“An only kid
An only kid
My father bought for two Zuzim.”


Known as “An only kid” in English and “Chad Gadya” in Hebrew (well, actually Aramaic), it is one of my favorite parts of the Seder. Probably because my father used to have a speed contest in English (who in a reform Jewish family knew, much alone could really read, Hebrew?). But my recollection is that the Seders were really boring and not lively. For many reform Jews in the 60s and the 70s, the rituals had a negative air to them That was the era of free spirits, of rebellion. If you could not trust anyone over 30, a meal based on an event more than 2000 years old was on its face suspect.

Of course, the seder is replete with visual cues. The bitter herbs reminding us of the tears of slavery, the Shank Bone of the Passover sacrifice, the Matza of the haste with which we left Egypt.

Today there have been many efforts by non-orthodox Jews to find ways to bring the seder to life. Among my favorites:
The introduction of Miriam’s Cup celebrating the special role women played in the Exodus.
miriam cup
Adding an orange to the Seder plate to recognize that many Jews today feel marginalized by the Jewish establishment and that in the Exodus, no Jews were left behind. (You don’t think there was some minority making a fuss about something?)


Adding potatoes to the Seder plate to commentate the exodus in our time of Falashian
Jews to Israel.

For those of us of a certain age, we will remember the Fifth Glass of Wine that dotted our seders in the 70s and 80s to remind us of the plight of Soviet Jewry. Of course, the plight of Soviet Jewry is largely over and in a generation it is likely that no one will even remember a tradition that dominated the Jewish landscape in America only 45 years ago.


I propose a new tradition.

Two Zuzim.

It is customary to give children a gift for finding the Afikomen. Seems the last few years iTunes gift cards have been the gift of choice.
I suggest that we add to the Afikomen prize an ancient Jewish coin like the Zuzim referenced in Chad Gadya.

Why? We read in the Hagadah that every Jew in every generation is required to think that he or she was there when the Exodus happened. That goes right by most kids (and probably a few adults as well). But when you place this coin into your child’s hand you are letting them reach back in time and touch a real object held by Jews 2000 years ago. And it may well be a coin that was actually held by their direct blood relative.

How is that possible? Assume that there have been at least 80 generations since Bar Kochba then we each have 1.208,926,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 80 times great grandparents. If the world population today is only 6.5 billion, then obviously there were far less than 21.2 setptrillion descendants? Because Jews married cousins. And uncles. (This also explains all those Jewish genetic diseases). But the upshot is that the coin you will give your child is a coin that was likely held by their (and yours) direct ancestor.

The only coin in Jewish history known as a zuz was minted during the Bar Kochba revolt between 135 and 138 CE. These coins generally feature an image of either something from the Temple such as the trumpets or the kinor (a stringed instrument) or other symbols of Judaea such as grapes or palm trees.


These coins bore inscriptions such as “year one in the freedom of Israel” and “for the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Bar Kochba coins are among the most expensive of ancient Jewish coins. They rarely sell for under 200 dollars. For this new tradition, however, I propose, we understand Zuzim to refer to any ancient coin minted in Judaea during the Second Jewish Temple.

Most of these small ancient coins were used within a 50 mile radius of Jerusalem. A good number of them were possibly in Jerusalem when the Temple was burned. It is relatively easy to find these coins for less than 30 dollars and often in the 10 dollar range.

Let your imagination go wild. Let your children create stories about these coins and who owned them and what they did.
It doesn’t have to be a “Jewish” story. It can be a story about romance, about charity, about buying medicine for the sick, about fantasies about being related to the King or to the beggar, or wherever your imagination takes you.

Now let’s be upfront. The reference to Zuzim in Chad Gadya is not because that song dates back to the Temple or the Bar Kochba revolt. It was added to the Hagadah in the Middle Ages in Germany based on a similar style German song or poem. But in translating the German motif to the Seder it is very likely that the use of Zuzim was intended to connect Passover. – the holiday of our becoming free — to the Bar Kochba Revolt, the last time in Jewish history that Jews before 1948 Jews were an autonomous nation.

Consider this first draft an addition to the Hagadah right after the Afikomen is found.

Thank you for helping find the Hidden Afikomen. Passover is the story of how we went from being slaves to being free. But even after the Exodus we would lose our freedom again and again. That is why we search for the Afkikomen every year: To remind us that the search for freedom never ends. And for finding the Afkidomen this year, you are receiving a real zuz like the one from An Only Kid minted the last time the Jews were free before the state of Israel 2,000 years ago. You can’t buy anything with it. But when you hold it you are fullfilling the commandment that in every generation every Jew must consider himself has having been brought out of Egypt.

Post Script


They are not nearly as hard to locate as one might think. Check out Ebay or Vcoins.com. There are many examples today for sale for under 30 dollars. Most days you can find examples of these coins for under 15 dollars. Here is the type of quality one can expect for 10 to 30 dollars. ebay1

For 50 dollars you can get coins at this level. prutah

Coins from the First Jewish Revolt are also relatively inexpensive. These coins bear the inscription “For the Redemption of Zion”.

The power of holding an ancient Jewish Coin cannot be explained until you experience it. I firmly believe – especially for Jews not comfortable or interested in the religious aspects of Passover—this experience can transform the intangible into a very real moment to be treasured year after year.

“An only kid
An only kid
My father bought for
Two Zuzim”.

Happy Passover

The expression “Hanukkah Gelt” no doubt brings to mind those chocolate candies in a glossy foil reminiscent of silver with some monetary desigiatnion to be used for the game of dreidel. gelt

According to many, the custom of giving out Hanukkah gelt was started in Poland in the 19th Century when students would give their teachers a small “tip” for their services. Somehow this tradition was altered in America with parents giving their children “gelt” in the form of candy, almost as a bribe to go to Hebrew School.

In fact, however, the practice has roots going back at least to the time of Maimonedese who references the practice and provides the following explanation. The Greeks did not rob us of the Temple, they tried to use our desire for material comfort to lure us with Greek culture and ideals. While Anticohus Epiphanes is the villain of Hanukkah, as I discussed last year in my five part discussion of Jewish coins and Hanukkah, Anticohus was aided by many wealthy Jews who desired to be fully integrated into the Greek world that surrounded them. According to Maimonedes, Jews give Gelt on Hanukkah to show that we actively choose to use our freedom to pursue Jewish spirtuaity and not pagan virtues.

Today Hanukkah gelt is given out to facliiate playing driedel. But, let’s be honest. Does anyone really enjoy playing driedel for more than five minutes? And does anyone really care if they “lose” those chocolate coins given the quality of the chocolate inside? I always felt that driedel and those horrible chocolates perfectly captured how Jews demand quality in every part of their lives except when it comes to Jewish culture.

I offer the following bold suggestion: For about the same cost of buying one of those packs of 100 chocoagte coins you can buy an actual ancient bronze coin minted by John Hyrcanus, the nephew of Judah the Maccabee. And consider this: The Maccabees lived 2100 years ago. Assuming 4 generations a century that means there have been at least 80 generations since Judah. If you have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, etc., mathematically you have more than 1 septillion 80 times great grandparents.

