I don’t know where else to turn. I am very down — my father is a Hasmonean Maccabee and has been hiding out in the Judean hills for the entire winter. Before he left, I let him know I had little sympathy for his cause. I do not feel passionate about the ousting of the Greco-Syrian Hellenists. Really, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. They’ve brought a lot of new ideas, some fun things to do, and maybe even brought us some fresh, different ways of thinking. What’s so bad if we Jews learn to adopt some of these new approaches? In our day and age, is Judaism really still relevant?
On one foot I would answer, now more than ever! Look, our people have been through a lot. Here we are in the year 167 BCE. It’s been about 300 years since we returned to Zion following a 70-or-so-year exile in Babylonia. We rebuilt the Temple and began to build a cohesive society. Yes, there are still plenty of Jews back in Babylonia and Persia. But, look at the changes we have gone through as a people here in Israel since we first entered the land: For one thing, there is none of that idol worship stuff — we are a believing people!
Since the Scribe Ezra began to read the Torah to us regularly, its inspirational concepts have finally taken hold. Remember the days when some Jews did not even observe Rosh Hashanah? Though you are young, I’m sure you have heard about that glorious event in our history when Ezra stood up on a high stage and spectacularly read the Torah aloud, causing all the people to cry and weep bitterly. Our ancestors had never even heard of the High Holidays!
But consider what they did — their hearts were moved and they took action. They observed that Rosh Hashanah, and the Sukkot right after, with grand gusto!
Then there was a mass public commitment to God and Torah. We renewed our covenant with the Almighty — a first for our people. Usually covenants are God-driven, but this time we initiated the deal! We committed ourselves to an enduring relationship with God. This is a huge phenomenon never to be taken lightly — it may very well be the reason you and I are still here today — living Jewish lives — no matter how far we have evolved since then.
We are a totally different people from the time that dramatic scene took place. We are no longer ignorant Jews. We are educated — we even have a Greek translation of the Bible! Now, many years later, we are ready to fight for what we believe in — that’s also a first for our people. Sure, there were those battles in the days of David and Saul, but those were to protect our land from foreign incursions. This is a battle for what we believe; this is completely different.
We are, of course, a peace-loving people, yearning for the days when the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation,” will be fulfilled. We Jews do not go into war lightly. We traditionally wait for a sign from above, then offer a nonviolent alternative — then and only then would we proceed to attack. If we are in a war now, there is a reason.
Something amazing is happening right now in Jewish history. We are lucky to live in these days. You probably think this is a bizarre thing to say, given the persecution we must endure at the hands of Antiochus IV. Of course it’s tragic — and humiliating — that he had the gall to place a statue in the Holy of Holies. His outlawing of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh is insane. But we Jews are fighting back. We are not taking this lying down. Going to war for what we believe in and for what we hold dear is a noble and brave endeavor.
You have probably heard about what happened, back when we were in Babylonia? Nebuchadnezzar put up an idol and made us all worship it. Only the three heroes, Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah, had the fortitude not to acquiesce. We are in our own land and things are different — no one can make us bow. But here’s the irony: during all those horrible years of the Kingdom of Israel, our own kings had us worshipping pagan deities. Now we are ready to give our lives to not have to worship any one deity or thing, but the true God of the Jewish people — now that’s progress.
Our belief in one God is revolutionary. You say the culture of the Greeks is bringing opportunity. Look, I am not one to castigate or degrade another belief system, but I have to tell you that I strongly disagree. I know this Greek Hellenistic culture is thought to be a really impressive way of life — maybe even one day it will be seen as the foundation of civilization, but our Torah is light years ahead of these Greeks, and far more noble.
Our faith is in a transcendent God who rules the world with benevolence; this is drastically different then the Greek approach to gods, who rule the world with disturbingly arbitrary whim. We believe in self-determination and sovereignty of the individual, not in a random fate that is out of our control. Our God is way beyond ourselves — not here on earth. We revere the Creator of the cosmos, not the cosmos themselves. I may be going out on a limb here, but my gut tells me the Hellenistic era is not long for this world. We Jews, however, are a people with a lengthy destiny of promise ahead of us.
I understand your concern for your father, but do not despair — remember, he is engaged in a battle of bravery and of ideals. Our prayers are with him. True, if we are to believe all those military analysts out there, there is cause for concern: we are reported to have the weaker army and many fewer troops. But let us not give up hope. You never know, we might even win this one — miracles do happen!