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Rabbinic Mitzvot, Chanukah, the Maccabia Games & Haskalah


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Av 13, 5777
1. Who is responsible for instituting the seven additional rabbinical positive mitzvot, which includes celebrating Chanukah and Purim?? 2. Also, this story of the Maccabees is not found in the Tanakh. I have only ever seen it in Catholic translations of the Bible (though I think some Eastern Orthodox Bibles might also have the story). Where is the story of the Maccabees in other Jewish texts?? 3. What do Orthodox Jews think about the Maccabee Games that are held every four years in Israel?? Do they participate in such activities? Because as I understand it, it was the Hellenizers who wanted to participate in Greek Sports. Do you think this might be the wrong name for this sporting event? 4. Also, the Chanukah story is clearly a story of a Civil War between Jews. Is it wise to celebrate Chanukah in Israel knowing that? 5. How is the Haskalah viewed by Orthodox Jews? Because Zionism would not exist without this movement. Also, is the Haskalah taught in the Israeli school system? And in Haredi schools?? And what is the Orthodox view of Moses Mendelssohn?
1. The seven positive rabbinical commandments (Hallel, Hand-Purifying/Washing, Shabbat candles, Eruv, blessings, Purim and Chanuka) were instituted by the Sanhedrin (High Jewish Court) in different respective generations, some from Moshe’s or Solomon’s time, others, obviously later. There really are more than 7, which for whatever reason, aren’t on this list of the Sefer Hachinuch (e.g. Torah reading, which some explain because it has some “root” in the Torah, e.g. learning Torah). 2. The general story of Chanuka is found in the Talmud and the midrashim. The details of the story are found in the Book of Maccabees I, which wasn’t canonized, yet nevertheless, is pretty historically accurate (please note, just the first book of Maccabees was written in Israel, in Hebrew, by the Jews around the time of the miracles). Because it’s not holy, it wasn’t studied much, and the Hebrew original got lost, but was preserved pretty well in the Greek translation and its content, in the writings of Josephus. Most Jews knew the details of Chanuka from The Book of Yosephun, an edited version based mostly on Josephus. 3. Yes there are religious who participate in the Maccabiah Games. The problem that the Maccabees and Jews had with the Greek and Hellenist sporting events was because of the idolatry and nudity there, which obviously don’t apply in the modern Maccabiah. We look at the heroes of the Bible who all very clearly, had a “healthy soul in a healthy body”! 4. The main point of Chanuka was the spiritual and military victory over the Greeks. The fact that there were some Jews there who assimilated and sided with the enemy, is unfortunately found in almost every generation, and isn’t the major issue, although that too should be known to future generations. 5. The Haskala and Reform movements are taught in the religious, but not in the Haredi schools, in Israel. Rav Kook is a great believer in taking the positive aspect and contribution from every movement, and here the revival of Hebrew and critical thinking and questioning are true ideals which should be appreciated and emulated. Mendelson himself was a practicing Jew, but the slippery slope of change which he suggested, quickly brought assimilation and even conversion to Christianity within his own family. We must learn from this experience as well, that critical study, yes, but changes in halacha, very rare and only with rabbinic consent.
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