Tonight, the Jewish people will begin to commemorate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, lighting the first of eight candles on the chanukiah. These eight nights represent the number of days that the oil burned when the Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s eternal capital. In the grand scheme of things, Chanukah is nowhere as spiritually significant as Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, or any of the three major holidays, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot. Nevertheless, it represents an important cultural and spiritual moment in the Jewish people’s history.
Last year, I wrote a piece telling the real story of Chanukah. While most Jews learn that Chanukah represents the Jewish people’s triumphant victory over the Seleucid Empire, the truth is that the Maccabean Revolt was one of the greatest examples of fratricide between different camps of Jews in Judea. It all started with a broken promise the Seleucids made to the Jews and the desire of several Judean Jews to adopt Greek culture.
Despite the freedom the Jewish people possessed to maintain their traditions, many Jews opted out of their culture to adopt Hellenized customs and beliefs. The Hellenized Jews, in turn, managed to acquire more power and influence amongst their Greek conquerors than the High Priest of Jerusalem. It was not the first time that the Jewish people found themselves divided in its history, but the significance of the rise of Hellenized Jewry changes how we understand the story of Chanukah.
When Antiochus IV came into power in 175 BCE, he dramatically altered the empire’s goodwill to the Jews that his father promised by ousting Onias, the High Priest at the time, in favor of Jason, a Seleucid loyalist. Jason had promised to pay the Seleucid king a very high tribute if he used his power to remove Onias and if the king helped build a gymnasium in Jerusalem. Seeing it as an opportunity to increase the revenues of the empire and to acquire more control over his subjects, Antiochus IV complied. In his capacity as High Priest, Jason wrote a decree stating that Jewish law no longer dictated the holy city. This created deep divisions within the Jewish people, who believed that Jason’s actions were an abomination to the title he held.
Tensions rose dramatically between the Rabbinic Jews and the Hellenized Jews when AntiochusIV removed Jason in favor of Menalaus. Menalaus oversaw the murder of Onias and allowed his brother Lysimachus to steal various sacred items within Jerusalem. While the Rabbinic Jews revolted and arrested Lysimachus for his criminal acts, Antiochus IV acquitted him of all the charges when Menalaus promised a larger tribute to the empire. To add insult to injury, Menalaus also oversaw new projects that increased the rate of Hellenization within the Jewish people.
Following a failed revolt by the former High Priest of Jerusalem, Antiochus IV imposed severe restrictions on the Jewish people’s ability to practice Second Temple Judaism and threatened those who subscribed to Halachic views with genocide. The Maccabean Revolt emerged when Judah the Maccabee gathered a large group of Rabbinic Jews to fight back against the Seleucid Empire as well as their Hellenized Jewish allies. By the end of the revolt, the Seleucid Empire was thrown out of Judea, the Hasmonean Dynasty was established, and all of the Jews who took up arms with the Greeks were slaughtered.
This calls the following question: Why did the Hellenized Jews fight with the Greeks? This was not the first time that the Jewish people have encountered divisions among themselves and defied the interests of G-d and His covenant. However, the Hellenized Jews took a proactive stance not only to oppose the teachings of Second Temple Judaism but also to fight and die for Hellenized culture. Scholars have argued that the Hellenized Jews preferred the views that the Greeks shared. To them, these Hellenized views were more “sophisticated” and more universalistic than the structured, rule-driven, and limiting vision of G-d’s covenant with the Jewish people displayed in the Torah. In essence, these Hellenized Jews believed that their world view was more superior and accepting than that of those Second Temple Jews who imposed strict regulations on Jewish conduct in order to maintain a sense of collective holiness. Thus, in order to make the Jews seem more tolerable, the Hellenized Jews needed to impose their worldview on the rest of the Jewish community, even it meant they destroyed everything that distinguishes the Jewish people to be a Light Unto The Nations.
Nothing represents this arrogant and self-destructive worldview more than the responses of various segments of the Jewish community after President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Take Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the profoundly anti-Israel organization J Street. This was his response to reports that Trump would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital:
It would be a profound mistake for President Trump to take action this week that fundamentally changes long-standing US policy on Jerusalem.
Israel’s capital is without question in Jerusalem, and it should be internationally recognized as such in the context of an agreed two-state solution that also establishes a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. In the absence of such an agreement, any major change in US policy on Jerusalem’s status would dangerously break with America’s long-standing view that the city’s final status can and should be determined only by a peace agreement between the parties.
The effect of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or of declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital prior to a negotiated agreement will be to anger key Arab allies, foment regional instability and undermine nascent US diplomatic efforts to resolve the larger conflict. …
There will be a time for American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and for moving the embassy. That time is after an agreement, not before.
