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The Background to and Story of Chanukah

12/19/2014 09:42:18 AM


The incidents around which Chanukah revolve are not recorded in Tanach. On the simplest level this is due to the fact that there were no prophets left at that time. On a deeper level, the role that Chanukah plays relates to the Oral Law and the human element of Torah, and therefore even the story itself finds expression only therein.

This fact puts us in a challenging position when it comes to relating the story to our children and even to ourselves. With this in mind, I merged several articles from Rav Berel Wein's website "" that provide a small sketch of background. The section of the website is titled, "Crash Course in Jewish History" and should be read as such - it is a general overview (with some of his enlightening comments along the way). It is my hope that we can refresh our memories regarding the history and situation of the time and have something concrete with which to relate the story to our children.

I hope you find it useful.

A Freilichen Chanukah!

Rabbi Berman

*From Rav Berel Wein’s


The Book of Daniel (Daniel 7:3-7) begins with a frightening vision: four beasts, one more frightening than the other, emerge from the sea. According to Jewish tradition (Midrash, Leviticus Rabbah 13:5), each beast represents one of the four major empires that would exile the Jews: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.

We tend to think of Greece as a nation of poets and philosophers, which they were. However, they were also an empire, a terrifying predatory beast, and embodied all the traits that empires embody: violence, oppression and terror.

For the longest time in world history, Greece was a side-show, a small, divided country at the extreme western end of the known world. They were a seemingly insignificant player in global events that saw the Babylonians and Persians rise and become masters of the world. How did Greece come to take center stage and supplant major, world-crushing empires?

A Brief History of Greece

The first thing to know about Greece is that, romantic as it sounds, it is a difficult land to tame. Great rivers and impassable mountains dominate its topography. Thus, for centuries the communities of Greece were disparate and antagonistic toward each other.

Unable to ever successfully put up a united force or government, the Greek tribes developed as city-states. The most famous were: Athens, Sparta, Thebes (not to be confused with the Thebes of Ancient Egypt) and Macedonia. For 500 years, Greek history was characterized by a series of conflicts such as the Peloponnesian Wars, as well as many other nameless wars between Athens and Sparta, and everybody against everybody else.

In the last Peloponnesian War, which happened in about 420 BCE, Sparta made an agreement with Persia to use part of the Persian navy to bottle up the Athenian fleet. Athens always had a great navy, which often was the decisive factor in victory over land-locked Sparta. However, in the last Peloponnesian War, the Persians bottled up the Athenian fleet and the Spartans won the war.

However, the victory came at a great price: the Persians were now in Greece for the first time.

The Persians also made a great mistake, because they were now in a place people came to resent them. The resulting hatred toward the Persians created a common enemy and thereby laid the groundwork for a great leader to step in and do what no one before him was able to do: unite the powerful and industrious Greek peoples.

Philip of Macedon

At the beginning of the fourth century BCE, in about the year 370 BCE, a king arose in Macedonia known as Philip of Macedon. Macedonia is in the northwest corner of Greece. It is basically a Balkan country, and the Macedonians were part of the general Greek nation. However, they were looked down upon and despised by the Athenians and Spartans because they were boorish and uncultured.

Philip was a great warrior and organizer. Most of all, he had the dream of empire in him. In seven years he was able to subdue all the Greek city-states and unite them, something that had not happened in almost five centuries. Of course, he united them at the point of the sword, but he united them.

He even threw the Persians out of Greece. However, his dream of empire included taking Persia away from the Persians! It was an audacious thought. Persia ruled the world. No one dared challenge them.

However, Philip took his battle-tested army into Asia Minor, near what is today Constantinople, and in one of the classic battles of history defeated the Persian army. Unbelievably, the Persian Empire fell apart.

As he turned to conquer the rest of the world, he died, which often happens. Just when someone thinks he has it made it turns out that he made the reckoning without taking God into consideration.

Alexander the Great

Philip died but left a son, who would become one of the single greatest forces in history, Alexander the Great. He called himself that modestly, but the truth is that he was great.

Philip did not want Alexander to grow up to be a coarse and boorish Macedonian. So he gave him a tutor: the renowned philosopher Aristotle. It was Aristotle who implanted in Alexander the philosophic ideals of the Greeks.