Of course, we don’t have an exact census of Jews during the Second Temple. But no one estimates the number higher than 4,000,000. If there were only 4,000,000 Jews2,000 years ago. 2,000 years ago, then how can we have 1 septillion 80 times great grandparents? It is only possible because Jews married second or third cousins (which explains why Jews have, relatively speaking, a high number of genetic diseases). But what this also means is that most Jews today are probably related to virtually every one of those 4,000,000 Jews who lived in the time of the Maccabees. So when you give your child a bronze coin minted by the nephew of Judah the Macabee you are not just giving them a coin used by Jews 2,000 years ago. You are giving them a coin that was very likely held by one of their 80th time great grandparents.

For the first time in American Jewish history less than half of Amnerican Jews belong to a synagogue. Pew research indiacates that 1/3 of millanieals feel no connection to their Jewish roots. When you give your child an authentic ancient coin you are allowing them to hold Jewish history in their hand. And when he or she gets to college and hears the claim that Jews do not have a histroical connection to Israel, they will have the evidence to show that the Jewish connection to Israel is real and beyond dispute.

If you want to make Hanukkah Gelt truly an enriching moment, forget the chocolate and go for the Bronze

I am offering this week on Ebay three authentic bronze coins of John Hyrcanas, the first Hasmonian ruler to mint coins. He was also the nephew of Judah the Maccabee. All with starting bids of 10 dollars. You can also find six other coins minted in Judaea during the time of the Second Temple, two by King Agrippa, one by Herod the Great, and three by the Roman Governors who ruled from around the time of Jesus until the destruciton of the Temple. All with starting bids of $10 (with free shipping in the USA). As a special incentive to the readers of this blog, if you are the winning bidder on any of these coins simply email me via EBay with the code “Kfar Out!” and I will lower your winning bid either by one dollar or if it the winning bid is more than $20, I will lower it your bid to $20.

You can find these coins (along with a coin featuring the wife of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian ruler who ruled around the same time as John Hyrcanus, a silver Shekel from the First Jewish Revolt, a Judaea Capta coin minted by Vespasian, along with some other ancient coins of Jewish interest).

Happy Hanukkah!

Check it out at http://stores.ebay.com/ancientcoinsandmodernliving

[Caption id=”attachment_610″ align=”aligncenter” width=”300″]John Hyrcanus, Judah the Macabbe's Newphew John Hyrcanus, Judah the Macabbe’s Newphew[/caption]

Minted By John Hyrdanus
Minted By John Hyrdanus

Beautiful Pomengranate


The Last Jewish King of Judaea
The Last Jewish King of Judaea

Three ears of corn

Herod The Great
8 Branch Palm Tree

Crossed Shields

In the next few weeks there are several fascinating coins up for auction that relate closely to the story of Christmas.
By far, the most unusual and rare coin is being sold the first week of January.   It features King Aristobulus of Chaclis and Armenia and his wife, Queen Salome.   This is the Salome that the Gospels describe as using her seductive powers to convince her step father and uncle, Herod Antipas, to behead John the Baptist.  Her father was Antipa’s half brother (Herod II) and was at one time first in line to inherit Herod the Great’s monarchy, but was written out of his will at the last moment.  Her mother, Heroidas,  then divorced Herod II to marry the man who did in fact become the Tetarch of the Galilee.  

Herod Antipas minted several coins but they all showed great deference to the prohibition against using graven images.  

(See Fontanelle Auction Ending January 8.)
In contrast, Salome married a non-Jew and seems to have abandoned any connection to Jewish observanace.  Hence, we have a coin featuring both her and her husband’s portrait.   
(See CNG’s Auction scheduled the first week of January)
Pontius Pilate minted coins during his time as Governor of Judaea.  It is interesting that he was the only governor of Judaea who was completely insensitive to Jewish sensibilities about images.   His coin featured pagen religious symbols.   
(See Fontanille Coins ending January 8)
Happy Holidays to all and, if you celebrate, Merry Christmas.   

Next week an auction house in Australia is offering a rare token from modern Jewish History


The front depicts a Star of David surrounded by the inscription in German “A Nazi Travels to Palestine” (Ein Nazi fährt nach Palästina). The back shows a swastika in the center and the words “And he writes about it in The Attack” (Und erzählt davon in Angriff)
This coin captures the tremendous differences of opinion on how to respond to the election of the Nazi party in 1933. But before going any farther, it is important to recognize that much of what one finds on the Internet on this subject appears to come from Holocaust deniers and others who want to use the events I am about to describe to denounce Israel.   

I am proud to call myself a Zionist (and equally proud  to disagree with many of the policies of the current government).   To me this medal is a window into that horrible time leading to the Holocaust.   Much of the information I use here is from an article published by Yad VaShem.  See The Transfer Agreement and the Boycott Movement:  A Jewish Dilemma on  the Eve of the Holocaust by Yf’aat  Weiss.  

Immediately after Hitler’s election the Jewish community began to create an organized response.  In March of 1933, Stephen Wise, the de facto leader of the American Jewish community, held a sold out rally at Madison Square Garden where, joined by Former NY Governor Al Smith and future NY mayor LaGuardia,   he announced a boycott of all German products. 

But not all Jews shared this perspective.  German Jews spoke out against the boycott for fear that it would only make the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses more severe.  But the Zionist leadership in Palestine also had a different view.  
Zionism was based on the belief that anti-Semitism was inevitable and only in a national home could Jews live safely.   Thus, while Wise and others saw the boycott as demanding equality for Jews everywhere, the followers of Herzl’s Zionist school, saw Germany as an opportunity for mass immigration.   The Jewish Agency began discussions with the Nazi government to create a transfer program whereby German Jews could deposit their money into an account that would available for them when they arrived in Palestine to buy German products for use in their new homeland.  
The leaders of the Yishuv recognized that this policy would be extremely controversial.   One of the Zionists tasked with implementing the Trasfer program wrote to the head of the German Desk for the Jewish agency outraged by any hesitation of the leaders of the Yishuv to support this program:  

For the first time, the situation that Herzl predicted – the collapse of the
Diaspora – has come to pass, and for the first time Zionism has an opportunity
to fulfill Herzl’s vision concerning the mass liquidation of this situation. It
must be said that the Zionist movement has not proved itself fit to undertake
this mission. Herzlian Zionism, based on the thesis that all peoples are
antisemitic, instructed us to prepare in advance for the exodus, so we would be
ready when the time came. When the time came, all the Zionist movement did

was act incensed at the fulfillment of its predictions

.   This strategy was not universally shared by the Zionist movement.  The revisionist Zionist school led by Jabotinsky strongly opposed this effort.  Jabotinsky believed that the Labor party was only interested in the transfer program because German Jews would be more sympathetic to the socialist leanings of the Labor Party led by Ben-Gurion.   In the 1930s, Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky were fierce rivals for leadership of the Zionist movement and the outcome was far from certain.   Jabotinsky wanted to focus on the transfer of the massive population in Poland which he felt would not be receptive to the perspective of he Labor party.

