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September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Temple’

What Is God Teaching Me With The Laws Of Kosher?

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Zev Kraut of Pittsburgh, a ninth grade student at the Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, has been named a Winner of the 2012 OU Kosher Essay Contest for grades 7-12.

What Is God Teaching Me With The Laws Of Kosher?

Since the moment God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, keeping kosher has been an essential part of the Jewish home. Accordingly, the home is an essential part of a Torah lifestyle. What goes on in the home directly affects what goes on in the rest of one’s life. The question is, why kosher? Surely, how one’s parents act, or what one sees on television, are infinitely more effective as an influence on one’s life than keeping kosher. So what is it about kosher that makes a spiritual connection with God? What is God trying to teach me with the laws of kosher?

The Ramban teaches that many of the animals that are not deemed kosher are predators. The reason the Ramban gives for one not being able to eat certain animals is so that one will not absorb the qualities of those animals. For example, a pig rolls around in the mud, which is a filthy characteristic. The Torah gives many commandments telling Jews what should not come out of their mouths. For instance: insults, mockery, slander, and curses. Additionally, keeping kosher is God’s way of telling Jews that there are also certain things that one should not absorb into them as well. Furthermore one should avoid evil influences, evil speech, and certain animals that do not meet the criteria of the character traits of a Torah observant Jew. God gave the Jewish people the Torah, and singled them out as a pure nation. Accordingly, the Jews must eat certain animals that are pure.

From where do we know that certain animals are pure and certain animals are not pure? In the Torah portion known as Noach, when Noach was commanded to put certain animals on his ark, God commanded Noach to put “pure” animals, otherwise known as kosher animals on the ark. God also commanded Noach to put “animals that are not pure” on the ark. The Talmud (Pesachim 3a) points out an oddity in the wording of this story. The Torah used an extra eight letters to voice that the animals were not pure, when instead the Torah could have written “contaminated.” According to the Talmud, the lesson the Torah is teaching, is that one must always speak with pure speech. God designed the Torah to show the Jews how to be holy and pure. The Torah is a book filled with lessons on proper conduct and how to maintain a higher spiritual level than any of the other nations of the world. As the Torah says, “…and to make you high above all nations that He has made, in praise, and in name, and in glory; and that you may be a holy people unto the Lord your God, as He has spoken.” (Devarim 26:19) There is no doubt that kosher fits into that category. When one has a pure mouth what comes out of one’s mouth reflects that. Essentially, every time one eats a bag of potato chips with an OU on it, it is a direct reminder from God to watch your mouth.

God created everything on earth with a purpose. When God created the earth He designated humans as the rulers over the land. Tehillim 115:16, states, “The heavens are the heavens of God, and the land was given to the sons of man.” For most animals we do not know their purpose on earth. Even the great King David once criticized God for creating spiders which David deemed had no purpose. In the end, the spider saved his life while he was running from King Shaul. Anyway, God designated certain animals to be given as sacrifices in the Holy Temple. For instance, cows, sheep and rams. Which means their purpose is, for whatever reason, to be slaughtered.

No need to worry for the animal though, the kosher way to slaughter an animal is the most humane. Anyone who studies the complex laws of kashrus, on how to slaughter an animal will soon realize much of it is done in order to ensure that the animal feels no pain. For instance, in order for the slaughter to be deemed kosher, the knife used for the slaughter must be smooth, free of any nicks. There is no need to be vegetarian. God created meat for us to eat. On Shabbos by eating OU Glatt Kosher meat, we are fulfilling the words of the prophet of Yeshaya who said (Yeshaya 58:13),”…call Shabbos a delight.” According to some halachic authorities, Jews have an obligation to eat meat on Shabbos and Yom Tov. According to Rabi Yehudah Ben Beseirah, in Tractate Pesachim 109a, during a time period in which the Holy Temple is standing, one is required to eat meat in order to fulfill the commandment to rejoice in a festival.

Jewish Press Special: Live Coverage of The 3rd Annual International Temple Mount Awareness Day, Sunday, March 25th

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

The Jewish Press will offer live coverage of the six-hour event hosted by the International Department of the Temple Institute, its Third Annual International Temple Mount Awareness Day, on Sunday, March 25th.

