1. The main miracle of Chanukkah is victory in the war
Many are used to think that ′′the miracle of Hanukah” is the miracle of burning oil, and the main commandment is the lighting of Chanukkah candles. However, if we take basic sources on the subject of Chanukkah, we will see that there is a completely different interpretation of these events in these sources.
In the prayer ′′Al ha-nisim” (′′For the miracles′′), the central prayer on Chanukkah, we read:
′′And we thank you, Lord… for miracles and deliverance, for the manifestation of strength, and for salvation, and for the wars that you fought, helping our fathers in their days, this time of year.
In the days of Matityahu, son of Yochanan, the chief priest of the Hasmonean family, and his sons, when the villainous kingdom of the Greeks rose upon your people, Israel, trying to make Jews forget Your Torah and transgress the Laws given by You. But thou hast helped our fathers in the days of their troubles in thy great mercy. You fought their fight, judged them by court, revenged them with revenge. He delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, many into the hands of the few, the unclean into the hands of the clean, the villains into the hands of the righteous, the intruders into the hands of those who engage in the Torah. And by this you have created yourself a great and holy name in this world; and for your people Israel you have made great salvation and deliverance manifest. And after all these things thy children came into the priests of thy house, and examined thy temple, and purified thy sanctuary, and lit up the lamp in thy place of sanctity, and established these eight days of Hanukah to thank thee and glorify thy great name”.
The essence of this prayer is our gratitude for miracles. But what miracles are mentioned in it? We see that according to this prayer, the miracle is victory in the war, and the miraculous burning of oil is not mentioned at all. Also, the holyday is established “to thank … and glorify …”, i.e. to read the prayer of gratitude (and this is the prayer “Al ha-nisim” itself) and to read the glorifying Psalms (Hallel). And there is no mention of lighting Chanukkah candles.
Let’s note that for any religion its prayer book is one of the main religious sources; it is the most popular religious text read by all its followers. And that’s why the prayer book always strives to be a brief catechism of religion, to concentrate what everyone needs to know. Not every religious Jew is able to study Talmud, but all read prayers in siddur. And from the prayer “Al ha-nisim“ he learns that the essence of Chanukkah is victory in the war, which we celebrate with the reading of the Hallel psalms, and not the miracle of burning oil.
2. Religious value of the existence of a Jewish state
Maimonides in Hilchot Megila ve-Chanukkah wrote:
“… In the days of the Second Temple, the Greeks issued decrees against the Jews and repealed their laws, and prevented them from practicing the Torah and commandments, and encroached on their property and their daughters, and entered the Temple and committed destruction, and desecrated the pure and bad It was for Israel because of them, and they oppressed Jews with great oppression. Until the God of our fathers had mercy on them and saved them from the hand of them [Greeks], and the sons of Hasmoneans, the high priests overcame them, and killed them and saved Israel from their hand [i.e. the words “God saved” mean ′′the army won the victory”]. And they set the king from priests, and the kingdom of Israel was returned for more than two hundred years – until the destruction of the Second Temple”.
So, according to Maimonides, the point of Chanukkah’s holiday is that “the kingdom of Israel was returned”. But let’s remember what kind of kingdom it was: in the history of Israel there were no worse kings than these! Alexander Yannai was killing the sages, Yohanan Hyrcanus, put his half-brother in prison and killed his mother. The time of reasonable reign of Queen Shlomtzion (except that women are not put on the kingdom, and that was a forced step taken to not throw the country into a civil war) was replaced by the feud between Yochanan Hyrcanus, and Yehuda Aristobulus, who eventually led to the capture of Judea by Pompey and turning it into a Roman province. Then, after the son of the last of Hasmonean king, Antigonus, who was decapitated, Herod started to reign and also killed the sages and brought many other troubles to the Jews. After him were Archelaus and Agrippa. The latter received the kingdom after bribing Emperor Claudius.
And Maimonides, as we see, said enthusiastically: ′′The kingdom has returned to Israel for more than two hundred years, and therefore we celebrate Chanukkah“?!