When it became clear in 1933  that Ben-Gurion was going to prevail on the Transfer question, Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Zionist movement quit the World Zionist Congress.  

It is estimated that between 20,000 and 60,000 German Jews came to Palestine during in the 1930s before the onset of the War.  Would these Jews have survived without the Transfer Program?   Or had the Zionist movement taken a different tact, could more Jews have been saved? Was it morally acceptable for the World Zionist Congress to accept a program that saved Jewish lives  but did so by cooperating with the enemy?    

The debate still continues  I  imagine the grandchildren of those 20,000 to 60,000 German Jews who escaped the death camps might take offense at the suggestion that their existence is due to morally unacceptable conduct.   But for others the question is equally clear in the opposite direction.    For instance, one Jew who paid Eichmann a 1,000 dollars per Jew to get a train out of Germany, sued for libel when he was called a Nazi collaborator.  The lower court ruled that he was not libeled.  While the verdict was overturned, this man was later assassinated as retaliation for his amoral behavior.  

And this coin?   Well, in the Spring of 1933, Kurt Tuchler, a German Jewish lawyer and judge and member of the managing committee of the German Zionist Federation, contacted Leopold von Mildenstein, who was the head of the Jewish Department of the Nazi party (and also an executive at the German branch of Coca-Cola).  .  Mildenstein agreed to explore the idea but insisted on visiting Palestine.

Hence, in late 1933, the two men, along with their wives, traveled to Palestine where Mildenstein saw kibbutzim and other evidence of the “new” Jew.  

While there he wrote a series of 12 articles which were later published with illustrations in the Nazi newspaper “Der Angriff” (The Attack), which was the mouthpiece of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister.

Mildenstein left the Jewish Desk in 1937 where he was replaced by Adolph Eichmann.  

And the Tuchlers?  They managed to escape to Palestine in 1937.   And they  maintained their friendship with the Midlensteins after the war until their death.   Years later their granddaughter would discover an old copy of these articles which would eventually conclude in a 2011 documentary, THE FLAT  which has generated its own controversy.  

And the coin:  It was minted by Goebbels to commemorate the publication of he articles.  

There are only a few examples of this coin available.   Nicer examples have sold for about $800 to $1,000.   Any guesses on what it will take to win this coin on January 2?

Obverese:   Don Isaac Abarbael 1437 1937:  Rev:  Produced by the Jewish Community of Berlin,  The Philosopher, Statesman, Minister, and Wise in Torah.   Family Crest of Abarbanel Family 

In January, Stacks is offering this medal minted in 1937 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Don Isaac Abarbanel.  The medal was part of a special exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Berlin held on the eve of the Holocaust featuring the accomplishments of Jews in Europe. Here is another example that is easier to see, though not nearly as well preserved as the medal available at Stacks.

I find it somewhat surprising  that the German Jewish leadership only two years before the outbreak of World War II, when Jews were already experiencing horrific discrimination,  actually minted a medal commemorating Jewish life.     For the most part, the image of German Jewry and its leadership in these years is one devoid of Jewish commitment and deluded by its belief that things would be “ok.”   Many look at the pictures of the German Jews meeting with the Nazis and see that as signs of appeasement and placing personal gain above communal safety.   Is this medal just further proof of how out of touch the Berlin German Jewish community was in 1937?   Or does it perhaps shed a different perspective on their outlook?   

Most of us have never heard of Abarbanel (except unless you happen to recognize the name as a decent kosher wine for Passover Seder).  Will that offer any deeper insight?

He was born in 1437 in Portugal into one of the leading Jewish families on the Iberian peninsula.   He was influential in Portuguese politics, serving as Treasurer to  King Alfonso V.  When Alfonso abdicated in favor of his son, King John II, Abarbanel was forced to flee to Castille in 1483 as he was associated with one of the Dukes accused of treason by the new king.

Queen Isabelle of Castille quickly made him an important advisor and confidant.  In exchange, he helped finance her wars to finally push the Moors out of Europe.
With the unification of Spain as a Christian kingdom, Isabelle and Ferndnan, on March 31, 1492, issued the Edit of Expulsion which not only forced them to leave Spain but to forfeit all minted coins and wealth.   It is surely not a coincidence that this same week, perhaps even this same day, Isabelle and Ferndinan agreed to fund the voyages of Christopher   Columbus.

Gold Coin Honoring Marriage of Frendiana and Isabelle 

During the next five months Abarbanel made many attempts to intervene and reverse the “wicked decree.”   He offered the Royal couple, according to some sources, 800,000 Spanish crowns.    But those efforts failed and over the next 10 years he lived in Naples, Corfu and finally died in Venice.

Abarbanel was also a great scholar. His commentary on the Torah is well known for starting with a list of questions.   He would then try and supply the answers. This seems to me to be the perfect metaphor for a man who lived his life devoted to Torah, to charity and to his family.   How does one explain the total loss of the world you lived in to forces beyond control?   In his discussion of philosophy, he was much more direct in discussing the plight of Jews in his time than other Jewish philosophers

He believed that the Jews would be redeemed by the Messiah after a massive war between two great powers, which would create a power vacuum leading to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.  It was one of the first expressions of Jewish nationalism on the Middle Ages.  

Some have suggested that to understand Benyamin Natanhauu you should appreciate that his father,  a Jewish scholar, wrote what at the time was the definitive history on Abarbanel.  He considered him the best example of Jewish leadership since the Diaspora.   If you like psychoanalytical political analysis, can one read into Netanhayu’s political agenda a belief  that the fate of Israel is best served by conflict between the East and the West?  

But I digress.    What, if anything, can we gleam from the minting of a coin in Abarbanel’s honor by the Jews of Berlin?    There is very little written on the story behind this decision or the exhibit sponsored by the Berline Jewish community.    It does appear that at the opening ceremony for the exhibit that the original of this medal was presented to Heinrich Stahl, the leader of the Jewish community.   Was this a way of expressing their belief that Germany would not be another Spain?   Or was it an acknowledgment that if a man as great as Abarbanel failed then Berlin was doomed?  We do know that shortly after this, in 1938, Stahl tried to leave Germany but was prevented from doing so.   Were those plans already in place when he accepted this medal?

I find it just as curious that the year before — in 1936 — , the Jewish community of Germany minted another special medal to herald the Jewish New Year.

Here we see a mother getting her child dressed for the new year in new clothes and on the reverse the Hebrew psalm, “You open Your Hand and satisfy the desire of every living being.”  This line from the Psalm 145, more commonly known as the “Ashrei” is seen as a song of joy and praise to God.  Not exactly what one would expect from a community that was under attack.   
It is rare for Jewish communities to issue medals (excluding Israel).   For instance, has your synagogue ever done so?  Your youth group?  The ADL?  It was the same in Germany.  Prior to 1937 I can find no evidence of any medals minted in  Germany with Jewish themes (excluding the anti-Semitic medals by the Nazis) since the end of World War I.  But, then suddenly,  two Jewish medals issued in 1936 and 1937.    Each clearly identifying its source as the Jewish community of Berlin.   Typically a medal is issued to raise money for a cause by selling them to donors.  At the very least one tries to get back the cost to mint the item.   But by 1937, the Jews of Germany certainly did not have disposable cash for such indulgences.   
So, one can easily see these medals as further evidence of the refusal of the Jewish German leadership, even as late as 1937, to recognize its fate and to actively fight against the Nazis.   We can see Stahl and Leo Baeck as responsible for not saying out loud what many say they knew:  that Jews in Germany were condemned to die.   But perhaps these two medals were statements no less courageous than the statement made by the Jews atop Masada, who in the face of death left behind symbols of their belief in Jewish continuity, of  a God whose open hand is extended to Jews even in the face tragedy.   
I invite readers to offer their own perspective.  

