Tag Archives: Kohen

Jews of the Week: The Sons of Matityahu

The Warrior-Priests of Chanukah

A 16th-Century Drawing of Yehuda Maccabee, by Rouille

A 16th-Century Drawing of Yehuda Maccabee, by Rouille

In 166 BCE, after the passing of Matityahu – the Jewish priest (kohen) who instigated the revolt against the Seleucid Greeks – his third son Yehuda (Judah) was chosen as the new leader of the resistance. By this time, Yehuda had made a name for himself as a fearless warrior and skilled military strategist. Nicknamed HaMakabi, “the hammer” (or alternatively, Makab-Yahu, “the one designated by God”), he continued to win battle after battle primarily through guerrilla tactics and surprise attacks. In 164 BCE, Yehuda recaptured Jerusalem and the Temple, re-purifying it, restoring its holy Jewish rituals, and relighting its menorah. Contrary to popular belief, the war did not end at that point. Two years later, Matityahu’s fourth son Eleazar died at the Battle of Beit Zechariah. Identifying what he thought was the war elephant carrying the Greek king, Eleazar slid under it and thrust his spear into its flesh. The dead elephant collapsed unto Eleazar, killing him as well. Perhaps the most pious of the sons, Eleazar was known to publicly read from the Torah before battle. To gain support, in 161 BCE Yehuda signed an alliance with the Roman Empire, though it helped little. A year later, Yehuda died at the Battle of Elasa. His oldest brother Yochanan (John), of whom the least is known, died shortly after in the ensuing troubles. The youngest son Yonatan (Jonathan) was elected the new leader, by now earning a reputation almost equal to that of Yehuda. He continued the victories against the Greeks, and soon after signed a peace treaty with them. The Greeks left the Holy Land, and Yonatan focused his efforts on rebuilding the state, and removing Greek influences and idolatry from the land. In 153 BCE, a civil war erupted among the Greeks, and Yonatan sided with the winning party. He was given the special Greek title of “strategos”, and appointed as the High Priest (kohen gadol). Yonatan was able to further expand the territories of the semi-autonomous Jewish state. Years later, a different Greek king rose to power, and tricked Yonatan into a fatal trap, imprisoning, and then killing him. The last remaining son of Matityahu was Shimon (Simon), who gathered his forces in response to Yonatan’s death, and helped another Greek king come to power. This king then granted Judea its independence, and Shimon established the Hashmonean dynasty which would rule the Holy Land for the next century. Shimon was its first king and High Priest, reigning for five years of peace and prosperity. Tragically, he was assassinated in 135 BCE. His third son John Hyrcanus took power, continuing the Hashmonean dynasty until its ultimate end at the hands of the Romans.

Words of the Week

A person should always be pliant as a reed, and let him never be unyielding as the cedar.
– Talmud, Taanit 20b

Happy Chanukah! 

Jews of the Week: Miriam and Aaron

Holy Siblings

The Exodus

When it comes to Passover, most of the attention is placed on Moses (realizing this, the Jewish Sages who composed the Passover Haggada omitted any mention of Moshe!) Few give credit to Moses’ elder siblings (and prophets) Aaron and Miriam. It was the prophecy of the eldest Miriam that inspired the Israelites in Egypt to start procreating again, after they had previously decided not to bring any more children into such a cruel existence. That stimulus gave birth to Moses. It was Miriam who ensured the basket stayed afloat in the Nile, and who made sure Moses received a Jewish wet nurse (his mother!) even though he grew up in Pharaoh’s palace. Later, we are told that Miriam had a mystical well that supplied the Israelites with all their water needs during their travels through the wilderness. The Talmud explains Miriam was nicknamed Azuva (“left behind”) since she was physically unappealing and had a hard time finding a husband. However, a great man named Caleb married her for her spiritual holiness. Miraculously, she transformed into a very beautiful woman, and was thus renamed Efrat (which means “beauty”). This marriage gave birth to the ancestor of King David (and therefore Mashiach)!

Meanwhile, Aaron was the leader of the Jews in Egypt. Because Moses had a speech impediment, Aaron was the official mouthpiece and spokesperson of God. He also carried out the first three of the 10 plagues that struck the Egyptians. For his peace-loving and self-sacrificing ways, Aaron was later granted the high priesthood, and all his descendants became Cohanim. Amazingly, scientists have discovered a gene on the Y-chromosome that is shared by cohanim around the world, whether Ashkenazi, Sephardic or other. The gene traces back 3300 years, which is precisely the time of the Exodus!

 

Words of the Week

There are none so hopelessly enslaved as those who believe they are free.
– Von Goethe