Tag Archives: Temple

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: Matityahu & the Maccabees

The Hebrew Hammers

Happy Hanukkah!

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.

Chag Sameach!

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