Judah Maccabee

The story of Judah Maccabee begins in a little town called Modin. The town is about twenty miles from Jerusalem.

Judah was one of five boys. He, and his brothers John, Simon, Eleazar and Jonathan worked the land in the foothills of the highlands of Judah.

Judah’s father Mattathias was a wise and pious man who loved God and his country. He lived by the law of the Scriptures, and he and his sons worshipped in the village synagogue. They were faithful to the traditions of their people.

Occasionally, Mattathias and his sons would journey to the city of Jerusalem, to the great Temple on Mount Moriah.

A beautiful lamp burned in the Temple and was tended by the priests. They would never allow the light of the lamp to go out for it was a symbol of the people's faith and their dedication to Judaism.

A New Ruler
When Judah and his brothers had grown to young men, the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphany came to the throne.

He was an ambitious man who dreamed of building an empire just as Alexander the Great had done a hundred and fifty years before.

He began to make changes in the laws governing Jerusalem and the Jewish people.
Antiochus built alters to the Greek god Zeus everywhere. He even placed one in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Before this time the Jewish people had been allowed to worship their god and follow the ways of their religion. Antiochus, however, did not understand the Jewish god, nor did he like the strength and independence of the Jewish people.

He decided to replace the Jewish god with the Greek god, Zeus. He demanded that all people under his rule abandon their own traditions and ideas, and accept Greek beliefs and culture.

Many Jews accepted the Greek ideas. They saw it as progress, and an easy way to avoid conflict.

Other Jews, like Mattathias and his sons, refused to deny their god or their culture, no matter what the price.

The Temple Forgotten
One day, Mattathias and his son Judah went to the Temple in Jerusalem. Judah felt sad when he saw what had become of the beautiful Temple.

The gold leaves, that had once adorned the facade, had been stripped away. The beautiful fabrics, that once hung within the Temple doors, had been torn off and sold.
Even the holy vessels had been used and thrown around, and there, on the altar, stood a likeness of the god Zeus.

There was, however, something even more disturbing. The lamp of the Temple stood cold and dead, its wick black and dry. The oil had run out and no one had bothered to refill it.

Mattathias bowed his head in shame.

“My people forsake their god,” he murmured as they began the journey back to Modin.
Mattathias, the father of Judah Maccabee, was a well respected Jewish priest.

Mattathias Makes a Stand

A few days later, Mattathias and Judah made their way, as usual, to their village synagogue. As they arrived, an officer of the king came galloping through the streets.

“You there! Priest,” he cried to Mattathias, his horse pawing the dusty ground.

A crowd began to gather.

“You will be the first to sacrifice to the great god Zeus,” shouted the officer.

Mattathias stood in shock and disbelief. “You ask me to sacrifice to a pagan god? Never,” he cried. “Never will I bow down to your false gods. I would rather die than break the holy covenant.”

“Any person who chooses to worship the god of the Jews will be killed, old man,” the officer shouted in anger.

Judah began to fear for their safety.

When Mattathias refused to obey the order, one of his countrymen stepped forward to offer a sacrifice.

Mattathias was enraged. He ran forward and struck the man, killing him.

He then turned and struck a fatal blow to the officer's head. Grabbing Judah by his shoulder, he made his way through the village to his home.

The Maccabees in Exile
So it was that Mattathias and his family were forced into exile. That night they gathered their belongings and headed off towards the caves, high up in the mountains.

There, the enemy would never find them, and they would be able to worship God without fear of death.

Slowly, over the next few months, Judah Maccabee gathered about him a great number of Jews whose loyalty to the laws of Judaism had not died.

These men made the decision to stand against Antiochus and the oppression of the Jewish people.

They looked to Judah for advise, and he encouraged them in the religious beliefs that bound them together as a race.

“It is our faith in the one true god,” he would say, “that will lead us to victory over those who try to oppress us.”

The People Fight Back
Soon Judah was the leader of a small, but brave and determined, band of men. However, they were not trained for war.

Most of these men were farmers, teachers, and craftsmen. However, their love of liberty bound them together into a strong resistance army.

For two years they fought the people who tried to control them. They made their base among the rocks and caves of the Judean wilderness.

They knew the land well and this gave them a great advantage over the Syrian soldiers.

They attacked from the hills, under cover of night. They led the enemy into traps where they surrounded and attacked them.

Judah Maccabee had far fewer men than the enemy but his knowledge of the country allowed him to organize surprise attacks.

Soon the attacks of the Maccabees were wreaking havoc and mayhem wherever there was oppression of the Jewish religion.

After many battles, the way was finally clear for them to enter Jerusalem and reclaim the city that was rightfully theirs.

The Temple Rededicated
Judah knew that his first task was to rededicate the Temple. He gathered the priests and holy men and ordered them to cleanse the Temple.

When this was done, Judah entered the Temple and looked about him. There was a sense of calmness. However, one thing remained to be done and that was the lighting of the holy lamp.

“There is only enough holy oil for one day here,” said Judah with great sadness. “It will take many days for the new oil to be prepared according to the religious rules.”
The Hanukkah menorah has eight branches to symbolize the eight days that the Temple lamp burned, and a center light with which to light the other eight.

So Judah knelt before the altar and asked for a blessing so that the lamp would remain lit.

Sure enough, the lamp burned for eight days and eight nights, long enough for the new oil to be ready.

Some say it even got brighter with each day.
The soft glow flooded the Temple; the lamp a symbol of the Jewish faith.


Those eight days and nights came to be celebrated with an annual festival. Ever since, Jewish people all over the world have celebrated this event.

During the festival of Hanukkah you will see a lighted menorah, symbolizing the Temple lamp that burned for eight days.

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