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Thoughts on our generation’s desire for life-affirming messages of Jewish pride and heroism.

Chanukah: Maccabee or Masada

Chanukah: Maccabee or Masada

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Topics: Masada, Chanukah
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, and a frequent contributor to The Judaism Website—Chabad.org. He has lectured extensively on a variety of Jewish topics, and his articles have appeared in many print and online publications. For more on Rabbi Gurkow and his writings, visit InnerStream.ca.
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Anonymous December 11, 2012

I wouldn't call standing up and fighting for your rights as "misguided". But the misguided Jews are those who remain in the exile and those in Israel who rely on the nations and are their step-and fetch it lap dogs. BTW, I didn't see a menorah ontop Masada this week, but there was a desecration on the mountain from a UN flag. Reply

Galit Chantrill Adelaide South Australia December 10, 2012

Thank you Rabbu Gurkow, you said something very meaningful to me, something that touched me very personally. Tov toda. Reply

Shulamith Jerusalem December 10, 2012

It is not the children of those who died on Massada who returned to rebuild the land of Israel, but rather the children of those who chose, when forced to make the choice,to live as slaves rather than die by their own hands! Their patience, endurance and steadfast belief in the ways of their forefathers are what kept their hopes alive and maintained the small flame of determination to survive burning in their hearts. That is the flame which we light and re-light each night if Chanukah. Reply

Anonymous South Florida December 9, 2012

The implications is that the Jews could not win at Mesada was because they did not
listen to certain Rabbim leads to blame or victory or defeat based upon Rabbim .
You talked about Rome as protector of the Jew and this point of view exclude Hashem as protector of those who flee to Him as are his servants . You leave out the Jerusalem
had many so called protectors when in fact this is called being vassal states . I really think you are the role of Rabbim ahead of Hashem and explain nothing about the Jews in relation to Hashem except to posit that the most religious and commandment abiding Jews were allowed to get in the neck by the upper classes and Hashem approved . Clearly what is the reason by Hashem approved of this slaughter ? No answer from you. You left out that Jews were being placed ahead of Army of Rome
and used as shields by the Romans so that Jews would have to kill other Jews . Who is the protector of Jews , the Romans or Hashem??????????????????????????? . Reply

Sara aka Raggedy northwood, north dakota December 28, 2011

Shalom,
Lazer Gurkow,
You speak in a manner in which I not only could understand but was captivated & immersed in your presentation. Tov toda! I can't express how much your video is meaning 2 me. I shall pass it on so others can experience. Reply

Anonymous December 12, 2010

Flavius like all history writers see history form their own point of view. While you say that the Sarici were bandits/thugs, is it not them and Zealots who the story of Masada is all about, a fortress against the Roman suppression, where current IDF take their oath of allegiance ?

BTW I am not attempting to win an argument. I place the Rabbis in camp with the elite. I place the Zealots as the good guys against them, for the reasons i have given, compromise and appeasement while they get rich via this status quo.

As you adroitly point out, historical accuracy is tough to determine. Reply

Lazer Gurkow December 10, 2010

I hasten to note for the sake of historical accuracy (if such a concept even exists :-) that the zealots did not became Sarici, the joined with the Sarici. You see, the Sarici were essentially banditsm criminal opportunists. The zealots felt the could use the Sarici for their purposes. In the end both gained and lost our of the partnership.

As to this accuracy of Josephus, as a general ruse we view him as an accurate recorder of events, how had to adjust the truth on occasion to save his life. He lived in Rome and was subject to Roman Tyranny. Reply

Anonymous December 9, 2010

I could not Google the Tractate. So i read a couple other sites. In brief what i read is that there were two struggles going on:

1.The lower class being taxed to death by the Romans
2.The lower class against the perceived assimilation/profiteering of the higher class and rabbis.

The lower class became Sarcii and Zealots and assassinated hundreds of upper class (Pharisee, Sadducee, Essene) Jews and opponents of their brand of religious and or political will. The Zealots and Sarcii even fought among themselves for power. The situation bottomed out at Masada. It is said that while the Sarcii were there they massacred 700 Jewish opponents at nearby Ein Gedi for supplies.

