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Stories of Hanukah

and a Related Story of Martyrology
 
 
The Hanukah story from Talmud: Shabbat 21b "What is [the reason of] Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislew (22) [commence] the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden.(23) For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest,(24) but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel25 and thanksgiving.(26)"

Footnotes:

(23) This is an extract of the Megillath Ta'anith, lit., ‘the scroll of fasting’.
(24) Hence untouched and undefiled.
(25) ‘Praise’, Ps. CXIII-CXVIII, recited on all Festivals; v. Weiss, Dor, I, p. 108, n. 1.
(26) This lighting took place in 165 B.C.E. Exactly three years before, on the same day, Antiochus Epiphanes had a pagan altar erected in the Temple, upon which sacrifices were offered (I Macc. I, 41-64). Apart from the Talmudic reason stated here, Judas Maccabeus chose 25th of Kislew as the anniversary of the Temple's defilement, and the dedication of the new altar was celebrated with lights for eight days, similarly to the Feast of Tabernacles, which lasted eight days and was celebrated by illuminations (I Macc. IV, 36;II Macc. X, 6; supra a, p. 90, n. 3). Actually the revolt was against the Syrians, of whom Antiochus Epiphanes was king, but the term ‘Greeks’ is used loosely, because the Seleucid Empire was part of the older Empire founded by Alexander the Great of Macedon, and because it was a reaction against the attempted Hellenization of Judea. The historic data are contained in the First Book of the Maccabees.

  The Story of Hanukah in Maimonides Mishneh Torah "In the time of the Second Temple, when the Greeks ruled over Israel, the issued evil decrees against them, proscribing their religion and forbiddeing them to study the Law and to fulfill the commandments. They laid hands on their property and on their daughters, the entered the Temple and made breaches in it, and defiiled that which was ritually pure. And Isreal was in sore straits in consequence thereof, and suffered great persecution, until the G-d of our fathers took pity on them, and saved and delivered them from the hands of the Greeks. For the Hasmonean family of high priests won a vicotry in which they slew the Greeks, and saved Israel from their hands. The set up a king from among the priests, and restored Israel's kindom for a period of more than two hunderd years -- until the destruction of the Second Temple.

"The day on which the Israelites were victorious over their enemies and destroyed them was the twenty-fifth day of Kislev. When they re-entered the Temple, the found within its precincts only one cruse of ritually pure oil, enough to burn for but a single day. Yet they kept alight with it the required number of lamps for eight days, until they could press some olives and pruduce new ritually pure oil.

"Consequently, the sages of that generation ruled that the eight days beginning with the twenty-fifth of Kislev should be days of rejoicing on which the Hallel is to be recited, and that on each one of the eight nights lamps should be lit at eventide over the doors of the houses, to serve as manifestations and revelation of that miracle. These days are known as Hanukkah. Funeral eulogies and fasting are forbidden on them, just as they are on Purim, and the lighting of lamps on them is a commandment based on the authority of the scribes, analogous to the commandment to read the Megillah."

Myrterdom of the seven sons, Talmud: Gittin 57b Of them the text says, Yea, for thy sake we are killed all the day long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.(21) Rab Judah, however, said that this refers to the woman and her seven sons.(22) They brought the first before the Emperor and said to him, Serve the idol. He said to them: It is written in the Law, I am the L-RD thy G-d.(23) So they led him away and killed him. They then brought the second before the Emperor and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.(24) So they led him away and killed him. They then brought the next and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, He that sacrifices unto the gods, save unto the L-RD only, shall be utterly destroyed.(25) So they led him away and killed him. They then brought the next before the Emperor saying, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, Thou shalt not bow down to any other god.(26) So they led him away and killed him. They then brought another and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, Hear, O Israel, the L-RD our G-d, the L-RD is one.(27) So they led him away and killed him. They then brought the next and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied; It is written in the Torah, Know therefore this day and lay it to thine heart that the L-RD He is G-d in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is none else.(28) So they led him away and killed him. They brought the next and said to him, Serve the idol. He replied: It is written in the Torah, Thou hast avouched the L-RD this day . . . and the L-RD hath avouched thee this day;(29) we have long ago sworn to the Holy One, blessed be He, that we will not exchange Him for any other god, and He also has sworn to us that He will not change us for any other people. The Emperor said: I will throw down my seal before you and you can stoop down and pick it up,(30) so that they will say of you that you have conformed to the desire(31) of the king. He replied; Fie on thee, Caesar, fie on thee, Caesar; if thine own honour is so important, how much more the honour of the Holy One, blessed be He! They were leading him away to kill him when his mother said: Give him to me that I may kiss him a little. She said to him: My son, go and say to your father Abraham, T hou didst bind one [son to the] altar, but I have bound seven altars. Then she also went up on to a roof and threw herself [Alyza's note: or she fell from dizziness] down and was killed. A voice thereupon came forth from heaven saying, A joyful mother of children.(32)

Footnotes:

(21) Ibid, XLIV, 23.
(22) The same story is related of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second book of the Maccabees.
(23) Ex. XX, 2.
(24) Ibid, 3.
(25) Ibid, XXII, 19.
(26) Ibid, XX, 5.
(27) Deut. VI, 4.
(28) Ibid, IV, 39.
(29) Deut. XXVI, 17, 18.
(30) The seal had engraved on it the image of the king and by stooping down to pick it up he will make it appear as if he is worshipping the image (Rashi).
(31) Lit., ‘accept the authority’.
(32) Ps. CXIII, 9.

How did she bind her children? By the very act of teaching them Torah. As it is stated in Proverbs 6:20. "My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not the Torah of your mother" and in Proverbs 1:8. "My son, hear the instruction of your father, and forsake not the Torah of your mother". When it comes right down to it, that is what Hanukah is all about, not forsaking the Torah.

Quotes from the Talmud are from the Soncino Translation. A special thanks to my teacher, Rabbi Moshe Berger for teaching me the story in Gittin quoted above as well as much else about Hanukah. I have only touched the smallest tip of the depths of the story and what he has taught me about Hanukah in my brief paragraph on it and my one note in the text.

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