11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Eastern Time

10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Central

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Mountain

8 a.m. – 2 p.m. Pacific.


Speakers will include:

Moshe Feiglin, head of the Manhigut Yehudit, (Jewish Leadership) Faction of the ruling Likud party, and Temple Mount loyalist. Moshe will be focusing on the issue of Temple Mout Activism and the potential for parliamentary legislation to ensure Jewish rights to prayer on the Temple Mount.

Beloved and highly esteemed Kohen, Torah scholar and author, Rabbi Nachman Kahana. Rabbi Kahana will be sharing his spiritual insights on the Holy Temple and the Temple Mount from a Torah perspective and drawing upon his own personal connection as a kohen.

Yisrael Medad, Director of Educational Programming and Information resources at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and veteran Temple Mount activist. Yisrael will be discussing the role of the media in depicting Temple Mount activism and the struggle to achieve Jewish freedom of worship on the Temple Mount, as guaranteeed by Israeli law.

Live musical entertainment provided by Yehudah Katz and his band. Yehudah and his four piece band will provide an hour long “half-time” celebration of song and Temple insight, as well as short musical vignettes throughout the happening.

Hillel Richman and Frankie Snyder, senior staff members of the Temple Mount Sifting Project will lead an archaeological exploration of the exciting Temple Mount and Holy Temple related discoveries of the past year. Personally involved with the discovery of the most significant archaeological finds from the Temple Mount to date, Hillel and Frankie will be sharing their insights and experiences.

Tziporra Piltz, guide and organizer of women’s ascent to the Temple Mount. Tziporra, a pioneer and leader of the burgeoning presence of women on the Temple Mount, will be sharing her unique perspectives on the Temple Mount and on the future of Temple Mount aliya.

Rabbi Mois Navon, from Ptil Tekhelet organization, manufacturers of the biblical blue techelet dye, used in tzitziyot, (ritual fringes), and priestly garments. Mois will be decribing the colorful history of techelet from antiquity to the contemporary reestablishment of the venerated techelet industry.

Embracing The Temple Mount

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

The study of Jewish history teaches us that throughout the ages, numerous edicts and decrees have prevented the practice of Jewish traditions and religious observance.

The Romans curtailed Jewish worship in the Land of Israel and ultimately destroyed the Holy Temple; the Greeks sought to outlaw the learning of Torah, and throughout the Middle Ages, Jewish rights and freedoms were revoked at will by Europe’s Christian rulers.

Yet it has gone almost completely unnoticed that in recent weeks, Jewish rights and freedoms in the Land of Israel, of all places, have once again come under attack.

A statement issued by the religious authorities called for Jews to refrain from visiting their holiest site – the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Shockingly, these were not the orders of the Islamic imams, nor were they the politically driven legislation of some official at the United Nations.

These instructions emanated from the chief rabbis of Israel, and several other rabbinical figures.

It is a sad reality that the laws of the Holy Temple and their practical study remain greatly misunderstood, neglected, and practically taboo, even within the study halls of many religious Jewish communities.

Over a third of the Torah’s commandments, and one and a half of the Five Books of Moses, deal exclusively with the Holy Temple and its daily service, yet this crucial artery in the heart of Torah learning is sidelined by those who, for whatever reason, see these laws as irrelevant or not for our time.

Indeed, the impression created by the proclamation of this “prohibition” is that the Torah is against Jews ascending to the Temple Mount.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. No less a universally recognized Torah authority than Maimonides himself declared visiting the Temple Mount as an aspect of the positive commandment to show reverence for the Temple – a commandment he himself fulfilled, as he wrote:

I entered into the great and holy house and prayed there on the sixth of Cheshvan (in the year 1164)…and I vowed an oath, that I will always celebrate this day as a personal festival, to be marked by prayer and rejoicing in God, and by a festive meal.

This is just one of many sources that indicate a long tradition of Jewish visits to the mount, long after the destruction of the Holy Temple and long before Jews were ever seen praying at the Western Wall.