From here we learn that it is better to live under the authority of bad Jews than under the authority of foreign rulers. And this is both pragmatic and religious. For the absence of the Jews of their own state is perceived by the peoples of the world as an argument between Judaism and the God of Israel.
We will discuss the problem of the ′′religious meaning of the Jewish state” in more details below.
3. Lighting of Chanukkah candles: “This is a commandment, because our ancestors did so ′′
We return to the commandment to light Chanukkah candles.
As it is known, the story of the miracle of burning oil is told in Talmud (Shabbat 21 b). However, it turns out that even there the establishment of this commandment is not mentioned. The text of Talmud is as follows:
What’s Chanukkah? The wise men taught: on 25 Kislev the days of Chanukkah begin, and there are eight of them. Mourning and fasting are prohibited these days. And when the Greeks entered the Temple, they desecrated all the oil that was in the Temple, and when the kingdom of Hasmoneans was strong and won, they searched all and found only a small oil vessel sealed with the seal of the High Priest, and there was oil in it for only one day. But a miracle happened to him, and they lit a lamp for eight days. The next year they decided that these days there will be a feast when they read the hallel (“glorifying Psalms′′) and say the blessing of gratitude (′ Al ha-nisim′′).
As we can see, this passage tells about a miracle with a jug of oil, however, it also shows ′′hallel” and ′′gratitude” (and this is its full alignment with the directions of the prayer ′′Al ha-nisim′′) but not lighting the candles.
It turns out that we are not told who established this commandment and when.
Talmud further discusses what blessings should be pronounced when lighting Chanukkah candles. When he gets to the question: “Where do you even teach this commandment?”- he gives the following answer: “This is a commandment, because our ancestors did so”.
Thus, lighting candles in Chanukkah is represented as an ancient tradition, and we have no direct source telling the moment of establishing this commandment.
4. The commandment of reading “hallel”: “Even at the Exodus of Egypt Moses, Aaron and Miriam had established…”
Unlike the commandment of candle lighting, reading Psalms hallel during Chanukkah is explained in detail in Talmud.
First of all, it is reported (in the passage above) that this reading was the establishment of the sages of that time. Talmud further says that even at the Exodus from Egypt Moses, Aaron and Miriam sang to the Almighty the Song for saving the Jewish people (Exodus 15:1-21), and thus they found that when Jews flee from the persecution of enemies and get an independent existence, this is the basis for giving thanks to God and reading Psalms hallel.
(Let’s note that during the Purim hallel is not read primarily because on Purim, there was only deliverance from persecution, but we remained under the authority of Achashverosh and we did not get independence.)
5. Divinity of “natural miracles ′′
Let’s go back to the question of the meaning of Chanukkah. We concluded that its meaning is gratitude for national independence, as a sign of which “Al ha-nisim” and “hallel” are read. Reading these prayers teaches a man to look at history as a dialogue with God: we must understand that our victories are not only our personal achievement; God helped us to conquer, gave us that victory. And we say thanks to the Almighty, saying in it: “Thank you for miracles…”.
Miracle is not only a situation where the physical laws of nature are broken. It may also be expressed in violation of other natural laws: economic, historical, social. The narrowing of the concept of “miracle” only to the violation of the laws of physics leads to many of our contemporaries, considering themselves realists, mistakenly believe that there are no miracles in our lives today. But the problem here is the over primitive perception of the concept of “miracle” (and that’s why – in its denial), and therefore it will be imperative to give the concept of “miracle” a more accurate definition.
The laws of nature are what is repeated in the world around us stable and systematically. The laws of nature are not only physical, but also economic, historical, sociological, etc. And a miracle is their violation. In particular, the sociological law of nature is that people, expelled from their country, in after several centuries adapts to a new place, and loses the aspiration to return to where they were expelled. The historical situation when the people continue to dream of returning to their country for thousands of years, and then still find the strength to return is unprecedented. And this happened to the people of Israel, whose history is thus a violation of sociological laws, i.e. a miracle. When we realize the creation of the State of Israel as a miracle, it reveals to us the feeling of life as a dialogue with God and allows to better understand the processes that are happening to us today.