According to Jeremy Ben-Ami, Jerusalem should be declared Israel’s capital only after his fantastical “two-state solution” comes to fruition and a future state of “Palestine” claims Eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City, as its capital. In other words, only after Israel continues to perpetuate this suicidal policy of exchanging land for more rocket attacks, suicide bombings, and shootings of innocent Jews should the United States recognize Jerusalem in order not to anger either the kleptocratic and genocidal leaders in Ramallah and Gaza or other Arab nations in the region. In Ben-Ami’s view, recognition of Jerusalem’s status as both the capital of the State of Israel and the eternal, united capital of the Jewish people should occur when those seeking Israel’s destruction would allow it to be recognized as such. This is beyond preposterous and utterly sheepish.
Then, there was Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who said this:
President Trump’s ill-timed, but expected, announcement affirms what the Reform Jewish Movement has long held: that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Yet while we share the President’s belief that the U.S. Embassy should, at the right time, be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process. Additionally, any relocation of the American Embassy to West Jerusalem should be conceived and executed in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
The President has said that achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is “the ultimate deal.” Just this weekend, his advisor Jared Kushner noted the importance of such an agreement to regional stability overall. While the President took the right step in announcing that he would sign the waiver, as have his Republican and Democratic predecessors, the White House should not undermine these efforts by making unilateral decisions that are all but certain to exacerbate the conflict.
We urge the President to do everything in his power to move forward with efforts to bring true peace to the region and take no unilateral steps that will make that dream more distant. We welcome the opportunity to work with the White House to realize the day when Jerusalem truly becomes a beacon of peace.
Once again, another leftist Jew believes in acknowledging both a religious and political reality only when it appeals to the interests of those seeking Israel’s destruction and the genocide of the entire Jewish people. The worst message comes from “Jewish Studies” scholars, where over 150 professors and teachers signed the following statement:
We write as Jewish Studies scholars to express our dismay at the Trump administration’s decision to reverse decades of bipartisan U.S. policy by declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and authorizing the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, outside of a negotiated political framework that ends the legal state of occupation and ensures respect for the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is of immense religious and thus emotional significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. It is the focus of national aspirations for both Israelis and Palestinians. We hope one day to see a world in which all inhabitants of the land enjoy equal access to the city’s cultural and material resources. Today, unfortunately, that is not the case.
As the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem* has documented, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem endure systematic inequalities, including an inequitable distribution of the city’s budget and municipal services, routine denial of building permits that are granted to Jewish residents, home demolitions, and legal confiscation of property for Jewish settlement. In addition, Palestinians in the West Bank, unlike Jewish Israelis resident in that territory, require a special permit to visit Jerusalem’s holy sites.
In this context, a declaration from the United States government that appears to endorse sole Jewish proprietorship over Jerusalem adds insult to ongoing injury and is practically guaranteed to fan the flames of violence. We therefore call on the U.S. government to take immediate steps to deescalate the tensions resulting from the President’s declaration and to clarify Palestinians’ legitimate stake in the future of Jerusalem.
Much of these “progressive” views toward Israel and the Jews originate from the false belief that the Jews, like white people, are responsible for much of the world’s ills and that the only way to rectify the moral failures of the past is to sacrifice their honor, their dignity, and their intellectual rigor in order to appease those that their ancestors supposedly wronged. Within this cadre of Hellenized Jews, Israel is falsely seen as an illegal occupier of lands that supposedly belonged to the Palestinian-Arabs and that the only way to fix that moral wrong is to force Israel to give up territory mandated to them by international law and relinquish their claim to the Jewish people’s holy city and its holy sites.
While the Maccabees risked their lives in order to sanctify and reclaim Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people and its holiest site, the Hellenizers sought to desecrate Jerusalem’s holiness if it meant that their cadre of Jews would be deemed acceptable by their Seleucid puppeteers. Today, we have seen pockets within the American Jewish community not only denounce Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but also emphasize that the only acceptable way to acknowledge Israel’s pre-existing sovereignty in Jerusalem is by appeasing and getting acceptance from the Palestinian-Arab leadership that has sought to exterminate them since their national movement was established by Nazi war criminal Hajj Amin al-Husseini. This demented mindset is responsible for the furtherance of Jewish division and the decades-long divorce of the liberal Jewish-American establishment from the fundamental principles of Judaism.
The Jewish people have come a long way from promulgating theocratic rule like the Hasmonean Dynasty did, but we have not learned the lesson about the importance of Jewish unity, especially in times where others seek our total annihilation. While most Jews will be united in commemorating the Maccabean Revolt’s triumphant victory in reclaiming Jerusalem, it is difficult to ignore that a plurality of these Jews would have fought for the right to desecrate our holiest city on the arrogant assumption that they are making the world a better place.
Chag Chanukah Sameach to the Jewish people in. Last but not least, NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL!