Jewish Ideas Daily has been succeeded and re-launched as Mosaic. Read more...

The First War of National Liberation

The first Book of Maccabees describes the military victory that became part of the story of Hanukkah.  But the book did not enter the Jewish scriptural canon, and the rabbinic Hanukkah focuses not on the Maccabees’ military achievement but on the eight-day miracle of the oil.  There are differing theories of why the narrative of the holiday changed so dramatically.  One view calls attention to the surprisingly contemporary character of the Maccabees’ revolt.  Their uprising—in its underlying aim, its particular triggering event, its strategic and tactical methods, and its political complications—can lay claim to being the first war of national liberation.  Here we republish Diana Muir Appelbaum’s account of why the Book of Maccabees is so modern and so dangerous.  —The Editors

Relevant Links
The Meaning of Hanukkah  Jon D. Levenson, Wall Street Journal. In some ways, Christians preserved the story of Hanukkah better than the Jews did.
Kosher Maccabees  Natan Slifkin, Rationalist Judaism. Has ArtScroll given its seal of approval to I and II Maccabees?


This is the 2,179th anniversary of the world's first war of national liberation.  There have been many since.  To a surprising extent, such wars have followed the pattern first established by the Maccabees.  They, like later heads of independence movements, were leaders of a people conquered and occupied by a great empire.  They fought to claim the right of national self-determination.

Resentment of foreign rule may simmer for a long time, but war is often remembered as beginning in a dramatic incident.  In Switzerland, this memory belongs to William Tell.  He was the national hero who in 1307 refused to bow to a hat belonging to the Hapsburg governor, which was set on a tall pole in the center of Altdorf for the sole purpose of forcing Swiss freemen to genuflect to it.  Tell's defiance sparked the fight for Swiss independence. 

The story about Tell may be true, but it was not recorded until the 1560s.  The Jewish "William Tell" moment occurred in the Year 167 B.C.E., when a priest named Matityahu (Mattathias) refused an order to make a sacrifice to a Greek god.  Matityahu's story is better documented than Tell's, since it comes from the Book of First Maccabees (not the later II, III, and IV Maccabees), a text actually written in the Maccabean period.

At the time, the wealthy and powerful Jewish residents of Jerusalem had made a "covenant with the Gentiles": They followed Hellenistic ways, had their circumcisions surgically effaced, and built a Greek gymnasium for training in Hellenistic sports, literature, ethics, and philosophy.  But the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes upset the equilibrium, ordering that Jewish texts be destroyed and Jews forced to eat pork and break the Sabbath.

Matityahu, with his sons, fled Jerusalem for his ancestral village of Modi'in.  There, a Seleucid officer ordered him to make a public sacrifice to Zeus.  Matityahu refused.  "I and my sons and our kinsmen," he said, "shall follow the covenant of our fathers."

Other Jews had said as much: "Many Israelites strongly and steadfastly refused to eat forbidden food.  They chose death in order . . . to keep from violating the Holy Covenant, and they were put to death."  What made Matityahu a great leader was the fact that he refused to accept the necessity of choosing between violation of Jewish law and death.  Instead, he chose to vindicate the Jews' right to determine their fate as a nation by organizing an army and driving the Seleucids from the land of Israel. 

After Matityahu refused to make the pagan sacrifice in Modi'in, another Jewish man stepped forward to make the sacrifice—and Matityahu "slew him upon the altar."  He then killed the Seleucid officer, destroyed the altar itself, and fled with his sons into the hills, shouting, "Everyone who loves the law and stands by the covenant follow me!"   

Suddenly we are on familiar ground: the modern war of national liberation.  There are no prophets in the book of Maccabees, and no miracles.  This is the story of a man and a nation, faced with the awful choice of watching their nation die or risking their own death, who take their fate into their own hands and fight for their right to be governed by Jewish rulers under Jewish laws—the right we call national self-determination.   

Most aspects of the Maccabees' ancient war are uncannily familiar.  Not the Seleucid army's elephants, of course; but the Greek war machine was beaten by Matityahu's untrained volunteers, just as modern wars for independence often feature well-equipped imperial armies fighting ad hoc forces.  Other familiar patterns are also there in I Maccabees.  The Jews convened national assemblies, much as modern liberation movements do.  They struggled to form a unified command structure.  They sought aid from the Seleucids' rival great powers, Rome and Sparta. 

