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December 16, 2014 8:26 pm

Hanukkah and the Lessons of International Pressure Against Israel

avatar by Larry Domnitch

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A menorah for Hanukkah. Photo: PugnoM via Creative Commons.

What induced Antiochus Epiphanes to attempt to eradicate Judaism? Some speculate that he had his own political motives. However, he initially had good relations with the Jews. Antiochus, as did his predecessors, granted the Jews the right to keep their laws. He had also decreed that the Temple of Jerusalem continue to be respected by all as a Jewish institution under Jewish auspices.At that time, the attempt to vanquish an existing nation by outlawing their religious practices was unprecedented.

One might presume that Antiochus’ predecessors, who had ruled over the Land of Israel for more than 150 years since the conquest of Alexander the Great, had considered forcing Hellenism and idolatry, the universal creeds of the time, upon the Jews. All other nations readily accepted Hellenism, so naturally the question arose, what about the Jews? The Jews for the most part were left alone to practice their faith and live their way of life. The Greeks also understood that they were steadfast in their beliefs, and that it was futile to attempt to force them to accept other creeds and practices.

However, as Antiochus Epiphanes ruled, the numbers of Jews who had embraced Hellenism was increasing. Those Jews known as, ‘Mityavnim,’ (Jewish Hellenists) sought to popularize Hellenism among their fellow Jews. The book of Maccabees quotes those Hellenists who proclaimed, “let us go out and make a covenant with the heathen around us.” (Maccabees 1:11)

Two brothers, who were both Mityavnim, and heirs to the position of the High Priesthood, vied for that coveted position. One of the brothers, Menelaus, went to the Emperor, and told him that the Mityavmin were “desirous to leave the laws of their country, and the Jewish way of living according to them, to follow the king’s laws, and the Grecian way of living.” (Josephus Flavius, Antiquities, book 12, Chapter 5:1) He then proposed the construction of a Greek style stadium in Jerusalem, to which the emperor consented.

When Antiochus eventually issued his infamous decrees outlawing Jewish practices, the Jewish Hellenists readily complied. “They (theMityavnim) profaned the Sabbath and sacrificed to heathen altars.” (Maccabees 1:43)

It is very plausible that Antiochus was influenced by the existence of the Mityavnim, from whom he perceived that the Jews’ tenacity and resolve could actually be broken. If some Jews could accept Hellenism, maybe they all could be influenced! However, the Jews would prove him wrong.

There have been similar situations facing the Jews in their history. Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Soviet regime banned Jewish observances and closed Jewish houses of worship. Similar to Antiochus, their intent was to eliminate Judaism by destroying its spiritual sources. Jewish assimilation in the Soviet Union was steadily on the increase. There was a comparatively small but highly vocal Jewish wing of the Communist pParty, known as the Yevsektzia, which zealously aided efforts against Judaism in Russia. The Yevsektzia soon passed a resolution that called for “suspending the operations of Jewish institutions.” They helped the regime close religious institutions, and informed on those Jews who continued Jewish observances clandestinely. The Soviet authorities were also no doubt influenced by those modern ‘Mityavnim.’

There were also the Maccabees during the dark years of Soviet rule, whose courageous efforts to persevere and preserve their Jewish heritage bore outstanding results. Today there are multitudes of dedicated and observant Jews from the Russian republics whom reside in Israel, and other communities worldwide.

Presently, the world watches the State of Israel. As nations step up the pressure and demand more Israeli concessions, what if the people of Israel held their ground? What if they categorically said ‘no’ to a Palestinian State? What if they proclaimed that they have but one country while the Arabs have virtually unlimited territory? What if they stated that no nation can be compelled to facilitate the creation of an entity that will continue to oppose and act against its’ very existence? If the Jews were unmovable, world reaction might be different.

Instead, President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, the EU, and various leaders of nations speak of a ‘peace process’ when there is absolutely no tangible sign that such a process exists. But when some in the Israeli media and the Knesset, along with American Jewish leaders utter the same lines, what reaction from world leaders should one expect?

Pressure! It may not be so much about major world players on the scene as much as it is about an internal Jewish issue of self image – of how Jews perceive themselves within the global community.

Will events of the modern times compel Jews to seek to merge with the international community at the cost of imperiling the well being of the Jewish State?

Now is the time for Modern Maccabees to stand up.

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  • victor Friedlander

    A familiar rehash of the Orthodox version of the rebellion against the Seleucid Empire led by the sons of Mattathias from 167 to 164 BCE. In fact Antiochus decision to outlaw Judaism emerged out of a confusing, venal and nasty local quarrel between competitors for the High Priesthood. The initial attempt to Hellenize the rites of the temple was made by the “winner” of the quarrel.

    Interestingly, the rebellion was not strictly speaking for independence, but for which party would be that which determined who would be the “High priest”, or, in other words, who would be the Seleucid governor of the Jewish province. Incidently, the Jewish province at that time was just a bit bigger than the Southern half of the occupied West Bank and the environs of greater Jerusalem.

    The outcome of the rebellion was first the installment of Shimeon, the last surviving son of Mattathias as High priest. The Seleucid Empire started to disintegrate shortly after the Maccabean Wars and the off spring of Shimeon became the defacto rulers of Judea. In that role they and the wealthy priestly classes of Jerusalem became, with the exception of preserving the Judean rites of the temple,as avid partisans of Hellenization as were the enemies of Mattathias in 167 BCE.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    The sovereign Jewish State of Israel is a fait accompli. The Jewish homeland is a permanent viable dynamic pluralistic entity and democratic polity on the world stage.