entitled "מי לה' אלי" by Boris Shatz
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...
In Josephus Flavius, "History of the Jewish War", he describes the bravery of Matityahu, but no quote.
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.
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.
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