The Maccabean war was also just as messy as modern wars of national liberation.  The Jews fought against a great empire; but Jews also fought other Jews for principle and power, Jewish Hellenizers against Jews who stood for the ancient covenant. 

Despite these ambiguities, the victories won under the leadership of Matityahu and his five sons produced two centuries of autonomous Judean government, giving Jewish intellectuals the time and opportunity to cement an enduring Jewish culture.  Without those two centuries of self-government, it is doubtful that Jewish identity would have withstood two millennia during which Jews in Israel lived under foreign occupation and most Jews lived in exile.

The Book of Maccabees is found in the Coptic, Orthodox, and Catholic Bibles; but few Jews have ever read it.  Though it was written in Hebrew by a Jew, it survived antiquity only in Greek translation.  This is because it is a very dangerous book.  To read Maccabees is to risk being persuaded that peoples like the Jews had and have rights to national self-determination.  Acting on such an idea, by starting a war of national liberation, is a perilous thing to do. 

In August 2009, the government of Sri Lanka finally put down the war of national liberation that the Tamil people had waged against the central authorities for 35 years.  As the government drove the losing Tamils from their homes, it kept journalists away, so no one can say how many were killed.  Hundreds of thousands now live in exile, and their prospects within Sri Lanka are bleak. 

Jewish leaders struggling for a Jewish future in the second and third centuries knew about such consequences.  Large-scale Jewish uprisings aimed at national liberation had failed in the years 70, 115, and 132 C.E., with horrific results.  Matityahu was well aware that the idea of a right to national self-determination was the most dangerous idea the Jews could possibly have entertained.

Hanukkah, the holiday that celebrates Judean independence, was tamed in later years by focusing on its purely religious aspects.  The Book of Maccabees was not added to the Jewish canon.  Hebrew copies were not made. 

But this incendiary text exists.  Pick it up and read it.  I dare you.

Diana Muir Appelbaum is an American author and historian.  She is at work on a book tentatively entitled Nationhood: The Foundation of Democracy.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Steve on December 12, 2012 at 7:45 am (Reply)
The important counter-balance is that the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians can turn this around to say that it is about themselves.

The story is real, and that is why it is so dangerous to publicize to the current Seleucid Axis.
Empress Trudy on December 12, 2012 at 10:24 am (Reply)
Of course in the modern parlance, the NYT and Tom Friedman and all the rest of that ilk are the Hellenized Jews.
Shlomo on December 12, 2012 at 10:32 am (Reply)
The Arabs have more to fear from Maccabees than inspiration. Maccabees celebrates Jewish national freedom. The Rabbis didn't like the Maccabees and cut their own deal with Rome. In essence, they, particularly Yohannan Ben Zakai, gave up national independence in exchange for Roman protection and tolerance of a privatized Judaism. That defined Jewish existence for the next 1900 years. Of course, gentile rulers did not always keep their side of the bargain.
Steve on December 12, 2012 at 11:57 am (Reply)
Israel cannot trust anyone but themselves and Palau.
psydneyh on December 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm (Reply)
We Anericans are mostly Hellenized Jews. I am amused by the modern celebration of Hannukah which completely misrepresents the Maccabee cause.
irwing on December 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm (Reply)
This is all fine and dandy, but the Mahabees went to Rome to ask for military intervention to achieve freedom from the Greeks.
Thanks a lot.....
Ellen on December 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm (Reply)

I would add to that list, the Czech Republic. They remember all too well how they were sacrificed to the Nazis under a variety of rationales from the likes of Neville Chamberlain and his supporting chorus. What people may not remember is that the supporting chorus for that shameless act of appeasement was much of the British intelligentsia. Their intellectual (if one can call it that) heirs are found today on the British left in the chattering classes who dominate media discourse there.

SOS - same old stuff from the same old pitiful group of losers.
Steve on December 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm (Reply)
How many of the readers know that Maccabee is an acronym for what group of Hebrew words?

Another seemingly minor bit of degradation is the conversion of the guttural beginning of Chanukah to Hannukah.
Mitnaged on December 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm (Reply)
The lack of historical Jewish content in the comments thus far is astounding.