Alexander was not a pagan because Aristotle was not a pagan. Aristotle’s concept of God was that a Creator exists. The Greek philosophers referred to God as the “First Cause.” He pushed the button, so to speak. However, once He did so He did not do anything more. What happened on Earth did not interest him. Therefore, there was no interference from Heaven as to what happened on Earth. It was another way of unburdening themselves of conscience – except now with the stamp of belief in God.

Nevertheless, the Greeks believed that God existed, which is very important because it will help explain one reason why Alexander was able to tolerate the Jewish religion, whereas many of the Persian emperors were not. Aristotle knew that all the stories of the gods – from Apollo to Zeus – were made-up. Alexander, as Aristotle’s student, also believed that. Thanks to Aristotle, therefore, the ideas of the Jews were much more acceptable to Alexander.

Alexander’s Encounter with the Jews

Alexander took over his father’s leadership position when he was yet a teenager. He would be dead by the time he was 29. In that short period he conquered the entire civilized world.

One of his campaigns brought him to the Land of Israel. He arrived during the reign of the great High Priest, the last of the Men of the Great Assembly, Simon the Just. Most historians say that he came in about the year 329 BCE. (He was dead by 323 BCE.)

The Jews were terrified of the now victorious Greeks, because they had backed Persia in the war. There were two choices. We will see this story repeated over and over again in the time of the Second Temple. One was to fight, which is what the Jews did later with the Romans. The second was to somehow come to an accommodation with the enemy.

Simon the Just chose the second course. The Jews were not about to defeat Alexander in battle; therefore, the correct way to deal with the matter was to come to an accommodation with him.

The Talmud describes the drama of that first encounter (Yoma 69a). Simon the Just came forth with other members of the priesthood, as well as the sages of the Sanhedrin, to greet Alexander at the gates of Jerusalem as he strode in on his famous white horse, which he rode all over the world in his conquests. According to the historians of the time, it was an enormously tall horse and Alexander was an enormously tall person. Plus, he always wore a plumed helmet. Combined, Alexander stood about 13 feet high on the horse. He was an awe-inspiring sight to behold.

When Alexander saw the Simon he dismounted and bowed to him. When he was questioned by his advisors, he told them that whenever he went into battle he dreamed of an angel leading him to victory. The face of the Jewish High Priest, he said, was the face of the angel he saw in his dreams. That was why he bowed down to him.

Alexander the Great and the Jews

Because of Aristotle, Alexander was positively disposed toward the Jews. Instead of destroying and subjugating them, he made an arrangement with them. As long as they would be his loyal vassals and pay their taxes they could remain autonomous. That was an enormous concession because Alexander was rarely that accommodating to anyone.

Out of gratitude to Alexander, the Jews did a few things. First, they agreed to name every child born the next year “Alexander.” That is why the name Alexander, or Sender for short, became a common Jewish name even to this day.

At the same time, it also opened the door for Jews to give their children other Greek names such as Antigonus Tarphon, among other names of Greek origin one finds in the Talmud. Ironically, through showing Alexander their gratitude by naming their children after him they unwittingly opened the door to the Greek language. And with the Greek language automatically came the Greek culture.

The Jews also agreed to install a system of tax collection that would lead to terrible corruption. Indeed, it was so inherently corrupt that the Talmud held that anybody who was a tax collector was presumed to be a thief. This terribly pernicious system destroyed the morale of the Jewish community in the time of the Greeks long after Alexander was gone.

After Alexander

Alexander did not plan to die at an early age, but his death left the world in chaos. The man who had controlled it was suddenly not there.

His entire empire could have fallen apart at that moment, but split into two. The northern empire was ruled by Seleucus and became known as the Seleucid Dynasty. He was headquartered in the city that is today Damascus. The southern empire was ruled by Ptolemy and was headquartered in the city of Alexandria, which had been renamed in honor of Alexander.

The two generals agreed upon virtually everything — except the line that divided the northern empire from the southern. That put the Land of Israel smack in the middle of their disagreement. The Jews were caught in this tremendous power struggle. The story of the next 130 years would be the balancing act of the Jewish people between the two giants. Sometimes the Jews teetered to the south and sometimes to the north. The south attempted to win the Jewish people by persuasion and culture. The north attempted to do so by force. Both would fail.

This is also the backdrop to the story of Chanukah, because eventually the northern kingdom got tired of the game and sent their army in. The Jews resisted and thus the stage was set for the dramatic events of Chanukah.