Belief in natural miracles does not lead to passivity. On the contrary, “natural miracle” does not happen itself, we must actively help miracles, put our efforts into them. But not always our efforts are successful. Therefore, when we achieve this success, we must perceive it as a miracle and therefore be grateful to God. And in the religious aspect, we must understand that it is “natural wonders” that are the most important manifestation of God in our lives, and they are the source of the holidays.
6. “History with a jug of oil” could not create a holiday, but it helped to preserve it
So, the source and foundation of Hanukah celebration is winning the war and establishing state independence. Not only was the story of a jug of oil not the reason for the holiday, but it is not even the cause of burning the candles of Hanukah, because candle lighting at this time is an ancient tradition: “This is a commandment, because our ancestors did so”. However, history with a jug of oil tied candles with victory and independence, and it played a huge role in Chanukkah’s fate.
The fact is, in the Hasmonean era, besides Hanukah, there were several more national holidays: there was Nikanor day (Adar 13th), and there were other dates of victories in wars that also celebrated (so today we have not only Independence Day, but Jerusalem Liberation Day – Victory celebration in the Six-Day War). After the fall of the Hasmonean dynasty and the loss of independence, these holidays were forgotten, and only Chanukkah remained. And it remained precisely because the commandment of candle lighting in Chanukkah and its connection with the Sanctification of the Temple became a common custom that could no longer be canceled.
Such a little miracle as an eight-day oil burning could not create a holiday, but it helped to preserve it.
7. Different sources give different reasons for setting the date of Chanukkah for 25 Kislev and the duration of the holiday
Where did the date of Chanukkah-25 of Kislev come from? It is considered that it was by this date that Hasmoneans re-captured the Temple, then found one jug of oil, lit Menorah, and on the day of this event we celebrate Chanukkah.
However, once we begin to study sources, we see a completely different picture. In particular, the First Book of Maccabean tells that the Hasmoneans took over the Temple by the beginning of the month of Kislev. And then it’s completely unclear why they waited with the Menorah ignition until 25 of Kislev. In addition, there is a discrepancy in sources about what prevented the normal ignition of temple lamps. Talmud says they found only one vessel with the seal of the High Priest, i.e. that the problem was oil shortage. And Midrash believes that the problem was the absence of Menorah, so they had to build Menorah out of the remnants of enemies – swords and spears found in the Temple.
There are in sources also different explanations of why Chanukkah lasts eight days. From the text of Talmud, it is possible to conclude that Chanukkah’s eight-day period is associated with the burning duration of the found oil. But Midrashim give another option: eight days of celebration were established because they couldn’t celebrate Sukkot this year and therefore decided to celebrate Hanukah as its replacement.
Deeper into the problem of establishing the date and duration of the holiday leads to even more unexpected conclusions.
8. Date 25 Kislev – still from the construction of the Second Temple
The Book of Maccabees says that the Hasmonaeans decided to celebrate Hanukah on 25 Kislev because three years before Antiochus desecrated the Temple exactly on 25 Kislev. He sacrificed the statue of Zeus to the Temple, sacrificed a pig, and in response to his desecration, Hasmonean held their sanctification of the Temple on this day.
But why did Antiochus set up a desecration of the Temple exactly on 25 Kislev? Answer: Antiochus did this because 25 Kislev was the day of the original “Chanukkah” – a dedication established in the construction of the Second Temple. It turns out that this date is mentioned in Tanakh, – while Chanukkah is a holiday post-Tanakhic.
The book of the Prophet Haggai (he lived at the beginning of the Second Temple, 300 years before Maccabean) says: “For thus said the Lord Tzevaot: … More will be the glory of this last house (Second) than the First… And in this place, I will give peace, – the word of the Lord Tzevaot”. On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month [i.e. 24 Kislev, Chanukkah eve] in the second year of Darius reign, the word of the Lord was through Haggai, the prophet, and it said: “Thus saith the Lord Tzevaot: … Turn, I ask you, your heart from This day and beyond, from the day of the twenty-fourth day od nineth month, from the day when the temple of the Lord was founded, turn your heart…” (2:9-18).
