2 November 28, 1975
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
Confidence and Courage, Faith as a Vital
Instrument for Survival . . . Significance of
Spiritual Emphases in Maccabean Story
The Maccabean Spirit — For Faith in Defiance of Defamations
Hanuka has come early on the Jewish calendar, because of its lunar character. The
characteristics and challenges are the same, except that in time of crisis the ideological
factor is more emphatic.
For children it is a happy festival of gift-giving and receiving and of jollity marked
by recollections of heroism by a revered ancestry. The courage of victors is heartening for
all ages and especially for those who live in a time of menacing threats to the security of
the land of the Maccabees which is the soveriegn state for their descendants. For the
historian there is much more of spiritual significance in the great festival whose observ-
ance is more in the home than in the synagogue. Yet the house of worship has an aspect of
The conquerors of Judaea had a destructive aim. Antiochus had in view not merely
to occupy the land of the Jews but also to deal a death blow to the spirit of the conquered
people. Through the ages, this has been the way of the enemy who was bent upon Jewry's
destruction. It is the invincibility of the Jewish spirit and the people's indestructibility
that inevitably emerges, and the precedent for it is in the Hanuka story.
While the term Maccabees is rightfully interpreted as a synonym for Jewish heroism,
the spiritual values find credence in the Book of the Maccabees. While Jewish history is
replete with evidences of martyrdom, the Book of Maccabees deals with a people's cour-
age, with a determination to keep the spirit of the people, the faith of the nation, alive and
undefeated, even when confronted by the cruelest of enemies.
Thus, the story of that conflict, of the determined will to live, is related in Maccabees
1:41-2:48 in this descriptive page of Jewish history:
Eleazar, Jonathan. And he saw the blasphemies that were committed in Judah and
in Jerusalem, and Mattathias and his sons rent their clothes, and put on sack-cloth
and mourned exceedingly.
"And the king's officers, that were enforcing the apostasy, came into the city
Modin. And many of Israel came unto them, and Mattathias and his sons were gath-
ered together. And the king's officers spoke to Mattathias saying, 'Thou art a ruler
and an honorable and great man in this city, and strengthened with sons and
brethren; now, therefore, come thou first and do the commandment of the king, as
all nations have done, and the men of Judah, and they that remain in Jerusalem; so
shalt thou and thy house be in the number of the - king's friends, and thou and thy
children shall be honored with silver and gold, and many rewards.' And Mattathias
answered and said with a loud .voice, 'Though all the nations that are under the
king's dominion obey him, and fall away every one from the religion of their fathers,
yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers.' And
Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying 'Whosoever is zealous
the Law, and maintaineth the Covenant, let him follow me.' "
While glorying in the triumphs that ensued, the initial steps of the heroes of old in
rejecting threats to the basic factors in Jewish existence must not be overlooked. It is the
spirit as much as the sword that played a role and continues to be a vital element in
Jewish defensive existence. The Maccabees began with a defiance of paganism_and then
. resorted to the weapons of defense to preserve Jewish integrity and national existence.
Isn't this true of all anti-Semites, who have not learned the lesson of history
Jewish right to live, the demand for recognition of such a right, the firmness with which
that will to survive, predominate in times of crisis?
How unfortunate that when enemies, as in the instance of an Egyptian visitor to the
shores of this country, speaks from both sides of the mouth and fails to admit a neighbor's
right to life, could not learn from history!
Isn't this true of ,all anti-Semites, who have not learned the lesson of history — that
anti-Semitism always dies in its own tracks and Jewry remains indestructible?
While reading about the military triumphs of the Maccabees and enjoying both the
traditional foods and the exchanges of gifts, Jews themselves must be fully aware of these
basic lessons of Hanuka. The triumph of faith, of confidence in the continuity of the will
to live, will live. The high goals of the Hanuka spirit remain supreme in the celebration
of a great festival. It gives assurance of joy for the coming eight days marked 'on the
Jewish calendar as the Festival of Light and the Maccabees.
"And King Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people,
and that each should forsake his own laws. And he sent letters unto Jerusalem and
the cities of Judah that they sho—uld profaiiiihe Sabbaths and Feasts, pollute the
sanctuary and build altars and tempres and shrines for idols; and whosoever shall
not do according to the word of the king, he shall die. And he appointed overseers
over all the people, and he commended the cities of Judah to sacrifice, city by city.
ngs in the land; and they made Israel to hide themselves in every
And they did evil thi
place of refuge which they had. And they rent in pieces the Books of the Law which
they found, and set them on fire. And whosoever was found with any Book of the
Covenant, and if any consented to the Law, the king's sentence delivered him to
"And in those days rose up Mattathias, a priest from Jerusalem; and he dwelt
at Modin. And he had five sons, John, Simon, Judas (who was called Maccabaeus),
Jehuda Halevi Lives On...
The year 19 ri5 marks—probably—the
nine hundreth anniversary of the greatest
Hebrew poet of the middle ages, Jehuda
Halevi. Although his exact birthplace is
not known, it is generally assumed that
he saw the light of the world in Castilia
in 1075, during the "Golden Age" of
Jehuda Halevi was the first poet who
used Hebrew in every-day life, after the
classical period, and wrote not only for
religious purposes: he also composed,
besides prayer-poems, poems on love and
friendship, nature, as well as drinking songs,
and he was engaged, as was the fashion of
the upper classes of Spanish Jewry of the
time, in the fields of science, medicine,
astronomy, and philosophy. Highly influ-
enced, at first, by Arab culture and style,
Jehuda Halevi predated by two to three
centuries the "uomo universale" of the
His poems have been compared to\ the
psalms of the Bible, and many found their
way into the prayerbook. Yet Halevi's use
of the Hebrew language goes beyond the
narrow cultic confines of his predecessors.
He was, of course, a master of Bible and
rabbinic literature, but he adopted also
many forms of style and rhythm of his
Arab contemporaries. He was called a
"maa'yan ha'mitgaber," a wellspring that
kept running ever stronger.
In good times—he was a successful
physician and lived the life of a Spanish
court Jew—as well as . in bad times—
there were occasional pogroms during his
early years in Spain—his personal experi-
ence of Jewish galut life never allowed
him to keep himself aloof from his peo-
ple. Eventually, Jehuda Halevi was to dis-
card the type of life of a court Jew. Never
an apologetic Jew, his most personal ex-
periences, as expressed in his verses, al-
ways related to the Jewish people. He
could not forget that he lived in the Dias-
Thus, as a poet, he did not indulge in
the sophisticated artificiality of "l'art pour
l'art" of many of his contemporaries, but
he displayed the natural beauty and
strength of the Hebrew tongue, uniting
Upon the 900th Anniversary of His Birth
the only valuable source of truth, not ab-
stract philosophy, and he stresses the ac-
tion element in Judaism over abstract
belief as it is to be found in Islam, Chris-
tianity, and also the atheism of his time.
Jehuda Halevi did something which
must have looked unbelievable in his days
and which most of his friends opposed:
sensitivity with simplicity. This is why
Jehuda Halevi was so much admired by
later poets, such as Heinrich Heine. All
of his poems, be they eulogies over the
death of a friend, or even religious "piyu-
tim," show a deep personal involvement
and commitment. Most famous of his
lyrical creations are his "Songs of Zion,"
expressing his longing for Eretz Yisrael.
As a philosopher, Halevi is known for
his masterwork "Kuzari"—originally writ-
ten in Arabic—which left a lasting im-
pression on future Jewish generations.
This imaginary dialogue between the king
of the Khazars who lived in the Crimea
and converted to Judaism together with
In his older age, he went on aliya, travel-
his entire tribe in the 8th Century, and
a learned rabbi who converted the king
to Judaism, was actually not so much a
work of Jewish philosophy as an essen-
tially anti-philosophical tract. In the words
of a modern Jewish thinker, Jehuda
Halevi defended here not only Judaism as
a religion, but above all: Jewish honor, the
honor of the Jewish people.
Revelation and tradition are for Halevi
ling to the Holy Land via Egypt amid
great dangers: Legend has it that he was
killed, with his "Ode to Zion" on his lips,
by a Saracen horseman as he knelt among
the ruins of Jerusalem, a city that seemed
at that time beyond hope after the con-
quest by the Crusaders.
Modern Hebrew owes much to Jehuda
Halevi's resourcefulness. As a thinker,
however, he presaged the existentialist
trends in contemporary Jewish thought.
No wonder that Franz Rosenzweig pub-
_fished an entire volume of Halevi's poems
with commentary, dedicating the work to
Martin Buber, and viewing Jehuda Halevi
as a forerunner of modern religious think-
ing, and a forerunner of Zionism as well.
TWO LOVE POEMS BY JEHUDA HALEVI
THE FAIR MAIDEN
The night when the fair maiden revealed the
likeness of her form to me,
The warmth of her cheeks, the veil of her hair,
Golden like a topaz, covering
A brow of smoothest crystal—
She was like the sun making red in her rising
The clouds of dawn with the flame of her
A SLAVE TO LOVE
By the life of our troth, my love, by thy life
and the life
Of love which hath shot an arrow at me,
Verily have I become a slave to Love, that
Mine ear, that hath cloven my heart in twain.
7.11 1" 111 ''11'1 n'1F_T
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Translated by NINA SALAMAN
FROM SAYINGS OF JEHUDA HALEVI
"The Jewish People ilk the Diaspora is a Body Without a Head
or Heart .. Indeed, it is Not Even a Body, But Scattered Bones"
* * *
"Is There Anywhere, East or West, a Place Where We Are Safe?"
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"Israel Among the Nations is Like the Heart Amidst the Organs
of the Body: it is the Sickest and Healthiest of Them"
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"Had There Been no Jews, There Would Have Been no Torah"
— (212) 947-3745 • President: Dr. Abraham Goodman; Executive Vice President: Dr. Emil Lehman; Editor: Dr. Max Rothschild