See: "War is not new to Israel" (Oct 16, 2023); "Jewish wisdom during war" (Oct 23, 2023); "Abraham's principles in war and peace" (Oct 31, 2023); "Facts and truths amid the fog of war" (Nov 13, 2023); "Samson in war and peace" (Nov 26, 2023).
Decades ago I read a book whose title has remained with me and in my heart and mind ever since then. The book is called "The Indestructible Jews" by the popular Jewish historian Max I Dimont (1912–1992) and he records the sweep of thousands of years of triumphal Jewish History and Jewish survival against any and all odds. It was not written from a particularly Orthodox Jewish point of view but it was written in an inspirational style. The title itself is very powerful and its message is true down to our own times.
Now that we are in the Hebrew month of Kislev in which the special festival of Hanukkah occurs, it is a good time to remember and celebrate not just what happened during the time when the Hanukkah miracles took place, but also to remember and celebrate Jewish survival before and after the times of the Hanukkah story which took place about 2,200 years ago!
In fact there is the Jewish custom to sing a special song after the lighting of the candles on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Known as Maoz Tzur מָעוֹז צוּר ("Strong Rock [of my Salvation]"), this special song or hymn recounts in poetical Hebrew terms most of the triumphs of the Jews during Jewish History both before and after the times in which the events of Hanukkah originally took place.
From the Orthodox Union's explanation of Maoz Tzur:
- The first stanza pleads for the reestablishment of the Temple Worship. It praises God as the “rock/stronghold of our salvation,” Who has always come to our aid. He will take vengeance on His enemies, and restore the Temple as a House of Prayer for all nations.
- The second stanza praises God for our liberation from the Egyptian bondage. Maharal explains that Israel’s destiny as a nation is not dependent on the general natural, physical, social or economic laws that govern the destinies of the other nations. Israel as a nation is placed directly under God’s protection. It was this nation that was brought forth from Egypt, in order that they “obey faithfully and keep His covenant.”
- The third stanza recalls the period of time when we lived in peace in Eretz Yisrael, when the First Temple, built by Shlomo, was with us. Yet somehow, we fell prey to the blandishments of idol worship, and, for that sin, the Kingdom of Babylon, under the leadership of Nevuchadnezzar, besieged Yerushalayim, and destroyed the Temple. But after a brief (historically speaking) time of seventy years, Babylon fell to the Persians, and under the leadership of Zerubavel (identified with the Prophet Nechemiah) we once again obtained permission to rebuild the Temple.
- The fourth stanza recalls the potential disaster, due to our sins, and our miraculous salvation, due to our repentance, from the fiendish plan of Haman, at the time of Purim. Haman wished to destroy Mordechai and, with him, all the Jews, male and female, young and old. But God, by a hidden miracle, using apparent coincidence, plus the bravery of Queen Esther, saved the Jews. Haman’s plan was overturned, and he, together with his ten sons, were hung on the very same gallows which he’d prepared for Mordechai.
- The fifth stanza takes us back to Hanukkah and describes the spiritual (not to mention physical) attack of the Greeks, under Antioches IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid monarch of Syria, who was the central foe in the Hanukkah story. He advocated an intense campaign of Hellenization; that is, the spreading of Greek culture and ideas, and the Jews in Eretz Yisrael who remained loyal to the Torah, became his main targets. The Greeks breached the walls of the Temple and defiled all the oils prepared for use in the daily lighting of the Menorah in the Temple. But one jar of oil was found, and the Miracle of Hanukkah was performed on behalf of the “roses,” a reference to Shir HaShirim (The Song of Songs), in which the mutual love between God and the Jewish People is the main theme. The Chashmonaim also achieved a miraculous victory, with the help of God, and they eventually gained independence for Israel for a time.
- The sixth stanza asks the Master of the Universe to reveal His holy arm and end our longest exile, the exile of Edom, the Red One, and usher in the Epoch of the Mashiach.
Exiles faced by the Jewish People
Maoz Tzur basically describes in stages how the Jewish People overcome the adversities of their various exiles and eventually celebrate their victories over their oppressors with God's help and their ultimate salvation each time they are challenged. This stretches from the time of the primordial exile and salvation from Ancient Egypt and then facing the subsequent challenges and overcoming the foretold Four Exiles they are destined to endure of 1. Babylonia, 2. Persia, 3. Greece, 4. Rome.