As I have discussed in the previous post on this series about Hanukkah, 

the story of Hanukkah has undergone a major shift in emphasis between the Middle Ages
 and today.   The story from the Middle Ages focused on the miracle of the oil story
 and downplayed the actual historical events.   To the extent that the history
 was memorialized it focused on Mattathias and the great nephew of Judah,
 John Hyyrcanus.  As discussed in the previous posts, the Sages could not abide
 by the Maccabees assuming the role of High Priest.   In contrast, the story as we
 know it today is all about Judah and his brothers, how they overcame tremendous
 odds to beat a larger and more powerful enemy, and herald the l
ast independent Jewish Commonwealth for 2000 years.   
Almost all of this narrative comes from two sources.  The two Books of the Maccabees 
and Josephus.  As I’ve mentioned previously the Books of Maccabees were not 
incorporated in the Jewish canon.  Already by 200 CE the Hebrew version of the first 
book of Maccabees was lost and only existed in Greek.  After the destruction of the
 Second Temple and then the aftermath of the Bar Kochba revolt, the center of
 Jewish life moved east to present day Iraq and Iran.  
Greek influence in these cultures was far less   Under the Sasanian Empire, 
Greek was not an official language and probably became less known to the Jews there  
 Remember, this was an era before books so the primary way books were remembered 
was by memory.  Since both books of the Maccabees were now only in Greek that 
undoubtedly made them harder to preserve.  While perhaps some Jews were familiar
 with them it seems they were few and far between.  

 Otherwise we would expect to see reference to them by the great Jewish philosophers of
 that era.  
Josephus is the other source.  He lived during the time of the First Jewish Revolt and
was one of the leaders of the revolt in the first two years until he was captured 
and saved himself by agreeing to assist the Romans.  He clearly developed a close
relationship with both Vespasian and Titus as well as King Agrippa II.  
He wrote extensive histories of The Jewish War as well a history of the Jews from
 Adam until his day.  
Not surprisingly, however, Josephus was reviled by Jews as a traitor.  He wrote n Greek
 and Jewish law printed translating his work into Hebrew.  In contrast, because he wrote 
extensively about the period before and shortly after the time of Jesus, according to 
some, Josephus was the second most likely book to be owned by a Christian family
 in the Middle Ages
By the way, Josephus is the only source for the story of Masada which appears to have
been unknown among Jews until the modern era.   
With the emancipation of Jews in the 18th Century and the availability of secular 
education for the first time, Jews began to rediscover books such as the Maccabees and 
Josephus.   In the 19th Century Germany an entirely new approach developed to the study
 of Judaism known as Wissenschaft des Judentums.   Among its adherents were such 
notables as Solomon Schecther.  Another was Heinrich Graetz, the author of the first 
definitive history of Judaism written by a Jew.   Graetz covered the Maccabees in detail 
providing, perhaps the first widely circulated account in hundreds of years that set out the
 story based on theretofore ignored Josephus and Maccabees.  
The publication of Graetz and the growing number of Jews receiving secular education 
were not the primary reason, however, for the shift in focus on the events surrounding 
Antiochus IV.   Zionism began to become an organized movement in the 1880s and the 
by 1900 the so called “Second Aliah” – the second wave of immigration – began to exert
 its influence in Palestine.  While the Second Aliah only accounts for a small number of
 Jews, less than 30,000, it set the tone for the Zionist Movement until the election of
 Menachem Begin in 197
These early Zionists of the Second Aliah were intent on creating a “New Jew” – one that 
was not meek and subversive but rather one that was strong and independent.  They were 
affected in many ways by the socialist/communist movements of Eastern Europe and
 were not just “non-religious”; they were anti-religion.   They were not returning to Israel
 To fulfil some Messianic prophecy, but had concluded that Jewish life in Europe was 
doomed. And with the end of that center of Jewish life they anticipated the end of Judaism 
as we know it.  
By the 1920s and 1930s this generation was now parents.   They were raising children that 
had not seen the forces at work in Europe.  They also recognized that the struggle for a
Jewish Homeland was not going to be easy and would require determination and 
commitment.  The type of commitment that flows from total devotion to an ideology 
whether that be the ideology of Lenin and Marx or of Orthodox Judaism.   In creating 
 their own “ism” these Zionist were suspicious of any stories or traditions that had been 

popular in the Diaspora; indeed, the perception that a part of Jewish culture was tied to the
 Diaspora made it suspect as a harbinger of Exile thinking that would not be tolerated in
 the New Jew.  
We can therefore appreciate that the Story of Masada – a story barely known to the Jews
 of the Diaspora – would appeal to these creators of a new Jewish identity.   Ari Shavit 
 does a remarkable job in his book “The Promised Land” of describing the deliberate 

 creation of Masada Shall Not Fall Again as the mantra of the Jewish Youth in pre-State 
Hanukkah presented a similar potential.    If Masada bred into the fabric of the Sabra a 
commitment to be willing to die for his cause to ensure the creation of a Jewish state, 
Judah the Maccabee was the perfect companion tale.  Masada after all, in the end is a 
story of Jewish defeat.   But Judah and the Maccabees are a story of Jewish success.   
 Judah did defeat a much larger army using his knowledge of the land and new military
tactics to defeat a much larger and better trained army.   He was not afraid to be facing 
 one of the Super Powers of his time.  And, like Masada, after his initial success, Judah 
had knowingly gone forth in battle after being deserted by most of his troops perhaps 

knowing that his death would stir the hearts of his countrymen to follow his brothers 
 until they were free. 
We should not underestimate the importance of creating symbols for the new Sabra that 
mixed both success and an unwillingness to die even in the face of short term failure.    
These early Zionists knew that their children would be facing a lifetime of battles.  They 
made sure to create the necessary myths that can bind a generation to a cause even when 
that cause seemed so unlikely to succeed.     And let’s be very blunt here.  These Zionist 
leaders knew that if their dream had any chance to come true they had to raise children 
whose commitment to that dream would be at least as strong as – if not stronger – than 
the commitment Jews had shown throughout history to be martyrs.   They consciously 
took every opportunity available to further that goal.  When Joseph Trumpledor died in 
the battle for Tel Chai in 1920 his last words reportedly were “Ain Davar. Tov LaMu
 Bead Artzanu” “Don’t Worry.  It’s Good To Die For One’s Country.”   The fact that the 
doctor treating him had only just arrived from America a week before, did not speak 
Hebrew, and was the only one present when he died, did nothing to diminish thi
 legendary last statement.  (Neither did the fact that by all accounts in his last hours the wounded hero reverted to his native Russian language).
After the Balfour Declaration Palestine became more and more the main source for
 importing Jewish culture to American Jews who were by and large abandoning any 
connection to Orthodoxy.   For this new Reform Jew in America the secular Kibbuztnik 
was much more attractive than the stereotype of a religious Jew from Russia.   And so this 
new version of Hanukkah (which certainly resonated with a Jewish community looking for 
new Jewish heroes) quickly caught on in America.
 My father, born in 1918 in Worcester, Massachusetts, recalls nothing about Judah as a 
child.  But in the 1940s he studied under Stephen Wise, the leading American Zionist of 
his day together with Louis Brandeis, to become a reform rabbi and it was there that he 
first learned about Judah the Maccabee and the role he played in making Hanukkah
 happen.   Of course, this new modern take on Judaism played into a central motif of
American Jewish Life before 1980:  it replaced a belief in a “superstitious” story about 

