Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 8 December 2018 / 30 Kislev 5779

Revolt or Renaissance

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Pam

Dear Rabbi,

Why is the Hasmonean uprising against the Greeks viewed as a spiritual uprising rather than a military and political revolt of the oppressed against a foreign intruder?

Dear Pam,

The revolt of the Hasmoneans against the Greeks was not a typical revolt of the oppressed against their oppressor. This is because the Jews could have achieved full national freedom under Greek dominion, since the Greeks did not intend to physically enslave the Jews. Rather, their oppression resulted from resisting the Greek attempt to “liberate” them from what they viewed as the “oppression” of the Torah.

Other peoples living under Greek dominion willingly accepted Greek culture, beliefs, and wisdom. Even many Jews were enchanted by the intellectual and aesthetic lures of ancient Greece. And as with the other peoples under their dominion, the Greeks did not intend to physically destroy the Jews, but only wanted Israel to replace their beliefs with faith in human strength, aesthetics and intellect. The central beliefs of Judaism — existence of a G-d who created, communicates with, commands, and demands of man specific beliefs and observances — were to be nullified and uprooted from the Jewish heart, mind, and soul.

The Hasmonean kohanim, who led the committed and devout of Israel, considered the Greek world view as the most revolting form of paganism. All idolatry is an abomination, but when Man becomes an idol, the damage and crime is much worse. Idols of wood and stone, while belief in them is misleading, nevertheless cause little actual harm. But when humans are deified, and ultimate faith is placed in the superiority of Man’s tastes, talents, strengths, prowess, reason, and intellect, he is then capable of limitlessness license and destruction.

As the Hasmoneans saw this defilement strike root among their people, branching out more from day-to-day, until the Holy Temple itself became defiled, they viewed war with the Greeks a matter of spiritual life and death. For the People of Israel is a nation invested with the task of guarding the purity and sanctity of the world, as it is written, “And you shall be unto Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Since these two opposing world views could not abide together, the Hasmoneans waged an uprising of sanctity against defilement.

Thus, the uprising was not for military or political independence. Israel could have achieved these goals, as many “forward-thinking” Jews argued, by acquiescing, abandoning their spiritual heritage, aligning with Greek culture and thereby gaining independence within the greater Greek Empire, as did all other nations that fell under Greek dominion. However, those Jews and nations fell with the downfall of Greek debauchery and decay into the darkness of oblivion. Rather, the Hasmoneans and the other loyal Jews who found the G-dless Greek culture revolting, rebelled in order to kindle a renaissance of religious independence. And the spiritual enlightenment of those days, which began as a ray of hope and flamed into a zealous fire, continued to shine brightly through the generations in the Chanuka menorah, illuminating the Jewish heart, mind, and soul till this very day!

  • Sources: The Book of Our Heritage, p. 295

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