Applebaum's neocon treatise is hilarious.

1.The idea of ‘nation’- let alone national liberation- is a modern European conceit. The (Semitic) Jews/Israelites constitute a people (“AM in Hebrew), an ethnos.
2. In essence, Hanukkah was a civil war fought between Jews, in which the Taliban-leaning element won out.
3. The Hasmonean dynasty was halachically illegitmate, by virtue of its merging kingship with priesthood. Which is why the Rabbis denounced and renounced it.
4. Moreover, during those “2 centuries of self-government,” the Hasmoneans wound up being as Hellenized (and corrupt) as the “wealthy and powerful” Jews – think: the Republican Jewish Coalition of its day- whom the Maccabees fought against.
5. Worse, those 2 centuries of Judean autonomy meant that it was cut off from the cultural and economic developments then engaging the Greek-influenced Mediterranean world, thereby condemning it to backwater status: think, the Appalachia of the Levant. Which is why/how a psychopath like Pontius Pilate winds up being stationed there by Rome- as a dumping ground for wacko officials the Roman Empire was stuck with, but could neither court-martial nor discharge.
Ellen on December 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm (Reply)
Mitnaged, your point #1 was good, but then you go off the rails, and sound remarkably like liberal Jewish propaganda. The people who support the RJC nowadays represent amcha - the voice of the people - Middle class, religiously oriented Jews who oppose the upper class liberal agenda pushed by almost all secular Jewish organizations. You should have joined us on our bus ride down to Philly to campaign against Obama, and you would have seen a Jewish organization clearly not representing the Hellenized elites.

The great Greek culture that you celebrate in #5 unfortunately withered on the vine, didn't it, and these days Greek culture means pretty much living off the German taxpayer until pushed into bankruptcy. Thank you very much, but the rabbinic Judaism that survived the decline of Greece and Rome helped sustain the Jewish people until the Zionist movement brought them back to their home again. Not a meager accomplishment, I would say.
YM on December 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm (Reply)
The book of Macabees is lprinted in the Birnbaum Siddur
Jerry Blaz on December 12, 2012 at 6:59 pm (Reply)
To call the Hasmonean revolt a "national liberation" fit in to Jewish liberation ideas that were iconicized by the establishment of the State of Israel. However, "national liberation" is an anachronism. While his language and comparisons are not mine, Mitnaged has a much better perspective on this period of Jewish experience. Under Ptolemaic Hellenists, the Jews absorbed much Hellenistic and Hellenic culture and philosophy. Faced with Aristotlean philosophy, there is a rabbinic agadah that when Aristotle was young, he was taught his philosophic method by rabbis. Philo-Judeaus is thought to be a Platonist par excellance, and because he wrote in Greek in Alexandria, were it not for the Christians, his work would be unknown today.

Cultural purity was impossible in the period of the Hasmoneans just as it is today. Then, as now, cultural improvements were made Jewish. Judaism has been evolving since Abraham, and the many ceaseless efforts to prevent this evolution have created only cultic sects.
Steve on December 13, 2012 at 5:15 am (Reply)
There is an interesting and perhaps a bit incongruent commonality that goes back to the neglect of the conflict and the focus on lights.

Perhaps the absence of oil (olive oil in the old case I believe) can be philosophically linked to the dependence on oil in the present day.

The purported miracle of the oil is more consistently with technological improvements involving the current trending toward renewable energy.

I'm just thinking here. As to world conquest, I'll leave that to the lineage that extends far back and leads up to Islam in the present day. The goal of global commonality there is doomed to failure.
Stas C. on December 13, 2012 at 10:51 am (Reply)
Mitnaged is spot-on and Ellen is off-base. Sheldon Adelson is head of the board of directors of the RJC- is he middle class?

More to the point: In the acronym RJC, the initials came first, and the words later fleshed out. Actually, RJC is an anagram of its true pedigree, Jews for the Christian Right.

For, according to none other than veteran Republican consultant and (GOP insider) Arthur J. Finkelstein, "The political center has disappeared, and the Republican Party has become the party of the Christian right more so than in any other period in modern history” (November 11, 2004, NYT) .

And who, you might ask, is Finkelstein, and why does his opinion matter? Because he is the pollster who served as the RJC’s exit survey pollster this year!

