Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire of the 2nd century BCE.
Phariseeism: Hypocritical observance of the letter of religious or moral law without regard for the spirit.
The Maccabees: Heroes or Fanatics?
By Michele Alperin (My Jewish Learning)
Although celebrated as heroes who saved Jewish practice and Torah law from suppression and abrogation by the Syrian Greeks, the Maccabees are portrayed in the First Book of Maccabees as religious zealots, murdering coreligionists who had chosen the path of Hellenism.
The Role of Hellenism
Central to any assessment of the Maccabees is an evaluation of the role of Hellenism, an ideology whose universalistic outlook was based on Greek ideas and athletic prowess.
Following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Hellenism became a political tool used by the Syrian Greeks to consolidate their power among the wealthy bourgeoisie.
In turn, the aristocratic elites who embraced Hellenism gained access to the social and economic perquisites flowing to citizens of a Greek polis, including the right to mint coins, to take part in international Hellenistic events, and to receive protection from the city’s founding ruler.
But Hellenism encompassed more than a pragmatic relationship between the ruler and local economic elites; it also represented an “enlightened” worldview considered by many to be the way of the future.
Nations who shut themselves off and did not confront the challenge of Hellenism were falling by the wayside. Because it was viewed as the wave of the future, the pressure to acculturate to Hellenism was quite intense in Judea.
Therefore, the people of Judea had to decide whether the universalistic focus of Hellenism constituted a danger to their ancestral religion and its God or whether it simply represented a more modern and “progressive” way of life that could be merged with Jewish practice.
Was the appropriate response, then, to reform Judaism in the spirit of Hellenism or to assume a stance protective of traditional Jewish values by “liberating” Judea from the Syrian Greeks?
The Jewish Hellenists chose the reform path; they wanted to move beyond separatism and assimilate the positive aspects of Greek culture into Judaism.
As First Maccabees recounts, “In those days there emerged in Israel lawless men [Jewish Hellenists] who persuaded many, saying, ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the nations that are around us; for since we separated ourselves from them, many evils have come upon us’” ( I Maccabees 1:11).
When evaluating the Maccabees’ role, one must ask whether the Hellenist Jews, deemed apostates by the Maccabees and their supporters, had the right to assimilate their Jewish observance to the surrounding Greek culture. The Maccabees answered with a resounding “no”.
41 Moreover king Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people,
42 And every one should leave his laws: so all the heathen agreed according to the commandment of the king.
43 Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the sabbath.
44 For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Juda that they should follow the strange laws of the land,
45 And forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days:
46 And pollute the sanctuary and holy people:
47 Set up altars, and groves, and chapels of idols, and sacrifice swine’s flesh, and unclean beasts:
48 That they should also leave their children uncircumcised, and make their souls abominable with all manner of uncleanness and profanation:
49 To the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances.
Hellenism & Old Fashioned Judaism
By Mary Anne Cronican (Journey to Wisdom)
Hellenism is the term used to describe the assimilation of Greek culture into other nations and peoples.
The Greek influence in other nations and cultures is referred to as Hellenistic, especially after the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C.
The word “Hellenism” means “becoming like Greeks” and is derived from the Greek Hellas Isles (Helles meaning Greek in the Greek language.)
All aspects of life were affected by Hellenism and this applied to the Diaspora Jews in Egypt and Palestine. Within 100 years, Hellenism was dominant throughout the Eastern Mediterranean territory including Palestine/Syria.
After the conquests of Alexander and under the government of Ptolemy (who ruled from Alexandria in Egypt), certain government practices were introduced, turning the Jewish way of life toward a more Hellenistic culture.
Many Jews felt their ways to be old-fashioned and were embarrassed by their religious practices in contrast to the sophisticated culture of the Greeks. Consequently, they enthusiastically embraced the Greek ways.
For others, their Jewish identity and way of life were thought to be threatened by the Hellenistic culture and cultural assimilation was a great concern in 1 and 2 Maccabees.
Jews in Palestine were forced by Syrian Greek King Antiochus IV Epiphanes to publically violate Jewish law in 168 BC. … It was at that time that the Maccabees rose up under the leadership of Mattathias and later his son Judas Maccabeus.
Both the priestly Sadducees and the Pharisees emerged during the time of the Maccabees.
41 Then Judas appointed certain men to fight against those that were in the fortress, until he had cleansed the sanctuary.
42 So he chose priests of blameless conversation, such as had pleasure in the law:
47 They took whole stones according to the law, and built a new altar according to the former; 48 And made up the sanctuary, and the things that were within the temple, and hallowed the courts.
49 They made also new holy vessels, and into the temple they brought the candlestick, and the altar of burnt offerings, and of incense, and the table.
50 And upon the altar they burned incense, and the lamps that were upon the candlestick they lighted, that they might give light in the temple…