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The FJMC Sefer Haftarah is at Temple Israel, Charlotte, NC, the home synagogue of 4 of 5ths this week.
The week of November 20th, it will be at Cong. Etz Chaim, Marietta, GA

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This week's portions in the FJMC Sefer Haftarah scroll, the travelling haftarah scroll which visits a different synagogue each week and contains all of the haftarot, are sponsored by Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, CA. They have sponsored both the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic portions.
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November 13, 2010

Who and What Were the Maccabees?
Rabbi Benjamin Edidin Scolnic

If the historical events that we commemorate and celebrate on Hanukkah story revolve around the courage and persistence of the Maccabees, we need to know who and what these figures were.

Revisionist historians from the Jewish Theological Seminary to Macquarie University in Australia have attempted to turn Mattathias and his sons from idealistic fighters for religious freedom into merely ambitious men who through ruthless and relentless striving for power usurped the high priesthood of Judaea. These scholars question the widely accepted wisdom that the Maccabean revolt represented "Jewish resistance" to "Greek influences." They speak of the Maccabees as blatantly ambitious “local strongmen” who rose to the top. According to their controversial notion, there were several families in the second century B.C.E., most notably the Tobiads and Oniads, that competed for power, and the Hasmonean family of Mattathias and his sons only differed in that they claimed that they had risen in defense of ancestral traditions. Actually, these scholars say, the so-called traditions that they were supposedly defending were really cultic and political innovations in creating a new ethnic and political identity for their people.

There are so many problems with this approach that one hardly knows where to begin. Were the Maccabees merely ambitious? It seems implausible, to say the least, to suggest that Mattathias gathered his sons in Modein and said:

    “Boys, I have a plan to turn our clan into the greatest family in Judaea. Here's what we're going to do:
    1. Defeat the Seleucid armies so that they allow our people to have religious freedom;
    2. Regain the Temple;
    3. Take over the high priesthood from the Zadokites-Oniads who have held the position from father to son for centuries;
    4. Win political independence;
    5. Become the monarchs of an independent Jewish kingdom.”

Imagine, as we laugh at this scene, the reaction of the sons: “Yeah, sure Father, as if.”

Was Mattathias ambitious? Of course; all great historical figures were. But that ambition was not merely self-serving; it primarily was a by-product of his very strong beliefs. Mattathias was a “great-souled” man who achieved worthy fame and glory through deeds that literally changed history. Mattathias saw the Antiochene persecution as a crisis of epic proportions and was quite prepared to start a war. After hundreds of years of Jewish submission to the political authorities of foreign empires, Mattathias's act of rebellion was nothing short of a radical, epoch-making event. When he kills the Jewish man of Modein who is willing to participate in a pagan sacrifice, the symbolism is that he is willing to kill all Jewish people who forsake their religion. He quite intentionally starts a war against those that he considers the internal and external enemies of his people. The Modein event was not only a signal to the Seleucids that a rebellion was beginning; it was meant as a signal to the Jews that it was the time for action.

The events of Hanukkah began with the incident at Modein. And from that moment, miracle after miracle happened. The Maccabees fought so brilliantly and bravely that their enemies stopped persecuting Judaism and restored religious freedom in Judaea. The Maccabees restored the Temple and instituted the holiday that would become known as Hanukkah. Eventually, wonder of wonders, the Jewish people achieved their political independence for the first time in centuries, creating a Jewish state in Judaea that lasted until 63 BCE and would not be renewed until the miracle of our era that we call the State of Israel. The Maccabees were heroes. They deserve to be remembered as such.

This week's commentary was written by
Rabbi Benjamin Edidin Scolnic.
Rabbi Scolnic is an author who has been the spiritual leader at Temple Beth Sholom in Hamden, Connecticut since 1983.
Rabbi Benjamin Edidin Scolnic is the author of several books and many articles and essays on the Bible, feminism, liturgy, Jewish education, the relationship between religion and the media, and the future of Conservative Judaism.
Rabbi Scolnic's most recent work is Judaism Defined: Mattathisas and the Destiny of his People, University Press of America

The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.


The FJMC Sefer Haftarah Travels!

Each week we tell you where the FJMC Sefer Haftarah will be. (top left corner, includes a map) Last weekend (Nov. 3, 2010) the Sefer Haftarah visited the Men's Club of Kehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg, MD.

The FJMC Sefer Haftarah has the outward appearance of a Torah scroll and contains all the Haftorot chanted during the year. It was written by one of the finest scribal groups in Israel.

Sefer Haftarah
Sefer Haftarah

The Haftorah scroll, unlike the Torah, has the vowels and the trop cantillation, which facilitate the chanting of it. Also, the Haftorah scroll lists the various sponsorships of the individual Haftarot. The main purpose behind commissioning the Haftorah scroll was utilitarian in nature.

The FJMC Sefer Haftarah creates a sense of pride and accomplishment among the member clubs and provide opportunities for them to highlight FJMC activities for members of their congregations.

Sefer Haftarah
Sefer Haftarah

Kehilat Shalom arranged to teach their hebrew school and youth about the Sefer Haftarah and provided a great opportunity for learning.

The differences between the Sefer Haftorah and a Torah are readily apparent, however, as soon as one opens the scroll.

Sefer Haftarah
Sefer Haftarah

The FJMC Sefer Haftarah provides our clubs with the opportunity to reach all members of the synagogue community.

The Sefer Haftarah has been travelling all over North America since 2004, and the clubs take a special pride in the upkeep. Unfortunately due to shipping damage the wooden disks required repair.

Sefer Haftarah
Sefer Haftarah

Our Men's Club members arranged to repair the disks before it was shipped to the next stop, Temple Israel in Charlotte, NC.

The FJMC would like to thank the Kehilat Shalom repair committee, Tom Loggie (left) and Carl Berger (right)
Yasher Koach to Tom, Carl and the Men's Club of Kehilat Shalom

Sefer Haftarah
     

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