After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire in the Mediterranean basin divided into two main sections. The northern empire — which included Syria, Turkey (which was then Asia Minor) and Greece itself — was under the domination of a general called Seleucus, and therefore called the Seleucid Empire. The southern empire, which was basically Egypt and Africa, was under the domination of a general called Ptolemy. These kingdoms would rule the Mediterranean world until Rome.

Sandwiched between them was the Land of Israel. When the two empires were at peace with each other there was a lot of trade to be had. However, when there was war it was a very dangerous place to be.

For various reasons, the Jews favored the southern empire, the Ptolemaic. They had a fascination with Egypt since their original sojourn there, and the large Jewish community in Alexandria also provided a kinship with them.

The Grandeur of Jewish Alexandria

At its height, Alexandria was the wealthiest, most powerful, most influential and most sophisticated Jewish community. The Talmud (Menachos 109b) describes a synagogue of immense proportions that the community built. Jewish artisans of Alexandria each had their own section in the synagogue: the goldsmiths sat in one section, the silversmiths in another, and the carpenters in a third.

Josephus writes that the synagogue was like an amphitheater. It had 8-10,000 seats. It was so large that people in one part could not hear the service taking place in the same room in another part, so in order to answer “Amen” they raised flags and waved.

Even more magnificent was a replica of the destroyed Temple in the heart of Alexandria, complete with priests and the whole ritual of sacrifices, all in accordance with Jewish law. What is strange is that, is that Torah law forbade building the Temple anywhere but Jerusalem!

Nevertheless, the Jews of Alexandria were very proud of their accomplishments and felt that Alexandria was more entitled to the Temple than Jerusalem. In their view, Jerusalem was a very provincial, small, backward city. It was not a city of the world. The situation was similar to the way the Jews of New York sometimes feel vis-a-vis anywhere else in the world.

The Jewish community of Alexandria thought of themselves in very grandiose terms. The irony is that in about 300 years they would disappear as though they never existed. In Jewish history, there are a number of such aberrations, of great Jewish communities that looked like they would last forever, and then it was as if somebody just pulled the plug on them. They disappeared. Alexandria was one of those communities.

The Septuagint

The Jews in Alexandria were so influential that the Greek rulers of the Ptolemaic empire became very interested in Jewish customs, ideas and behavior. Consequently, the emperor of the southern kingdom, Ptolemy, commissioned the first translation of the Torah into a foreign language: Greek.

Until then, the Torah had only appeared in its original Hebrew, and it remained a sealed book. However, from the second century BCE on the Torah became the open book for the world, which it is today. Only the Oral Law — the transmission and interpretation of the Torah, which later became written down and called the Talmud – would remain a “sealed book.”

The Talmud (Megillah 9b) tells how Ptolemy placed 72 Jewish scholars in different rooms and told them to translate the Torah. In miraculous fashion the 72 translations all matched each other. In Greek, the translation became known as the Septuagint, which means “the 70” in reference to the amount of scholars who translated it. This is the basic translation of the Bible that much of the non-Jewish world has today.

Mistranslation of the “Virgin Birth”

It is important to realize that the most widely used version of the Christian Bible, the King James version, is not a translation of the Hebrew Bible. It is a translation from the Greek Bible. That is one of the reasons why there are so many errors, mistranslations and lost nuances.

Just to give an example, the Septuagint was translated by the Catholic Church into a Latin Bible, the Vulgate. The famous King James version is basically a translation of the Latin version. Therefore, it is an English translation of a Latin translation of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. That is a lot like playing “telephone.” What someone says at the beginning is not going to come out exactly the same way at the end. Maimonides identifies a number of places where the basic ideas of Christianity are based simply on bad knowledge of Hebrew or on the lack of a translation.

The classic example is the story of the virgin birth. The Christian Bible attributes it to a verse in the prophet Isaiah (7:14). The Hebrew word there is not “virgin” but alma, which means a “young girl.” Now, a “young girl” can be a virgin, but if the prophet wanted to emphasize the miraculous nature of the event and leave no room for misinterpretation there is a better, unique Hebrew word for virgin.