From Rabbi Akiva to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the Torah sources are accessible – if one cares to look for them. No proclamation can change this, and no rabbi or group of rabbis, regardless of station, have the authority to uproot such a principle.

It is true that ascending the Temple Mount in purity, in full accordance with halacha, requires understanding, forethought and preparation – but it is quite doable. With proper study and proper preparations one can visit this holy site in order to fulfill the commandment of morah mikdash without trespassing on the sacred areas.

Like other matters of complex Torah knowledge, the subject of the Temple Mount is an area in which one must have expertise before issuing a judgment.

To issue a blanket statement that a prohibition exists against Jews visiting the Temple Mount is misleading and inaccurate, and does a serious injustice to the many religious Jews – great rabbis and roshei yeshiva among them – who ascend the Mount today in strict accordance with all the requirements of Jewish law.

The Temple Institute, established over 25 years ago, has long stood at the forefront of Temple research and scholarship. The institute is dedicated to rekindling the flame of the knowledge and awareness of the centrality and importance of the both the Temple Mount and the Holy Temple, in the life of the Jewish people as well as for all humanity.

The institute has recreated more than sixty genuine sacred vessels, kosher according to Jewish law, for use in the Holy Temple. These include the half-ton gold menorah and the garments of the high priest according to precise halachic requirements. All of this has been undertaken because it is a religious requirement, just like eating matzah on Passover.

This Sunday, March 25, thousands of supporters worldwide will join with the Temple Institute to mark the third annual International Temple Mount Awareness Day with a six hour live-stream Internet video broadcast celebrating and exploring the centrality of the Temple in Jewish life.

After two thousand years of longing to return to the holy site, surely it is time to embrace it.

Rabbi Chaim Richman is director of the International Department of the Temple Institute.

Chanukah

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Cooking according to Chanukah tradition doesn’t have to be boring! Though it’s unlikely that any Maccabee ever saw a potato, latkes are traditionally made with potatoes and that particular “traditional” dish is based on a South American tuber that didn’t cross the Atlantic until the sixteenth century.

My go-to Chanukah menu is always a mix of dairy foods with potato latkes and jelly donuts. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun. This year, I have planned another special not-so-traditional Chanukah menu and will share with you some non-traditional twists on the classic latkes and donuts.

Why do we eat fried foods? In the Geller house, because we love them, and we need no excuse to munch away. But the rest of the Jewish world has a reason – several, in fact.

The simple answer is that foods fried in oil remind us of the oil that burned miraculously when the Maccabees purified and rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Latkes and sufganiot are fried, which is why we eat those specifically on this holiday.

Additionally, the Hebrew word shemen, meaning oil, contains the same letters as shemoneh, eight, which was the number of days that the miracle of the oil lasted. There are no coincidences in Jewish tradition.

Mystically, both the Temple Menorah and the oil used to light it are associated with chochmah, Torah wisdom. The war between the Greeks and the Jews was essentially a war of ideas – which culture and whose wisdom would endure. The Greeks wanted everyone under their rule to value their philosophy and think exactly as they did, so they were violently opposed to the idea of G-d’s wisdom and forbad the study of Torah. Many Jews obeyed these laws and were lured from Judaism by the attractive Greek culture. But Jews devoted to Torah just as adamantly refused to give in. Both sides knew it would be a fight to the death.

Well, we all know who won. We still live by the Torah, and somehow, the Greeks stopped thinking. A drop of oil symbolizes the whole thing, so it’s no wonder we indulge in oily delicacies.

 

Zucchini Latkes with Tatziki Sauce Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 20 minutes. Serves 8

Ingredients 2 large zucchini (about 1-pound), shredded 1 small onion, shredded 2 large eggs, beaten 1 cup matzo meal 1 teaspoon kosher salt canola oil for frying 1 cup plain Greek yogurt 2 tablespoons chopped dill 1/4 cup diced cucumber 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions In a large bowl, combine zucchini, onions, eggs, matzo meal and salt and stir to combine. Heat ¼-inch oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Drop by 2 tablespoons full and lightly press down to flatten. Fry for about 4 to 6 minutes per side or until nicely browned. Remove and drain on paper towels. Continue with remaining batter.

