In a nutshell: The Greeks entered the Temple and we went to war

Hanukkah, the rededication of the Temple: How the story unfolded.

Professor Gerald Aranoff,

Judaism Prof. G. Aranoff
Prof. G. Aranoff

The Talmud, in Tractate Shabbath 21b, says only::

“What is [the reason of] Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev [commence] the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest [Hence untouched and undefiled], but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel [Psalms 113-118] and thanksgiving.

Where is the history? The following is a selection from the First Book of Maccabees, as found on the web:

“This history begins when Alexander the Great, son of Philip of Macedonia, marched from Macedonia and attacked Darius, king of Persia and Media. Alexander enlarged the Greek Empire by defeating Darius and seizing his throne. He fought many battles, captured fortified cities, and put the kings of the region to death. As he advanced to the ends of the earth, he plundered many nations; and when he had conquered the world, he became proud and arrogant. By building up a strong army, he dominated whole nations and their rulers, and forced everyone to pay him taxes."

However, Alexander allowed the Jews to keep their religion in peace. Then:

“The wicked ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus the Third of Syria, was a descendant of one of Alexander's generals. Antiochus Epiphanes had been a hostage in Rome before he became king of Syria in the year 137 [counted from the beginning of the Syrian Kingdom in 312 B.C. The year 137 corresponds to 175 B.C.E].

“In the year 143, [This corresponds to 169 B.C.E.] after the conquest of Egypt, Antiochus marched with a great army against the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. In his arrogance, he entered the Temple and took away the gold altar, the lampstand with all its equipment, the table for the bread offered to the Lord, the cups and bowls, the gold fire pans, the curtain, and the crowns. He also stripped all the gold from the front of the Temple and carried off the silver and gold and everything else of value, including all the treasures that he could find stored there. Then he took it all to his own country. He had also murdered many people and boasted arrogantly about it. There was great mourning everywhere in the land of Israel.

“Antiochus now issued a decree that all nations in his empire should abandon their own customs and become one people. All the Gentiles and even many of the Israelites submitted to this decree. They adopted the official pagan religion, offered sacrifices to idols, and no longer observed the Sabbath.

“On the twenty-fifth of the month, these same evil people offered sacrifices on the pagan altar erected on top of the altar in the Temple”

“Then Judas ordered some of his soldiers to attack the men in the fort, while he purified the Temple. He chose some priests who were qualified and who were devoted to the Law. They purified the Temple and took the stones that had been defiled and put them in an unclean place. They discussed what should be done with the altar of burnt offerings, which had been desecrated  by the Gentiles, and decided to tear it down, so that it would not stand there as a monument to their shame. So they tore down the altar and put the stones in a suitable place on the Temple hill, where they were to be kept until a prophet should appear and decide what to do with them.

"Then they took uncut stones, as the Law of Moses required, and built a new altar like the old one. They repaired the Temple, inside and out, and dedicated its courtyards. They made new utensils for worship and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table for the bread into the Temple. They burned incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and there was light in the Temple! They placed the loaves of bread on the table, hung the curtains, and completed all the work.

"The twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev, in the year 148 [This corresponds to 164 B.C.E.] was the anniversary of the day the Gentiles had desecrated the altar. On that day a sacrifice was offered on the new altar in accordance with the Law of Moses. The new altar was dedicated and hymns were sung to the accompaniment of harps, lutes, and cymbals. All the people bowed down with their faces to the ground and worshiped and praised the Lord for giving them victory. For eight days they celebrated the rededication of the altar. With great joy they brought burnt offerings and offered fellowship offerings and thank offerings.

In the Book of Maccabees Alexander the Great became the ruler of the known world by defeating Darius, king of Persia and Medea.  The Book of Ezra records that at least a century before Alexander reached the area:

“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, when the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah was fulfilled, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his realm by word of mouth and in writing as follows: 'Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me with building Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone of you of all His people—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem that is in Judah and build the House of the Lord God of Israel, the God that is in Jerusalem'” (Ezra 1:1-3).

We lived at peace with Cyrus and We went to war against King Antiochus.  Why? King Antiochus ordered “sacrifices on the pagan altar erected on top of the altar in the Temple.”

We add in our prayers during Hanukkah:

“In the days of Mattisyahu, the son of Yochanan, the High Priest, the Hasmoneans and his sons—when the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will…Thereafter, Your children came to the Holy of Holies of Your House, cleanse your Temple, purified the site of Your Holiness and kindled lights in the courtyards of Your Sanctuary; and they established these eight days of Hanukkah to express thanks and praise to Your great Name.”

Interesting, even the Christians refer to Hanukkah as the holiday of the rededication of the Temple: “It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication “(John 10:22).

Maybe wicked King Antiochus might have ruled over Jerusalem longer if he hadn’t ordered “sacrifices on the pagan altar erected on top of the altar in the Temple.” 

We pray for a speedy rededication of the Temple in our times.