The Greek word, however, for “young girl” and “virgin” is the same. Therefore, in the Septuagint when the translation of the prophet Isaiah was written they used the Greek word that means either “young girl” or “virgin.” In the Latin translation, only the word “virgin” already appears. Latin readers in the Roman Catholic Church saw this as an unmistakable reference to the doctrine of Immaculate Conception.

One of the reasons the Protestants departed from the Catholic Church many centuries later was because Luther and others complained about that mistranslation. They refused to accept the doctrine of Immaculate Conception simply because they were Biblical scholars enough to know that that is not what it said in the original.

That is just one example. The late Rabbi Reuven Margolies (1889-1971), a great Torah scholar, well also a self-taught Greek and Latin scholar. One of his many books is devoted to pointing out all the places where the Septuagint is different than the original Hebrew text. He found about 700 such variations — and he had an explanation in every one of the places why they did it.

How the Septuagint Changed the World

Despite advantages to teaching the non-Jewish world the Written Torah, the Sages of Israel did not welcome the opportunity. “The day when the Torah was written in Greek was as unfortunate for Israel as the day of the Golden Calf” (Soferim 1:7). They even combined it with two tragedies – the death of Ezra and the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem – and made it a public fast day (the tenth of Teves). Perhaps the reason was because they saw that the translation would open the door for usurpers and new religions claiming to supplant or succeed the Torah.

At the same time, the translation gave a dangerous stamp of approval to Greek language and culture. This allowed Greek culture and values to enter the Jewish world. From the time of the Septuagint onward, it was very hard to draw a line and say, “We are going to take this amount of Greek culture, but we are not going to take the rest.” What is going to happen is that they are going to take the rest. They are going to become more Greek than the Greeks, which is a Jewish trait. The Jews were super-Germans, super-Socialists, and are super-Americans, because the burden is upon them to prove themselves.

Here, too, the burden will be upon them to prove themselves Greek. And they will, indeed, out-Greek the Greeks. That was fallout from the translation of the Septuagint.

The Hellenists

About the year 200 BCE, there arose among the Jewish population a group called the Misyavnim, meaning Hellenists, who adopted Greek culture as a way of life to such a degree that, almost invariably, they gave up their Jewish culture and identity.

For instance, the Greeks were great believers in nudity. Their sports were done in the nude. Their bathhouses were attended in the nude. In the ancient world, the Jews and some Arabs were the only people who were circumcised. Thus, if you wanted to be a good Greek, you were embarrassed to go to the bathhouse or participate in sports. Consequently, Hellenized Jews underwent painful operations — at a time with minimum anesthetics — to restore their foreskin and appear Greek.

Imported along with the Greek language, customs and sports were Greek idols and modes of worship. Temples to the Greek gods and statues of Zeus littered the countryside. Each Greek home had its own set of idols, a patron god custom-made for the family, as well as a whole set of sacrificial rites. Worst of all, Greek strongholds embraced all the terrible moral looseness of the Greek world.

As time passed, more and more Jews not only spoke like Greeks, but took on their customs, attitudes and behaviors, which on so many levels were antithetical to the values of Judaism. Estimates are that a 30-40% of the Jewish population became Hellenists. Most of the upper class was simply swept away by this tide of Hellenist thought.

Some were no doubt simply ignorant of Jewish life and tradition. Others, however, became vicious self-haters. The Greeks found many willing collaborators among the Jews in their attempt to eradicate Judaism and install the more “enlightened” pagan culture of theirs in Israel. These Hellenist Jews hated their brethren and openly sided with the enemies of Israel who attempted to destroy the Jewish nation and faith. They hated themselves for being Jewish and resorted to things like painful cosmetic surgery not only to blend in better with the Greeks but as a sign of defiance in their attempt to remove any trace of being Jewish from their bodies. Naturally, the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks (which we will discuss next) was a great disappointment to them.

Jews true to Judaism were an increasingly shrinking island awash in a sea of Greek culture. They were victims of a cultural revolution that in a short time would have completely swamped them.

However, historical currents were at work which would give the besieged Jews an opening not only to stop the momentum of Greek culture, but reverse it and replace it with a brand new aspect of Jewish identity that would provide spiritual nourishment for countless generations in the future. That nourishment would become known to posterity as the story of Chanukah.

