In Praise of the Maccabees and Rabbi Akiva


UPDATES 10 am Israel time, Friday, November 6 2013:

*A wonderful week of Chanukah has come and gone–followed in short order by winter. Driving down through the fog and rain from Jerusalem yesterday, we heard on the radio how snow had blanketed Israel’s Mt. Hermon. Rainfall amounts at various locations yesterday included Dorot (81.8 mm), Ein Hashofet (58.6 mm), and Shfela (46.7 mm). Yesterday morning alone, the Kineret (Sea of Galilee) rose by 1 cm–but is still 2.6 meters from full capacity.

As previously reported on israelstreet, Israel had a particularly dry November, so Israelis are reveling in the rain today.

*John Kerry is back to a shuttle diplomacy that takes him back and forth from Jerusalem to Ramallah–but mostly finds him in meeting after meeting with Netanyahu. The story from yesterday is that the Palestinians completely rejected the “security bridging” plan put on the table by the Americans; the story from this morning from Saeb Erekat, the chief PLO negotiator who resigned, unresigned, resigned, and unresigned again last month is that no such rejection occurred.

At least Kerry had the common sense yesterday not to harangue Israelis in public yet again. But he is a laughingstock, and nobody here believes a word he says. Last night, as your humble servant was watching the Israeli news on TV with some friends and we heard Kerry intone that the U.S. will “always place Israel’s security first”, everyone in the room burst out laughing.

TODAY’S BLOG:

A final Chanukah note.

One of the saddest facets of the “Left” in Israel is its attempts not only to distort and demean the rebirth of the state of Israel in 1948, but also its attempts to delegitimize and demean anything related to historical Judaism.

As all Jewish children know, the story of Chanukah is the fight of Mattathias the Hasmonean of Modi’in and his family of  five sons–the Maccabees–(of whom Judah is the most famous) against the Syrian King Antiochus who sought to hellenize Israel some 2200 years ago. Antiochus prohibited the practice of Judaism, installed a Hellenistic priest in the Temple in Jerusalem to carry out pagan sacrifices, and sought to have all Jewish males “uncircumcised”.

The struggle of the Maccabees to win their freedom, embrace their Judaism, retake Jerusalem, and cleanse the Temple became a central story of Jewish history (just this week, a Hasmonean structure has been discovered for the first time in Jerusalem).

Of course it was in the process of cleansing the Temple, that the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days occurred.

In our home, when we celebrate Chanukah, each member of our family takes turns dedicating a candle to a person she or feels is deserving.  One of our candles is always dedicated to the Maccabees.  

It is in this context, that your humble servant was struck a couple of days ago by an interview with Avraham Burg, the former speaker of the Knesset and one of Israel’s premier leftists. In that interview, a kippa-ed Burg commented that had he lived at the time, he would have fought with those who wanted to hellenize Israel, and that he would not have sat in the same studio with Mattathias or any of his sons because they were fundamentalist “Kahanists” (referring to followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane).

But Burg did not stop there. He continued on to castigate the person to whom we dedicate our first candle each Chanukah. 

Just as the Hasmonean Kingdom was disappearing, Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph was born. A leading contributor to the Midrash Halakha and the Mishnah, Rabbi Akiva is referred to in the Talmud as the Head of All Sages (Rosh la Chachamim).  According to Burg, Rabbi Akiva was deserving of no respect because of his zeal for defending Judaism during the Bar Kochba War (132-135 CE).  More specifically, Burg castigated Rabbi Akiva for being “messianic, irrational, and destructive.”

The irony of course is that had not the Maccabees fought against hellenistic Antiochus, the Jews would likely have been completely assimilated into Greek culture, and Judaism itself would have completely disappeared. Avraham Burg, as a Jew, would have long ago ceased to exist.

And your humble servant can only wish it were true today that all Jews everywhere could have the zeal of Rabbi Akiva who even at the age of 92 (or according to some sources 85) defied the Roman emperor Hadrian and continued to teach Judaism.

As Akiva’s flesh was being scraped off his body by Roman torturers flaying him with an iron “comb” so they could pull out his heart, Akiva still had the courage to look to the heavens and joyously cry out:

Shema Israel, Adonai Eloeinu, Adonai Ehad.

 

 

 

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