Each of these exiles have unique characteristics: 1. Babylonia stands for Physical Exile. 2. Persia stands for Physical Destruction. 3. Greece stands for Cultural Destruction. 4. Rome stands for all the different types of Exiles. The first phase of the Roman Exile is Physical Exile. The second phase of the Roman Exile stands for Physical Destruction. The third phase of the Roman Exile stands for Cultural Destruction. The final and fourth phase of the Roman Exile stands for a combination of all the different types of exiles and challenges acting in unison in a combined way to destroy the Jewish People who are constantly and continuously saved by God from all the different types of exiles inflicted on them by the various empires and nations.
What is unique about our own modern times is that the Jewish People is subjected to all the factors outlined in all six stanzas of Maoz Tzur. The Jewish sages teach that the the Final Redemption of the Messianic Age will be similar and even greater than the First Redemption from Ancient Egypt and that all the different types of forces that afflicted the Jewish People stage by stage in the course of Jewish History will all come to life and flare up in all their fury as world history reaches its end game crescendo, as in the times we live in.
Consider the last hundred years of Jewish History:
Like in Babylonian times, the Jewish People have been thrown out of and exiled from all the countries they have lived in Europe, Asia and Africa. Mercifully during this time the Land of Israel has been able to absorb millions of Jews from virtually all the countries of the world where they had lived.
Like in Persian times, the Jewish People have been subjected to unimaginable physical suffering and genocide that culminated with the Holocaust and the ruthless murder of over six million Jews by the accursed Nazis and their collaborators. The Nazis' genocide against the Jews of Europe was so efficient that it is a miracle that any Jews survived at all. Once again, while all this was happening after the Second World War was over, the majority of Holocaust survivors were able to move to the newly established state of Israel. However we see that the establishment of Israel did not stop the genocidal aggression against its Jews emanating from the Arabs and Muslims the heirs of Yishmael and by none other than a revitalized modern Persia by the name of Iran that not only preaches the destruction and genocide of the Jews of Israel but is at the front lines of arming itself and its proxies like Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis to fight and destroy Israel. It is thanks to God that we are saved from their murderous intentions.
Like in Greek times, the main challenge that the world's Jews face is not physical destruction but rather secularization, assimilation, and especially intermarriage and conversion to Christianity in Western countries such as the United States. Similar to the times of the Greeks, modern Jews have faced both physical wars and cultural assimilation. The Jews of ancient Judea had to fight both the Greek armies that invaded the Land of Israel as well as fighting the appeal of cultural Hellenization that many Jews were attracted to in the Land of Israel as well as in the large community of Jews that lived in Greek controlled Egypt of those times. While the actual physical wars against the Jews were led by the Seleucid Greeks based in Syria, the culture wars of assimilation and enlightenment that threatened the Jews' connection to a true Torah life came mainly from the Ptolemaic Greeks in Egypt who translated the Torah into classical Greek and called it the Septuagint.
The uniqueness of the Roman Exile
The so-called "Babylonian phase" of the Roman exile and the first part of the Jewish People's exile at the hands of the Roman Empire after the Romans had destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem around 2,000 years ago was to exile the remaining Jews in Judea from their land. There were large Jewish communities that lived in the areas of the former Babylonian and Persian empires under the rule of the Parthians that the Romans were unable to conquer hence the ongoing flowering of Babylonian Jewry as exemplified by the creation of the Jews' Babylonian Talmud.
However the Jews that lived in Judea and were defeated by the Romans were sent into exile and many into slavery. According to Josephus and other historians this involved millions of Jews who were from Judea. From that point on Jews were to be found in all corners of the Roman Empire. It was the early division of the Jewish People into Ashkenazic Jewry based in Europe and Sephardic Jewry based in the Middle East and North Africa.
The "Persian phase" of Jewish History of the Jewish People under the Roman Empire, that eventually transformed itself from the pagan Roman Empire into the Christian Roman Catholic Church coincided with what is known in history as the Dark Ages when prejudice against the Jews took on a so-called "religious" face and Jews were subjected to the lie that they were "Christ killers" and as a result were subjected to the fury and killings of Blood Libels, Crusades, Pogroms, culminating with the Holocaust that would have put a big smile on the face of the Amalekite Haman as in the Purim story who wanted to completely destroy the Jewish People, something that would have happened had Hitler succeeded had he not been defeated by the Allies with God on their side.
The "Greek phase" of Jewish History under the yoke of the rule of Roman Catholic Christendom especially in Europe and extending into the Middle East under the antisemitic Christian Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire is typified by both massacres of Jews wherever Christianity prevailed. In Western, Central and Eastern Europe with the start of the Renaissance and the rise of the Enlightenment and Reformation new secular Liberal and eventually Socialist and Communist ideologies sprang up to which Jews flocked to in droves especially after the Napoleonic wars that spread the French Revolutionary notions of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity throughout Europe.This period also saw the Jewish ghetto walls come down, the rise of the Haskalah that was the Jewish Enlightenment, and Jews began to be welcomed by the newly secularized Liberal and Socialist gentile societies and thereby assimilated, intermarried and many converted to Christianity that continues to our very own times.
