On the fifth night of Hanukkah we pose this question: Why did the Jews reject passive resistance against Antiochus?
We pose and discuss this question as we dip a piece of dark rye bread into Cardamon and Sumac Flavored Oil.
"[Due to the persecution] many seekers for justice went down into the wilderness to settle with their children, their wives and their cattle, because their hardships had become so severe. News reached the king's agents and the Greek forces that were in Jerusalem that people who had disregarded the king's order had gone down to the hiding places in the wilderness. The soldiers pursued them in force, overtook them, pitched their camp opposite [the mountain caves where they hid] and prepared to attack them on Shabbat.
The Greeks said to the Jews, "Enough! Come out and do as the king commands, and you will live." The refugees replied, "We will not come out nor do as the king commands and break the Sabbath."
Then the Greeks hastened to attack them, while the Jews made no response; they did not throw a stone at them nor block up their hiding places, for they said, "Let us all die guiltless. We call heaven and earth to witness that you destroy us unlawfully. [But we will not violate the laws of Shabbat by conducting war on this holy day]."
So the Greeks attacked them on the Shabbat, and the Jews died with their children and their cattle - a thousand people.
When Mattathias and his friends learned of [the massacre], they grieved bitterly and said to one another: "If we all do as our brothers have done and refuse to fight [on Shabbat] against the pagans, for our lives and for what we believe is right, they will very soon wipe us off the face of the earth." On that day they reached this decision: "If anyone attacks us on Shabbat, let us fight against them and not all die, as our brothers died in the hiding places." " I Maccabees 2:29-41
This famous passage reveals a significant evolution of Jewish law which became a principle of Jewish self-defense that is operative in Israel and in the Jewish world today. This text raises a lot of questions. How was Shabbat practiced in antiquity? It is hard to fathom that the Greeks were the first to detect this "Jewish vulnerability." Were there other instances when Jews were attacked on the Shabbat? Why did some Jews choose martyrdom and other Jews choose to violently resist, even breaking the Sabbath to do so?