In the wake of Alexander’s appearance in and departure from Jerusalem, relations between Jews and Greeks were so good that an exchange of cultures took place. Each influenced the other. For the Jewish minority, however, what began as a small undertow of assimilation — such as giving children Greek names and speaking the Greek language — became a surprisingly powerful, high-speed rip current threatening to drag the caught-off-guard Jews out to the sea of complete assimilation.

Jews who embraced Greek culture at the expense of Judaism became known as Misyavnim, or Hellenists. Estimates are that a third or more of the Jewish population was Hellenist, including those who reversed their circumcision, ate pork, bowed to idols and even became self-hating enough to side with the enemies of Israel. Hellenism threatened to annihilate the Jewish world through assimilation in ways tyrants tried but could not do by force.

Had the situation continued as it was, the Greeks would perhaps have won the battle by default. However, they overstepped themselves.

Here Come the Greeks

At the beginning of the year 190 BCE, the situation between the two great post-Alexandrian empires, the Seleucid and the Ptolemaic, deteriorated badly. The Seleucids mounted an invasion that took their army through the Land of Israel, which was sandwiched in-between.

Whenever a foreign army comes into a country it changes the view of the populace. Instead of an attractive culture, the Greeks were now an occupying enemy. Instead of something to be imitated, now they became something to be resisted.

The Jewish people are very stubborn. The same person who is so stubborn that he will not observe the Torah in freedom will observe it with passion if forbidden from observing it. He becomes stubborn the other way.

A good case could be made that if the Communists in Russia would have left the Jews alone they would have completely assimilated. However, once told that they could not be Jewish a certain percentage of Jews decided to be Jewish at great risk. That happened with the Greeks as well.

Progressively More Intolerable Laws

The Greek army exerted a very heavy hand against the Jews. First, they forced Jews to finance their war through collection of taxes. Then they forced them to quarter their soldiers in Jewish homes. Finally, the Greeks were determined to crush the Jewish religion.

First, they took the statue of Zeus and mounted it in the courtyard of the Temple. Next, the Greeks banned the observance of the Sabbath on the pain of death. Then, the Talmud (Kesubos 3b) records, there was a period of time which lasted a number of decades when the Greek officer in town had the right to “live” with a woman on her wedding night before her husband-to-be.

The Greeks also banned circumcision. Whoever circumcised his child was put to death; both child and father were killed. Then the Greeks demanded that altars to the Greek idols be established and that sacrifices be offered on a regular basis in every Jewish town. Finally, the Jewish educational system was entirely interrupted.

The Jews Rebel

About the year 166 BCE, a group finally stood up to the Greeks: Matisyahu (Mattathias) and his family, known as the Hasmoneans. We do not know much about them except that they were of noble descent from the priestly class (Kohanim), including those who had served as High Priests.

They lived in a small town called Modin, which was about 12 miles northwest from Jerusalem. (The town exists today, and is about 20 miles west of modern Jerusalem.) One day, a Greek contingent marched in, set up an altar, gathered all the Jews and forced them to sacrifice a pig to Zeus.

They then asked for a Jewish volunteer to perform the sacrifice. One stepped forward. As he approached the altar Matisyahu stabbed him to death.

Chaos broke out. The Greek army attempted to subdue the crowd, but the Jews were armed and slaughtered the entire Greek patrol. There was no turning back now.

The Maccabees

Matisyahu had five sons, all of whom were people of great organizational leadership as well as pious, committed Jews: Johanan (Yochanan), Simon (Shimon), Jonathan (Yonason), Judah (Yehudah) and Eleazar.

They ran to the caves and organized an army – not to fight an open war, but a guerilla war. Originally they organized of force of about 3,000 men. Eventually it grew to 6,000 and never reached more than 12,000 men.

The General of the Army was the great Judah, known to the world as Judah the Maccabee (or Judas Maccabaeus as he was called in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost). “Maccabaeus” is the Greek word for hammer, but the Jews took it, as Jews are wont to do, and made it Jewish by declaring that “Maccabee” stood for the first four letters in Exodus 15:11, meaning, “Who is like You, God?” — which was said by Moses and the people after the miraculous drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds.

An enormous Syrian-Greek army, numbering almost 50,000 men, marched into Judea. Judah the Maccabee marshaled his forces and with guile and courage outmaneuvered the far larger Greek army, forced it to divide and then destroyed its various components, killing many thousands and forcing the survivors to flee north to Syria.

