Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
The Maccabees and Hanukkah
For most of us, the central figure of Hanukkah is Judah Maccabee. He is the leader of a band of 5 brothers and their followers who fought the Seleucid armies that Antiochus IV sent and successfully reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem for the Jews, whence the holiday of Hanukkah. In modern times, the Maccabees provided the inspiration for the Maccabee games, the Jewish Olympics, as well as numerous Jewish sports clubs and teams, such as Tel Aviv Maccabi, which last year won the European basketball championship. Further, you may remember the Hebrew song Me Yemalel Gvurot Yisrael which praises the Maccabees as the paradigmatic heroes of the Jewish people.
I should note that the name Maccabee has puzzled scholars for ages: at some point Judah is given that epithet without explanation in the First Book of Maccabees. It has been surmised that it is a form of the Aramaic word for hammer—“maqqaba”- or that it is an abbreviation of a phrase from the book of Exodus and now found in our liturgy—Me Kamochah B’elim YHWH (Who is like you O Lord among the gods).
But Judah Maccabee is AWOL in our liturgy and in early rabbinic writings. Indeed, the term Maccabee isn’t to be found there, rather the term Hasmonean is used, whose origins are equally puzzling. (Hasmonean is the term also used by Josephus, but is not present in any of books of the Maccabees. Josephus derived the name from an ancestor of Judah. Some modern scholars have proposed that it is a reference to an ancestral village called Heshmon.) Whereas Judah goes unmentioned in rabbinic texts, his father, Mattathias, is mentioned favorably; the sons, Judah included, are mentioned en passant without names. For example, in the Ahl HaNissim prayer — the addition to the Amidah for Hanukkah —, Matthias is promoted to high priest (a position which only his youngest son Jonathan assumed years later), and the Maccabees are subsumed under the word “uVanav”, his sons. The song Maoz Tzur, composed in the 13th century, and sung after lighting Hanukkah candles, only mentions the Hasmoneans in the 5th stanza. (There is one rabbinic source that mentions the Maccabees: the Scroll of Antiochus, a late rabbinic Aramaic composition. Unfortunately, not only is it essentially a short novella, it gained little traction in Jewish circles and historically had limited usage during Hanukkah.)
So why the absence of Judah and his brothers in rabbinic literature? One explanation is that the Rabbis looked askance at these usurpers of the throne. It was okay that they had claimed the high priesthood, after all they were priests; but they arrogated to themselves the title of king, which should have been reserved for Davidic descendants. A second explanation is that with the exception of the singular queen of the dynasty, Salome Alexandra—for whom a street in Jerusalem is named, which starts near the Mamilla Mall and is home to many restaurants--, the Hasmoneans were hostile to the Pharisees, the ancestors of the Rabbis. And perhaps a third explanation is that living in the wake of two failed rebellions against Rome, the Rabbis were loath to promote the daring-do of the Maccabees, and so they verbally sidelined the Maccabees, eliminated the celebration of the Day of Nicanor, on the 13th of Adar, which marked a major Maccabean victory, and promoted the story of the miracle of oil as the central theme of the holiday rather than the series of Maccabean victories which led to the cleansing of the Temple and ultimately to regaining Jewish sovereignty.
The Rabbis of old may have sidelined Judah and his brethren, but we can recognize their military achievements, which enabled Judaism to survive and ultimately to flourish. Living in the age of IDF heroes, we can perhaps better identify with the Maccabees than previous generations. Something to ponder as next week we light our Hanukkah menorot and munch on latkes.
Shabbat shalom and Chappy Chanukkah!
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
The Genie and the Food Capsule
What with the apparent success of Keurig one-cup serving pods, an Israeli company is boldly going into the future with a machine and pods filled with single serving food.
White Innovations, based in Rishpon, was created four years to “engineer ideas.” Its product is called the Genie. The contents of the food capsules are freeze-dried for a shelf life of one to two years, with separate compartments for dry goods and liquids. The user adds liquid externally to the machine, the way one adds water to a coffeemaker. With the push of a button, everything is then blended and then cooked at the proper temperature. And within a few minutes dinner is served.
