It is uncanny that the Jewish calendar reflects both the joyous side of Ḥanukkah and the tragic one. The eight days of Ḥanukkah are followed by eight days of anticipating the fast day of Asarah b’Tevet. The following comments by Shem Tov Gaguine (1884-1953), Chief Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregations of England published in his Sefer Keter Shem Tov (1934) highlight the tragic side of the Ḥanukkah story.
Keter Shem Tov, chapter Vezot Habrakha, Lehadlik Ner, §3
Why is the military victory of the Maccabees not referred to in the Mishna or Gemara but is mentioned only in later writings and in the prayer of Al Ha’Nissim?
The military victory of the Maccabees is not referred to in the Mishna or Gemara even though their victory was also by way of a miracle as explained by the Avudrohom (page 44 section 4): Although the Ḥashmonai and his sons were Ḥasidim and men of good deeds, they inappropriately usurped the monarchy for themselves. They were Kohanim and Kohanim were not granted the right to ascend to the Jewish Monarchy as it is written: in order that he may have a long life as a king. Following those words it is written: that it should not be given to the Kohanim and Levi’im. Since the Ḥashmonaim wrapped themselves in a robe that did not belong to them, G-d created a situation where Herod who was initially a slave among the slaves of the Ḥashmonaim arose and killed every descendant of the Ḥashmonaim and did not leave surviving even one family member. This is explained by the Ramban in Parshat Va’Yichei on the verse: Lo Yasur Shevet Ma’Yehudah. As a result of those circumstances, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi found it fitting to totally omit any reference to their military victory when he compiled the Mishna.
This was the punishment of the Ḥashmonaim who reigned as Kings during the period of the Second Temple. They were indeed righteous people. If not for them, Torah and the Mitzvot would have been forgotten among Israel. Despite that they were dealt a severe punishment. The four sons of Ḥashmonaim the righteous elder reigned one after the other. Although they were brave and strong, they each died by way of the sword of their enemies. Their punishment was severe as the Gemara (Baba Basra 3, 2) relates: the last remaining descendant of the Ḥashmonaim who was a woman killed herself before Herod could take her as a wife. Before killing herself she said: ‘Whoever comes and says, I am from the Ḥashmonai house, is a slave, since I alone am left of it, and I am throwing myself down from this roof.’ The Ḥashmonai family was punished with karet (the family is extinguished) because of the sin of usurping the monarchy. Even though the descendants of Simon Ḥashmonai were punished for being Tzedukkim, the descendants of Mattityahu Ḥashmonai Ha’Tzaddik were punished for violating the ban on anyone being the monarch who was not a descendant of the tribe of Yehuda and a descendant of Dovid HaMelekh. They seized the king’s scepter and the ruler’s staff. Their punishment was measure to measure. G-d took away their monarchy and their followers and annihilated their family.
They were punished for the additional reason that the Kohanim had been commanded: “Guard your position as Kohanim to watch over the altar and the place of the parokhet and you will serve and support yourselves through gifts” (Ba’Midbar 18:7). The sole role of the Kohanim was to serve G-d in the Temple and not to be rulers.
I further saw in the Jerusalem Talmud in Masekhet Horiot (Ch. 3, Halacha 2): we do not anoint kings from among the Kohanim. Rav Yehudah Anturia said: this is derived from the verse: Lo Yasur Shevet Mai’Yehudah (Bereishis 49:10). Rav Ḥiya son of Rav Abba said: concerning the verse: “in order that he and his children will reign over Israel for many years” (Devarim 17:20); what follows: “it will not happen to the Kohanim and Levi’im” (Devarim 18:1). Our Rabbis concluded from the juxtaposition of the verses that it is improper to anoint Kings from among the Kohanim sons of Aharon and the Levi’im. They explained that the reason was so as to not dishonor Yehudah. The power to rule should not be taken away from the tribe of Yehudah. As a result, although because of circumstances the Jews did have Kings who were not from Shevet Yehudah, they were not anointed so that they did not possess the honor of the Monarchy. Instead they were considered more like peacekeepers; i.e judges or policemen. The verse specifies Kohanim because Kohanim for purpose of their work as Kohanim can be anointed. However, when Kohanim become Kings, they are not to be anointed as Kings. This is also the rule for a member of any other tribe who becomes King. This rule follows from what is written in Masekhet Horiot (11, 2) only kings coming from the tribe of Yehudah are to be anointed. Rav Ḥiya son of Abba explained: because the members of the tribe of Yehudah are the only ones who can trace their authority to be king to the Torah as the the Torah says: the Kohanim and the Levi’im members of the tribe of Levi have no right to ascend to the position of King. This is the proper and appropriate result.
This article was first published as in the Burei HaTefila Newsletter Supplement for Ḥanukkah, 2006.
“📄 עשרה בטבת | Asarah b’Tevet and the Tragic Side of Ḥanukkah, by Rabbi Shem Tov Gaguine (1934)” is shared by the living contributor(s) with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International copyleft license.