The Hanukah Dilemma – The Birth of Judaism

How the Rabbis stole Hanukah and gave Judaism a new life…….

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Notes

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They celebrated it for eight days with gladness like Sukkot and recalled how a little while before, during Sukkot they had been wandering in the mountains and caverns like wild animals. So carrying lulavs [palm branches waved on Sukkot]…they offered hymns of praise (perhaps, the Hallel prayer) to God who had brought to pass the purification of his own place. (II Maccabees 10:6-7)
Babylonian Talmud 21b What is the reason for Hanukkah? For our rabbis taught: On the twentyfifth of Kislev begin the days of Hanukkah [which are eight] on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they searched and found only one jug of oil which lay with the seal of the kohen gadol, but which contained enough for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle occurred and they lit the lamp for eight days. The following year these days were appointed a festival with the recitation of hallel and thanksgiving.

מאי חנוכה דתנו רבנן בכ”ה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה

Who were the Maccabees and/or the Hasmoneans?

  • The revolt begins, in fact, when the patriarch of the Maccabees (as the family that led the campaign came to be known) kills a fellow Jew who was in the act of obeying the king’s decree to perform a sacrifice forbidden in the Torah. The Maccabean hero also kills the king’s officer and tears down the illicit altar. These were blows struck for Jewish traditionalism, and arguably for Jewish survival and authenticity, but not for religious freedom.

The Meaning of Hanukkah – A celebration of religious freedom, the holiday fits well with the American political tradition. By JON D. LEVENSON December 16, 2011

  • In a fascinating book written by Harvard scholar Shaye J.D. CohenFrom the Maccabees to the Mishnah, the author follows the emergence of Jewish sects starting from the Maccabees and culminating with the emergence of the Pharisees (Rabbinic Judaism), Essenes, Samaritans, Christians, Sicarii and zealots .  He writes:

The Maccabean period lasted a century, from the victory of 164 B.C.E. to the entrance of the Romans into Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. During their tenure, the Maccabees gradually increased their power and prestige, They began as rebels against the Seleucid empire, but less than ten years after Judah’s death his brother was appointed high priest by a relation of Antiochus Epiphanes!  By the 140s and 130s B.C.E. the Seleucids had little choice but to accept the independence of the Maccabean state. The rise of the Maccabees within the Jewish polity was just as phenomenal. They began as insignificant country priests and became high priests and kings, the rulers of an independent state. They pursued an aggressive foreign policy, seeking alliance with Rome against the Seleucids and carving out for themselves a kingdom larger than that of David and Solomon. Their fall from power was caused by both internal and external enemies….

Their fall from power was caused by both internal and external enemies. During the reigns of John Hyrcanus (135-104 B.C.E.) and Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.E.), many Jews opposed Maccabean rule. These opponents were not “Hellenizers” and “law- less” Jews who supported Antiochus’ attempt to destroy Judaism, but loyal Jews who had had enough of the Maccabees’ autocratic ways.  [p15]

The Hasmonean dynasty was not itself a sect; it was the corrupt ruling power under whose rule it became clear that the Jewish Commonwealth and Temple were doomed. The sects were a natural response… the emergence of a plan for a new age.  The Hasmoneans left little more than a trail of blood.  They took power, land and made treaties with foreigners when it served their purpose.  Their dynasty ended when the wicked Herod was appointed Governor.. they had prepared the way.

Of interest: “The opponents of Herod the Great called him a “half-Jew” because he was a decedent of the Idumeans, who had been forcibly converted to Judaism by the Maccabees.” [p.54]

  • In the Talmud (Kiddushin 66a) there is an account of a Hasmonean King named Yannai:

It happened that King Yannai went to Kochalis in the desert and conquered 60 cities.  Upon his return he was exceedingly happy and so he invited all the sages of Israel to a celebration…they served delicacies on gold tables and they feasted. ….  There was there a certain elder named Yehudah ben Gedidyah.  He said to Yannai: “King Yannai!  Be satisifed with the crown of kingship; leave the crown of Kehunah for the descendants of Aaron.”  Yannai removed the sages from the feast. Eliezer ben Poira said to King Yannai: “King Yannai! If an ordinary Jew were treated in this way it would be his lot, but you are a King AND Kohen Gadol, is this your lot?”   … immediately Yannai executed all the sages of Israel and the world was bereft of Torah knowledge until Shimon ben Shetach came and returned the Torah to its former standing.

