Portland observer. (Portland, Or.) 1970-current, December 15, 1982, Christmas Around the World, Page 28, Image 28

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    P«o» 4 Section III Portland Observer, December 15,1982
rhe Jewish holiday. Chanukkah, is
observed for eight days, beginning
with the 23th day o f the Jewish month
of Kislev Because Chanukkah occurs
near Christmas each year, many peo­
ple have the m isco ncep tio n th at
C h an u kkah is the “ Jewish C h ris t­
m a s ." H o w e v e r, C h a n u k k a h has
nothing to do with Christm as; it is
no m ore the "J e w is h C h ris tm a s "
lhan Kwanza is the "B la c k C h rist­
Chanukkah is not one o f the great
Jewish festivals, and bears no aura
o f sanctity. N o special ceremonials
have been built around it; there is no
cessation o f work.
Chanukkah differs from all other
Jewish festivals in one important re­
spect; its o rig in is not lost in the
dimness o f a n tiq u ity . It is a dated
fe s tiv a l, a fes tiv al th at co m m em ­
orates great events in the history o f
the Jewish people— the revolt and
victory o f the Jews, under the lead­
ership o f Judah Maccabee and his
brothers of the Hasmonean fam ily,
against the imperial rule o f the Syri­
ans, under Emperor Antiochus Epi-
By the end o f the 3rd century
B .C ., a fte r P alestine (as it later
came to be named by its Rom an
conquerorsl had been under the rule
o f the P to lem ies fo r 100 years, it
was conquered by the Seleucids
(Syrians). For decades a slate of war
had existed between Egypt and Sy­
ria, and often the Jews o f Palestine
were unable to tell to w hich kin g ­
dom the country belonged. Jewish
parties arose at that time, an Egyp­
tian p arly and a Syrian party; one
section o f Jews was in fa v o r o f
Egypt, the other in favor o f Syria.
T his p o litic a l d iv is io n in to an
Egyptian and a S yrian p arty went
hand in hand with a division in the
spiritual life o f the Jews. The Egyp­
tian and Syrian kingdoms were en­
tirely different from each other. The
E g yp tia n kin gd o m was se lf-c o n ­
tained and exclusively E g y p tia n ,
and had no fear o f disintegration.
There were two classes in the popu­
la tio n . the native E g yp tians, who
had no voice in the rule o f the land,
and the im p erialist ru lin g class o f
M aced on ian s and G reeks. T h e
ruling class kept itself ap art from
the " in f e r io r " native inhabitants,
and there was no talk o f a melting-
pot for the nation or o f forcing up­
on the lower classes the new Hellen­
istic (Greek) world culture.
The Grecian kingdom in Asia had
an en tirely d iffe re n t character. It
was a state form ed o f various n a­
tio n alities. It was made up o f va ­
rious peoples and co u ntries and
could n o t, th e re fo re , a rriv e at
strength and unity. So the Seleucids
(Hellenized Syrians) strove to hold
and w eld the vario us elem ents in
their kingdom through imposing the
Hellenistic culture.
The conservative Jewish circles o f
Judah (Palestine) were, therefore, in
favor o f Egypt, because o f their reli­
gious interests, which were contrary
to H e lle n ism w ith its w orsh ip o f
many gods instead o f O ne G od, its
worship o f images, etc. O n the other
hand, those who were in favor o f
Syria had to be, in accordance with
Syria's political trend, Hellenists.
The introduction o f Hellenistic ways
into Palestine had to be part o f their
political program. Furthermore, the
East, at that time, was experiencing
a boom in trade and manufacture; it
was a tim e o f w ealth and riches.
M a n y Jews, th e re fo re , strove to
take leave o f their religious sepa­
rateness and to p a rtic ip a te in the
rich life o f the world in which they
There arose, then, a Jewish aris­
tocracy that was in fa v o r o f Syria
and that strove to introduce Hellen­
istic ways in to Ju d ah . T his a ris ­
tocratic party governed in Jerusalem
under the Syrians, who could rely
only on this group for loyalty.
W hen A ntiochus Epiphanes be­
came king o f S y ria , there was a
great upheaval in the local political
situation o f the Jews in Palestine.
The conservative party, with its an­
tagonism to H e lle n is m , was co n ­
sidered unpatriotic and could not be
allow ed to take charge o f Jewish
rule The position o f H ig h Priest,
that is, o f governor, was won, there­
fore. by a Hellenized priest named
Jason, an aristocrat. (H e altered his
Hebrew name, Joshua, to Jason.)
Jason belonged to the moderate
H ellenists. A p p a re n tly a co m p ro ­
mise candidate, he won the king to
his side with his promise to Hellen-
ize Jerusalem, thus proving his w ill­
ingness to w ork for the interests o f
Jason was not an extreme Hellen­
ist and did not d isturb the fu n d a ­
mentals o f Jewish religious life. He
only desired that Jerusalem should
atta in the appearance o f a H e lle n ­
istic city. For this purpose he erected
a gymnasium in Jerusalem, and in ­
troduced Greek games
But a m oderate H ellenist could
represent the king, Antiochus, only
in a time o f peace. Soon the war be­
tween Syria and Egypt b ro k e out
again and, in connection w ith it, a
war broke out between the rival po­
litical leaders in Jerusalem.
