Religious persecution, civil war, and bureaucratic mischief: A Chanukah story fo the ages.
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The vagaries of the Jewish experience are all manifest in the story of Chanukah. Some, such as religious persecution and factional tensions, are so familiar that we are almost inured to them. Others may make us pause as we ask ourselves: " What is the appropriate degree to which we should embrace secular culture? " Then there are others, which at first glance seem irrelevant or simply tangential, yet upon further consideration can be interpreted as watershed moments. Into this category are the seemingly innocuous or non-targeted bureaucratic decisions that have great potential to wreak havoc on Jewish life and sustainability. The Syrian Greeks, of course, did not invent anti-Semitism. Besides Pharaoh who enslaved us and Haman who tried to kill us, there was Manetho, an Egyptian priest of the third century BCE, who maintained that the Jews were enemies of mankind and should be annihilated. His retelling of the Exodus story has the Jews not escaping to physical and spiritual freedom but rather as a collection of diseased individuals (lepers, actually), expelled from Egypt in order to preserve the body politic. Nevertheless, when Antiochus IV specifically outlawed Jewish ritual practices such as brit milah (circumcision), Shabbat observance, dietary laws, and the Temple liturgy, he earned the ignominious distinction of being the first ruler in history to implement a religious persecution. Once the Jewish religion itself was targeted (not just the Jewish people), the focal point for Jewish ritual practice—the Temple Mount—became the obvious target. Antiochus and his Jewish supporters enacted a program to eradicate the particular and non-inclusive character of the sacred space. The Syrian Greeks first removed the walls and gates that had separated the Temple Mount from the city, and, in deliberate violation of traditional precepts, planted trees, which transformed the Temple Mount into a Greek-style sacred grove. The final straw occurred on the 15 th of Kislev 167 BCE when the Jews learned that an " abomination " —most likely a matzeva (standing stone)—had been erected near the mizbeach (altar). 1 The Temple Mount now resembled an 1 " Now on the 15 th day of Kislev. .. they erected an abomination of desolation upon the altar " (1 Maccabees 1:54).
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