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A Modern Day History of the Festival of Lights

Hanukkah GiftsIs today the 1st day of Kislev on the Hebrew Calendar? Know what that means kiddies? 25 more days until the Festival of Lights and with it the time for Hanukkah Gifts!

The culture of the Jews and the culture of the Greeks had for many centuries been two parallel civilizations, just waiting to clash. The Greeks had their religion based on the mythology found in their epic poems and the philosophy of their great thinkers. Jews had their religion and philosophy and law come from Moses. Jerusalem was the capital of the culture and the Holy Temple, the essence.

Around the year 200 BCE, Judea was under the autonomy of the Seleucid King of Syria. This was a Hellenist nation, based on Greek ideals. At first Jews were granted religious freedom, though the Hellenist influence was strong and many Jews began to ditch their religion and Jewish tradition for that of the Greeks.

But in 175 BCE, things got bad. A Seleucid King ascended the Syrian throne named Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Under his rule, the Temple was desecrated, Jews were massacred and eventually Judaism was outlawed. In 167 Antiochus ordered that a statue of Zeus, the highest god in the Greek pantheon, be erected inside the Jewish Temple; and that pigs be sacrificed on the altar.

Legend has it that since Hellenism was such a strong influence on the residents of Judea that the Jewish men refused to fight for their freedom and the honor of the Temple they were too dandied into the Greek way of life. So in order to get their attention, the strong Jewish women in the country began throwing themselves and their children off of cliffs. Finally they got the attention of Mattathias, a Jewish priest and his five sons, Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan and Judah. They decided to organize a revolt.



In 166 BCE Mattathias died and Judah took his place. He became known as Yehuda HaMakabi ("Judah the Hammer"). They fought for one year and in 165 BCE they finally defeated the Seleucids.

The story of this war did not make it into the official Hebrew biblical canon and instead the Book of Makabi is found in the Apocrypha texts. While such contemporary historical revisionists such as British atheist Christopher Hitchens, deny the authenticity of the story claiming that it is merely a symbolic allegory to bring to light the fundamental differences between Judaism and the Hellenistic thought of the West, perhaps written to instill nationalist fervor in the generations of Jews who would revolt on Caesar; Famous Hebrew/Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote about it in the first century of the Central Era. Hanukkah is also talked about in by the compilers of the ancient Mishnah.

This was perhaps the last successful Jewish revolt until the modern Zionist revolution of the last century happened. Recent Jewish history stands witness to the spirit of HaMakabi in such instances as the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem by the Palmach, The Israeli War for Independence, The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.