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Holiday Central > Chanukah > The Story of Chanukah > Why Greeks & Jews Fought
Chanukah: Why Greeks & Jews Fought
By: Rivka C. Berman, Contributor
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Jew vs. Jew
The struggle Jews faced at the time of Chanukah is in full swing today. Judaism has always been a minority culture. It sets its adherents apart from majority beliefs and practices but to what extent? Then, as now, there were Jews who saw advantages in blending in with the general culture. They appreciated the beauty, art, philosophy, and new political ideas espoused by Greek society. On the other side were Jews, like the Maccabees, who saw Greek ideals and the shunning of faith and Godliness as a danger to Jewish survival.

Who was right?

Freedom vs. Oppression
Jews were willing to pay the ultimate price for their right to worship, study, and live as faith and tradition dictated. Greeks, then the superpower, saw Jewish belief as a corrosive link in their already overextended empire. Despite the odds – 47,000 well-trained, well-armed warriors vs. 4,000 ill-equipped Jews – the Jews persevered. Jewish history reverberates with Jews who fought for what was right against the odds. In recent years, the Maccabee spirit lived on in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Israel’s Independence War, the Jewish refuseniks behind the Iron Curtain, and among every person who does not sacrifice what is right in the face of might.

The Greeks Admired Jewish Culture but Despised the Jewish Faith
The Greeks were all for the continuation of indigenous culture in the territories they conquered. Antiochus did not forbid the observance of Jewish laws that were part of Jewish culture, like Passover and Sukkot which celebrate milestones in Jewish history.

What disturbed the logical Greek mindset was the Jewish tendency to keep commandments that were not rational. Jews performed mitzvot (commandments) like circumcision (abhorrent to the Greeks who venerated the human form) simply because God said so. To keep these commandments surges beyond the limitations of logic and touches infinite wisdom that is understood only by the Divine mind.

Jews fought to express a commitment to God that transcended the limits of human understanding, an approach that irked the rational, logic-loving Greeks.

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