Chanukah and the Hasmoneans – Dedication, Expansion then Downfall.

This eight day festival celebrating the dedication of the altar, through the dedication of the Hasmonean Temple is almost finished. Judah Maccabee, after defeating the Syrian Lysias, entered Jerusalem and purified the Temple. The altar that had been defiled was demolished, and a new one was built. Judah then made new holy vessels,  candelabrum, incense altar, and curtains, and set the 25th of Kislev as the date for the rededication of the Temple.


The Hasmoneans led the rebellion against the Hellenist Seleucid kingdom, established an autonomous Jewish state, annexed the most important regions of Eretz Israel, and absorbed a number of neighbouring Semitic peoples into the Jewish people. This successful rebellion of the Hasmoneans assured the continued existence of the Jewish religion and contributed to the decisive influence of monotheism in Western culture and history. (1)


The Hasmoneans were a priestly family who lived in Modi’in on the border of Judea and Samaria. Mattathias b Johanan led the revolt and was succeeded by his son Judah in 164 BCE. After the dedication of the Temple, Judah continued to strive for the autonomy of Judea and in 161 BCE established an alliance with Rome. Jonathan and Simeon continued to extend the borders of Judea after Judah’s death in battle. Jonathan was appointed High Priest in 152 BCE, and Simeon in 140 BCE. A decree passed by the Great Assembly in Jerusalem made the office hereditary. During his son Johns reign, the rift between the Hasmoneans and the Pharisees began. There was open conflict during the reign of his nephew Yannai who strove to establish absolute authority as king and high priest. Pompey’s annexation brought the independence of the Hasmonean state to an end. The Romans abolished the monarchy but allowed the priesthood to remain, whilst detaching large areas from Judea. With the defeat of Antigonus in 37 BCE, the Romans brought the Hasmonean rule to a close.


The sages decided that Hallel should be recited on each of the eight days of Chanukah  since at that time, Israel had experienced miracles, salvation and deliverance for the sake of the Torah. Unfortunately the Jews became vulnerable following the integration of the two roles, of king and high priest. A lesson from history would be to keep a separation between the religious powers and the secular powers of the modern state.


(1) Encyclopedia Judaica.

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