The Syrian party now could de­
pose the moderate Jason, to obtain
complete rule. Antiochus was con­
vinced that Jason was soft on Egypt;
in his place, the king pul Menelaus,
(in Hebrew, Menachem), the leader
o f the extreme Greco-Syrian party.
M enelaus* strict H e lle n is tic re ­
gime in Jerusalem evoked bitter re­
sentment in the masses o f the Jews,
and when a rumor spread that A n ti­
ochus had been killed in action, Ja­
son, with a thousand men, besieged
Jerusalem and forced Menelaus tc
seek refuge in the citadel.
But A n tio c h u s re ta lia te d w ith
much greater force, retook Jerusa­
lem, and ordered his soldiers to slay
every adherent o f the E g yp tia n
p a rty in the c ity , and a d re a d fu l
slaughter took place. In a d d itio n ,
Antiochus plundered the T em p le.
Jerusalem was left m o u rn in g , but
this did not upset Menelaus, as long
as his p arty had won and he re ­
mained in office.
Antiochus now undertook to con­
vert his realm o f diverse n atio n al­
ities into a powerful, homogeneous
kindgom, so as to feel secure against
R om e,
attempting to fuse all the peoples of
his kingdom in the m elting pot o f
Hellenistic culture. In those days the
n a tio n a l c u ltu re o f peoples was
strongly bound up with its religion,
so Antiochus issued a decree that all
the peoples o f his em pire w ere to
serve the G recian gods and to be­
come Greeks. It was especially im ­
portant to Hellenize the province o f
Judah (Palestine) in order for A n ti­
ochus to feel secure about his Egyp­
tian border.
A ll the peoples o f the kingdom
accepted and obeyed the edict o f
A ntiochus, except the Jews. A n ti­
ochus, th e re fo re , sent a m ighty
arm y into Palestine to root out the
w orsh ip o f the Jewish G od w ith
fo rce, and to elim in a te the obser­
vance of distinctive Jewish laws and
T h e T em p le service was halted
and G od's House was turned into a
G recian tem ple. It was forb id d en ,
on pain o f death, to observe any of
the precepts o f the Jewish religion.
There were many m artyrs, the first
m artyrs for freedom o f conscience
known in world history.
T h e w ar betw een the p o litic a l
parties and their leaders led to a re­
volt against the tyrannic Syrian rule
and against the leadership o f the
aristocratic Syrian party in Judah.
The old parties were failures and a
new, national party arose, which de­
clared: Jews are concerned with nei­
ther Syrian nor Egyptian interests,
but only with strictly Jewish inter­
ests. This national party was under
the leadership o f Judah Maccabee
and his Hasmonean brothers.
At first, Judah Maccabee and his
volunteer arm y sought o nly to re­
in s tall the T em p le service, which
had been interrupted for three solid
years. O n the 25th day o f the month
o f Kislev they redcdicated the altar
in the T e m p le w ith a great cere­
mony, and decreed that an eight-day
festival, commencing with that day,
be observed yearly. Thus, C hanuk­
kah began.
The Hasmoneans, however, went
on from there to take advantage of
the weakened Syrian kingdom, torn
with inner strife, to erect a new, in­
dependent Jewish kingdom in Pales­
tine. This kingdom lasted less than
100 years, before being swallowed
by the Rom an E m p ire. But it had
far-reach ing results fo r the Jews.
Through the revolt and victory o f
the Hasmoneans, the latent forces of
the people were aroused, and the va­
rious trends in Jewish spiritual life
flourished. Jews grew enorm ously
in numbers and power durin g the
p erio d; they extended th eir d o ­
minion over all of Palestine and also
migrated in large numbers over the
then known world.
In this w ay, through the victory
o f the Hasm oneans celebrated
during Chanukkah, the Jews devel­
oped new powers and possibilities to
exist as a people. C h a n u k k a h , to­
day, stands for two ideals: first, for
the achievement o f religious liberty
an d , secondly, fo r a revival o f the
national development o f the Jewish
Chanukkah, then, is a celebration
of the victory o f national minorities
in their struggles for self-determina­
tion against w orld-w ide im perialist
Tha Chanukkah lights
The Chanukkah lights originated
in an old nature festival, that was
observed in winter by certain Jewish
groups, in the season when the days
begin to lengthen. In lim e the lights
were even tually tied up w ith C h a ­
In order to imbue the Chanukkah
lights w ith a religious aura, w ith a
sacred tra d itio n , the legend o f the
flask o f oil was created.
" W h a t is C h anukkah?" asks the
G em ara, a Jewish holy book, and
the answer given there is th at the
arm y o f A n tiochu s, when it occu­
pied the Tem ple, defiled all the o il
that was stored therein. W hen the
Hasmoneans won, they searched the
T em p le and found only one s m a ll
flask o f oil bearing the seal o f the
High Priest, containing only enough
oil to light the Menorah for one day.
A miracle occurred, and this oil last­
ed fo r eight days. T h e next year
these days were declared a festival,
w ith prayers o f th an ksg ivin g to