It took many years, but their hit-and-run tactics wore down three great Greek armies. However, the Jews paid a very heavy price in terms of blood. Matisyahu died in the early going. Judah Maccabee was killed in the third great battle. Eleazar died while attacking an elephant. Johanan and Jonathan were killed as well. The only Maccabee brother who survived was Simon.

The Miracle

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. Any priests who worked for the Greeks were sent away or executed.

They only found one small flask of uncontaminated oil with the seal of the High Priest. By Torah law, the flame of the Menorah (Candelabrum) in the Temple could only be lit with specially prepared pure olive oil. The amount of oil remaining in the one uncontaminated flask was only enough to burn for one day, and it would take eight days to produce a new batch of pure oil.

What could they do?

They lit it — and it miraculously burned for eight days. That is why Chanukah lasts eight nights (the festival was established a year later by the Rabbis).

What is Chanukah?

The Talmud does not say much about Chanukah. There are perhaps forty lines spread out in different volumes, whereas almost all the other holidays have an entire Talmudic volume about them. In addition, the few words the Talmud has to say about Chanukah are cryptic. Perhaps that is why Chanukah has been subject to reinterpretation, as it has been in our time. People make whatever they want to make out of it. However, that is a mistake, a tragedy.

In the Western world, it has the misfortune of falling out in December. Therefore, in the homes of many Jewish people it has sadly became the Jewish version of the December holidays, a mixture of commercialism and non-Jewish traditions and ideas.

What is Chanukah?

What the Talmud does say is that the important thing is to “advertise the miracle.” People have to recognize that a miracle took place. It is vital to keep the wonder in Chanukah. That is why the rabbis gave more emphasis to the miracle of the lights than the military victory.

Wars come and go. Even the glow of miraculous victory can fade. Young people today do not think that Israel’s War for Independence in 1948 was such a miracle. In 1967, Jews expected a second Holocaust. Now people brush the miraculous Six Day War off as nothing special.

History provides numerous examples of outnumbered forces defeating a superpower using guerilla tactics. Was the Maccabean victory so miraculous? That was the question Jews at the time must have asked themselves.

However, when the small flask of pure oil that could only last one day lasted eight days it proved that there was a miracle that happened there. The little flask of oil shed light on the big military campaign. “Not by the army, not by power, but through My Spirit, says God” (Zechariah 4:6). Chanukah is about the little light that sheds a great light.

There is an indefinable, spiritual, electric charge that binds the generations together that cannot be found in any book. It can only be had when parents and grandparents do things like sitting together with their children around the Chanukah lights celebrating, discussing and advertising the miracle; experientially getting in touch with the wonder of the past, the wonder of the present, the wonder of life.

What Ever Happened to the Hellenists?

Chanukah is a very popular, emotional and beautiful holiday. However, the necessity for Chanukah begins with the story of the invasion of Greek culture and the weakness of the Jews in responding to it. It originates from the growth of an enormous sect of Hellenists within the Jews, who even supported the Greeks during the war.

What happened to the Hellenists? Their influence all but collapsed in the wake of the defeat. They would never return again as Hellenists, because the war brought out their true colors as traitors and they lost whatever appeal they could have had to the Jewish people.

Most of them retreated to the city of Caesarea, which remained a Greek city (and later would become a Roman city). They were just not part of the Jewish people any longer.

Their demise punctuated the fact that more than a military victory, the miracle of the oil signified that Chanukah was a victory of the spirit of the Jewish people, a victory that granted them the right to observe the Torah. That is why its memory and the people who observe it have endured.

Many people are under the impression that after the miracle of Chanukah the war with the Greeks was over. Far from it.

The miracle of Chanukah actually occurred only in the third year of the war. After the Jews reconquered Jerusalem, rededicated the Temple and experienced the miracle of the little flask of oil that burned eight days the war dragged out another five to seven years.

At the time of the miracle, according to most historians, Matisyahu (the father of the Hasmoneans/Maccabees) and Johanan (the oldest brother) were dead. The year after the miracle Judah the Maccabee (the third brother) was dead. They were killed in battle. Three years after the miracle of Chanukah there was a major battle where the Greeks tried to reconquer the Land of Israel. At that time, Eleazar was killed when an elephant he attacked and wounded fell and crushed him.


  17 Iyyar 5784