olive oil burning 8 times longer than it should with a verifiable historical event.   
What can we take away from this insight into the story of Hanukkah?    One thing is the 
awe in which we should hold those early Zionists who could recraft Jewish history to 
enable the commitment necessary to create the first independent Jewish state since the
 time of the Maccabees.    Equally fascinating is that the shift they made in the story to 
refocus on the Maccabees is not rejected in the world of orthodoxy today.   I have never
heard any Rabbi criticize the Hasmonians even though the Sages were so critical of them
That they essentially wrote them out of history.  
Truly a Great Miracle Happened There!  
Happy Hanukkah.  
Happy Hanukkah.  Only two more nights of Hanukkah.    In this series of blog posts I have focused on something hardly ever mentioned:  the story of Hanukkah we know is not the same story known for most of the last 2,000 years by most Jews.   The big difference?  The minimization of Judah the Maccabbee.   The Hanukkah story is a saga that spanned over 30 years.  The part we all know is sort of akin to Episode 4 of the Star Wars Double Trilogy.    

This blog provides the blow by blow account (no, not really — that would take hundreds of pages) of the story from the beginning to end.  In doing so it will become clear that the  creation of an independent Jewish State by the Maccabees was in many ways only possible because of the demise during this same time of the powerful Ptolemy and Selecid Empires between which Judaea was sandwiched.   

This history is very complex with lots of players and usually gets completely skipped.  In one Jewish history book of some reknown, the author wrties essentially that after the death of Judah his brothers fought for 20 years unnti they finally won independence.   It was only when I began to collect anicient Jewish coins that I able to picce this story together.   

Candidly, this blog is for the true history lover, the person  who enjoys the messy details that make history come alive.   

If that is not you, you probably want to skip to Part Five, being published simultaneously. Part Five explains the when and why Hanukkah morphed into the story we know and celebrate today.   

The Prequel:  Episode 1:  A New Force.   

Let’s start with 586.  The First Temple is burned by Nebuchadnezzar and the Jews are taken as captives to Babylonia.  But within a short time, he is beaten by a new emerging power:  The Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great.
Cyrus lived right on the edge of the beginning of coins.   But we don’t have any minted under his authority.  But in 536 he issues a proclamation allowing the Jews to return to Judaea.   Some Jews did return but it is not until later under Darius that Jews showed a real interest in “making aliah.”   
Darias King of Persia — Benefactor of Nehemiah 

It is Darus that endorses the efforts of Nehemiah and Ezra and supports the Jews in their clashes with the local population.   

For the next 100 years we have very little information about Jewish life under the Persians.   There are a few ancient coins from that period that were minted in Judaea.  The most interesting of them are three cons with clearly Jewish themes: one depicting the Shofar, a second depicting an ear which is known as The “She’ma coin” referencing the prayer “HEAR O ISRAEL.  THE LORD IS OUR GOD. THE LORD IS ONE.   And the third depicting an incense bowl used in the Temple with smoke rising from it as it would during sacrifices in the Temple.  

In contrast. there are no Samaritan coins to date which have any undeniable connection to their unique form of religious observance.   
Episode II:   I Sense A Change In The Force      
 In 332 Alexander the Great conquered the areas we now know as Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Egypt.  And Persian culture gave way to Hellenism:  Greek culture.  
Gold Coin of Alexander the Great Minted in Akko in 332

With his death, Alexander the Great’s kingdom was divided by his generals.  Ptolemy took control of Egypt while Seleucid took the area from Turkey to Syria back towards India.  For the next 300 years, these two empires would be trying to get the better of the other.   Initially Judaea was ruled by the Ptolemaic empire.   Ptolemy II is famous for having created the Library at Alexandria that was reputed to be the best in the ancient world.  Legend has it that he commissioned a translation of the Bible into Greek which became known as the Septuagint and played a major role in early Christianity.  
Of course, translating the Bible into Greek only facilitated Hellenization among the Jews, but, curiously, while Ptolemy II Hellenized several cities such as Akko, which he renamed Ake-Ptolemais he refrained from doing anything of that sort in Judaea and Jewish sources see him as a benefactor.   
Ptolemy II Coin Minted In Joppa 

Episode III:   When Siblings Wed
Meanwhile, north of Judaea, the Seleucid empire was also producing some impressive heirs to the original ruler.  By far the most impressive was Antiochus III, also known as Antiochus the Great.  

Anticohus III Anticohus the Great 

He succeeded in capturing Judaea from Egypt but recognized that his victory could be very temporary.  He sought a long term solution.   He made peace by giving his daughter, Cleopatra I (yes, the first Cleopatra was not even from Egypt), to be the wife of Ptolemy IV whom he had just defeated in battle.  Now, if you think giving your daughter to your enemy is bad, in a moment you will think she got off easy.    His idea was that their child (the grandchild of Antiochus III) would be the King of both empires.  

Coins of Cleopatra I 

Cleopatra I was not well received by the Egyptians and was called “THE SYRIAN” to her face.  But she had the last laugh.   When Antiochus III died, his son in law began to make preparations to make war to win back Judaea, and the other lands “stolen” from him.   But he died (coincidence or wifely plot?) and his wife, Cleopatra I immediately called off the plans to attack her brother, the new King, Selecieus IV. 
Selecieus IV
Antiochus the Great was clearly big on maintaining his blood line.  And so he began what would become a tradition; sibling marriage.   He had his oldest son marry his sister, Laodice IV.   
Enter Rome into our story.   By now Rome was becoming a major power.  And it developed a unique way to keep Kings like Selecieus IV  in check.  A member of the royal family was held hostage in Rome.  Selecieus had been a hostage during his father’s reign and now that he was king, he sent his younger brother, Antiochus to replace him as Rome’s hostage.   Rome also demanded a heavy tax be paid in order to keep the peace.   
This tax burden proved to be too much for the King to pay and so he sent his ambassador to Jerusalem with orders to sack the Temple for the treasures housed there so he could pay Rome.  When this Ambassador returned he used this money to finance a plot against the King and tried to usurp the throne for himself.  The year is 175 BCE.   
Episode IV;   The Force Manifest on Earth.  Anticohus IV 
When word reached Rome, the brother of the murdered King who was being held hostage asked to go home and avenge his brother’s death.  Rome refused.   But Antiochus managed to escape and went back home where he killed this traitor and declared himself and the son of Selecieus IV (also named Antiochus) to be co-rulers.   This son of Selecieus was very young and in a short time he was killed by his uncle, the villain of the Hanukkah story.  
The Son Killed By His Uncle Anticohus IV

His first act of being King?  To marry his brother’s widow who also happened to be his sister, Laodice IV.   
Laodice IV was quite a woman.  And Antiochus IV seems to have had real affection for her.  He actually minted at least one coin bearing her image.    