The RJC is not a Jewish advocacy/defense group that happens to vote Republican; it's a GOP organization that targets Jews for outreach.

In other words, the objective of the RJC is not to raise Republican awareness of a Jewish community consensus on a given issue, but to persuade Jews to accept the Republican consensus. And these days, that "Republican consensus" is Tea Party-centric and beholden to the Christian Right, especially Protestant fundamentalist evangelicals.

For example, if there is one issue that unites American Jewry across the board -- from ultra-Orthodox to Secular Humanist Jews -- it is embryonic stem-cell research; yet, as loyal Republicans, the RJC defended President Bush's veto of this legislation, undertaken at the behest of the Christian Right.
Strike 1.

Traditionally, U.S. support for Israel has been bipartisan; however, during the Bush and Obama presidencies, the RJC has deliberately sought to turn it into a wedge issue.
Strike 2.

The RJC has never taken issue with GOP and conservative icon Ann Coulter's pronouncement that Jews, in order to be "perfected," should all convert to Christianity.
This alone raises the question of the integrity of the group, and demonstrates its lack of independence from the Republican Party.
Strike 3.

Bottom line: the RJC are the Hellenized Jews of today, serving their Sellucid Christian Right masters.
S W on December 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm (Reply)
This is an interesting stream of comments spun off from an article's central topic. As to "nation" versus "people," these are not modern versus ancient perspectives because empire has always been a feature of history and those who oppose empire are always either a defeated people or a resilient strain which comes down to us across history. Secondly the attempts to make this a "national liberation" colored by references to the American political parties is laughable. Freedom is freedom, and of course changes occur within a people (or nation) which bring them nearer to or farther away from freedom (call it liberation). "National liberation" is no anachronism, as one observes the Palestinians proclaiming their state courtesy of a UN vote and then an immediate annoucement that Jerusalem is their capital. I would opine that "national" and "liberation" are adequate words in sway today, and we had better more clearly understand that "occupation" and "colonialism" are being used to hammer Israel by Muslims as well as by the politics of today which so adores such ill-used words. The creation of the state of Israel was a war of national liberation to our view, was it not? As to the image of Greece today being fed by German tax revenues, this is partially true, I write from the persepctive of Germany. But through the IMF it has been fed also by American tax revenues -- all of which is a bit of funny money as both the US Fed and the ECB are basically inventing new supplies of currency our of nothing more than a promise. As to Hellenization, this is no different than the influence of Marx on some of today's Jews. Purity is a concept which simply is a lie, for purity of the cultural sort implies a power to assert what it means to be pure, and none of the "cultic" groups which Mr. Blaz cares to reference assert anything except over themselves. The Left can be as cultic as the Right. Political correctness has deeply colored whatever "national liberation" now means, and it seems only to depend on context. What I see in the story of Matityahu is a man's struggle to be free from governance beyond himself and his people. This is a contemporary a story today as it was in that time, overshadowed in liturgical ways by the greater struggle for a people to be free, that the story of the Exodus and Pesach. Nonetheless these stories both remain landmarks on the Jewish calendar for good reason. They celebrate and remind us how important liberty is. Freedom is a word which functions fumblingly alone, but most clearly when in the phrase with an accompanying preposition -- free from. In the instances we celebrate, we celebrate freedom from external governance, not chosen by ourselves. This is the central issue and will remain so for another millenium. As Appelbaum notes, "idea of a right to national self-determination was [is] the most dangerous idea the Jews could possibly have entertained." Let us entertain it with depth and conviction in the face of those who would rule over us. I for one accept her dare. Best wishes.
Zaslow on December 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm (Reply)
Mitnaged got ir right about the "Taliban-leaning" extremist element winning out!

As noted in a recent article in the Philadelphia Jewish EXPONENT, "According to 1 Maccabees, Mattathias’ followers, called hasidim, or “pious ones,” slaughtered assimilated Jews and circumcised male children by force. Fearing for their lives, well-connected Hellenists called upon the Seleucid armies for protection, and it is with the ensuing battle that the well-known version of the Hanukkah story begins."
And "taliban" is the Pashtu word for "students". I guess that means that the Taliban are the Muslim version of Yeshiva buchers!!
SW on December 13, 2012 at 10:34 pm (Reply)
Historical revisionism is a tenet of the Frankfurt School forward, with the aim to set aside Western civilization in favor of a new and dreamed of order. One may think "Historyn as a Weapon."

