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Chanukah – Culture and Anarchy Hebrew and Hellenist

16 0 1
10.12.2020

Hebraism and Hellenism, – between these two points of influence moves our world. Matthew Arnold

First, never go against the best light you have; secondly, take care that your light be not darkness. Thomas Wilson

It was Eric Gruen, in his Heritage and Hellenism, who wrote that the Macabbean revolution sparked a process that helped to define Jewish character for generations to come. Their successes led to an increasing drive for Jewish self-esteem and independent status.

Yet, the festival of Chanukah seems to be surrounded by ambiguity and mystery as to its true essence.When it comes to every Jewish festival there seems to be unanimity as to the essence and nature of the celebration with one notable exception.

The Book of the Maccabees describes the historical background surrounding the story and miracle of Chanukah and puts a focal point surrounding a military battle in the year 164 BCE.

Israel it records, was under the Syrian Greek rule led by Syrian ruler Antiochus who had Hellenised the land of Israel, defiled the temple, and forbidden Jews to practice their faith. It was a small group of Jews led by the elderly priest Matityahu and his sons the Maccabees that rose in revolt. It was an extraordinary victory, a miracle if ever there was one, a band of rebels the Hasmoneans that overpowered the might of the Greek empire. It is in fact this aspect of the Chanukah story that is highlighted in the liturgy of Al Hanisim that we recite on Chanukah “the weak against the strong, the few against the many”.

By contrast, we find in the Talmud a very different story emphasized.

What is Chanukah? Asks the Talmud

The answer given is surprising:

When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they contaminated all its oil. Then when the royal Hasmonean family overpowered and was victorious over them, searched and found only a single cruse of pure oil that was sealed with the seal of the High Priest-enough to light the menorah for a single day. A miracle occurred and they lit the menorah with this oil for eight days. The following year they established these days of festivity and praise and thanksgiving to G-d.

This seems astonishing. The miracle of the oil, it would seem, was of relatively minor significance relative to the military victory. Furthermore, it was a miracle that occurred behind the closed doors of the Temple, with only a few priests bearing witness to why this aspect of the Chanukah story deserves such prominence. Had the Jews been defeated in the battle with the Greeks there would be no Jews today, had the miracle with the oil not have occurred we would simply have had no excuse to eat latkes and doughnuts?!

The battle wages between Hellenist and Hebrew was far more profound than the tactical,........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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