מעשה בינאי המלך שהלך לכוחלית שבמדבר וכיבש שם ששים כרכים ובחזרתו היה שמח שמחה גדולה וקרא לכל חכמי ישראל אמר להם אבותינו היו אוכלים מלוחים בזמן שהיו עסוקים בבנין בית המקדש אף אנו נאכל מלוחים זכר לאבותינו והעלו מלוחים על שולחנות של זהב ואכלו והיה שם אחד איש לץ לב רע ובליעל ואלעזר בן פועירה שמו ויאמר אלעזר בן פועירה לינאי המלך ינאי המלך לבם של פרושים עליך ומה אעשה הקם להם בציץ שבין עיניך הקים להם בציץ שבין עיניו היה שם זקן אחד ויהודה בן גדידיה שמו ויאמר יהודה בן גדידיה לינאי המלך ינאי המלך רב לך כתר מלכות הנח כתר כהונה לזרעו של אהרן שהיו אומרים אמו נשבית במודיעים ויבוקש הדבר ולא נמצא ויבדלו חכמי ישראל בזעם ויאמר אלעזר בן פועירה לינאי המלך ינאי המלך הדיוט שבישראל כך הוא דינו ואתה מלך וכהן גדול כך הוא דינך ומה אעשה אם אתה שומע לעצתי רומסם ותורה מה תהא עליה הרי כרוכה ומונחת בקרן זוית כל הרוצה ללמוד יבוא וילמוד אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק מיד נזרקה בו אפיקורסות דהוה ליה למימר תינח תורה שבכתב תורה שבעל פה מאי מיד ותוצץ הרעה על ידי אלעזר בן פועירה ויהרגו כל חכמי ישראל והיה העולם משתומם עד שבא שמעון בן שטח והחזיר את התורה ליושנה

The Hasmanoim destroyed the historical division of power between the king and the priest, Temple and State.

King Yannai

Alexander Yannai was a son of Yochanan Hyrkanos, son of Simeon, a son of Mattathias (Matisyohu), the son of Yochanan the High Priest. Thus, Alexander Yannai was a great-grandson of the first Hasmonean, who, together with his heroic sons, fought against the Greek King Antiochus. Their self sacrifice for the Torah and for the Jewish people, resulted in the truly delightful and inspiring holiday of Chanukah.

Yannai inherited the royal crown at the age of 23, after the early death of his older brother Yehudah Aristobulus. Yehudah Aristabulus was the first of the Hasmoneans who was not satisfied merely with the title “Nasi” (Prince) and had himself crowned as “king.”

  • The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 18b) recounts:

Once in the city of Lod they decreed a fast on the holiday of Hanukah.  In response, Rabbi Eliezer went to a bathhouse and took a bath and Rabbi Yehoshua went to a barber in Lod and had his haircut.  These two rabbis said to the people of Lod who had fasted: “Go out and make another fast on account of the fact that you fasted on Chanukah.”

We learn from this that the Holiday of Hanukah was controversial, even then… clearly some Jews did not believe that the re-packaging of Hanukah as a festival of lights had done the job.  Their hatred for the Hasmanoim was so great that they actually fasted on Hanukah.

  • The Talmud in Rosh HaShana continues:

“On the Third of Tishrei, the superfluous mention of God’s name was removed from secular documents.  For the Greek kingdom had decreed that God’s name not be mentioned, and when the Hasmoneans took power they decreed that people should mention God’s name EVEN in secular documents.  And so they would write, ‘In the year so and so to Yochanan who is the Kohen Gadol to the Supreme God (kohen gadol le-el elyon).’  When the sages heard about this matter they were displeased, for they said: ‘Tomorrow this person will repay his debt and the unneeded document will be found lying in a garbage heap.’  And so they nullified the Hasmonean decree.  That day they made into a festival.”

What makes this story remarkable is that the Third of Tishrei is also a fast day… it is the Fast of Gedaliah… the first instance of Jew-on-Jew assassination that occurred in the time of Jeremiah where the governor that Jeremiah supported was killed as a Babylonian collaborator by a zeolot.

It would seem that even though the 3rd of Tishrei was a fast day (Tzom Gedlaiah) which is observed by Orthodox Jews till today on the day after Rosh HaShanah, the Rabbis saw no contradiction in celebrating the nullification of a Hasmonean decree.  It would appear that the Rabbis made a connection between the Jew-on-Jew violence of the zealots in Jeremiah’s generation with the similar action of the Hasmoneans in their own.  Nullifying a Hasmonean decree was an act in the spirit of the fast of Gedalya.

  • The Al HaNisim:And [we thank You] for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time—

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will. But You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights, and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel to this very day. Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Hanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.

עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת וְעַל הַנֶּחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

בִּימֵי מַתִּתְיָהו בֶן יוֹחָנָן כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל חַשְׁמוֹנָאִי  וּבָנָיו כְּשֶׁעָמְדָה מַלְכוּת יָוָן הָרְשָׁעָה עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהשַׁכִּיחָם תּוֹרָתָךְ  וּלְהַעֲבִירָם מֵחֻקֵּי רְצוֹנָךְ וְאַתָּה, בְּרַחֲמֶיךָ הָרַבִּים, עָמַדְתָּ לָהֶם בְּעֵת צָרָתָם: רַבְתָּ אֶת רִיבָם דַּנְתָּ אֶת דִּינָם נָקַמְתָּ אֶת נִקְמָתָם מָסַרְתָּ גִבּוֹרִים בְּיַד חַלָּשִׁים וְרַבִּים בְּיַד מְעַטִּים וּטְמֵאִים בְּיַד טְהוֹרִים וּרְשָׁעִים בְּיַד צַדִּיקִים וְזֵדִים בְּיַד עוֹסְקֵי תוֹרָתֶךָ וּלְךָ עָשִׂיתָ שֵׁם גָּדוֹל וְקָדוֹשׁ בְּעוֹלָמָךְ וּלְעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל עָשִׂיתָ תְּשׁוּעָה גְדוֹלָה וּפֻרְקָן כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וְאַחַר כֵּן, בָּאוּ בָנֶיךָ לִדְבִיר בֵּיתֶךָ וּפִנּוּ אֶת הֵיכָלֶךָ וְטִהֲרוּ אֶת-מִקְדָּשֶׁךָ וְהִדְלִיקוּ נֵרוֹת בְּחַצְרוֹת קָדְשֶׁךָ וְקָבְעוּ שְׁמוֹנַת יְמֵי חֲנֻכָּה  אֵלּוּ לְהוֹדוֹת וּלְהַלֵּל לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל.

The schoolmen propounded a question: Should the ‘Hanukah incident be mentioned in the benediction after meals? Shall we assume that because it is rabbinical it is unnecessary? or, for the sake of the proclamation of the miracle, it should? Said Rabba in the name of R. S’haura, quoting R. Huna: “It is not necessary; however, if one wishes to do it, he should incorporate it in the thanksgiving part. R. Huna b. Judah chanced to visit Raba’s academy [and] thought to mention it [Hanukkah] in [the benediction] ‘he will rebuild Jerusalem.’ Said R. Shesheth to them [the scholars], It is as the Prayer: (the Amidah – 18 Benedictions]  just as [it is inserted in] the Prayer in the [benediction of] ‘Thanks,[Modi’im anachnu Lach and not Shma Kolaein – hear our prayer] so [is it inserted in] grace after meals in the [benediction of] ‘Thanks’ .” Babylonian Talmud Sabbath 24a

איבעיא להו מהו להזכיר של חנוכה בברכת המזון כיון דמדרבנן הוא לא מדכרינן או דילמא משום פרסומי ניסא מדכרינן אמר רבא אמר רב סחורה אמר רב הונא אינו מזכיר ואם בא להזכיר מזכיר בהודאה רב הונא בר יהודה איקלע לבי רבא סבר לאדכורי בבונה ירושלים אמר להו רב ששת כתפלה מה תפלה בהודאה אף ברכת המזון בהודאה

  • The purified temple – a failed model

But the newfound importance of the temple could not hide several difficult problems. Built by a Davidic king, authorized by a prophet, and authenticated through the miraculous manifestation of God (a cloud of smoke and, according to Chronicles, fire from heaven), the first temple was the splendid achievement of a splendid reign. The second temple, by contrast, although authorized by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, was built by a gentile king and was never authenticated by an overt sign of divine favor. Second Isaiah, in his prophecy announcing God’s selection of Cyrus the Great to be his “anointed one” to free the Jews from the Babylonian captivity and to build the temple, is aware that some Jews do not approve of God’s plan …. The old men who had seen the first temple in its glory cried at the dedication of the second (Ezra 3:12) – apparently tears of sadness, as they contemplated the puny temple that was before them. In the second century B.C.E., the temple’s problematic status was revealed to all. The high priests were corrupted and the temple was profaned by a gentile monarch. Even after it was regained and purified by pious Jews, there was no prophet to approve their work and no miracle to assure them that the temple was once again the abode of God. The Maccabees installed themselves as high priests although they were not of the high priestly line. When the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. they entered the sacred precincts, polluting them with their presence. Herod the Great rebuilt the temple magnificently, but his detractors Viewed him as a “half-Jew.” He completely debased the high priesthood, appointing men who had even less claim than the Maccabees to be the legitimate successors of Aaron. [pp131-2]

The desecration of the temple and the persecution of Judaism by Epiphanes, the overt corruption of the high priesthood, the Maccabean revolt and the reclamation of the temple through force of arms, and the usurpation of the high priesthood by jonathan the Hasmonean, all these highlighted the problematic status of the temple. Was it legitimate? Was it the real house of God? Even if the temple had been legitimate before, how could one be sure that its purification was efficacious in the eyes of God? The dissonance between the real and the perceived was greater now than before. Through vigorous propaganda the Maccabees sought to legitimate both themselves and the temple they had regained, but many Jews were not convinced. Those who were least convinced formed sects. [161]

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