Hanukkah: How an Ancient Revolt Sparked the Festival of Lights: Amy Briggs, National Geographic, Dec. 19, 2019
The Light of Chanukah: Daniel Greenfield, Sultan Knish, Dec. 4, 2019
Chanukah In Baghdad: Then And Now: Saul Jay Singer, Jewish Press, Dec. 18, 2019
The Darker Side of the Festival of Lights: Tova Ross, Tablet, Dec. 17, 2019
National Geographic, Dec. 19, 2019It’s time to celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights that lasts for eight days and nights. This year Hanukkah starts Sunday, December 22, and ends Monday, December 30. The holiday’s popularity has surged in modern times, but its origins are ancient and date back to the turbulent centuries following the death of Alexander the Great.Ancient HistoryAfter Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., a power struggle broke out among his generals that lasted for more than century. The Greco-Syrian Seleucid kings would emerge victorious and rule many of Alexander’s former territories, including Judea (located in central, present-day Israel). The Seleucids exerted their influence through Hellenization, the spread of Greek art, architecture, and religion. Local communities, especially in Judea, resisted it. (See also: The plots and conspiracies that ended Alexander’s empire.)In 175 B.C. the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes came into power and tried to force Judeans to assimilate. Some scholars believe he believed that single religion might unify to his fractured empire, but his brutal methods undid those intentions. Writing in the first century A.D., Jewish historian Josephus recorded the brutal plundering of Jerusalem and treatment of Jewish dissidents. The Seleucids captured the holy Temple and defiled it by erecting an altar to the Greek god Zeus inside. Antiochus outlawed the Jewish faith and mandated the worship of Greek gods. Josephus vividly described the brutal punishment to those who resisted; they were “whipped with rods, and their bodies torn to pieces, and were crucified, while they were still alive, and breathed. . . . And if there were any sacred book, or the law found, it was destroyed: and those with whom they were found miserably perished also.”Horrified by the Temple desecration and cruelty toward the Jewish people, a priest named Mattathias and his sons rose up in rebellion. After Mattathias’s death in 166 B.C., his son Judah the Maccabee (the “Hammer”) took his father’s place in the fight and led the Jewish people in many victories over the Seleucids. In 164, Judah won back Jerusalem and restored the Temple, cleansing and rededicating it. The revolt of the Maccabees, as it came to be known, continued on and ultimately drove the Seleucids from Judea in 160. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
A candle is a brief flare of light. A wick dipped in oil burns and then goes out again. The light of Chanukah appears to follow the same narrative. Briefly there is light and warmth and then darkness again.
Out of the exile of Babylon, the handful that returned to resettle and rebuild the land faced the might of new empires. The Jews who returned from the exile of one evil empire some twenty-six hundred years ago were forced to decide whether they would be a people with their own faith and history, or the colony of another empire, with its history and beliefs.
Jerusalem’s wealthy elites threw in their lot with the empire and its ways. But out in the rural heartland where the old ways were still kept, a spark flared to life.
And so, war came between the handfuls of Jewish Maccabee partisans and the armies of Antiochus IV’s Selecuid empire. A war that had its echoes in the past and would have it again in the future as lightly armed and untrained armies of Jewish soldiers would go on to fight in those same hills and valleys against the Romans and eventually the armies of six Arab nations.
The Syrian Greek armies were among the best of their day. The Maccabees were living in the backwaters of Israel, a nation that had not been independently ruled since the armies of Babylon had flooded across the land, destroying everything in their path.
In the wilderness of Judea a band of brothers vowed that they would bow to no man and let no foreigners rule over their land. Apollonius brought his Samaritan forces against the brothers, and Judah, first among the Macabees, killed him, took his sword and wore it for his own.
Seron, General of the army of Coele-Syria, brought together his soldiers, along with renegade Jewish mercenaries, and was broken at Beit Haran. The Governor of Syria dispatched two generals, Nicanor, and Gorgias, with forty thousand soldiers and seven thousand horsemen to conquer Judea, destroy Jerusalem and abolish the whole Jewish nation forever. So certain were they of victory that they brought with them merchant caravans to fill with the Hebrew slaves of a destroyed nation.
Judah walked among his brothers and fellow rebels and spoke to them of the thing for which they fought; “O my fellow soldiers, no other time remains more opportune than the present for courage and contempt of dangers; for if you now fight manfully, you may recover your liberty, which, as it is a thing of itself agreeable to all men, so it proves to be to us much more desirable, by its affording us the liberty of worshiping God. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
“L. of C.” (“Lines of Communication”) suggest temporary officers in the British Army Service Corps, and “R.E.” (the Corps of Royal Engineers commonly known as the “Sappers”) is a corps of the British Army that provides military engineering and other technical support to the British Armed Forces.
“Paiforce” was the Persia and Iraq British Army Command established in Baghdad toward the end of World War II whose principal responsibilities were: (1) protecting the oilfields and oil installations in Iran and Iraq from land and air attack; and (2) ensuring the safety of supply transports from Persian Gulf ports through Iraq and Persia to the Soviet Union.
Much as the Maccabees of old attacked Greek supply trains en route to Jerusalem, the Jews of Paiforce ambushed German supply columns advancing to the Russian front, with many receiving high awards from the Russian government for their exceptional efforts.
This Baghdad Chanukah party was particularly poignant and emotional, coming as it did only two years after the Farhud – known as “the Kristallnacht of Iraqi Jewry” – when Iraqi police joined attacks upon the Jewish population and burned Jewish shops and destroyed synagogues.