Antiochus IV clearly had a vision of himself as a great man.   His first goal was to fulfil his father’s dream of uniting the Seleucid and Ptolemy empires.  Of course, Ptolemy IV did not share that vision and claimed that when he married Cleopatra I her dowry was the return of Judaea and the surrounding area.   In perhaps the first preemptive strike in the Mideast, he launched a surprise attack on his brother-in-law.   This attack was so successful that Rome became concerned.   Clearly a united Egypt and Syria could prove to be a threat to Rome itself.   Rome sent an ambassador who when he met Antiochus told him that Rome demanded he withdraw.  Antiochus asked for time to consider and this ambassador drew a circle around him in the sand and told him that he would either leave that circle without Egypt or he would leave it without his head.   From this incident comes the origins of the expression “line in the sand.”  
So how did Antiochus respond to his forced withdrawal from Egypt?   He began minting coins that read Antiochus VI Epiphanes (The Great). Bringer of Victory.  

He also made a trip to Jerusalem where he apparently tried to loot the Temple following in the footsteps of his brother.   
Act IV — Meanwhile Back in Judaea 
So, now let’s turn to Judaea.  Since the translation of the Bible into Greek the process of Hellenization has been gaining favor among the Elite of Judaea, those most likely to interact with the nobility of other nations.   The Kohanim.  The Priests.  And as noted in Part II, the position of High Priest was functioning as more than just the head of the Temple, but the leader of the nation akin to a Governor.   But service as High Priest was at the pleasure of the King.   In the first few years of his reign, Antiochus IV was bribed by three individuals who each was then appointed as High Priest.   
So which came first:  the chicken or the egg?  Jewish desire to be more like the ruling authority and copying their ways or the imposition of Greek ways on an unwilling population?   
One thing we do know is that just before the outset of the Maccabean revolt, Antiochus IV minted a new coin that proclaimed he was not only the “Bringer of Victory” but also that he was “God Manifest on Earth.”   
Antiochus IV God Manifest On Earth 

Let’s explore that a little bit in more detail.  Every Greek King believed they were a “God’.   But the concept of a God in pagan culture was completely different from the concept of God in Judaism and Western Religion.    The coins of many Kings combined images of Zeus or the local God in their own image to illustrate their own divinity.   So it should not be surprising that Antiochus IV thought he was a God.   It really meant nothing more than he was the most powerful person in the Empire. But the expression of God Manifest on Earth is unique to him among all other rulers of that time.  And while others Kings of this period would sometimes be known as Epiphanes (“Great”) he earned the nickname of Epimanes (The Mad One).   
After his initial losses to Judah he left Judaea to fight a war against the Parthian Empire to his east and died there.    As we recounted in an early blog, his son became King at the age of 11 and was promptly deposed by the son of Seleucius IV who — like his uncle before him– escaped from Rome where he was being held hostage and returned to Antioch.  Demetrios I was the Ruler when the Seleucid army finally defeated Judah and killed him.   

Like his father, he married his sister Laodice V and had three children.   11 years into his rule, Rome was concerned that he was growing more powerful and they backed the efforts of Alexander Balas who claimed to be a son of Antiochus IV.  He arrived in Akko in 150 and one of his first moves was to reach out to Jonathan the Maccabee and appoint him High Priest in exchange for his support.  Shortly after defeating Demetios he married the daughter of Ptolemy VI and his sister Cleopatra II. Her name was Cleopatra Thea. Among the most honored guests at the wedding was Jonathan who sat between the Groom and The Father of The Bride.  

Rare Wedding Coin of  Cleopatra Thea and Alexander Balas Minted In Akko

Now Cleopatra Thea must have been fascinating women.  Five years into her marriage her father invaded her husband’s empire, killed him and married his widow (also his daughter) to Demetious II, the son of the man that her first husband had killed. 

Demetrrius II  ruled for only 3 years before he was taken prisoner by Pathiaeth ns.  In his absence his brother Antiochus VII came forward and married Cleoatra Thea and ruled for 9 years. 

It was during his reign that Simon the Maccabee finally gained independence
Parthians were rather clever.  They released their prisoner while his brother was busy fighting a war away from the capital against them.   Demetios returned, claimed the throne and his wife

 Fate would let the brothers avoid fighting each other as Antiochus VII was killed shortly thereafter in a battle with the Parthians.   

Demetios II ruled until his death in 125 and was succeeded by his son Selecius V who was killed so quickly by his mother that we have no coins in his name.  She effectively ruled for fie years while her second son, Antiochus VIII grew to maturity.   Legend has it that she decided he was becoming too independent and planned to poison him.  When he came in forth dinner one night and found his mother there offering him wine he was suspicious and insisted she drink it first.   

Cleopatra VIII and  Her Son Anticohus VIII (Turn About Is Fair Play))

In other words, the rise of an independent Jewish state was more a reflection of the general decline of these two empires.  Judaea was sandwiched between them where the power vacuum was the most and the rise of the Hasmonian empire is best viewed as being enabled by the lack of stability in either the Ptolemy empire to the south or the Seleucid empire to the north.  
But it also clear that the Hasmonian Kingdom did march to its own drummer in this period.   The coins of both the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empire reflect the face of the King or Queen.   But not one of the coins minted by the Maccabees would violate the Second Commandment to not make any graven images.    And the notation the Ruler was High Priest and ruled with a ‘council of Jews” also distinguished Judaea from its neighbors.  

Remember, we have seen several YHD coins from the early Persian period that bore the face of a Jewish governor or High Priest.  But now this seems absolutely out of the question.  What has changed?  The rise of the sages and the beginning of Rabbinic Judaism.    And we see that the world view of the Rabbis did set Judaea apart from its neighbors.   
.     .    

Ok, no coins or pictures this time. But have you ever really thought about this “miracle of the oil?” Let’s review it briefly.

The Jews finish cleaning the Temple and its time to relight the Eternal Light. But you need pure olive oil for this and the Greeks have contaminated all the olive oil. What to do? A boy supposedly finds one container of pure oil the Greeks missed but, sadly its only enough for one night. They light it and the miracle is it stays burning for 8 nights by which time they have found some other source for pure olive oil and hence the Eternal Light does not go out.

So, here is my problem. 8 days. Ok, can you make pure olive oil in 8 days? When I studied in Yeshiva we were taught “no.” So if Judah and his brothers could not press pure olive oil they had to go somewhere and get it and bring it back. But for a Sabbath observant Jew, what trip takes 8 days? If its 3 days there and 3 days back, you are gone only 6 days. If it’s a 4 day journey, you have a Shabbat of no travel so it’s a 9 day journey. Play with it, Can you find any way that you travel an equal distance, rest for one day, and have the journey take 8 days? (Maybe the miracle of the oil is that no one ever thought about the details before).