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, dill, cucumber, lemon juice and salt and stir. Serve alongside latkes.

Maple Roasted Carrots with Goat Cheese Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 15 minutes, Serves 6

Ingredients 3 pounds baby carrots, halved 1/4 cup maple syrup 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese 3 tablespoons chopped chives

Directions Preheat oven to 400F. On a large baking sheet, toss carrots with maple syrup, olive oil and salt. Roast 15 minutes or until tender.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with goat cheese and chives to serve.

Nutella-Banana Egg Rolls Prep time: 15 minutes, Cook time: 10 minutes, Serves 8

Ingredients 2 bananas, finely diced 1 lemon, juiced 2 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 8 egg roll wrappers, defrosted 8 tablespoons nutella Canola oil for frying 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Directions In a medium bowl, combine banana, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon and mix well, smashing bananas slightly with the back of a wooden spoon.

Lay out egg roll wrappers on a large work surface. Working with one wrapper at a time, spread 1 tablespoon nutella across the wrapper, leaving about ¼-inch border around all edges. Spoon 3 tablespoons banana mixture across the middle of the wrapper and lightly brush all the edges with water. Position the wrapper so that one point (corner) is closest to you. Fold that corner up just enough to cover the filling. Fold each side over to meet in the middle and roll up from the bottom. Brush final corner with water, and press lightly to seal. Transfer to a baking sheet seam side down. Repeat with remaining wrappers, nutella and filling.

The Mystical Message Of The Chanukah Dreidel

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Chanukah commemorates our victory over the Syrian-Greeks and the Hellenists – Jews who betrayed their own people in order to curry favor with the gentiles.

Not much has changed in this respect in nearly 2,200 years. The battle continues. We cleaned up and purified the Beit HaMikdash, but were we truly liberated? The Greeks were ousted from our land, but were they expelled from our minds? What light did the menorah provide that proved the battlefield victories warranted an annual celebration for the remainder of Jewish history, despite the Holy Temple’s eventual destruction?

Our sages make a strange statement about the Greeks. They inform us that Greece – a nation noted for its scholars, wisdom, and academics – is the image of darkness (Bereishit Rabbah 2:4). We, a people with great appreciation for the intellectual, find this baffling. The Baal Shem Tov explains that it is as simple as a Chanukah dreidel.

All of creation is a rotating wheel, a dreidel. Things constantly change, revolve and become transformed. This is because all things, no matter what they are made of, have one root. Before they manifest themselves as they are, they pass through an interface known as “hyle” (Ramban on Genesis 1:1). A person’s roles also change over time, providing and dominating one day, receiving and following the next. Nations, too, rise and fall.

Why do we play with a dreidel on Chanukah? Because – like Chanukah, the dreidel parallels the concept of the Beit HaMikdash, which spun things around in a number of ways. It manifested the concept of the revolving wheel by being the home of the Shechinah while its design was simultaneously engraved on high (Tanchuma, Pikudey 1; Zohar 1:80b).

Additionally, it somehow limited the Divine presence of a transcendental God to a physical space. As Shlomo HaMelech put it, “Behold the Heavens, and the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain You, how much less this Temple?!” (Kings I 8:27).

Furthermore, it is impossible to rationally explain how flesh-and-blood human beings can influence spiritual realms and how a sacrificial animal can produce “a sweet savor” (Genesis 8:21, Exodus 29:18) to God. Yet God did constrict His presence to the Beit HaMikdash and did accept sacrifices as “a sweet savor.” By doing so, God debunked the Greek model of rational philosophy with the Beit HaMikdash – as we do with the dreidel.

The Greeks are “darkness” because the rational mind (or, rather, the insistence on being rational always), limits one’s possibilities. One becomes stuck, “engraved on the horn of an ox,” and one can no longer think out of the box.

As Jews, we must always bear in mind that God has reasons that our reason cannot know. As God says “For My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways” (Isaiah 55:8). This is why we dare not despair, even in the longest darkest, tragic periods of personal and national life. This is what enabled the Maccabees to undertake the struggle to fight the spiritual darkness against all odds.