The greatest pogrom in Iraqi history, the Farhud (Arabic for “violent dispossession”) was carried out against the Jews of Baghdad on Shavuot, June 1-2, 1941, during which at least 180 Jews were murdered (the Babylonian Heritage Museum in Israel states that an additional 600 unidentified victims were buried in a mass grave); over 1,000 were injured; and much Jewish property was destroyed, including over 900 Jewish homes.
The League of Nations had granted jurisdiction over Iraq to Britain after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Before the Nazis started intervening in Iraqi affairs, some 150,000 Iraqi Jews were intimately involved in their country’s social, political, and economic life, playing leading roles in farming, banking, commerce, and government. The Iraqi government promoted and supported Jewish identity, and even Zionism was tolerated until Nazi influence began to assert itself in internal Iraqi affairs in the 1930s.
Due to that influence, the government imposed restrictions on Jews, forbidding the teaching of Hebrew, levying additional licensing fees on various permits, and dismissing many Jews from their government employment. By the eve of the Farhud, Nazi propaganda had become endemic throughout Iraq, and Nazi supporters – including particularly Haj Amin Husseini, the notorious Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who had escaped the British by fleeing to Iraq from Eretz Yisrael – incited the population against the Jews. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Despite the festive spirit in the air, things were looking a little bleak for me that first Hanukkah as a single mother of two.
It was a real shame—Hanukkah has got to be the least stressful Jewish holiday. There’s no laborious hut-building or freezing dinners to endure (see Sukkot), no marathon cleaning sessions and eight days of improvised, breadless menus (see Passover), and no tortured fasting and recounting of past sins you or your ancestors committed (see Tisha B’Av, Yom Kippur, Asarah B’Teves, and so on). Unless you need to contend with spoiled children who expect grandiose presents and you realize you’ve been parenting entirely wrong, Hanukkah is only fun.
Not so for me that year, though. While I was happy to be liberated from a contentious marriage, I had little time to exult in my newfound freedom. I was busy with the nonstop wrangling of two small children by myself for the first time, setting up a new home in a new community, and assuming all household-related tasks that had previously belonged to my ex-husband. I also felt a little shocked at my new reality. Failing marriages often march toward a slow and painful death so you know the end is coming long before it does. But until you’re in that new, small apartment sweating over the Ikea instruction manual for a cheap shoe rack, the transition doesn’t feel quite real.
More than the new demands on my time, emotional exhaustion was taking a greater toll. I was scared to be alone at night; that I was now the only person standing between my sleeping children and potential intruders seemed preposterous. (I kept a hammer and wrench in easy grabbing distance not because I hoped to become handy, but as hypothetical weapons.) Bill-paying had been one of those tasks my ex had overseen, so I was now forced to address the constant onslaught of bills that arrived like clockwork to my new address. It was both eye-opening and enraging. “The state takes how much money from my paychecks?” I yelped angrily to my father after I puzzled over the regular deductions I was now seeing for the first time. Yes, I had previously been ignorant of the way our country’s entire tax system is structured. I wish I was kidding.
I was also angry—at my ex, at the world, with God. I felt I had already struggled quite enough in my young life, thank you very much, and I wondered petulantly why I was now experiencing further hardship.
All things considered, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to confront the new looming existential question before me: What kind of Jewish home did I want—or was I able—to create for my children? Just as I’d let my ex-husband manage our finances because he was better at math, I had also let him infuse the house with his particular brand of religious ardor because he was better at transmitting the spiritual joy inherent in celebratory Jewish holidays, like Hanukkah, to our young children. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
For Further Reference:
Chanukah Guide for the Perplexed 2019: Yoram Ettinger, The Ettinger Report, Dec. 18, 2019 — Chanukah’s historical context is narrated in the four Books of the Maccabees, The Scroll of Antiochus and The Wars of the Jews.
WATCH: The Hidden Story of Chanukah: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Office of Rabbi Sacks, Nov. 27, 2012 — The Chief Rabbi recently delivered a keynote lecture at Bushey Synagogue about The Hidden Story of Chanukah. With thanks to Bushey Synagogue for use of this video.
Modi’in: Where the Maccabees Lived: Robin Ngo, Biblical Archeology Society, Mar. 22, 2014 — Modi’in was the hometown of the Maccabees, the heroes of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid king who ruled over Judea.
Impressive Jewish Artifacts Found in Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem: Ben Bresky, The Jerusalem Post, Mar. 28, 2019 — The Hasmoneans who lived in what is today’s Sharafat neighborhood made a good living, surmised Yaakov Billig, director of an excavation that revealed impressive finds from 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem.
The Hanukka Apparition at the Western Wall: Lenny Ben David, Times of Israel, Dec. 17, 2019 — Until Israel liberated the Western Wall in the 1967, no furniture was permitted by the Muslim rulers to be brought into the narrow alleyway for Jewish worshippers — no chairs, tables, or dividers for separating men or women. That is why this photo taken around 1867 by Frank Mason Good caught my eye. What was that little table doing at the Kotel?
WATCH: Six13 – Bohemian Chanukah (a Queen adaptation): YouTube, Nov. 27, 2019 — Is this just fantasy? No, it’s our Chanukah tribute to one of the greatest and most epic songs of all time. Ready, Freddie? Kindle the lights, remember the Maccabees, and rock on. CHAG SAMEACH!
This week’s French-language briefing is titled : Communique: Grande défaite pour Corbyn, petite victoire contre l’antisémitisme (Dec 20,2019)