Of course, another way to frame the question is not why did the oil burn for 8 days, but why was Hanukkah 8 days long, so that the Rabbis had to fit the oil story into the holiday that was celebrated each year for 8 days. We spent a full week on this question when I studied at Machon Pardes. None of the classic commentators from the middle ages could offer what I found to be meaningful insight. But then we studied the Mishna Berura, a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch written in early 20th century Eastern Europe by Yisrael Meir Kagan. He had a fantastic explanation. In the Book of Maccabees it says that when the Jews rededicated the Temple they realized that they had not been able to celebrate Sukkot that year. It was decided that as part of the rededication they would celebrate Sukkot in December. And, of course, Sukkot is 8 days long. And that is why Hanukkah is 8 days long. We remember that first rededication holiday that lasted 8 days.

Of course, the Books of the Maccabees is not part of the Jewish Tanach and was essentially lost to Jewish study until the 19th Century. That is probably why it was not until the early 20th Century that it was offered as an explanation if a “traditional commentary.” And the fact that this is not more widely known today suggests that we still have not taken full advantage of many texts not known to our ancestors when trying to figure out the meaning behind various rituals and holidays.

Of course, the sages in the Talmud would have known this connection. But as we discussed in Part 2, they had their own agenda when it came to Hanukkah and the miracle of the oil was the best way to flip the meaning of the holiday. Hanukkah is not about the military victory, but abut God providing us with miracles.

There is a Midrash that explains the difference between Purim and Hanukkah. Purim came about because of the miraculous bravery of Esther and Mordecai. Hence the grogger, the primary symbol of Purim, starts in a downward spot and goes upward indicating the direction of the miracle. It started on earth and then the heavens helped push it along. But Hanukkah, so this story goes, started on high with God and then the Jews helped it along. Hence the dreidel starts spinning standing up and falls to the ground.

Nice Midrash. But it seems to me that the victory over the Greeks was very much due to the brilliance of Judah and, eventually, to his brothers Jonathan and Simon. In fact, Jonathan is really the forgotten hero of the saga. He was the youngest brother, but assumed control upon the death of his brother, Judah.

He was a brilliant politician and military commander. Within 10 years after the death of his brother, he has formed a guerilla army that is so powerful that he becomes a power broker in the fight between Alexander Balas and Demetrius for the throne of the Seleucid empire. Alexander Balas cemented his victory by marrying Cleopatra Thea (not THE Cleopatra, but a great great Aunt), the daughter of Ptolemy VI, who ruled Egypt. And who was the guest of honor at this wedding sitting between the Father of the Bride and the Groom? Jonathan the Maccabee.

Unfortunately, he was captured and eventually killed when he was played by subsequent usurpers to the throne. But his brother, Simon, showed political savvy as well and ultimately was able to win a declaration from Anticochus VII that Judaea would pay no taxes and was entitled to mint its own coins. Based on this passage from the Book of Maccabees, the favored theory a 100 years ago was that the silver coins that read Simon were minted by Simon the Maccabee. Today we know those coins are from the Bar Kochba revolt and there are no known coins minted by the any of the original Maccabean brothers.

We do, of course, have many coins from Antiochus IV and his successors. That will be part IV of the Hanukkah series where we use those coins to tell the full story battle by battle. Candidly, if you are not a history buff, feel free to skip the next installment. But I think the history buffs will love it.

Finally, in Part Five we will examine how the story of Hanukkah we know came to be. The answer may surprise you if, like me, you were brought up being told that Hanukkah was a barely celebrated in Israel and was only a major holiday in the Diaspora due to Christmas.

Posted 4 hours ago by Stephen Feingold

In Part I we noted that the story of Hanukkah we know is vastly different
than the story Jews have known for many years. It is pretty shocking
to consider that before the 19th Century, the Maccabees were not the
focus of the story, at least as told by Jews. In fact, the name of the
book relied on by Jews in the Middle Ages for the story of Hanukkah was “Megelat Anticochus” – the Scroll of Antiochus – making the name of the villain more widely known to most Jews before 1800 than the person who defeated him. megela

So why was Judah and his brothers written out of Jewish history? And by whom?

The answer to the second question is easy: The Rabbis of the Talmud. Hanukkah is only discussed in passing in the Talmud and the focus is on the miracle of the oil. These same sages were also responsible for selecting which books would be included in what we now call the Tanach or Old Testament. And they pointedly did not include the Books of the Maccabees which today provide the basis for most of what we know about Judah and his brothers. (Ironically, the Books of the Maccabees are included in the Catholic version of the Old Testament). We also fail to find any meaningful reference to Judah and his brothers in Sadya HaGaon, Maimonedes, the Ramban, or Yehudah HaLevy, among the most significant of Jewish scholars up until the 14th Century. The “Al HaNissim” prayer chanted during Hanukkah references only their father, Mattithias.

Of course, it is not easy to erase such a major event from the collective memory of a people. And it is clear that for at least the 200 years after these epic events, Jews honored the memory of Judah the “Hammer.” For instance, during the time of the Second Temple Jews celebrated what was known as Nicanor Day, a holiday celebrating Judah’s victory over the General who implemented the order to defile the Temple and commanded Anticohus IV’s troops.


This holiday was celebrated the day before Purim and was akin to a 4th of July like celebration However, after the destruction of the Temple the sages effectively removed this joyous holiday that highlighted the leadership of Judah and replaced it with the Fast of Esther. Combined with the rabbinic retelling the story that focused on the “miracle of the oil” over time Judah faded from collective Jewish consciousness.

The more puzzling question is “why?”

To truly understand “why” one needs to become familiar not just with the episode of the Hanukkah saga that we know but both its prequel and sequel. In this post we will cover a little bit of both.

As we know the story, Judah and his brothers defeated the Greeks and created an independent Jewish state. I suspect that most of us assume that the Maccabees ruled this Jewish state as Kings. In fact, when the last two remaining brothers – Jonathan and Simon—assumed leadership of the Jewish people they did so under the title of High Priest. And therein is the key to understanding their erasure from Talmudic and medieval Jewish history.

The first High Priest was Aaron, the brother of Moses. His role is clearly confined to maintaining the Tabernacle that would later be the sanctuary in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Torah creates a clear division between the leadership of the Jewish people and the maintenance of the Tabernacle. When Moses is picking his successor, he never even considers combining these roles in one person by picking one of the sons of Aaron. When the monarchy is established under Saul and then David, we hear of many plots to usurp the kingship. But the High Priests are never involved in these plots. When the Jews return to Judaea, and rebuild the Second Temple it is under the leadership of Nehemiah, who is the Governor. The role of the High Priest is important, but the ultimate authority among the Jews is the civil leader appointed by the Persians.

