13 Facts About the Maccabees Every Jew Should Know – Chabad.org

Posted By on December 23, 2019

1. The Maccabees Are the Heroes of Chanukah

The Maccabees were Jewish fighters who led the revoltagainst the Syrian Greek ruling class, who had suppressed Jewish religion in aneffort to spread their Hellenistic customs and idolatrous beliefs. The Maccabeevictory, and the subsequent miracle of the oil burning in the Temple menorahfor eight days instead of one, is what we celebrate every year during theeight-day holiday of Chanukah.

Read: 13 Chanukah Facts Every Jew Should Know

The Talmud speaks little of Chanukah. The one time the storyis briefly told, the leaders of the group (and their descendants) are referredto as the House of Chashmonai, the ancestral family of Matityahu, the pious andbrave priest who led the group until his passing.

Read: What Happened to Tractate Chanukah?

Matityahu began his revolt in the village of Modiin, wherethe Greeks tried to compel him to publically engage in idol worship. When herefused, violence broke out and a group of Jews ended up taking refuge in cavesamong the surrounding hills.

Read: Whats So Terrible About Idolatry?

According to Josephus, after the Maccabees refused to complywith the Greek demands, they were attacked on Shabbat morning. Devoted toTorah, the Jews refused to fight back, and around 1,000 people, including manywomen and children, died from fire and smoke.

After that, Matityahu made it clear that Judaism is areligion of life, and that the Shabbat laws are temporarily suspended to save alife.

Read: 25 Shabbat Facts Every Jew Should Know

Matityahus five sonsYochanan, Yehuda, Shimon, Elazar, andYonatanjoined the struggle. After a year of leadership, as the elderlyMatityahu neared his end, he exhorted the group to follow Shimons guidance inreligious matters and to appoint Judah as their military leader.

Read: A Brief Bio of Judah the Maccabee

The term Maccabee, which was apparently first onlyassociated with Judah, may be related to the Hebrew word for hammer or theGreek words for strong or fighter.

Perhaps the best-known explanation is that the wordMaccabee comprises the initial letters of a verse theJewish people sang after Gd split the sea: Mi kamocha baeilim Hashem ( ),Who is like You among the mighty, O Gd. Itis said that this phrase was the Maccabean battle cry,written upon their banners and shields.

Read:WhatDoes Maccabee Mean?

Matityahu and Judah were not merely fighting for politicalor national freedom. They saw themselves as fighting for Gd Himself. Josephustells of many instances where they prayed to Gd for success in their battles.In one instance, he records Judah telling his troops that victory depends noton the number of soldiers but on their faithfulness to Gd. He bolstered hisarguments with examples from Jewish history where a few pious Jews managed tovanquish thousands of enemies.

Read: Were the Maccabees Barbarians?

At times, the Maccabees faced overwhelming odds, vastlyoutnumbered and out-weaponed by the massive armies of Greek soldiers andmercenaries sent their way. Yet, with a prayer on their lips, they managed tosurprise the enemy and send them fleeing in fear time and time again.

Read: 10 Facts to Know About War and Judaism

After decisively routing the Greeks from the Land, Judah ledhis band of battle-hardened men to Jerusalem to restore the Holy Temple to itssacred use, which the Greeks had discontinued. They were met by a sorry sight:broken walls, overgrown courtyards, and pagan idols in Gds home. On the 25thday of Kislev (the first day of Chanukah), they rededicated the Temple, lit themenorah,offered the showbread,and resumed regularworship.

Read: 9 Little-Known Facts About the Holy Temple

As recorded in the Talmud, the Maccabees found just enoughpure oil in the Temple to kindle the menorah for a single day. As they had doneso many times before, they threw reason to the wind and placed their trust inGd. They lit the menorah, and a miracle occurred: the oil burned for 8 daysuntil more could be obtained.

They declared that these 8 days be celebrated as theFestival of Lights, commonly known as Chanukah (dedication).

Read: Why Is Chanukah 8 Days Long?

The Chashmonaim took for themselves the throne of kingshipand establish a monarchy. This was a grievous mistake, since they were Levitepriests and Gdhad already promised that only the descendants of David (from the tribeof Judah)may be appointed to the throne (see II Samuel 7:1215).Indeed, they were eventually usurped by Herod, an Edomite, who killed the HasmoneanKing Antigonus and took the throne for himself.

Read:AHistory of Jewish Monarchy

Even after he successfully trounced the Greek armies, Judahcontinued to fight off invaders from near and far. Sadly, he died courageouslyin battle and was laid to rest in Modiin.

Read: How Chanukah Is Celebrated in Modiin

Jewish lore tells the story of the brave Judith,who enticed a Greek general with cheese and wine before decapitating him, thussaving her townspeople from death. And then there is the story of Chanah, who encouraged herseven sons to die rather than cave to the Greek demands that theyworship idols.

Read: 18 Incredibly Brave Jewish Women

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13 Facts About the Maccabees Every Jew Should Know - Chabad.org

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