In point of fact, the company, in consultations with chefs, nutritionists and tasters has created a wide variety of food capsules to accommodate different palates as well as to take into account health issues, along with crafting dishes suitable for breakfast and lunch, in addition to dinner. So the capsules include gluten and dairy-free meals, as well as ones devised for those with food allergies.
Currently the Genie, the machine that reconstitutes the capsule food, has been sold in the thousands to shops and cafes in Israel and in Europe. Currently the machine is in the $1,000 range. But the next stage is to mass produce the machine at a lower cost and reach the consumer market.
A launch of the Genie here in the United States is slated for next month.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Vahyeahshev (Genesis 38:1-30) is read this Saturday, December 13th.
38:6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn; her name was Tamar. (7) But Er, Judah’s first-born, was displeasing to the Lord, and the Lord took his life. (8) Then Judah said to Onan, “Join with your brother’s wife and do your duty by her as a brother-in-law, and provide offspring for your brother.” (9) But Onan, knowing that the seed would not count as his, let it to go to waste whenever he joined with his brother’s wife, so as not to provide offspring for her brother. (10) What he did was displeasing to the Lord, and he took his life also. (11) Then Judah saw to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Stay as widow in your father’ house until my son Shelah grows up”—for he thought, “He too might die like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s house. (12) A long time afterward, Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died. When his period of mourning was over, Judah went up to Timnah to his sheepherders, together with his friend Hirah the Adullamite. (13) And Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is coming up to Timnah for the sheep shearing.”(14) So she took off her widow’s garb, covered her face with a veil, and wrapping herself up, sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him as wife. (15) When Judah saw her, he took her for a harlot; for she had covered her face.
Let us begin with the Tamar episode. The cardinal sin in these happenings is not the sexual licentiousness of the parties involved, but the treatment of Tamar. Both Judah and His sons treat her as an object to be used (or abused) for their own benefit and pleasure, refusing to relate to her as a human being worthy of respect and recognition as such, whose needs, emotional and other, must be taken into account. Initially manifesting itself in the crude and boorish behavior of Er and Onan, it is true of their father as well.
Er and Onan treat Tamar as a sex object. Desiring of sexual pleasure, they are unwilling to assume the attendant responsibility of parenthood, nor do they take into account the needs of Tamar, yearning to realize herself as a mother. Their egotism can only view other human beings as means for serving their own needs, and cannot recognize their value or autonomy.
This approach, though, does not originate with them, for it is characteristic of their father as well. Judah’s response to the deaths of his two sons is to force upon Tamar a waiting period of years, without consulting her or attempting to understand her perspective. Tamar is a woman who has lost both husbands, in need of physical and emotional security and stability, disinclined to marry yet a third brother of the same family while not necessarily interested in a solitary existence as a young and wasted widow waiting for a young child to mature at his father’s leisure. Tamar may indeed have been willing, as Ruth in a later day, to remain faithful to the house of Judah; that, though, is not of any consequence in evaluating Judah’s behavior. The crucial point in this regard is Judah’s directing her to do so, fully expecting her to comply with his directive. The contrast between Judah’s subordination of Tamar to his needs and the deep feeling of gratitude exhibited by Naomi and Boaz towards Ruth is a clear illustration of the nature of Judah’s actions. (Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, “Judah and Tamar” in Ezra Bick and Yaakov Beasley, eds., Torah MiEtzion: New Readings in Tanach: Bereshit, pp. 375-6. Rabbi Lichtenstein was born in 1961. He has a degree in English literature from Hebrew University and serves as the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion. His father, Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, is the senior Rosh Yeshiva of the same institution. The younger Rabbi Lichtenstein has published a number of articles and a volume entitled, Moses: Envoy of God, Envoy of His People.)