It is not clear why or exactly when but sometime between 450 and 200 BCE the power shifted away from the office of the Governor to the High Priest. This shift is reflected in one extremely rare coin thought by some scholars to have been minted shortly after Alexander the Great conquered Judaea. Its caption reads: “Yohanan the Priest.”



A careful reading of Maccabees and Josephus further support the importance given by the masses to maintaining the blood line of the High Priest which meant that not every Cohan could hold that title. Jonathan, the youngest of the brothers, ignored this requirement and accepted the appointment to High Priest by Alexander Balas in 153 BCE. After Jonahan’s death Simon became High Priest, at first appointed by the then Emperor of the Seleucid Empire. Within a year, however, a great assembly is called of all the people and Simon was accepted by the People as Ethnarch, Supreme Military Commander and as High Priest “until such time as a true prophet may arise.”

As much as the Maccabees had done for the Jews of Judaea, this did not entitle to them to hold this title, though they realized that they had no real alternative. It was not long after that the first coin were minted in Jerusalem, reflecting that the Jews were now recognized as an independent political entity. But the caption on these coins make clear that the Maccabee High Priest did not possess the authority to act on his with respect to at least some matters. With two exceptions, all the coins minted by John Hyrcanus includes the caption Yehonatan The High Priest and The Council of the Jews.



The sages of the Talmud were very loyal to the Temple cult. To them usurping the power of the High Priest away from the ordained blood line was an act that could not be sanctioned. While the Jews still lived in Israel the memory of the Maccabees could not be erased because it was part of the fabric of Jewish life in Judaea. Indeed, when the last direct descendant of the Maccabees was fighting against Herod the Great for the throne of Judaea he minted a coin bearing a menorah, widely interpreted as an attempt to rally the nation to his side by recalling the family’s role in defeating Antiochus IV.


Once the Jews were in exile, however, these memories faded aided by the removal of Nikanor Day and by inventing the story of the miracle of the oil. And but for events we will explore in a future blog in this series, we today might still not give Judah and his brothers, their proper due for recalling the miracles they wrought “in those days in this season.”

Hanukkah, according to some, is the most celebrated Jewish holiday in the United States. It is also the most misunderstood. The best parallel I can think of is from Star Wars. When Star Wars was released in 1977 no one knew it was part of a trilogy, much less that the trilogy was itself part of a trilogy. Maybe Lucas (who at the time was just a young director with no real image or power) thought people would laugh. Or that no one would want to invest in watching the first part of a story that would never be completed. But in any event, watching that episode the first time without any idea that this was just a chapter in the middle of the story, I had a totally different take about the Star Wars Universe than I do today. I thought the story was very simple and that the Empire was defeated when Luke made that one in a million hit and destroyed the Death Star. Who stops in the middle of a rebellion to have an awards ceremony like the one at the end of Episode 4? I was perfectly satisfied. Even though at the time I had no idea that Luke was Darth Vader’s son, Leah’s sister, or that Obi Wan was once the student of Yoda.

For most of us, celebrating Hanukkah is like watching Episode 4 of Star Wars and not knowing the back story or the happy ending.

By the way, I am not the first to make a crazy connection between Hanukkah and Star Wars. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jShjnLfNUOY to hear a Star Wars Hanukkah song or go here to see a Star Wars Hanukkah Special https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hjTEKLD-AM (both are pretty cheesy so skip or have low expectations).

Our mission is to expand the Hanukkah Universe from Episode 4 to a full blown part saga. Let’s start with what we know: The evil King Antiochus IV, also known as Antiochus Epiphanes decided that all his subjects should be “Greek” and pray to Greek gods (namely Antiochus IV). He therefore prohibited many, if not all, Jewish rituals such as circumcision and compelled the Jews to bow down to him and eat pork. In a small town west of Jerusalem there was a priest named Mattathias who had five sons. He led a rebellion against Antiochus spearheaded by his son Judah the Hammer.
They finished purifying the Temple there was only enough oil to keep the Eternal Light lite for one night. But a great miracle happened and the oil burned for 8 days. were victorious and recaptured Jerusalem and the Temple. But when they had This story as we know it is based on two main sources, Josephus, a Jewish historian who wrote at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple and the First and Second Books of Maccabees. However, these sources were not widely known or trusted by Jews until the 19th Century when Jews began to integrate Jewish history with new sources heretofore not readily available to them. Josephus was a traitor who went from being a leader in the Revolt to helping the Romans defeat the Jews. The Book of Maccabees was deliberately excluded from the Bible and no copy of the original Hebrew text even survives.

So what? The story is the story.

Wrong. In this case the story we all know is NOT the story known by Jews until the 1800s. Judah the Maccabee, THE hero of the story, never appears in the Talmud (while in contrast, to make your head spin, even Jesus makes it into the Talmud). Judaah is also not referenced in any works during the Middle Ages.

What was the story of Hanukkah as our ancestors knew it 400 or 1400 years ago? Already by 800 CE the primary source for Jews about the origin of Hanukkah was Megelat Antiochus (“The Scroll of Antiochus”). Here is the last sentence from that book which will surprise you.
: After this, the sons of Israel (under the leadership of John Hyrcanus) went up to the Temple and rebuilt its gates and purified the Temple from the dead bodies and from the defilement. And they sought after pure olive oil to light the lamps therewith, but could not find any, except one bowl that was sealed with the signet ring of the High Priest from the days of Samuel the prophet and they knew that it was pure. There was in it [enough oil] to light [the lamps therewith] for one day, but the God of heaven, whose name dwells there put there in his blessing and they were able to light from it eight days. Therefore, the sons of Ḥashmonai made this covenant and took upon themselves a solemn vow, they and the sons of Israel, all of them, to publish amongst the sons of Israel, [to the end] that they might observe these eight days of joy and honor, as the days of the feasts written in [the book of] the Law; [even] to light in them so as to make known to those who come after them that their God wrought for them salvation from heaven.”

Now who the heck is John Hyrcanus? Where is Judah? Why don’t they mention the other brothers, Eliezer, Yechohanan, Yonaton, and Simon?

As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.”

Ancient Jewish Coins will help us tell the story and can even provide us with some answers.

More importantly, just as knowing how to place Episode 4 in the full context of Star Wars gives it much more meaning, knowing the real story of this Holiday will give us some new things to ponder about the conflict between the role of church and state when ruling a nation. The story is also very much a story about the struggle for the soul of the Jewish people, not between Jews and the Dark Side (i.e. the Greeks) , but between those who saw Judaism primarily as a Temple cult and those who saw it as more comprehensive way of life that o placed study and good deeds above all else. In other words, the story of Hanukkah can tell us just as much about the events unfolding today in Israel as it can about what happened “in this season in those days (of the Maccabees).”

I recently read that no one reads blog posts more than 500 words. So I am stop here and continue with Part Two and explore the context in which we need to view Hanukkah to understand the full saga. Check Badk!

POST SCRIPT: I have been migrating this blog to its own website at KFAROUT.COM. That migration has been very rocky. All posts were supposed to be copied from blogger to the new site without changes. Well, that did not happen. So please bear with me as I go back and fix the old posts. But you will see alot more content here and some new interesting features i will describe later!
Happy Thanksiving!

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