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December 18, 2009

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 18, 2009 ?A By Gil Shefler NEW YORK (JTA)--In 165 B.C.E., a group of warriors led by Judah Maccabee and his band of brothers ushered in a new era in Jewish history when they routed the soldiers of the Greek-Syrian empire and rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. That victory, and the miracle of the menorah that followed, is celebrated every year by Jews around the world at Chanukah. But if the same thing had happened today, would contemporary Jews hail the Maccabees as heroes? The place in Jewish his- tory of the Maccabees--a nickname for the first members of the Hasmo- nean dynasty that ruled an autonomous Jewish kingdom--is much more complex than their popular image might suggest. "Historically itwas much more complicated, as there were Jews on both sides," Jeffrey Rubenstein, profes- sor of Talmud and rabbinics at New York University, said of the Maccabee uprising. "Nowadays, historians look at the conflict more in terms of a civil war than a revolt." The holiday's tradition obscures some of the his- tory of the conflict. Judah Maccabee, the hero of the Chanukah tale, died in battle a few years after his temporary victory, and several years before the Hasmonean kingdom came into existence. That mission was accomplished years later by his brothers. "They didn't win the decisive victories, and the whole thing dragged on," Rubenstein said. "But once they did succeed, the Ham- soneans didn't restore the status quo--they took over the priesthood." At different periods of history, the Maccabees and their descendants have been reviled by their fel- low Jews, not revered. The Pharisees, whose teachings became the tenets of tradi- tional Judaism, considered them to be usurpers. To the Essenes, a mysterious sect of Judaism believed to have thrived on the Western shores of the Dead Sea, they were wicked. "My guess is that most liberal Jews today wouldn't necessarily get along with the Maccabees if they showed up again," said Rabbi Jill Jacob, the rabbi in residence at Jewish Funds for Justice. "Even those of us who are regularly active in Jew- ish life may find it hard to identify with Matityahu, the leader of the Jewish revolt, whom the first Book of Maccabees depicts as killing a Jew who sacrifices to a pagan god," she wrote in an essay about the mean- ing of Chanukah. Jacobs argues that Jews should be aware of the com- plicated history, though they do not have to be bound by it. "In redefining Chanu- kah, each generation con- siders anew the questions of assimilation and ethnic identity, the tension be- tween Judaism as a religion and the Jewish people as a nation," she wrote. Many Jews in ancient times also had their res- ervations regarding the exploits of Judah Maccabee and his brothers. In the first centuries of the common era, the Jew- ish sages of Mesopotamia sought to minimize the Maccabees' significance in the Chanukah story. These scholars of the Babylonian Talmud focused instead on the miracle of the menorah oil, emphasizing the divine element of the story over the military victory of the Maccabees. Richard Kalmin, chair- man of rabbinic literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary, says the rabbis' irreverent treatment of the Hasmoneans was based on the concerns of their era. "The rabbis were com- peting with a class of wealthy local Jews over influence," Kalmin said. "The stories of the Has- moneans portrayed them as aristocrats, therefore entitled to be in a position of respect. "However, the rabbis of Babylonia thought study- ing the Torah was more important. One of the ways in which they fought for their values was to engage in propaganda portray- ing the progenitors of the Hasmoneans as not coming across too well." Largely as a result of this, the festival of lights for centuries focused on the miracle of the oil. Then, in the late 19th century, the Zionist movement revived the cult of the Maccabees. The story of Chanukah, which evokes images of warrior Jews fighting for independence, mirrored their own ambitions, and many early Zionists con- sidered the holiday more important than Sukkot or Rosh Hashanah. "The early Zionists could use the Maccabees as an example of Jews who took matters into their own hands, as opposed to the shtetl Jews," Jacobs said. Stories like that of Ela- zar, the youngest son of Matityahu, who was mar- tyred in a suicide mission to kill a Greek-Syrian general, grew in popularity. Not coincidentally, Ela- zar is now the name of a West Bank settlement named in honor of the young Maccabee. Rabbi Jacob Schacter, senior scholar at Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future, sus- pects attitudes toward the Maccabees again may be changing. "In post-Zionism, there's been some cooling of ardor for the Maccabees," Shacter said. "I suspect that if the Zionist narrative is under scrutiny, then I believe that one's attitude toward the legacy of the Maccabees would be contingent upon the perspective of Macca- bees as a whole." Whichever way one sees the Maccabees, it is hard to imagine what the Jewish people would have been like without them, or whether they would have survived at all, Rubenstein suggested. "Perhaps Judaism would have turned out more like Christianity without the Maccabees," Rubenstein said. "The other cultures of the region, such as the Edomim and the Nabate- / i;:::::~hcre hospitality is truly a way of life! Allwithin ~ie :: :i: idence, we offer Assis I:::, :.a~d. Rehabilltation Care. Wh~ . oulfabilitvxo provide full and skilled . !::!!:i~g all within one ~munt~Af~ ::resident ': :~r h~i~ t~.