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Chanah and Her Seven Sons

Chanah and Her Seven Sons

Heroism and Martyrdom


Antiochus was determined to enforce his vicious edicts upon the Jews, effectively destroying their attachment to the Torah. He forbade the observance of all religious laws; anyone found with a Torah would be executed; circumcision, kosher food, Shabbat, all vestiges of Judaism were outlawed. Phillip was appointed governor of Judea, and he set out to ruthlessly enforce the king's edicts. He decided to begin his campaign with the arrest of the notable sage and High Priest, Elazar. Elazar thwarted Phillip's design by choosing martyrdom over submission. Soon after, Chanah and her seven sons were arrested.

When the king, who was returning to Antioch, heard about the events which were taking place in Jerusalem, he decided to take an active role in enforcing his decrees. The mother and her sons were bound and brought before the king.

Antiochus tried to convince the eldest boy to abandon the Torah. The youth responded with great confidence, "Why do you bother with this long speech, trying to inflict your abominable religion upon us? We are ready to welcome death for the sake of our holy Torah!"

The king was furious and ordered the boy's tongue, hands and feet severed and placed in a fire. The soldiers proceeded to torture the boy, forcing his mother and six brothers to watch his excruciating pain. Antiochus was sure that this sight would intimidate his prisoners into unquestioning submission.

Instead, the martyrdom spurred the family to a deep resolve to accept their fate and to sanctify G‑d's name. When the second brother was brought to the king, even the members of the king's retinue begged the boy to obey the king. The boy, however, replied, "Do what you will with me. I am no less than my brother in devotion to G‑d." The second son's torture was as bitter as his brother's had been. As he died he told the king, "Woe to you, pitiless tyrant! Our souls go to G‑d. And when G‑d will awaken the dead and His martyred servants, we will live. But you--your soul will dwell in a place of eternal abhorrence!"

To the amazement of all, the third brother unflinchingly suffered the same fate. The fourth brother echoed his brothers' exhortations, and faced his brutal death with firm resolve. Before he was killed, the fifth brother turned to Antiochus and said: "Don't suppose that G‑d has handed us over to you to exalt you or because He hates us. It is because He loves us and has granted us this honor. G‑d will take His vengeance upon you and your progeny."

The blood-lust of the king was not assuaged, and the sixth brother was brought to the same end as his brothers who preceded him. His words bespoke his deep faith that G‑d would ultimately requite the suffering of His servants.

Throughout this horrible sequence Chanah stood by her sons, giving them strength and encouragement. Now, only the youngest child remained to face the king. When they brought the boy, the king offered him gold and silver if he would do his will. The seven-year-old boy displayed the same courage as his brothers and taunted the king to carry out his threats.

The king couldn't believe such words coming from a mere child, and he called out to Chanah. Chanah stood before the murderer of her children and listened to his words. "Woman, have compassion upon this child. Persuade him to do my will so that you will have at least one surviving child and you too will live." She pretended to agree and asked to speak with her son.

When they stood together, Chanah kissed the boy, then said, "My son, I carried you in my body for nine months, I nursed you for two years and I have fed you until today. I have taught you to fear G‑d and uphold His Torah. See the heaven and the earth, the sea and the land, fire, water, wind and every other creation. Know that they were all created by G‑d's word. He created man to serve Him and He will reward man for his deeds. The king knows he is condemned before G‑d. He thinks that if he convinces you, G‑d will have mercy on him. G‑d controls your life's breath and can take your soul whenever He desires. If only I could see the greatness of your glorious place where we would be illuminated with G‑d's light and rejoice and exult together."

Chanah returned to the king, saying, "I was unable to prevail upon him."

The exasperated king again addressed the child who answered him, "Whom are you seeking to overpower with your words and enticements? I laugh at your foolishness. I believe in the Torah and in G‑d Whom you blaspheme. You will remain an abomination upon all mankind, loathsome and far from G‑d."

The king was enraged. According to the Talmud, Antiochus gave the boy a chance to save himself by ostensibly bowing down to retrieve his signet ring, but the boy refused. As they removed him, Chanah begged to kiss him one last time. As if speaking to all seven children, Chanah said, "My children, tell your ancestor Abraham, 'You bound only one son upon an altar, but I bound seven." Then Antiochus ordered that the child be tortured even more than his brothers.