I mention this because the enthusiasm expressed to paint the Macabbees as "taliban" is itself historical revision of a wildly political sort. Applebaum "dares" us to read the original sources as best they can be had, the original Hebrew being lost. Therefore I take earlier sources than that cited by Zaslow and Mitnaged.

According to the old text, Antiochus sought to be ruler over both Israel and Egypt, thereby being an "occupier" who sought "empire." This imperialist "plundered" Jerusalem and "took capitve" women and children." And the text of earliest source says that this imperial and foreign power "shed innocent blood." Additionally the opponents of Mattathias are termed "arrogant men." This is the story, which is supposedly not so "clear cut." Of course it is not.

Zaslow quotes from a news article, sourcing it to Jewish Exponent. From the article titled "Hanukkah: The untold story," one reads information his short citation left out by Zaslow perhaps willfully: "Hellenized Jews not only supported the repressive policy, but also helped Antiochus’ men violently enforce it in the traditional Judean villages. In response, when the traditionalists rose up under the leadership of Mattathias, their fury was directed at their Hellenized countrymen." This comes from originally, written by Binyamin Kagedan in 2011.

To speak of "the 'Taliban-leaning' extremist element winning out" as does Zaslow suggests that he would side with what Kegedan, Zaslow's source, and the original texts tell us were "Hellenized Jews not only supported the repressive policy, but also helped Antiochus’ men violently enforce it...." Repressive, violent men are not victims in even the modern political stances with which I am acquainted, excepting for the public relations stance of the PLO/PA/Hamas in which "death to Israel" is ignored in favor of criticing Israel today, much as the Hellenized Jews of another day seemed quite willing to serve foreign powers through violence.

Does not such violence suggest that these slaughtered "victims" as anointed by Mitnaged and Zaslow were in fact also violent extremists, but for a different extreme?

As I mention earlier, the attempt to use contemporary political stances is fraught with problems. But all military confrontations are violent and history has declared the victory over the "foreign occupier" by Mattathias’ followers the Jewish perspective, and enshrined it in a festival which has lingered with us for centuries. To now declare Mattathias’ followers to be extremist and "taliban" is neither clever nor scholarly, but most assuredly political in the most modern sense. Why, it is almost Hellenized in the blythe manner in which it was able to write "Yeshiva buchers [butchers]." Schande.
Stas C. on December 14, 2012 at 10:27 am (Reply)
Shetiqa ka-Hodaah: silence is concurrence.

I graciously accept S W's endorsement of the analogy between the Hellenized Jews of first-century Judea and the RJC in America today. Being Germany-based himself, he is in a unique position to kasher the analogy!
S W on December 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm (Reply)
Silence indeed seems like concurrence. In distinction to Stas C.'s remark, I repeat my assertion that neither of the political parties in the United States serve as my analogy to the Hellenized Jews of the Festival of Hanukkah any more than they are either or both an analogy to the Maccabees.

What I stated above was that "the attempt to use contemporary political stances is fraught with problems."

Which major Republican or Democrat in the United States may be called "repressive and violent?" I know that American political passions might reach hyperbole, but "repressive and violent" Democrats or Republicans at the national leaderhsip level? The only possible case for this may be made by those directing and conducting ongoing military campaigns in Afghanistan. If this is his argument, then European nations too have troops there. Is this to what Stas C. refers? Certainly he cannot mean a Republican or Democrat billionaire donor working within the current laws of the nation.

