By Ted Belman
Tonight we begin the celebration of Hanukkah and light the first candle. Bill Levinson’s Hanukkah for Dummies and Dhimmis reminded me of something I wrote in my paper The Historical Jesus.
Now that western culture is under assault, just as Judaism was then and now, we must rededicate ourselves to defend that culture. This was also what the Jewish Wars against Rome were all about.
“If I am not for myself, who am I” wrote Rabbi Hillel two thousand years ago. The same applies today.
Strangely we must go all the way back to the Book of Numbers in the Torah where it is written “the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their Gods, and the people did eat and bow down to their gods”. G-d was angered by this and ordered Moses to kill the wayward Israelites and the Torah states that four and twenty thousand were killed by Moses. One Israelite took a Midianite woman into the sanctuary before Moses and the congregation and fornicated there with her. Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, in a moment of zeal killed them both and G-d rewarded “him and his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was jealous for his G-d”. In Psalm CVI, we read that “his zeal was counted unto him for righteousness”.
These writings are the origin of the attitude that Jews must not have intercourse with gentiles for it would pollute them. Also that G-d rewards those who are zealous for the law and brook no compromise.
The occupation of Palestine by the Greeks (333 BCE) not only resulted in the Hellenization of the Jewish establishment but also the Hellenization of Jewish religious practices. This Hellenization was not unlike the intercourse with the Moabites described above. The masses led by the Maccabees rose up (167 BCE) and defeated the Greeks over a period of 30 years and cleansed the Temple of their pollution. The masses yearned for a return to the purity of the Jewish people and the Jewish religion. All foreign influences had to be expelled. Chanukah as you may know, means “rededication”.
The Maccabees held the position of High Priest, having come from a priestly family, and continued so until the Romans conquered Palestine 100 years later. They were popular, nationalistic and zealous for the law. The Pharisees we hear so much about in the New Testament may have got their name, which means “those who separated from”, from a group that deserted the cause of the Maccabeans in favour of a foreign appointed High Priestly claimant during the second century BCE. More about this later.
Alexander Jannaeus, Judas Maccabees’ grand nephew (103-76 BCE), also had similar problems with Greek intervention and with the support of the people defeated the Greek Syrians (Seleucids). He then turned on the Pharisees who had collaborated with the foreign invaders, and killed some 800 of them according to Josephus. Alexander had two sons; one was nationalistic and was supported by the people because “they were sick of servility” and the other was anti-nationalist, more accommodating and supported by the Pharisees.
I am in no way supportive of the prohibition in Judaism or Islam against social intercourse. But I am a supporter of maintaining one’s culture.
We must find a way to do both, mix with our fellow man and yet maintain ourselves.