The Background of Chanuka

Book of Jeremiah

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This speech I received in an email from a friend. It was a speech given by a wonderful Jewish man who has such a passion for Israel. He tells the Background of Chanuka and it brought tears to my eyes to read a story told with such passion, such love for Israel and the Jewish people. I am overwhelmed by his speech and I believe all of you will be also. His knowledge on the subject is astounding. I am forever grateful for my friend who knows this wonderful man and gave me permission to post it here. I know it will be a blessing to the Jewish posters here. How wonderful is the history of Israel and the Jewish people! Long Live Israel!

Note* I have no link, I have no news article, it was a speech and I am posting it as I received it - except for his name. If they have permission from him to post his name I will do so here. Until then I will sign him anonymous........ here is his beautiful tribute to Israel :


Background of Chanuka given by - anonymous - at the Shalosh Seudot of the QJC, Shabbat Chanuka, Parshat Miketz, 27th Kislev, Nov. 30, 2013

K’vod Harabonim, K’vod hachazan, fellow congregants. Chanuka sameach! Sadly our Chanuka simcha is dampened by the passing of our rabbi, Moreinu Harav Rabbi Avraham Yosef Grunblatt, zichrono tzadik v’kadosh livracha. This talk is given in the memory of my late mother, Marat Gittel bat Yitzhak v’Itta, aleha hashalom, whose yahrzeit takes place tonight. The subject of my talk is The Historic Background of Chanuka.

The story of Chanuka really begins with the profound changes that took place in the Middle East with the sweeping invasion of Alexander the Great of Macedonia in the year of 332 BCE. His conquests ended the Persian domination of The Middle East. It ended the relative independence of Judea, which had been under Persian rule for centuries. Emperor Cyrus is remembered as the Persian monarch of the sixth century BCE who encouraged and largely financed the building of the second Beit Hamikdash. He also supported the Jewish repopulation of Yerushalayim.

Alexander’s conquests struck much of the ancient world from India to Ethiopia, Maihodu v’ahd Kush, as Megilat Esther expresses Persia’s expanse. Yet Alexander was benevolent to his conquered subjects…and generally good to the Jews. He even admired Jewish religious practices. This was evidenced by his meeting with and prostration to the saintly Kohen Gadol Shimon Hatzadik.

But Greek rule, however benevolent, intended more than military conquest. The Greeks wanted to spread their political and cultural ideas, which they felt was the basis of civilized life. Cities in Judea were reorganized along the lines of Greek polis. Greek cultural institutions were established including public forums, gymnasias, sports arenas, displays of the body beautiful and the addition of Greek gods to city pantheons. Many Judeans in the Gymnasias covered up their circumcisions and openly denounced the Covenant.

The spread of Greek culture continued after Alexander died at age 33 while he was in Babylonia. The Hellenic lifestyle was being picked up by the privileged classes of Jews in Eretz Yisrael, the wealthy families…and most unfortunately by the Kehuna, the priesthood leadership. Moreover, it infiltrated the lifestyles of the Tsidukim, a large part of Judea’s population. The Tsidukim were Jews who did not believe in following the Torah she’be’al’peh, the oral tradition…and they were the natural targets for the Helenization of the public. However, the Perushim, or Pharises, the orthodox or rabbinic segment of our society at the time strongly opposed the Greek cultural invasion and its corruption of traditional Judaism.

It is curious how throughout our history our upper classes would gladly forego traditional Judaism in favor of intellectually attractive or artistically fascinating modes…and adapt them into their day-to-day practices. In the Chanuka period the tsidukim lapped up the Greek culture. These were the so-called Hellenists. Yet earlier the Jews did not internalize the Persian culture. In modern times much of German Jewry became like German Gentiles to the core but Jews from Poland did not take on Polish culture or mannerisms…not to speak of what’s been happening here in America.

Before Alexander died he appointed his top generals to rule over his vast empire. Among the generals were Ptolemy, who received Egypt, North Africa, the Sinai and large parts of Judea. A fellow by the name of Seleicus inherited Syria, Babylon and northern Eretz Yisrael. These divisions spawned rivalry and wars. Around 200 BCE, the armies of Seleicus defeated those of Ptolemy and generated the Seleucid dynasty ending in the rule of Antiochus IV, or Antiochus Epiphanus. To some he was known as Antiochus Epimanes, the madman. Antiochus set up his capital city in Antioch, Syria.

Corruption was devastating in the priesthood. Jason, brother of the Kohen Gadol Onias bribed Antiochus to fire his brother and appoint him as the high priest. It worked and Jason became the high priest. To raise money for the bribe, Jason’s cohorts robbed silver from the kelim of the Beit Hamikdash. Jason’s crime set an example for Antiochus, who later in the year 168 BCE ransacked the golden klei kodesh from the Temple. He then outlawed circumcision and forbade the observance of Shabbat and possession of sifrei Torah as capital offenses. Mothers who circumcised their baby boys were killed along with their families. Finally he ordered the Olympian idol Zeus to be placed on the Mizbeach, the alter of The Beit Hamikdash.

Enough already with these foreign occupiers, this kingdom of criminal interventionists and their Jewish cohorts. Enough of the Mityavnim, our Helenist neighbors. They’ve got to go! The situation had been festering but now as the order came down from Greek leaders in Antioch to sacrifice pigs on the alter and place Greek idols in synagogues, Eretz Yisrael erupted. The story of the revolt of the Hashmonian comes to us not from the Tanach; there’s no mention of Chanuka in The Bible. The story comes from the Book of Maccabees 1 and 2 and from historian Josephus Flavius as well as from mention in Massechta Shabbat and in a Mishna and Tosephta…though not serious references.