Being in a "unique position" I do not endorse Stas C's claim that I accede to his assumptive closing argument. US politics as best I see it from afar is not and cannot be a metaphor for the followers of Mattathias nor the Hellenized Jews of two millenia ago.
Steve on December 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm (Reply)
I am proud to say that I am both Republican and Jewish. The world is not so cut and dried as to say that the RJC is made up of Hellenized Jews. Prior to the last action by Israel in defence of its population, it sent ten letters to the UN Security Council asking for action to stop the rockets. No action came. We must bear in mind that President Obama endorses the most vilely antisemetic part of the UN by joining the Human Rights Council. Only after Israel responded did the UN and the US take appropriate action. The leftists in the Democratic party, Thomas Friedman, George Soros and others of that ilk want to sell Israel out.
Beatrice on December 15, 2012 at 8:38 am (Reply)
So, S W is Germany-based. Achtung! That explains his keen interest, let alone self-proclaimed expertise, in matters of "empire", "occupying' and "plunder", both then and now. And his quick association of "bucher" with "butcher." Not to mention his alacrity in claiming equal atrocities on both sides, by both the extremist Maccabees and the RJC Hellenizers: calling to mind the visit in 1985 by Ronald Reagan, the greatest American president of all time, to the Bitburg cemetery (where some SS members are buried), where he said that the German people were also the victims of the Nazis.

Btw, the correct spelling for the adjective is blIthe, not blYthe. BlYthe is a woman's name, as in Blythe Danner, the mother of Gweneth Paltrow.
S W on December 16, 2012 at 7:31 am (Reply)
I repeat my assertion "that neither of the political parties in the United States serve as my analogy to the Hellenized Jews of the Festival of Hanukkah any more than they are either or both an analogy to the Maccabees."

I also repeat the literal and literary truth from original texts that in the war between the Seleucid Emperor (and his followers) and Mattathias (and his followers) that slaughter occured, and on both sides. Such is war. Which Jew commenting above would have rather that the Seleucids and their Hellenized supporters among the Jews would have won and the Maccabees lost? Which Jew commenting above thinks war can be conducted surgically without collateral damage? Ms. Appelbaum dares us to read the text, not news editorials as our first sources.

I do not understand the complaint from one who writes of my supposed "self-professed expertise" or of my misspelling. Who has not misspelled a word? Who has asserted I have any more expertise than others who contirbute to JID? I have not, and say so herein. As a Jew in Germany, I have never written and will never write of "equal atrocities on both sides." It seems some wish to fabricate my support for their politics, one seeming to be Democrat and another Republican. How odd. How sad. How evident, as I wrote, that "the attempt to use contemporary political stances is fraught with problems."

Having been misquoted by representatives of both American political streams only serves to validate my assertion -- as written above -- "neither of the political parties in the United States serve as my analogy to the Hellenized Jews of the Festival of Hanukkah any more than they are either or both an analogy to the Maccabees."

For all my faults, I try to think Jewishly without placing a priori political affiliation before or above it. In this, I seem to be in a distinct minority.
Alphonse on December 19, 2012 at 11:16 am (Reply)
Re: the December 16 posting...

With regard to misspelling, the issue is the fundamental one of accuracy and discipline- old-fashioned CONSERVATIVE(!) values. Fat-finger typos are one thing, but misspelling, especially in the age of spellcheck, is a telltale sign of carelessness and confusion and even lack of intellectual rigor.
S W on December 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm (Reply)
Es tut mir leid. Oder.... Pour le Monsieur Alphonse, poppycock. (I recommend you research the original and literal translation in Nederlandse.) The "fundamental issue" is the topic of the article or at least my response, not misspelling. To suggest "a lack of intellectual rigor" as a response is hubris, given that my assertion about American politics not being a model for reflections on the story which underpins Hanukkah was the subject of my comments goes unanswered. Judging someone for a spelling error and then hinting that the remainder of their thought is therefore "sinnlos" is an empty debate tactic at best. Does Alphonse believe American Democrats represent the Hellenized and American Republicans the zealots or the other way around? Or neither, in which case he agrees with my assertion. Shall one now have from Alphonse intellectual rigor or just sniping without intellectual rigor? A reply characterized by intellectual rigor would be most enlightening.
D. Feith on December 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm (Reply)
The snarky, pretentious response by S W to Alphonse's forthright and telling criticism validates it- as does the snide "poppycock" pseudo-rejoinder. And as to the use of German rather than Hebrew on a Jewish blog to express sarcastic, faux remorse at being caught red-handed- I shall leave that to the psychoanalysts.
And why say "hubris" instead of "chutzpah." Taka, a shande (the Yiddish word/spelling, as opposed to the German sChande).
S W on December 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm (Reply)
Another response without answering the one challenege: "...neither of the political parties in the United States serve as my analogy to the Hellenized Jews of the Festival of Hanukkah any more than they are either or both an analogy to the Maccabees."

