Shlom-Tzion (139–67 BCE), more commonly known by her Hellenized name Salome Alexandra, has the distinction of being the only true, independent Jewish Queen of Israel in history. Her husband was the king Alexander Yannai, a Sadducee who sparked a civil war and began an extermination campaign against traditional Judaism. At his death, Salome took over and restored peace to the kingdom. She ended her husband’s cruel persecutions of the rabbis (recalling many of them from exile in Egypt, including her brother, the great Shimon ben Shetach). She also re-established the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court. Together with the sages of the day, a public school system was instituted for all children, rich or poor. Salome also championed the rights of women and developed the marriage document (ketuba) with clauses that protect the bride, as we still use to this day. Greatly expanding the army and fortifying Judea’s borders, Salome protected the kingdom from foreign powers (particularly Armenia and Syria). Her reign was marked by incredible prosperity, and the Talmud recounts that during her nine-year rule the rains always came in their times, oats grew as large as olives and wheat grains as large as kidney beans. Sadly, the kingdom quickly unraveled at her death, and was shortly after conquered by Rome.
Words of the Week
Freedom of choice has been granted to every person: if he desires to turn toward a good path and be righteous, the ability to do so is in his hands; and if he desires to turn toward an evil path and be wicked, the ability to do so is in his hands…
After massive assimilation of Jews to the Hellenistic lifestyle, the Greek-Seleucid king Antiochus decided to put an end to traditional Judaism for good. He outlawed Shabbat and holiday observance, banned circumcision and Torah study. The Temple in Jerusalem was captured and a statue of Zeus erected within it. Antiochus planned to seal the deal with a request of the Jews to sacrifice a pig to the Greek gods. Incredibly, many Jews agreed, wooed by Hellenism. But one man, Matityahu, stood up for the truth and declared “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers… Follow me, all of you who are for God’s law and stand by the covenant.” Thus started what may be the world’s first religious war. Matityahu and his five sons organized a rebel army based in Modi’in, led by Matityahu’s son Yehuda, nicknamed Maccabee – “the Hammer”. The war lasted nearly 30 years. At its height, the Maccabees had no more than 12,000 fighters, while the Greeks had a massive professional army with war elephants (under which Judah’s brother Elazar was trampled in a heroic feat). Meanwhile, children carried small spinning tops to conceal the fact they were secretly learning Torah. Two great miracles occurred: the Jews defeated the world-superpower Seleucid Greeks, and when they reclaimed the Temple and purified it of idolatry, one kosher jug of oil burned for 8 days. Light was restored to the Jewish people.
Words of the Week
A Jew is a lamplighter. The lamplighter walks the streets carrying a flame at the end of a stick. He knows that the flame is not his. And he goes from lamp to lamp to set them alight. – Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch