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November 29, 1991 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-11-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

TRADITION

The Maccabees'
Triumph And Tragedy

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Unfortunately, they were more noble in
opposition than in power

JOSEPH TELUSHKIN

Special to The Jewish News

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ne of the sadder
ironies of Jewish his-
tory is that the Mac-
cabees led a successful revolt
against King Antiochus' anti-
Semitic oppression only to
turn into oppressors of the
Jews themselves.
The revolt against Antioch-
us started in 167 B.C.E. in the
city of Modi'in, north of Je-
rusalem. Antiochus, having
desecrated the Temple of Je-
rusalem, now sent his soldiers
from town to town in Judea,
ordering local Jewish leaders
to offer sacrifices of swine. In
Modi'in a government official
insisted that the elderly
priest Mattathias bring the
sacrifice, but he refused.
Another Jew immediately
stepped forward to fulfill the
royal command. Mattathias
jumped up, killed both the
man and the government offi-
cial, tore down the altar, and
turned to the crowd and
shouted: "Follow me. . .
everyone of you who is zeal-
ous for the law and strives to
maintain the covenant" (I
Maccabees 2:27). Many in the
large crowd of Jews did follow
him, and the Maccabean re-
volt began.
Aided by his five sons, Mat-
tathias undertook a guerilla
war against the Syrian
troops. Within his own com-
munity, he also had to combat
some strange ideas. According
to I Maccabees (2:32-28), in
the early stages of the revolt,
a large group of pious Jewish
soldiers refused to defend
themselves on the Sabbath;
they believed that fighting,
even in self-defense,
desecrated the holy day. The
fighters quickly were annihi-
lated by Antiochus' troops.

Mattathias rejected the
martyrs' reasoning, and ruled
with admirable common
sense: "If we all do as our
brothers have done. . .then
(the Syrians) will soon wipe
us off the face of the earth."
On that day Maccabees rec-
ords, the Jewish revolu-
tionaries "decided that, if
anyone came to fight against
them on the Sabbath, they
would fight back, rather than
all die as their brothers .. .
had done."
Within a year of launching
the revolt, Mattathias died,
after leaving instructions
that his third son, Judah,

should assume the military
command. Judah's fighting
style was so aggressive that
he was nicknamed Maccabe-
us, "the Hammer." The name
was fitting. He "hammered
away" continuously at every
Syrian outpost, and two years
later the Syrians sued for
peace. The Jews were ceded
control of Jerusalem, and in
return the Syrians were al-
lowed to maintain a strong-
hold, the Acra, opposite the ci-
ty's walls.
Upon entering Jerusalem,
Judah and his troops found
the Temple in ruins. They
rent their clothes, and after
observing several days of
mourning, began to repair
and rebuild it. In December
164 B.C.E. (the twenty-fifth of
Kislev, according to the
Jewish calendar), three years
to the day since the Syrians
had begun sacrificing pigs at
the Temple, the Jewish rebels
rededicated their holiest
building.
During the next eight days,
crowds of Jews swarmed to
the Temple to celebrate and to
bring sacrifices in God's
honor. The holiday of Chanu-
kah commemorates these
eight days during which the
Temple was rededicated.

Distraught by the
Maccabean
victory, some of
the local Jewish
Hellenizers joined
forces with Syrian
soldiers.

Unfortunately, the story
does not end here. Distraught
by the Maccabean victory,
some of the local Jewish Hel-
lenizers joined forces with
Syrian soldiers and continued
to harass Judah. In 160
B.C.E., the Syrians returned
en masse, killed Judah, and
defeated the Jews. Two years
later, Judah's brother
Jonathan emerged from a
desert hiding place, and in-
itiated another rebellion.
He succeeded in winning a
measure of Jewish autonomy,
but after a few years, the
Syrians returned again and
murdered him. His brother
Simon now took over the bat-
tle. In 142 B.C.E., the Mac-
cabees finally achieved an en-
during victory, and Jews
reckoned sovereignty from
this year: "And the people of
Israel began to write in their
agreements and contracts, 'In

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