Rather than address this, now one complains of the use of German, though Jews in Germany unremarkably speak German today.

Were D. Feith to have rejoined in Hebrew or Jiddische rather than in English, the complaint about language might have more validity. And the word Schande and its variant Shande both do not use Hebrew characters with which Jiddische is actually written, as is Chutzpe. How one transliterates Jiddische is a matter of choice and taste and varying traditions. As to Chutzpe, Feith does not address the JID article's subject nor my comment as included again above.

גאז זאל אפיטן פון ײדישער חוצפה
Magen Avraham on December 21, 2012 at 10:50 am (Reply)
Feith and Alphonse zogen emes. I can't speak for the other posters, but
1."Were D. Feith to have rejoined in Hebrew or Jiddische rather than in English, the complaint about language might have more validity. " This is an English-language website!!
2. Trivializing misspelling is alien to the spirit and practice of authentic Judaism:
a.Is it of so little consequence to S W if RambaM is misspelled RambaN ? lol.
b.If a Torah scroll contains a misspelling, it is automatically disqualified for ritual use. The same holds true for a mezuzah.
c.The daleth of the Shema (Deut. 6:4) is written conspicuously larger than normal, so it will not be confused - i.e., misspelled and therefore mispronounced as- resh. There is a huge theological difference between achad/one and acher/(an)other!! Ditto the case for the ayin in that same verse, lest it become aleph.
3. As for the analogy question, there is indeed an analogy between the Hellenized Jews and Maccabees of the first century, with American politics today:
both Hellenizers and Maccabees are to be found within the same political party, the GOP. The Republicans are currently in the throes of their own civil war, between the Establishment/Big Business wing (Romney, Boehner, Adelson) and the Libertarian/Tea Party/Bible-thumpers (Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, Evangelicals), with the former being the Hellenizers and the latter the Maccabees.
Ha-Maskil Mayveen (Sorry, I do not have access to a Hebrew font).
S W on December 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm (Reply)
A typogrpahical error in typing the name Rambam is not equivalent to misspelling blithe as Blythe and being corrected by example from a US film persona. A misspelling in our Torah is not equivalent to misspelling in a comment section of a news blog. Trivializing spelling is not the same as the true trivializing the honorable expression "Shield of Abraham" as a blog identity, and then condemning American Republicans to both sides of the story of Hanukkah.

This set of comments has been instructive, for I have learned many uninteresting things.

1) "RJC is an anagram of its true pedigree, Jews for the Christian Right."

2) "The NYT and Tom Friedman and all the rest of that ilk are the Hellenized Jews."

3) "The Taliban are the Muslim version of Yeshiva buchers!"

4) "President Obama endorses the most vilely antisemetic part of the UN by joining the Human Rights Council."

5) "...both Hellenizers and Maccabees are to be found within the same political party, the GOP."

And the greatest quantity of comments? About my misspelling beginning with an unimportant adjective.

"Magein Avraham" means a number of things to me, from the direct translation from the Hebrew, to its appearance in the Amidah, to the honorific title for some historic European rabbis. Its use as a blog name busily playing one side of American politics against another is a fine definition of the verb, to trivialize.

Given that the fine article by Appelbaum was published on 12 December challenging us to again read the text, it is most interesting how many have come to do rhetorical battle with my misspelling, defining it as a "lack of intellectual rigor" and contrasting misspelling an unimportant adjective to the great error should a Torah scroll be found with an error. A week of focusing on misspelling and heated ad hominem mixed with American political accusations, one way and the other.

Somehow I react with sadness that it comes to a commenter willing to trivialize the Shield of Abraham by its misuse, all the while willing to engage as an American Democrat partisan in the same few words. Next time he or she recites the Amidah and comes across these two words, perhaps he or she will think the better of such trivialization as just committed.

My siddur does not have either Democrat or Republican in its text. Whose does?
Bar Akiva on December 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm (Reply)
a. As to the last question posed by S W: putting his money where his mouth is, $heldon Adelson's siddur would have Democrat and Republican in it- if he had one, but he doesn't, and if someone were to gift him one, he would have no need to use it!

b. At least the poster of Dec. 21 knew enough about Judaism to employ a learned alias. For all his know-it-all posturing - or perhaps because of it- S W is ashamed to use his real name.
S W on December 24, 2012 at 4:22 am (Reply)
In another long chain of comments for another JID article some months back, the same architecture of trivialized debate ended with demanding 'full disclosure' included my "real" name. How odd that this set of engaged interlocutors moves from individual to individual, at least eight different monikers now over a span of ten days. It becomes obvious that Appelbaum's article and call to review the Hanukkah text is of far less importance than ever to those who comment now. It also becomes obvious that those now posting only do so to continue their American political activities in an article and comment stream originally about Hanukkah. Obviously answering back to political operatives is a fault of great weight, as history shows in so many places.

As to the now well-documented and constant reference to American politics -- Republican and Democrat alike -- it demonstrates at least to me that those commenting so heatedly place their political affiliation on a par with their Jewish identity if not above.

The latest assertion states "$heldon Adelson's siddur would have Democrat and Republican in it- if he had one, but he doesn't, and if someone were to gift him one, he would have no need to use it!" I do not know with which congregation this individual affiliates, but the assertion that Bar Akiva -- a moniker, one supposes -- has knowedge of this seems unlikely. Adelsohn is his clear and political target, while Soros was Steve's target. Different sides in American politics have spoken and spoken in opposite fashion.

While I heartily admire the many fine articles of scholarly worth which JID is able to present so regularly, I find it interesting that so many comment streams turn quickly to nothing more than base politics of American brand names: my side is good and your side is evil, with barely a perceptive nod to rabbinic Judaism's centuries by which to further an argument. Assertions more than reasoned argument.

The ad hominem is also demonstration that those wishing to debate have little to offer expect political posturing. Among the culling of ad hominem aimed my way, one reads of my "self-proclaimed expertise" and being a "know-it-all." One reads of my "telltale sign of carelessness and confusion and even lack of intellectual rigor" and that my responses have been "snarky, pretentious, and snide."

While JID as a site manages high-minded, well-written and fair arguments consistently, it seems that to dare to question the politics of comments by Republican partisans and even more by Democrat partisans yields the above as responses.

And on a techincal note: one wrote, "Sorry, I do not have access to a Hebrew font." Actually all the users of this site have Hebrew characters as an extension of their normal Times New Roman font, and these may be found by scrolling down to examine the whole of the font. Not being a know-it-all, I learned this from a friend who is far more informed than am I.
Steve on December 24, 2012 at 8:07 am (Reply)
There is something behind this nationalism idea that is consistent. There is a question about the sequestering of religious ideas. Assimilation can be very wrong for Jews. One of the most insidious forms of attempting to assimilate Jews in modern times is the Jewish Christian concept. Here is why we, as Jews, cannot be assimilated in this way.

Christians identify messiah with Jesus and define him as G-d incarnated as a man, and believe he died for the sins of humanity as a blood sacrifice. This means that one has to accept the idea that one person's death can atone for another person's sins. However, this is opposed to what the Bible says in Deuteronomy 24:16, "Every man shall be put to death for his own sin," which is also expressed in Exodus 32:30-35 and Ezekiel 18. The Christian idea of the messiah also assumes that G-d wants, and will accept, a human sacrifice. After all, it was either Jesus-the-god, who died on the cross, of Jesus-the-human. Jews believe that God cannot die, andso all that Christians are left with in the death of Jesus on the cross is a human sacrifice. However, in Deuteronomy 12:30-31, G-d calls human sacrifice an abomination, and something that He hates: "For every abomination to the Eternal, which He hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burned in the fire to their gods." All human beings are sons or daughters, and any sacrifice to G-d of any human being would be something that G-d would hate. The Christian idea of the messiah consists of ideas that are just not Biblical according to Jewish belief. Remember that Jesus was Jewish. Remember that there is only one Bible that Jews accept. Making it relevant to the Maccabees, the Greeks (Seleucids) believed in multiple gods. It is okay to live with non-Jews, but it is not okay to believe as they do. My family never had a Christmas tree. We did not celebrate Christmas. Jewish nationalism needs to survive.

Comments are closed for this article.

Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pintrest!

Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham