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About Dov Gartenberg

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg is the Convener and Director of Panim Hadashot-New Faces.

Why did some Jews choose to die for God?

The Maccabean revolt is the first appearance of martyrdom in the history of religion. The most vivid story of Martyrdom we tell below.  As we explore this question at the Hanukkah Seder, we dip rosemary bread into an oil mixed with chives, roasted onion, and sage.

The two texts I below are separated by over a thousand years. The earlier one is an accounting of a famous story in the Book of Maccabees about a sage, Elazar, who matyrs himself before Antioches.  The second is from the great rabbi, Maimonides written to the Jews of Morocco called Igeret Hashmad, The Epistle on Martyrdom.

As you read and discuss these two texts, explore the meaning of matyrdom?  When does the tradition insist that we should give up our lives and when does it coach compromise.? How do you judge the situation of Elazar.  In retrospect, is his martyrdom necessary and justified?  Is there a criteria for Jewish martyrdom in our times?

The Martyrdom of the Jews Against Antioches, IV Maccabees 5 and 6: Period of Time: @170 BCE

Elazar was one of the leading scribes a man of advanced age and fine appearance [with a silver gray beard]. When ordered to eat pork, he refused.

When Antiochus saw Elazar's public refusal, he spoke to him persuasively: "Before I commence inflicting torture upon you, graybeard, I would give you this counsel: eat of the pig's flesh and save yourself. I respect your age and your gray head; but I cannot think you a philosopher when you have so long been an elder and still cling to the religion of the Jews. Why are you disgusted by eating the excellent meat of this animal?"

Elazar responded coolly and defiantly:

"We, Antiochus, who out of conviction lead our lives in accordance with the divine Law believe no constraint more compelling than our own willing obedience to the Torah; and therefore under no circumstance do we deem it right to violate the it. We do not regard the eating of unclean flesh a small offense.

You mock at our philosophy. Yet it teaches us self-control, so that we rule over all pleasures and desires; and it trains us in courage, so that we willingly endure any difficulty. I shall not violate the sacred oaths of my ancestors who swore to observe the Torah, not even if you cut my eyes out and burn my insides. I am neither so decrepit, nor so ignoble, that reason should lose the vigor of youth in the cause of religion. So make ready your torturer's wheel, fan your fires to a fiercer heat. You shall not defile the sacred lips of my old age. Pure shall my [deceased] ancestors welcome me [after death]"

The king ordered the torture to begin in order to break Elazar's will. With his head raised high to heaven, the old man suffered a fierce whipping; he was flowing with blood, and his sides were lacerated. He fell to the ground when his body was no longer able to endure the torment; but he kept his reason erect and unbent. Whenever he fell, one of the savage guards kicked him in the side to make him get up. Elazar endured the pain, despised the compulsion, prevailed over the torments, and like a noble athlete under blows, outstripped his torturers. with his face bathed in sweat and his panting breath coming hard, his stoutness of heart won the admiration even of his torturers....

Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrificial meal, because of their longstanding acquaintance with Elazar, took him aside. Privately they urged him to provide his own meat, which he could properly eat, and pretend that he was eating the meat of the sacrifice, as the king had ordered. By doing this he might escape the death penalty, and on account of his lifelong friendship with them, be kindly treated. But Elazar refused.

"It does not become our time of life to pretend, and so lead many young people to suppose that Elazar, when ninety years old, has gone over to foreign worship, lest they be led astray through me. If I pretend (to eat pork) for the sake of this short and insignificant life, I will defile and disgrace my old age. For even if for the present, I escape human punishment, whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore by giving up my life now, I will prove myself worthy of my advanced years, and leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the sacred and holy laws.

Contrast the above to this famous text on matyrdom in Jewish tradition written in the 12th century. 

A Description of a passage from Maimonides Epistle on Matyrdom by Shmuel Aryeh Kaltoft

The first theme, the class of laws related to the time of forced conversions, is split up in three classes:
1. Laws concerning idolatry, incest, and bloodshed. 2. Forced transgressions based on the oppressor's benefit. 3. Forced transgressions forced by the oppressor to make the Jew sin, with no benefit for the oppressor.

1: If one is forced to break any of the commandments related to idolatry, incest, or bloodshed, he is to accept death rather than transgress. There are no exceptions to this ruling.

2: All other commandments that the Jew is forced to transgress, and it is for the benefit for the oppressor, the Jew is to transgress and not chose death.

3: All other commandments that the Jews is forced to transgress, and there is no benefit whatsoever for the oppressor, the Jew should always accept death if it is in public. If it is in private he is allowed to transgress if it is not in a time of persecution, but if it is in a time of persecution, he must accept death.

What Was the Cause of the Jewish Revolt Against Antiochus?

At the Hanukkah Seder we dip Lavash into burnt Almond Oil upon asking this question and the presentation of this ancient text.

"Moreover, King Antiochus wrote to his whole kingdom, that all should be one people. And everyone should leave his laws; so all the heathen agreed according to the commandment of the king.  Yea, many also of the Israelites consented to his religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the Sabbath. For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Judah that they should follow the strange laws of the land. And he forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the Temple; and ordered that they should profane the Sabbaths and Festivals, pollute the sanctuary and holy people, set up altars, and groves, and chapels of idols, and sacrifice swine's flesh, and unclean beasts. He ordered hat the Jews  should also leave the children uncircumcised, and make their souls abominable with all manner of uncleanness and profanation."

"To the end they might forget the law, and change all the ordinances (of the Torah). And whosoever would not do according to the commandment of the king, he said, he should die. In the selfsame manner wrote he to his whole kingdom, and appointed overseers over all the people, commanding the cities of Judah to sacrifice, city by city. Then many of the people were gathered unto there ceremonies, to wit every one that forsook the law; and so they committed evils in the land. And these proclamations drove the Israelites into secret places, even wheresoever they could flee for succor." From First Maccabees 41-53.

Antiochus was so heavy handed that his rulings produced an unintended and exaggerated reaction: The Jews resisted the extreme rulings he imposed on them. The first response is to flee to secret places, away from the authority of the Seleucid rulers. This type of overt oppression is actually very rare in Jewish history. But they are so traumatic, these times are remembered through new festivals and fast days that arose to commemorate them.  Can you think of the times in Jewish history that a ruler tried to extinguish the Jewish way of life and the Jews themselves? How are they commemorated in the Jewish calendar?

Hanukkah Lights
Dear Friends,
As you gather for the first night of Hanukkah, I want to send to you a question and text for discussion with family, friends and guests. Each night of Hanukkah I will send you a distinct question and text for your discussion. These questions and texts form the content the Hanukkah Seder we are sharing with the public on Friday night (see below).
First question on the first night of Hanukkah.
What Was the Miracle of Hanukkah?
Here are two different depictions of the miracle of Hanukkah from different ancient texts.
The First Depiction
"And they kept the 8 days (of the new festival) with gladness, as in the festival of Sukkot, remembering that not long before they had observed the festival of Sukkot as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. (Now, back in Jerusalem) they bore branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto God who had given them success in cleansing his place (the Temple). They ordained also by a common statute and decree, that every year those 8 days should be kept by the whole nation of the Jews." (2 Maccabees 10:6-8, a ancient work that was not included in the Jewish Bible).
The Second Depiction
The 25th of Kislev is the first day of Hanukkah. For 8 days mourning is forbidden. Why? When the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils that were there. When the House of the Hasmoneans (the Maccabees) prevailed and won a victory over them, they searched and found only one cruse [of oil] with the seal of the High Priest that was not defiled. It had only [enough oil] to burn for one day. A miracle happened , and there was light from it for 8 days. In the following year they established 8 festival days." (Babylonian Talmud, Megillat Taanit 9)
These two depictions reveal a dispute about the origins of Hanukkah. Was it a belated celebration of the festival of Sukkot that celebrated the re dedication (Hanukat Habayit) of the Temple in Jerusalem, or was it the miracle of the cruze of oil that lasted 8 days. The later rabbis were very ambivalent about the Hasmoneans because they became oppressors of the emerging Jewish movement led by "the rabbis". In other words these texts reveal an ambivalence about the meaning of Hanukkah. Do we emphasize it as a military victory or a religious miracle?
Happy Hanukkah,
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Convener and Director of Panim Hadashot

What is a Hanukkah Seder?
A Seder, think Passover Seder, is a ritually ordered feast that features symbolic foods, dramatic rituals, sensory stimulation, and a collection of provocative texts that engenders questions, conversation, and insight. Judaism features not only the Passover Seder, but other Sedarim (plural) that create rich spiritual experiences around a shared meal.
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg built on this ancient Jewish tradition to create an original Hanukkah Seder. The Seder is organized around eight questions tied to ancient texts connected to the festival. Each question also features a dipping of a piece of different artisan breads into distinctly flavored olive or other oils to create a rich sensory experience of Hanukkah.
The ritual flow of the seder offers an opportunity to participants to experience a more subtle story about the historical/religious festival we call Hanukkah. This multidimensional Hanukkah Seder transports us deep into Jewish history and imagination, creating a unique adult experience of Hanukkah that will open up its meaning and dilemmas for us today.
When: Friday, 12/7/18
Where: WeWork Lincoln Square (pictured above)
How Much: $18 per person to preregister. Preregistration is required to be able to attend.
Who: This is a community event of Panim Hadashot-New Faces

To learn more and to preregister for the Hanukkah Seder, Click HERE