Thus, the date of 25 Kislev as the day of the sanctification of the Temple was established neither by Maccabees, nor by Antiochus. It has existed since the consecration of the Second Temple and, accordingly, was well known.
Antiochus desecrated the Temple by this date on purpose, so Maccabees also wanted to sanctify it on this day anew.
But why is it that the date of the celebration was set in the consecration of the Second Temple on this day? It turns out that the date of 25 Kislev had an even more ancient source.
9. Date 25 Kislev – a holiday of olives and light
Judaism has a special commandment “Bikkurim”, the offerings to the Temple of the first fruit of the new harvest. Bikkurim begins to be brought to the Temple in Shavuot, “the feast of the firstborns”. However, in Shavuot, the period of ripening is just beginning. From Shavuot you can bear fruit of a new harvest as they ripen, and those who live close to Jerusalem can do so. And those living in a few days of the voyage, Talmud said, bear fruit of the summer harvest in the Temple on the holiday of Sukkot.
Let’s remember that Bikkurim is brought only from the “seven kinds of fruits that the country of Israel” is wheat, barley, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives (olive oil) and dates. Most of these fruits are already ripe for the Sukkot holiday, but one species – olives – rips later, only to Chanukkah. Time before Chanukkah is the best time to harvest oils, especially those designed for oil production. After Chanukkah, olives are already drying up, which does not prevent them from eating, but in ancient times, as we know, the main goal of growing olives was the olive oil used, including (or perhaps first of all), for lamps. Accordingly, the first harvest of olives should have been carried to the Temple at this time.
Talmud says that 25 Kislev was the last term of the first fruit from the new harvest of olives: “ From the holiday of Shavuot to Sukkot, they bear Bikkurim and read “ the speech of the bearing “ (Deut. 26:5-10), from Sukkot and to Hanukah they bring and do not read; rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira says: “They bring and read“ (Mishna Bikkurim 1:6). That is, since the deep ancient times, there was a folk “completive holiday” offering the first fruits, the feast of the harvesting of olives. How to celebrate the holiday of collecting olives, the oil of which is naturally associated with lighting, light? Naturally, by festive lighting of lamps.
The situation with Chanukkah is paradoxically turning over. At first, we said that Chanukkah’s main, original meaning is glorifying the miracle of victory in the war and gratitude for it, and lighting candles is just a tradition of folk tradition. Now it turns out that this has a reverse side: it was the light of candles that was original, it existed long before Chanukkah and even before the Second Temple. It was at the times of the First Temple, or maybe before. Back in the distant ancient times, Jews celebrated at the end of the Kislev farming holiday related to light, and those who sanctified the Second Temple wanted to connect its consecration with this date.
10. Establishment of the date of consecration of the Second Temple on the date of the ancient “holiday of light′′
But why was the date of the ancient holiday of light chosen for the consecration of the Second Temple? Why did they do this in the Second Temple, but they didn’t do it in the First?
The difference between the First and Second Temple is that the First Temple was a pure Divine presence, Shekinah, and in the Second, only her small glimpse remained.
We read in the book of the Prophet Zacharia:
Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion, for behold I come and will dwell among you, the word of the Lord. And many nations shall join the Lord in the day of this, and they shall become my people for me, and I will dwell among you, and you shall know that the Lord Tzevaot has sent me to you. And the Lord will take over Yehuda, his destiny on the Holy Land, and he will choose Jerusalem again. Silence, all flesh, before the Lord, for he awakened in his holy dwelling… (2:14).
And He showed me Yehoshua, the high priest facing the angel of the Lord… (3:1).
And I said, “I saw, behold a candlestick all of gold, and a cup on top of it, and seven oil lamps on it, and two olives over it … And the angel answered me and said, this is the word of the Lord, which was spoken to Zerubbabel, not by power and not by strength, only by my spirit, – said the Lord Tzevaot… (4:2,5).
That is, during the beginning of the Second Temple, when again “The Lord chose Jerusalem” (3:2), it was a tragic sense that the level of the First Temple, its “power and strength “ was unattainable, the world was immersed in darkness. Shechinah is removed from the world, some of its glimpses remain, and at this time the main way to connect with God is “candlestick and its lamps”, and among the people, the form of divine service is spread as lighting candles. And those who founded the Second Temple – Zachariah and his surroundings, experiencing the metaphysical state of the world, said: “Lighting candles and building the Temple are interconnected. Let’s lay the foundation for the service in the Temple on the day that is connected with lighting the light”.
11. Winter celebration of light: a common human holiday, coming from Adam
However, our tradition says that the celebration of Kislev 25 was established even earlier, before Moses and even before Abraham. This date was set by Adam, the first man.
The Talmud (Avoda Zara 8a) describes it this way:
Rabbi Hanan bar Rava said: Calendae – eight days after the winter solstice, Saturnalia – eight days before the winter solstice, and you will remember this [through a verse from Psalms 139: 5] “You oppressed me in front and behind.” The sages taught: seeing [with the onset of the first winter months], that the day was getting shorter and shorter, Adam said: “Because I have sinned, the world darkens and returns to chaos – this is the death that Heaven punished me with!” I sat for eight days in fasting and prayer. Seeing, after the winter solstice, that the day was getting longer again, he said: “This is how the world works.” And so [Adam] established eight feast days, and the next year he celebrated both [before and after the winter solstice]. He established to celebrate them for the Almighty, and they [pagans] established them as feasts for their idols.
Adam was created on the Sixth Day of Creation, in Rosh Ha-Shana, in early autumn. And then Adam saw that day after day the length of the daylight decreases, the days become shorter, and the nights are longer. The darkness crushes him, and Adam thought that, probably, darkness would take over the whole world, and after a while he himself would also die. But then suddenly he noticed that the light increased, the days began to lengthen a little. And he realized that this is the nature of things, and sang praise to the Almighty.
In gratitude to the Almighty, Adam established the very holiday, on the basis of which Chanukkah was later established for the Jews, and for the Romans – the winter Kalends and Saturnalia. This was further transformed into the Julian New Year on January 1, and for Christians – into Christmas. All of these are different derivatives of one common human fundamental holiday, different manifestations of the same idea. When the darkest time of the year comes, it “crushes” a person and wants to throw him off, somehow disperse the darkness – light candles or celebrate the moment when the days begin to lengthen. But every civilization expresses these ideas and aspirations in its proper form.
12. According to the solar or lunisolar calendar?
So, according to the European solar calendar, “the day of overcoming darkness” is celebrated on January 1, and according to the Hebrew lunisolar calendar – Kislev 25.
The difference in dates reflects the difference between the European and Jewish campaigns in the question of what is “the darkest day of the year.” According to the solar calendar, this is the shortest day, i.e. December 22, after which the days begin to lengthen, and by about January 1 this minimum increase may become noticeable (so Adam noticed an increase in light). But the Jewish lunisolar calendar has a different approach. The darkest time is when it is close to the longest night, and besides, the moon does not shine; that is, it is the new moon before the winter solstice. And this is eight days after 25 Kislev. This thickening of darkness is contrasted with the lighting of the Chanukkah fires.
In other words, the solar calendar takes into account only the ratio of the length of day and night, while the Hebrew calendar takes into account both the ratio of the length of day and night and the degree of darkness depending on the phase of the moon. This “accounting for the light of the moon” is a very important element of the Jewish tradition, but this is already a separate topic for discussion.
13. Date 25 Kislev in the history of the modern Jewish state
So, in the time of the Hasmoneans, Chanukkah was, first of all, a holiday of state independence. Then, with the departure into exile, the aspect of former independence receded, and for almost two millennia of Galut Chanukkah was associated exclusively with lighting candles – in the long night of exile, the most natural thing was to celebrate the miracle of finding a jug of oil, symbolizing the Jewish soul, to celebrate the phenomenal power and the duration of its burning. But with the beginning of the construction of a modern Jewish state, among the ideas of Chanukkah, the aspect associated with state independence is reviving.
In the fall of 1917, the Balfour Declaration was proclaimed. In December of the same year, General Allenby captured Jerusalem. For the first time in modern history and in politics, the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel was really confirmed – and this happened on the eve of Chanukkah, on 24 Kislev.