|/~e:their home,:,:or~ ~I ;F~I~: Variety ~ our residents have many areas to enjoy privacy or one another's co m pany. 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By Gii Shefler NEW YORK (JTA)--Some 2,200 years after the Mac- cabees' revolt, historians and archaeologists are uncover- ing new information about their era. This year's biggest dis- covery is a correspondence between Seleukes IV, whose brother and heir was Antio- chus IV Epiphanes of the Chanukah story, and one of Seleukes' chiefs in Judea found on parts of an ancient stele. Professor Doe Gera of Ben-Gurion University, who studied the stone's inscrip- tion, said it confirms the account by the Jewish his- torian Josephus regarding the tightening grip of the Greek-Syrian empire over its subjects' religious practices. "[The text reveals] Seleukes appointed one of the members of his court as an official to oversee worship in the area and equate religious services throughout the empire," Gera said. "Such an appointment might have been considered by the Jews to be offensive." In the book of Maccabees II, Josephus tells the story of a Greek-Syrian official in a similar position who tries to rob the Temple of its gold. The stele is believed to date from 178 BCE, just over a de- cade before Judah Maccabee rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. Assembling the stele and determining its origin re- quired some detective work. Gera received three frag- ments of unknown origin that surfaced on the antiqui- ties market. Upon inspection he saw that they seemed to match the fragment of another stone that was miss- ing text. "When I got the three bro- ken tablets, I saw it was part of another fragment that was already published," he said. Gera connected the frag- ments and saw that they matched. He concluded that the fragments must have been broken off the original stele, which was found in a cave in Israel's Beit Guvrin area by grave robbers. "I hope that the rest of the stele will be found because we are still missing the first part," he said. By Adam Gonn The Media Line Human rights in the Arab world are worsening, accord- ing to recent report by human rights institute. An annual report by a Cairo based institute for human rights paints a bleak picture for the state of human rights in the Arab world. The report, "Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform," published by The Cairo Insti- tute for Human Rights Studies reviewed the most significant developments in human rights among twelve Arab states dur- ing 2009. "Impunity and lack of ac- countability is the main fea- ture in many Arab countries, "" Moataz El Ogeiry, executive director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies told The Media Line. "[This is the case] whether they are facing internal con- flict or international conflict such as Sudan. Palestine, Lebanon. Iraq and Somalia," he said. "'or if they are ruled by authoritarian regimes that ignore judiciary independence and apply exceptional laws such as state of emergency in Egypt and in Syria." The countries included in the survey are Egypt, Tuni- sia, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestin- ian Territories, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen. With the exception of Leba- non and Morocco, E10geiry stated that none of the coun- tries surveyed in the report were cooperative. Kuwait, Libya, Oman and the United Arab Emirateswere reportedly omitted due to a lackofreliable information and resources. The report includes a chap- ter dedicated to the Arab League, the regional organi- zation of 22 Arab nations, and the performance of Arab gov- ernments in United Nations human rights institutions. "The offensive attitudes against human rights have turned out to the regional and international institutions," E1 Ogeiry said. "The League of Arab States and the Organi- zation of Islamic Conference in cooperation with other authoritarian regimes in the world like Cuba, China, Rus- sia and Iran forms what is called global authoritarian- ism, which try to undermine the efficiency of the [United Nations] human rights intu- itions." "The phenomenon is widely observed in the [United Na- tions] human rights council in Geneva," he continued,"where these countries use concepts like traditional values or cul- tural relativism and religious defamation to attack the in- ternational norm on human rights and try to reformulate the international norm. "We have observed the League of Arab States reflect this authoritarian and offen- sive attitude against human rights in many areas like supporting abusers in Sudan," he said, referring to the Arab League's support of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed in Darfur. "Governments always criti- cize this kind of report," E1 Ogeiry said. "They do not admit that they have a real concern in human rights and they always attack human rights groups by accusing them of threatening national security."