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Maccabees brothers and Chanukah

By Zanna Linskaia

Probably, every educated Jew knows the Chanukah story of Maccabees who were a band of Jewish freedom fighters and freed Judea from the Syrian-Greek occupiers during the Second Temple era. They restored the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and their victory we celebrate during the holiday of Chanukah.

But do we really know about Judah and his four brothers?

Talmud does not mention their names - only through variety of the texts belonged to this time of revolt by Maccabees, we can find information about them.

Yehuda HaMakabi or Judah was the eldest son of the Matityahu clan who became a leader of the Jewish revolt. He is well-known as a warrior who liberated Jerusalem and restored Jewish rules in the miraculous chain of events, but in Megillat Antiochus there is a description, that he actually was killed early before the victory and his father took the leadership into battle. Yet, in the books of Maccabees, Judah was alive and led his brothers in battle, rededicating the Holy Temple for serving God and leading Jews for more than 3 years till his death. Nevertheless, Judah Maccabee will be forever our hero in Chanukah story.

The second brother - Shimon haTarsi or Simon, the only Maccabee brother who survived. The last famous battle was for the fortress of Antonius, which guarded the Temple. When Antonius fell, the Jews came back to the Temple. They shattered the statue of Zeus and cleaned the Temple to the extent that they could. Simon became a leader of the Jewish people and the progenitor of the Hasmonean royal dynasty.

Yochanan was the third of the band of brothers, but he did not play a prominent role as his siblings. However, in Megilat Antiochus he is considered as a “kohen gadol” - high priest.

Yonatan was the fourth brother and is known for taking leadership of Jewish fighters after Judah's’ death, transforming Jewish people from rebels into a power to be a nation. His father compared him to the son of King Saul who fought against the Jewish enemies.

The fifth and the youngest brother of the Maccabees band was Eleazer. He is admired for the heroic feat of killing high-ranking general and self-sacrifice at the battle of Beit Zechariah.

As in every history or mythology behind the main heroes stands a woman like in famous French saying - “chercher la femme”. In Maccabees story there is their sister Hannah, who encouraged her brothers to protect her honor and the honor of all Jewish women.

Under the Syrian- Greek rules it was the law that required every Jewish woman after wedding to spend her first night with Greek governor. Hannah refused to follow this law after her wedding. The Maccabees stormed governor’s palace, killing him and his guards. This incident became an another cause for the military actions and the war by Maccabees against of Hellenism and Greek influences. They fought for Jewish freedom and Jewish faith.

Let the miracles of Chanukah lights be the meaning and strength for all of us!

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