Chanukah - When is it Neccessary to Fight?
By Menachem Mendelsohn
The story of Chanukah tells us about a small clan or family from one of the priestly tribes who upon being pushed too far by the Greek and Hellenist authorities rebelled. It was from this rebellion that the Jews were able to overturn the decrees against them, re-capture and purify the Temple and set up an autonomous rule in the land of Israel.
The Greeks and their Hellenist agents (they were the Jews who believed in the Hellenistic ideology) had made decrees against certain mitzvot such as milah (circumcision), Shabbat, and observance of Rosh Chodesh (the first of the lunar month). Yet it was not until the Hellenists began to defile the Holy Temple that a rebellion began.
There are several problems with this story. Our question raised is why did they not rebel when the Sabbath, circumcision and Rosh Chodesh were repressed? Why did they have to wait for the Temple to be desecrated before acting? Was there no obligation to act on behalf of the holy Sabbath or circumcision but for the defilement of the Temple they were obligated to act? Were they just overburdened by the accumulation of the additional travesty of the defilement of the Temple on top of the other decrees that caused them to finally take action?
We, in our present times, are living quite pleasantly without a Temple; why could they endure a bit more effacement and put up with the Hellenists defilement of the Temple? Are we to learn from this that we should take some action to activate the rebuilding process of the Temples or that we should begin a crusade to save the holy Sabbath?
In addition, we must clarify what is the requirement of a Jew to give up his life for the sake of a positive mitzvah (a type of mitzvah that requires an action, i.e. eating matzo on Passover) or to prevent himself from transgressing a negative commandment (the type of mitzvah that requires us to refrain from doing something, i.e. eating pork). Are we required to start a war, putting others and ourselves in danger of life because of harsh decrees? The Jews lived in the long exile in Europe, recently under Stalin and Hitler and did not see fit to begin any armed rebellions!
The Rambam writes that all Jews are obligated in the mitzvah of Kiddush HaShem (giving one’s life for the glorification of G-d’s Holy Name) and we are warned not to profane His Name. Giving up one’s life applies only by the three basic transgressions, idolatry, sexual relations with forbidden women, or committing a murder. He explains that when a Jew is being threatened that either he must commit one of these transgressions or be killed he should choose death.
Regarding other transgressions, like the Shabbat or circumcision, a Jew must transgress and not be killed. The Rambam continues but when it is at the time of evil decrees which are enacted to nullify our religion then the Jew must be willing to be killed rather than transgress even on the lesser mitzvot or transgressions.
Continue to page two
from the December 2007 Chanukah Edition of the Jewish Magazine