The essential quality of the ultimate Redemption which we await is that of the Beit HaMikdash, the revolving wheel, the dreidel, when we will see and know that in fact all is one – that God is One and God’s Name is One (Zechariah 14:9).

May we soon see the arrival of Mashiach, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the Redemption of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Haman-nejad

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Something about this Purim bothered me. It seemed too relevant. Once again, a Persian Haman has emerged – Haman-nejad (nejad or nezhad is a Persian suffix meaning “descendant of”), who has again made the existence of Israel a topic for debate. Some say that the world is better off with Israel, and others say that the world is better off without Israel. “Enlightened” academia has not yet decided, but it looks like the scales are tipping in favor of a world without Israel.

 

These days are reminiscent of the 30s. The giddy optimism after World War I was gradually replaced by the foul winds of anti-Semitism and hatred. Slowly but surely, the enlightened world surrendered to the new fashion. Weak politicians made peace with the trend. Frightened Jews closed themselves in their neighborhoods as violent anti-Semitic incidents became routine. The establishment explained that the Jews must ride the murky wave – and that with time, it would pass.

 

When I was a boy, I was taught that another Holocaust cannot happen because we have a state. This line of thinking was bolstered by religious Zionist determinism that declared that the redemption process was a given. I always found comfort in the thought that while the State of Israel could bring suffering upon itself, its existence was guaranteed. Today, I no longer think so. The redemption is certainly guaranteed, but on one of the declines on the path that leads to redemption, we can certainly lose our state – at a terrible price.

 

Every physical holocaust must be preceded by delegitimization and dehumanization of the intended victims. The murder of six million Jews would not have been possible if not for the fact that it was preceded by the negation of their honor and basic human rights. The Persian tyrant’s nuclear plans are not as dangerous as the public debate that he has managed to arouse and the “Jewish Question” that has once again found its way into public discourse.

 

The average Israeli prefers to hide his head in the sand and trust Israel’s leadership to deal with the problem. Outside Israel, anyone who does not look too Jewish can still feel fairly comfortable. But that is precisely the syndrome of 1938: the threat is so horrific that the average person cannot integrate it – and chooses to ignore it instead.

 

This is not a problem that will go away if we ignore it. If you read the Scroll of Esther, you will understand what made Haman hate the Jews. Then listen to Haman-nejad and you will find the same paradigm.

 

The story of Purim begins with a feast that King Achashveirosh hosted in his palace, a celebration of his royal decree forbidding the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In honor of the auspicious event, Achashveirosh invited the Jews of his capital, Shushan, to celebrate. He made sure that the Holy Temple vessels that had been stolen by the Babylonians when they destroyed the Temple were prominently on display.

 

The Jews were flattered to be invited, and wanted to prove that they were good Persians. They relished the opportunity to rub shoulders with Persian high society. That is where Haman stepped in. If you look at the caricatures in the Nazi Der Sturmer, you will see that the assimilated German Jew aroused the same disgust as the German Amalek.

 

And what does Haman-nejad say? He says that he has no problem with the Jews. He only has a problem with the Zionists. “It is a shame what the Germans did to the Jews,” he says. “So let the Austrians and Germans find them a place to live in Europe – not at the expense of the Palestinians.” And between us, the Foreign Ministry of the “Singapore of the Middle East” has a hard time explaining why the modern-day Haman is mistaken. If we are not a Jewish state, but rather a state of all its citizens, then what right do we have to act like colonialists?

 

In Tel Aviv, we hear this: “It is all the settlers’ fault. We will eliminate their settlements and everything will work out.” There were German Jews who also thought that the hatred they were experiencing was because of the Ost Yidden – the Eastern (Polish) Jews. About a year ago, I read an interview with German Jewish Holocaust survivors who are still convinced that the horrors that they experienced could have been prevented if not for the Ost Yidden.

 

The Purim story has a happy ending. But Jewish history has other stories that do not end quite as happily. We would be wise to learn the Purim story well to understand what caused the turnabout that saved the Jews. It just may help us deal with the storm clouds gathering on our horizon.