In the 1920s, Rav Kook was even approached with a proposal to declare the first day of Chanukkah, 25 Kislev, a religious holiday of the revival of Israel, but he replied that it would be worth doing, but now it is impossible for now, because the people are suppressed because of the White Book. and because of the Arab pogroms.
But, nevertheless, this day was perceived spontaneously. Here is an excerpt from a newspaper published in 1920: “On 24 Kislev, three years have passed since Jerusalem was liberated. In memory of this event, the city government decided to hold a special ceremony on Saturday, 23rd Kislev in the great synagogue of Rabbi Yehuda ha-Hasid in the Old City. On that day, High Commissioner Herbert Samuel [he was a Jew] and his sons were praying in the synagogue … The synagogue was filled with people. The High Commissioner was seated on a gilded chair under a canopy, Rav Kook sat to his right, and Rav Yaakov Meir to his left. After the prayer, a celebration was organized in honor of the liberation of Jerusalem. The celebration began with a speech by Mr. David Yelin, head of the city government, followed by Rav Kook and Rav Yaakov Meir, the cantor sang Shir ha-Ma’alot, then a special prayer was read, composed by Rav Kook, after which a prayer was said for the health of the King of Britain and blessing to the High Commissioner. The celebration ended with the singing of the national anthem Hatikvah.”
15. Outcome: the history of the development of the celebration of 25 Kislev and Chanukkah
Let’s summarize our consideration.
From the very beginning, from the creation of man, from Adam, there is a feeling that the darkest and longest night of the year needs to be somehow distinguished, influenced by the higher powers so that the darkness stops.
(In different civilizations, this feeling subsequently took shape in different schemes. The Romans set their pagan holidays on these dates. Christianity sets Christmas for this time of year – “the birth of the Savior.” In our time, mankind enthusiastically celebrates on these dates the “birth of the new year.” The Jewish approach to the “thickened darkness” wants to emphasize the connection of the expectation of Heaven’s help with our active actions, and therefore the tradition of lighting candles that disperses the darkness is formed.)
When in ancient times Jews come to the Land of Israel, the feeling of “the need to overcome darkness” receives additional reinforcement from the nature of the Country in the form of the ripening of the olive harvest at this particular time of the year. And naturally, the time of collecting olives is celebrated by lighting lamps with olive oil.
At the beginning of the Second Temple, this feeling is formalized by the fact that the consecration of the Second Temple is scheduled for this very date. Later, in the era of Maccabees, the holiday of Chanukkah, the holiday of obtaining state independence, is established on the same date. Hallel becomes the main thing in the celebration, but the lighting of the light on this day gains support in the history of burning oil, and from just a tradition it becomes a commandment. Thus, as a result of the course of history, the custom of lighting candles became a commandment, and this is interconnected with the fact that the state of Israel is “a torch for the peoples of the world” (Isaiah 42: 6, 49: 6).
With the fall of the Hasmonean state, many national and religious holidays were canceled, but Chanukkah survived – thanks to the custom of lighting candles, and this lighting becomes the basis of the holiday in the Diaspora. During the centuries of exile, the feeling of the miracle of victory in war and gaining independence fades away, and the miracle of burning oil takes its place.
With the beginning of the formation of the modern Jewish state, Chanukkah is again associated with independence.
Thus, we see that there are periods when the main thing is the lighting of the light on this day, and there are other periods when the main thing is independence. But in general, both aspects support each other.
15. The family aspect of Chanukkah: the reasons for the Maccabean rebellion and the commandment “to light a candle for a man and his house”
Chanukkah is distinguished by a family-home character of celebration. Talmud (Shabbat 21b) says: “The sages taught: the Chanukkah commandment to light a candle for a man and his house.” What is “a man and his house”? This is a rather strange statement. But delving deeper into it, we will discover completely unexpected perspectives of Jewish history.
