Alexander and the Jews
is the title of an article by Rabbi Ken Spiro that Maria sent me this morning. (As frequent visitors to this blog know, Maria’s a regular contributor. I’m hoping she’ll decide to post an entry but she’s rather shy.) The article stars with, The one pivotal scene that you won’t see in any movie set the stage for the story of Chanukah. For the historically inclined, this is most interesting,
In the mid-second century BCE, Antiochus issued a decree which until that time was unheard of in the multicultural and religiously tolerant ancient world: He outlawed another people’s religion. He banned the teaching and practice of Judaism. The book of the Maccabees (probably written by a Jewish chronicler in the early first century BCE) describes it as follows: “Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God, and also to pollute the Temple in Jerusalem and call it the Temple of Olympian Zeus.” (II Maccabees 6:1-2).
Brutal Greek persecutions of the Jews triggered the first religious/ideological war in history — the Maccabean revolt. The revolt was led by the priestly family of Matithias and his five sons, the most famous of whom was Judah. Against all odds, the outnumbered guerilla army of the Maccabees beat the much larger, better equipped, professional Greek armies. After three years of fighting, Jerusalem was liberated. The Temple which had been desecrated was cleaned and rededicated to God. It was during this period of cleansing and re-dedication of the Temple that the miracle of Chanukah happened. One small flask of oil used by the High Priest to light the menorah in the Temple, that should have been sufficient for only one day, miraculously burned for eight.
The conflict dragged on for many more years and cost the lives of many Jews, including Judah Maccabee and several of his brothers. Ultimately, the Greeks were defeated and Judaism survived.
Arguably, a far greater miracle than the oil lasting for eight days was the military victory of the Jews over the Greek Empire. But the light of Chanukah is symbolic of the real victory — the survival of the spiritual light of Judaism. Judaism’s miraculous survival enabled the Jews to have a monumental impact on the world that has far exceeded the miniscule size of the Jewish people, giving the world the concept of one God and the values of the sanctity of life, justice, peace and social responsibility that are the moral/spiritual foundations of Western civilization.
That light shines on to this day.