In Judea’s northwestern town of Modein in the year 168 BCE the local Kohen Matityahu was enraged by a Jewish Hellenist who stepped forward to offer a sacrifice to a Greek idol. Matityahu killed the guy. Antiochus sent a battalion of Seleucid troops but Matityahu and his five sons escaped to the hills near Modein. Before he left he cried out “Mi LaShem Elei”… “Who is for God, come to me.” This was the same mantra that Moshe Rabbeinu sounded after The Golden Calf incident over a thousand years earlier.

Matityahu’s call triggered a revolt against the Seleucid occupiers. The revolt turned into a war that lasted 25 years. But Matityahu didn’t live to see the great victories that followed his call. He died two year later in 166 BCE and his son Judah took the reigns of leadership. Judah was the first Maccabee. The others were Yonatan, Shimon, Elazar and Yochanan. The word Maccabee means hammer. The family was known as the Hasmonians, named after Matityahu’s great grandfather.

The young men learned, trained and fought a guerrilla war. They picked up the methods of Yehoshua, Yiftach and David Hamelech and even predated the Romans in tactics such as ramps and levers, predawn ambushes and attacks with the sun in back of them. Judah was a brilliant battlefield tactician. Author Shimon Apisdorf describes Judah Maccabee like this: “Close your eyes and picture Arnold Schwarzenegger of a few years ago. His Uzi has just jammed, he’s got one arm in a sling, he’s about to take on 300 bad guys all at once…and he’s wearing a yarmulke. That’s who Judah Maccabee was.”

In the year 164 BCE, which corresponds to the Hebrew calendric year of 3596, Judah and his forces conquered Jerusalem and entered the Temple to find it had been filthified with treif animals and Greek deities. His battalions cleaned up the mess, renovated where necessary and reinstalled the Mizbeach for kosher shechita and karbonot ahl pi haTorah v’halacha. The one cruise of oil stamped with the Kohen gadol’s insignia was found and kindled on the 25 of Kislev. There was enough oil for one day’s burning but it lasted for eight days…and so the holiday of Chanuka was consecrated as a celebration of miracles, victory, joy and song from this year onward.

Many scholars point to the victory over not only the Greek army but also over the Mityavnim, the Jewish Hellenists. While the battles were being fought against the Seleucids, it was also carried out against our own countrymen. You can no longer call them coreligionists because they trashed their Judaism and embraced subversion through tumah and avodah zarah. You can call this part of the struggle a civil war within Israel. While a few Mityavnim joined forces with the Hashmonaim they did so to rid the country of foreign occupation, not to restore the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael.

Yehuda HaMaccabee was killed in battle and his brother Jonatan took over. Under his command the war moved to outside the territory of Judah. The main highways from Acre southward and from Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem, were cut. The Greeks had great difficulty in bringing up supplies. At this point in time, the Seleucid armies were weakening everywhere not only because of the Hasmonaim but because of the wars they were fighting all over… and because of the rising force and influence of Rome.

The Jews under Jonatan were fighting to get rid of the enemy and liberate the country. But Yonatan too was killed in action. Brother Elazar was trampled by an elephant. So now the last of Matityahu’s sons to take command was Shimon. He fought on bravely and under Shimon national liberation was achieved around the year 140 BCE. The sovereignty of Israel was finally re-established after 400 years when we lost it to Nebuchadnezar and the Babylonians. But Shimon also fell in Battle.

Shimon’s eldest son Yochanan Hurkenes took over the leadership. He was the one who put on a crown, declaring himself as king. This act angered the Perushim inasmuch as a Kohen is forbidden halachically to take on the role of kingship. The role of melech is permitted only to the descendants of Yehuda. Yochanan’s short rulership was taken over by his son Aristoblus followed by Alexander Yannai, whom the Talmud records as the target of etrogim thrown at him. The people on Aliyat Regel on Sukkot hated this man. Nonetheless his wife Shelomit reigned after Alexander Yannai…and she was the last Hashmonaim in charge.

The Hashmonaim Dynasty lasted for 103 years until 37 BCE when our sovereignty was again torn from us by Rome’s installation of Herod as the new king of Judah. Israel became a client state of Rome. When Pompei came to Israel earlier, he came as a friend to check out the status of his Greek rival. In fact the Roman Senate had acknowledged the Hashmonai Kingdom…but things turned sour later and Rome appointed Idumeians from Edom to head our government and priesthood. But that’s a whole other story in the history of Eretz Yisrael and the struggle to keep it free as The Holy Land and liberated from foreign occupation and religious and civil corruption.

Today, the spirit of Antiochus lives on in The Middle East and in parts of Europe. In Sweden, of all countries, The Swedish government has officially outlawed shechita and circumcision, referring to the practices as “barbaric.” The proscription stems from Moslem pressure in the country. Other European countries are experiencing a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Israel attitudes and measures.

Why do we celebrate Chanuka Anyway? Is it the pach shemen, the cruise of oil. Is it the Hasmonia victory against the Syrian Greeks, the restoration of Judean autonomy, the defeat of the Hellenizing Jews, the preservation of freedom of worship or the rededication of the Beit Hamikdash? Great question! I think that the celebration of Chanuka has endured and will continue so for the reasons mentioned and to remind us that no nation, no anarchists, no group of terrorists, no country with nuclear weapons will ever succeed in vanquishing Eretz Yisrael. Netzach Yisrael lo Yeshaker, as King Shaul once said. Israel’s victory will never be a fantasy. It will always prevail! Thank you and a Happy Chanuka.
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Book of Jeremiah

Book of Jeremiah

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I was looking for just the right piece of music to dedicate to the Jewish people and Israel on this special occasion of Chanukah and this is the song I feel sends the right message. Happy Chanukah!

[ame=http://youtu.be/mZapeCW_QPY]Love Story (Piano & Violin Duet) - YouTube[/ame]
 

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