is to rid the world of it.  We have to get rid of negativity, hatred and greed.  We have to kindle the lights of knowledge, generosity, hope and love.  But you can't do it by forcing people into such acts, which is what the Puritans did in early America as told in the book, "Good Wives" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.  They were punished and humiliated into such behaviors.  They became social outcasts.  Education done as well as possible is the only way to continue our standards of today.  One generation, and they melt away quickly if not reinforced with education.

Resource:  My People -Abba Eban's History of the Jews Volume I adapted by David Bambergert, 1978
Your Chanukah Guide, 1996-Lubavitch

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