Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Chanuka Legend Deconstructed

Bronze Statue of Matityahu
entitled "מי לה' אלי" by Boris Shatz

Try this at home. (I always wanted to say that)

Ask any kid in your vicinity, "who said ?מי לה' אלי" and I bet that they will answer 99% of the time, "Matityahu" or "Yehuda HaMaccabi". If your kids have a better than average education they may also answer, "Moshe Rabbeinu."

Today being the last day of Chanuka, I wanted to share an article my father-in-law showed me this past Shabbat from the Makor Rishon newspaper. Unfortunately, this article isn't available on-line, so I scanned it in.

Aryeh Olman presents a fascinating research article on the origin of the Chanuka related phrase "מי לה' אלי" and deduces that the famous phrase said by Moshe Rabbeinu after Chait HaEgel was not said by Matityahu...or even Yehuda HaMaccabi (unless of course, they leined parshat Ki-Tisa at some point).

Olman reviews Modern Jewish and Israeli history books and all include Matityahu saying, "מי לה' אלי" after killing a Hellenistic Jew and a Greek officer.

All the authors of the modern history books are respectable historians, so where did this "mistake" originate?

Olman then scours the all the apocrypha relating to Chanuka:

Sefer Chashmonaim I (also known as Sefer HaMakabim); Chapter 2...

When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Mode'in, according to the king's command. When Mattathias saw it, be burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar. At the same time he killed the king's officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu.[1]

Then Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying: "Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!" And he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the city.

In Josephus Flavius, "History of the Jewish War", he describes the bravery of Matityahu, but no quote.

Megillat Antiochus brings a different story altogether, but no mention of a quote from Matityahu.

Midrash Chanuka versions 1 and 2...nothing. Olman notes that in Chashmonaim 1, Matityahu imitates Pinchas, and not Moshe.

In the 19th century, Chanuka became a new Zionist holiday...and curiously, the Hellenstic "arts" in the form of Boris Shatz's sculpture, plays and books adopted the legend of Matityahu saying "מי לה' אלי."

The source seems to be based on Zeev Yaavetz's book "Toldot Yisrael" who uses that phrase explicitly. Olman checked Sefer HaDorot, Dor Dor Dorshov, Tzemach David, Sefer Yuchsin, The Meiri, Pachad Yitzchak Sdei Chemed, and other classical Jewish history books, but none attribute this quote to Matityahu (or mention it at all).

It appears that Zeev Yaaevtz based his source on "Sefer Yosifun (Josippon)" -- a historical source of questionable authenticity which first appeared in the 10th century in Italy. Sefer Yosifun has many different versions, each with a different type of quote attributed to Matityahu, but with nothing to do with killing a Hellenistic Jew or Greek officer. Rather, Matityahu sent his son Yehuda HaMaccabi throughout the cities of Judea with the message...

"מי בכם עמי ומי לה' אלי"
"מי בכם מי ומי לה' אלי"
"מי בכם ירא ה' ומי לה' אלי"

So...Yaavetz combined the 2 images together; of Moshe rallying the Levi'im to kill the Jews who worshipped the Golden Calf, and that of Matityahu killing the Hellenized Jew.

And while it's taught to every Jewish child today...its origin is factually incorrect.

The rallying call of מי לה' אלי has galvanized itself into the ethos of religious Zionism, and there are worse things in life that a bit of artistic license.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


Holy Hyrax said...

wow. Two great posts in one day? you truly are one cool cat.

Rafi G said...


Anonymous said...

My rebbe, who knows kol haTorah kula, said once that that Matisyahu said "מי לה' אלי" after he killed the misyavain and the yevuni.

Before you argue on a mesoira told by thousands of people for generations who were more knowledable than you and more pious than you... and before you corrupt the innocent tmimusdik masses, make sure you verify your facts and yes... your poisonous ulterior motived agenda... If need be, I could rack up other sources, but,... I loathe some of the blogs out there who... well... I think you understand...

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Anonymous: You expect me to believe for a millisecond that you're serious?

Anonymous said...

That's befaifush the problem with you laitzunim bloggers. Everything's a joke, and nothing's serious. How dare you slander Matisyahu HaChashmonoi, who was a tzaddik and the godol hador, and all the gedolim throughout the generations who had a kabbola that he said "מי לה' אלי"?

zach said...

Anonymous, you're either a troll or an idiot! Jameel is quoting sources while you (or your rebbe) are quoting none.

If need be, I could rack up other sources. Please do, if you are able!

Anonymous said...

How dare you call me a troll or an idiot. I don't have to quote you any sources, its a dovor yodua and its Daas Torah. Next you'll be asking me to prove that Hashem wrote the Torah. Besides, its assur to believe things that come from "research" instead of Daas Torah. People who listen to things like this end up believing in all kinds of kfira, like the world being millions of years old, or that stories from midroshim aren't really true.

Anonymous said...

To all you amaratzim and kofrim: I am only 9 years old, but I go to a special yeshiva for smart buchrim, and there are many kids just as smart as me here. There is nothing wrong with a ilui like me defending frumkeit from treif bloggers! I am so frum and such a talmid chochom that I have become the hero of my yeshiva. People make fun of us for being so frum, but thats just because they're jealous. I think you all "flame" me as a way of expressing your anger for not being as frum and smart as me.

sysadmin said...

Thank you to all of you who responded to a 9 year old brat who posted a comment on Jameel's Chanuka post. I suspect that the brat is one of the yeshiva elementary school kids who have been hanging around the computer room lately. They're not allowed to use the computers here, but some of them do anyway. Believe it or not, the first day they let them in, one of the runts started posting obnoxious holier-than-thou comments on all the JBlogs, among which were the anonymous postings here. If I find the kid that did it, he's gonna post an apology he'll never forget!

Wesley Crusher said...

Are you done yet?

Kamagra said...

If need be, I could rack up other sources, but,... I loathe some of the blogs out there who... well... I think you understand...

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