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    The real enemy of Chanukah

    Was Antiochus the real enemy?

    Not at the beginning, as Rabbi Shubert Spero points out in an essay on Chanukah. The original problem, says Rabbi Spero, was within the Jewish community itself where two parties were in conflict – the hellenisers and the traditionalists.

    The hellenisers wanted Greek culture to permeate Judea. Joshua would become Jason and Menasseh would be Menelaus. Intermarriage would be encouraged as a means of integrating the Jewish and the Greek culture. Jewish practices such as Shabbat, kashrut and circumcision would be superseded. Greek athletics would become more important that studying the Torah. Jews would no longer be so different. Judea would become more cosmopolitan.

    Naturally, the traditionalists were up in arms against what they saw as the death-knell of Judaism. Elias Bickerman says in his book, “The Maccabees”: “The wrath of the Maccabees was poured out over the Jews and not over the heathen”.

    Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks now saw their opportunity to bring the Jews into line. However, their eagerness to impose hellenistic ways almost certainly went further than the Jewish assimilationists had envisaged. Not even the hellenisers could view with equanimity the sight of the Temple being defiled. No wonder Victor Tcherikower says in his “Hellenistic Civilisation and the Jews”: “It was not the revolt which came as a response to the persecution, but the persecution which came as a response to the revolt”.

    Thanks to the Maccabees, the revolt was successful, the persecution was overcome, and the sanctuary was cleansed and rededicated.

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