Consider the question: what was the immediate cause of the Maccabean rebellion? Usually in history books it is said that this reason was the requirement for the Jews to take part in the pig sacrifice. (It is said that a Greek governor came to the city of Modiin and demanded that all Jews participate in the sacrifice of a pig. And when one apostate Jew began to make the sacrifice, Matityahu Hasmonaean could not stand such a desecration of the shrine and killed him. From this, the uprising began.) This description agrees well with the nationwide – religious approach: desecrated the Temple, desecrated the sacrifice – and the Jews began an uprising; accordingly, they freed the Temple, cleansed the altar – and established the celebration of Chanukkah.
But this description, in the center of which is the Temple and the sacrifices, leaves completely incomprehensible the question of the family – domestic character of Chanukkah and the commandment “to light a candle for a man and his house.”
The Talmud further notes that this is a commandment for both men and women; and although women are usually free from the commandments associated with time, in this case “women were also in this miracle.” What miracle is meant here? If this is a military victory, then women did not participate in the war at that time. If we mean the consecration of the Temple, it is not clear how this applies to “a person and his house.”
The Talmud does not clarify the phrase “women were also in this miracle”, however, in some Midrashim we find a more detailed account of the events. We are told that one of the decrees of the Greeks against the Jews was the “right of the first night”, which the Greek governor had. That is, every girl, getting married, had to first appear before the Greek ruler – which was, of course, unbearable for Jews and Jewish women in particular. Having won, the Jews got rid of this scourge, and therefore women are related to this commandment. This can explain the saying “a man and his home”, because “wife” is “home”.
There is one Midrash (it is rather late, but, perhaps, is an exposition of the more ancient Midrash), who says that the immediate cause of the uprising was not the Temple or the victims at all, but precisely “family” problems. The Midrash connects the beginning of the uprising with the decree of the Greeks on the “right of the first night” and says that once a girl named Yehudit from the Hasmonean family got married. Since this was a very important family of priests, a huge number of guests gathered for the wedding. And here, in the middle of the celebration, the bride made a very non-trivial action. She went out in front of everyone, took off all her clothes and remained naked. The whole society was shocked. The Midrash says: “Her brothers, frowning, looked at the floor, deciding that perhaps they should kill her.” (However, such behavior would still be shock therapy today.)
In the ensuing silence, the girl says (in a modern arrangement) something like the following: “Do you think I’m behaving badly? Of course, you are thinking, “Where are the laws of modesty?” I see some are going to kill me. At the same time, the fact that I have to go to the Greek governor at night, for some reason, does not bother anyone. There are righteous and worthy people gathered here; they don’t even look at me, so as not to see an obscene picture. Why, then, what should happen at night at the governor’s place does not seem obscene to these people? They don’t care, they turn a blind eye to it. How is this possible? At the very least, standing naked is much less obscene than being abused by a Greek governor. What are you thinking about, dear family and friends? ”
After this speech, as the Midrash tells us, an uprising begins.
Of course, everyone understands that the essence of the “right of the first night” was not about sexually satisfying the Greek governor, but it was about psychological suppression (and this was the essence of such a custom in European culture). And if people put up with this, then they, accordingly, recognize themselves as slaves, and they can be commanded. Thanks to the deed of Judith, the Jews realized the impossibility of continuing to live like this – and an uprising arose.
Thus, the most important thing in the existence of the Jewish people is the Jewish family. People can come to terms with the loss of national independence and even with the desecration of the Temple. But normal people cannot accept the desecration of the family. This was the last straw that overflowed the cup of Jewish patience. They were ready to die, but not to let it happen.
It is interesting to note that the days of Chanukkah fall on Saturday, when the story of Yosef and Potiphar’s wife is read in the Torah. Yosef demonstrates that for him the family structure is completely inviolable – not even his own, but his master, Potiphar – and therefore does not agree to respond to the seductions of his wife. In other words, the preservation of the family structure is so important that because of this, Yosef was ready to go to jail, and the Jews to revolt.
A living social structure is built precisely on the family. And in the future, on this foundation, a national structure is built, and on it is a state structure on which the Temple is built, combining spirituality with national independence. If there is no initial family structure in a society, then, accordingly, such a society will collapse. We emphasize this aspect of Jewish life when, on the feast of the consecration of the Temple, we light a candle for “a man and his house.”