The Inner Miracle Of the Oil: Chanukah as Precursor to Redemption

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

  The Chanukah story as we know it describes a wicked tyrant, Jewish resistance, and the miracle of oil that burned for eight days instead of one.

  Behind the tale, in the pages of history, lies a parallel story that amplifies what we know of ancient times and also raises a couple of interesting questions.

  When Antiochus IV issued a series of decrees outlawing the Jewish religion, it was the first recorded instance of massive religious persecution. Historians, notably Victor Tcherikover (Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews), have noted that it was also an anomaly in the ancient world where polytheistic tolerance was the norm.

  Why did Antiochus forbid circumcision, kashrut and specific mitzvot such as the consecration of the new moon? Why, when he needed allies instead of enemies in Judea as he consolidated his power in the region, did he incite the people to rebellion?

  The usual answer is that Antiochus, continuing the process begun by Alexander the Great, wanted to unite his empire under Hellenic culture and religion, and the Jews were the last stubborn holdouts, the only people who rejected the new gods and new customs.

  Or one could say that the deep-seated anti-Semitism of a Haman, a Hitler or an Antiochus needs no rationale. Documents show that the ancient Greeks – the Yevanim in Jewish literature – were in fact contemptuous of the Jews and their religion in a way that foreshadowed later European anti-Semitism.

  But the record also reveals that a growing rift in Jewish society, plus total corruption within the religious hierarchy of the Holy Temple, had already made Jerusalem all but unrecognizable as the Jewish capital.

  By the time Antiochus issued his anti-Jewish decrees in 167 B.C.E., the following had already taken place:    * An irreligious Jew, probably not even a kohen, held the office of high priest.

  * The Temple had been desecrated and sacrifices offered to a Greek god.

  * The name of the capital had been changed from Jerusalem to Antioch.

  * All official power was in the hands of the Jewish Hellenist sympathizers – more accurately described as collaborators in the destruction of Jewish religious and political autonomy.    The story that culminates in the discovery of a jar of pure oil and the rededication of the Holy Temple really begins in the previous century with the first Hellenistic inroads, and continues with the activities of several shady individuals who gained power.

According to Their Ancestral Ways

  Alexander of Macedonia entered Jerusalem in the summer of 332 B.C.E. His scheme for world domination included acculturation as much as conquest. He grafted new settlements and military colonies onto ancient towns throughout the Middle East and gave them new names. He gave them a new style of government, the polis, which brought economic and political privileges. As part of his master plan, he encouraged his soldiers to intermarry among the local population.

  Alexander was the first of a series of kings to give the Jews in Judea permission to “live according to their ancestral laws” and other rights, such as exemption from taxes during the shmittah year.

  In Jerusalem the Holy Temple, rebuilt after the return from Babylonian exile, was the center of both national and religious life, with little or no distinction between the two. The hereditary kohen gadol was head of state as well as spiritual leader of the nation.

  The majority of the populace consisted of farmers and small craftsmen. All evidence indicates that for the average Jew, life continued to reflect the powerful influence of Ezra the Scribe, who had rebuilt the Temple and restored Torah observance among a people weakened by defeat and exile.

  The sages of the Sanhedrin ruled on all matters of civil, criminal and religious law. The complex laws of agriculture applicable to the land of Israel described in the Mishnah were carefully observed, and the religious institutions we know today such as the synagogue, the division of Torah readings into a yearly cycle and the form of the prayers were already a part of Jewish life.

  What happened to undermine this way of life?

  Under Greek rule, Judea was a transit station for all goods moving from the East to the Mediterranean and between Egypt and its colonies. Trade with the Greek cities presented the Jews with new possibilities. Improvements in agriculture and impressive works of architecture were obvious manifestations of the material superiority of Greek culture.

  Various priestly families, meanwhile, were beginning to attain wealth and influence, a situation that can be traced back to the their status during and even before the exile. Many of these families lived as landed gentry on country estates, returning to Jerusalem for their turn of service at the Temple.

  A new class rose on the crest of commercial development under the Greeks as the gentry found common ground with local Greek settlers.