Chanah was left surrounded by the bodies of her sons, a prayer exalting G‑d on her lips. Then the distraught woman threw herself from a roof and rested beside her martyred sons.

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Discussion (65)
December 28, 2016
Confusing indeed.
I had always heard this story, that they were killed, I never heard of this horrendous torture that occurred and I agree with Sarah from London, though I know the Torah is not a mere collection of stories but this is too much. Hard to make any kind of peace with this story. Torah and Yiddidhkeit are all about Life and I agree with all comments here which state that G-d prefers Life, not martyrs. I am pretty sure this story, as presented here, is a much more severe version than I learned as a child, and unfortunately, that does change its message from one of "serve Hashem with all you are and don't let anyone stop you", to a more confusing message-because of its deeply disturbing nature.
December 19, 2016
A person who does not believe in Adonai does not understand a devotion to Him. It was not Chana who sent these children to their deaths -- it was the cruel ruler who tried to force his religion upon them -- or face death. To those who serve Adonai, they understand that to believe in Him -- even unto physical death -- is eternal life.
United States
November 4, 2016
To choose "life" over God is the equivalent of choosing the gift over the person. Obviously you never really had a relationship.
November 4, 2016
no one knows the number of their own days
Better to have lived and died for what is right than to give up and die knowing the only thing you instilled in your children is the willingness to lay down their dignity for a few more hours.
November 2, 2016
I am more disturbed by the comments than by the story.

Look at France, Germany, and Sweden today. When faced with the threat of terrorism from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, they have acquiesced at every turn. That is why we have the horrors of Cologne, Malmo, Nice, and Paris.

The story isn't saying that every mother needs to sacrifice her sons for God, obviously. The story tells mothers to stand against the evils of the Syrians no matter what it takes. Mothers of the Jewish and Christian worlds must stand against evil if we are ever to send evil back into its desert.

We have become so lost that Jewish and Christian mothers no longer can bear to even speak out against Syrian evil, let alone fight it.
Saul S.
February 26, 2016
Hanna and her seven sons.
Being a zealot revering God unconditionally over survival is a reprehensible choice. There is no religion to justify death over life. Life is a miracle of nature it ought to be revered if not admired. Any mother who encourages her children to sacrifice their lives over their blind reverence of God is wrong. A mother who witnesses her children being tortured and murdered in front of her and does not attempt to stop it is insane . I am a proud Israeli and Jew and as such I oppose the moral of such story. I find it the acts of zealot and those I whole heartedly condemn.
nora feit
New York, NY
February 24, 2016
Look beyond the lines
Lots of commenters are discussing whether or not it was right or wrong for this family to have given their lives for G-d. As I see it, the message of Chanah and her sons--more than their death--was their inspired devotion that drove them to feel that life without G-d was not worth living. Whether we live or die, we can learn from them to make the decision based on G-d and His will.
Menachem Posner
December 13, 2015
The word "priest" may be wrong
I am wondering about this and feel that the word, "priest" is a wrong representation to call a rabbi. Was the word "priest" used during those eras or was it re written, by a Catholic Bishop and offered to the Jews to use at some point in history. The spiritual leaders or so-called, "priests" were rabbis. What was the word used to represent Yochanan or those like him please? I highly doubt they were called "priests" at all. Nothing against any Catholic priest though and god bless them and bring miracles for them as well, but I need to know the reality and truth of our history please and not some rewritten story that changed the way we think. For instance, there was a Vatican member who changed the holy Shabbat to Sunday, much later.
December 7, 2015
This is a horrendous story. It doesn't seem to me to glory anyone but is barbaric and extremely disturbing. It just goes to show how important it is that our faith moves with the times and doesn't get stuck in the dark ages. This is not a story I will be telling my children and I absolutely would not be proud if they allowed themselves to be killed over what is basically a collection of stories.
December 6, 2015
Chana and her seven sons.
It is a most disturbing story of life sacrifice for religious sake. I thought God revers life not zealots or martyrs. What kind of mother watches her seven children being tortured and murdered without stopping them however pious the lady.I am no mom but I would rather die before I allow someone to torture and murder my child let alone seven.. Religion does not take precedent over life. I thought the Torah claims that saving one human is if one saved an entire nation. If this story illustrated unconditional devotion to God. It strikes me that the moral of the story fails me. I do not see any heroism in scarfing life for the sake of religion. We revere survivors not death. That is why organized religion turns dangerous.
nora feit
new york NY
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