Edom/Rome/West and Yishmael/Arabs/East unite in modern times
The final phase we are in, in our present days, is a subjection of the Jewish People and the Jews in Israel to a combination of all the destructive forces arrayed against the Jews throughout their history with the added fury of the Arabs and Muslims who are regarded as the seed of Abraham's spurned son Yishmael. It is not clear how Yishmael fits with the exiles under Esau who is regarded by Judaism as the progenitor of Rome, Christianity and the West. Some Rabbinic commentators explain that Yishmael fits in with Persia, that is Iran, which is ruled by Islamic fundamentalists. Others say that the last part of the exile under Rome will be Yishmael himself and proof for their connection is symbolized by the marriage of Esau to Yishmael's daughter as described in Genesis 28:9 and 36:3.
The Torah recounting the marriage between Esau the progenitor of Rome and the West and the daughter of Yishmael is not just a passing "romantic interlude" but rather a prophetic prediction by the Torah that ultimately the destinies of Esau and Yishmael are bound to intersect and this has ramifications for the Children of Israel. Esau and Yishmael are both the sworn enemies of Klal Yisrael.
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" and therefore Esau as the progenitor of Rome, Christianity and the West is bound to be in alliance with Yishmael the progenitor of the Arabs and Islam as we see in our own days and both Western Christian nations and Oriental Islamic nations unite to wage war and put pressure on Israel.
"For centuries, indeed millennia, gentile persecution of Jews took one of two forms, but the two never worked simultaneously. Either Jewry had to contend with the 'Yishmael' nations of the East or was persecuted and expelled by the nations of the West. Never in our history did the nations of the Occident [the West] join forces with those of the East for the purpose of destroying Jews.
"With World War II, this long epoch was brought to a crude and malevolent close. In 1923 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf spelling out his belief that the Jewish people should be wiped out. This was read by Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who founded one of the most significant alliances of modern times. There is ample documentation that not only did the Mufti visit Hitler and his top aides on a number of occasions, but indeed with Adolph Eichmann, he visited the Auschwitz gas chamber incognito to check on its efficiency.
The extent of the Mufti's influence upon the Nazi forces may be seen in a crucial decision made by Hitler at the height of the war. Railroad trains were much in demand by the Axis, and Hitler's troops badly needed reinforcements in Russia. Yet, soon after he landed in Berlin in November 1941, the Mufti demanded that all available resources be used to annihilate Jews. The choice: ]uden nach Auschwitz or Soldaten nach Stalingrad was to be resolved his way.
Two months later (January 20, 1942) at the Wannsee Conference, the formal decision was made to annihilate all Jews who had survived the ghettos, forced labor, starvation, and disease.
Of course, the Mufti was serving his own perverted fears, which were the influx of millions of Jews into Palestine and the destruction of the Mufti's personal empire. Yet, there can be no doubt that through their symbiotic relationship, Hitler and the Mufti each helped the other accomplish his own evil goal. Eichmann simply wanted to kill Jews; the Mufti wanted to make sure they never reached Palestine. In the end, the 'final solution' was the same. At one point, Eichmann even seemed to blame the Mufti for the entire extermination plan, when he declared, 'I am a personal friend of the Grand Mufti. We have promised that no European Jew would enter Palestine any more.'
The Mufti's trip to Berlin was the first ominous step in the joining of the anti-Jews of the East with those of the West to accomplish their diabolic design...What, then, joins the two trends which seem to have coincided so significantly in our generation? A passage from the Torah can give us the answer: 'And Eisav went unto Yishmael and took Machlas the daughter of Yishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nevayos, in addition to his other wives, for a wife' (Bereishis 28:9).
Since the actions of the Patriarchs are a sign of what would happen later to the children and every action in Chumash is eternally significant, we may learn from this passage that it was inevitable for the forces of Eisav and Yishmael to combine. We are now living in the midst of that pivotal moment in Jewish history"
However, as Maoz Tzur's opening words predict that all the machinations and wars against the Jewish People in and out of Israel are bound to fail because God wants the Jews to triumph so that they can return to worship God in the rebuilt holy Temple in Jerusalem, and they will. May it happen soon in our own days!
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.
He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of
Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]...