  The Greeks brought philosophy, technology, drama and art to Judea. As they didn’t seem to take their gods too seriously, the Jews didn’t let the Greek paganism keep them from following some of their ways. First steps away from tradition included adopting Greek names and manners. For example, a letter written by a man named Toviah  opens with the standard pagan expression, “many thanks to the gods.”

  Toviah had been one of the chief opponents of Ezra’s religious reforms; his descendant would later be a key player in the unraveling of Jewish institutions.

The Greeks’ Jewish Problem

  The Yevanim despised the traditional Jews for their intolerance, which they considered barbaric. These Jews refused to dine socially on non-kosher food, to intermarry, to give lip service to the ceremonial gods – and in short, to behave like any “civilized” people.

  Moreover, the Jews actually believed in their ancient religion of Torah and mitzvot, and in a system of morality and law they considered to be divine.

  The Yevanim didn’t understand it and they came to loathe it. After all, like the Greeks themselves, the Jews had a reputation for being “philosophers,” the highest Greek accolade. Yet they combined with their philosophy “a number of observances which could only seem the grossest superstition to the Greek world. This disapproval was natural, for whereas the Greek intellectual stood in sharp opposition to the simple-minded Greek who worshipped the gods, the Jewish ‘philosophers,’ in other words the teachers in the Jewish synagogues, believed intensely in the Jewish religion” (James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Anti-Semitism).

  Just believing in a supreme being wasn’t the problem. Aristotle had set forth the idea of a first cause, or creator, but one who set the world in motion like a clock and had no further dealing with mortal affairs. In the Greek view the Jewish God should likewise have stayed in the heavens where He belonged instead of dictating behavior and morality on earth.

  Even stranger and more provocative to the Yevanim, the Jews believed their mitzvot should be followed in obedience to God’s command – “Your Torah” – and not because they were logical or even within the realm of human logic. It was unforgivable that the Jews ascribed limits to reason and logic even as they used and excelled in them.

  The Jews also claimed to affect the natural condition of the world by bringing something they called kedusha, holiness, into the physical universe. The Greeks’ strictly materialist philosophy, codified by Euclid in space and Aristotle in time, saw an already perfect world in which physical nature ruled absolutely according to a fixed system of cause and effect. This view negated any possibility of a spiritual dimension within the real world.

  Along with all this came an amoral and hedonistic lifestyle that held the promise of pleasure without consequences.

Tax Collectors and Games

  The Jews who bought into the Greek philosophy likewise developed a strong a distaste for the particulars of the Jewish religion.

  A scion of the House of Toviah named Yosef was one of these. Yosef ben Toviah was worldly, ambitious and international in his outlook, feeling little Jewish or Judean identity.  When the high priest, Onias, failed to send the high tax revenues demanded by Antiochus III, Yosef obtained the position of tax collector for himself, on the pretext of smoothing things over with the king. For the first time, this function was removed from the office of the kohen gadol.

  The tax collector had a free hand to gather the funds demanded by the king, and could keep any excess for himself. It was an opportunity for ruthless and unscrupulous persons to make a fortune at the people’s expense, and Yosef and his circle did just that – even to the point of executing 20 leading citizens of Ashkelon who resisted paying the harsh taxes. The elders and the “simple people” may have been outraged – but it was now possible to ignore them.

  With the ascent of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (also called Epimanes, the “madman”) to the Greek-Syrian (Seleucid) throne, Jews opposed to the old order decided to get rid of the ineffective Onias, and replace him with a high priest more to their liking. Onias’s brother, Jason (originally Yehoshua), bribed Antiochus with 300 talents of silver and thus became the new kohen gadol.

  He then did something that altered the character of Jerusalem and deepened the growing schism within the Jewish people: He attained permission from Antiochus to build a gymnasium at the foot of the Temple Mount and to replace the existing government of Jerusalem with a Greek polis to be named Antioch.

  With one stroke, he wiped out the longstanding constitution of the Jews that provided for a government based upon their ancestral laws. Performance of the commandments, while not forbidden, was no longer protected by law, which was now in the hands of the newly constituted government of Antioch at Jerusalem.

  The gymnasium further undermined Jewish life in Jerusalem, as the institution par excellence of the Greek way of life: Here young men received the education fitting for a Greek citizen. Philosophy and the arts were combined with the ideal of physical perfection. In the arena, naked contestants competed in athletic contests and games; sacrifices were offered to Heracles and Hermes.

  The author of the First Book of Maccabees tells us that the young kohanim began running to witness the competitions instead of attending to their priestly duties in the Temple. Before long, Jewish youth began to compete in the games as well.

  After three years, an even more ardent Hellenizer, Menelaus, became high priest. According to the Second Book of Maccabees, Menelaus, who was not even a kohen, possessed “nothing that qualified him for the high priesthood, but with the passions of a savage tyrant and the rage of a wild beast.” His oppressive actions, including robbing the Temple treasures, led to riots in the streets of Jerusalem.

  In 169 B.C.E. Antiochus invaded Egypt, but his victory was erased through the intervention of the newly emerging Roman Republic. Rumors then arose that Antiochus had been killed, and Jason saw his chance to recapture Jerusalem by attacking the city.

  Antiochus, receiving word of a rebellion in Jerusalem, and confirming his reputation as a madman, unleashed a reign of terror in the city in which 40,000 men, women and children were massacred and an equal number taken captive. A fortified military complex was established adjacent to the Temple mount, where  Syrian soldiers were joined by a number of Jewish sympathizers. The soldiers plundered, raped and destroyed at will.

  Large numbers of people fled to the hills and caves outside Jerusalem. In Kislev of 168 B.C.E. a pagan idol was set up on the altar of the Holy Temple, and on the 25th of the month, hogs were offered up to Zeus Olympus. Every type of desecration was perpetrated upon the Temple including lewd acts common to the cultic prostitution of the time.

  The Jews saw their way of life being swept away. But it was only after Jerusalem had been sacked and the Temple desecrated that Antiochus outlawed Torah and mitzvot on pain of death.

  At this point, with all power in the hands of the Yevanim and their allies, and with the Temple service completely compromised, it seemed as if the Jewish day in history was over.   But the spiritual battle had yet to play out. Antiochus (presumably with information given to them from within the camp of Hellenizing Jews) aimed his poison arrow directly at the Jewish concept of holiness and the physical mitzvot that, to the Romans, represented the Jews’ alien and barbaric way of thinking.

  But something happened that neither Antiochus nor the Jews themselves could have foreseen.

Pure Oil of the Soul

  Led and inspired by the Maccabees, almost everyone except for Menelaus and his circle of extreme Hellenizers now switched sides and participated in the revolt against Antiochus and his decrees, helping the Jews to fight and ultimately win the war. Even those who had abandoned Jewish tradition began to observe the commandments.

  Pushed to the brink and faced with the annihilation of Judaism, they left all reason and logic behind and joined the losing side, even risking their lives to die as Jews rather than continue to live as Yevanim.

  Their turnaround is explained by Kabbalah and chassidut as an arousal of the innermost core of the Jewish soul called yechidah, also symbolized by the pure uncontaminated oil found in the sanctuary of the Holy Temple.

  This aspect of the soul transcends intellectual understanding and cannot be contaminated because it is never severed from its divine source.

  Although Greek philosophy had permeated Jewish thinking, this supra-rational level of the soul burst forth even before the miracle of the oil and gave the Jews strength to withstand the decrees and win the war.

  So the decrees of Antiochus precipitated the rallying of the Jews and their victory, resulting through Divine Providence not in the demise of the Jewish religion but in the survival of Judaism as we know it. The Jews were strengthened spiritually to withstand the persecution and exile that still lay ahead, and the ranks of the sages expanded beyond the priestly class as a new age of Torah scholarship was ushered in.

  The memory of those who gave their lives with mesirat nefesh, total self-sacrifice, rather than transgress the commandments echoes through history as the battle against the Yevanim is waged over and over again – ” in those days, at this time ” – only to be finally won, the prophecies tell us, with the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate victory of light over darkness.

  Tzivia Emmer is a freelance writer. She can be reached at tziviaemmer@gmail.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page//2008/12/17/

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