This recount comes via historian Flavius Joseph, a Roman Jew. I don't readily accept it as accurate. Even if i find the Tractate you suggest, i may have doubts. What I do know is that the period 0-100AD was a very turbulent time, ripe for conspiracy theories/mystery, each side trying to look good.

Respectfully. Reply

Lazer Gurkow December 9, 2010

Dear Anonymous,

To read up on Jewish sources with respect to the Rabbinical desire to compromise with Rome please see the Babylonian Talmud tractate Gitin and Avot D' Rebbi Natan, where you will find the efforts of the rabbis to bring about compromise recounted. Reply

Anonymous December 8, 2010

This short period is wedged in a larger time frame say 0 - 100 AD. There were several leadership changes in Rome during this period, including Caligula and Nero. These two out of I don't know how many, forced the Jews to be look upon them as the one deity, no other. The treatment of Jews vacillated from religious tolerance to religious supression and outright antisemitic pogroms, depending on the whim of who was heading the Roman Empire. As to which Jewish group brought on the destruction of the Second Temple, it could have been the rabbis as easily as the laypeople. In the Masada story, it was only a matter of time/Roman leader before the destruction was going to take place. To control people you must end up controlling their thoughts. Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis are not going to allow a black sheep. Reply

Anonymous December 8, 2010

Thank you Tamar. I did a poor job of listening to Rabbi Gurkow's message. Maybe i was tired. I missed the switch from Battle 1 - Chanukah, Syrian Greeks-religion- Maccabees to Battle 2 - Romans- slavery- Masada.

I understand Battle 1. I am not clear on Battle 2. Is the key that the Romans were okay with Judaism, but wanted to only control the people. as servants etc., even taking slaves back to Rome to build the Collissium etc.? And the Masada incident was about slavery and not religion?

I think that I get it now. Thanks for setting me straight. I guess that I still have a question. The rabbis looked for compromise. The anti-rabbis caused the destruction of the Temple. I am not sure that I agree. I'll have to read up on it. History recounts are often blurred. Reply

Tamar December 7, 2010

Just to set the record straight - the elite of Jerusalem society, then as always, was indeed the Rabbis and sages, but only from the perspective of those that listened to them! Those that lived in the upper city, the wealthy ones, the Friends of Rome as they were called, did NOT listen to the Rabbis and they, together with the fanatics who were anti the Rabbis' call for restraint, caused the destruction of the Temple. Had all listened to the Rabbis' advice Rome would have left us alone, as vassals, but able to keep and serve in the Holy Temple!.

Massada and mass suicide was never a religious highlight to look up to - unless the enemy were to use you for immorality. Slavery per se was not a reason to kill yourself; it is against Torah laws.

Chanukka celebrates our religious freedom; the Greeks did not allow us to keep the Torah - they wanted to kill our spirit not our bodies. Reply

Anonymous December 2, 2010

What a fascinating recount of the battle at Masada !

I appreciated your openness about the elite of Jerusalem society of the day including the Rabbis and Sages. 100 per cent of the time i hear about the amazing accomplishments of our Sages and Rabbis, and of course only from Rabbis.

Thank you for daring to put out a perspective which will not garner you rabbinical favor. Our Rabbis are human. We laypeople know that. But too often the Rabbis consider themselves above scrutiny, and expect followers like sheep.

I would never decry the amazing feats of so many Rabbis past and present, but one must retain critical thinking when rabbis are out of touch. Life/war is complicated. A secular leadership was responsible for the birth of israel 1948, and remains responsible for maintaining ownership. You teach us that Masada was a religious stand. It takes Jews of all types to pull together when adversity looms.

Rabbi Gurkow, you are my candle for this evening. Thank you for glowing bright. Reply

margaret Mesa, Arizona, USA November 28, 2010

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, how wonderful to see you again teaching us about the history of the Jewish people. It is great to see you again. Hope you have a great Chanukah!
It is uplifting a great thought to meditate on the Chanukah Lights.
Blessings to you and your family Reply

David MNF, egypt November 28, 2010

Thank you rabbi. Reply

john smith fort lauderdale, fl November 28, 2010

when Rabbi Gurkow was telling his story i was amazed at the similarities of how Rome (US) was the defender of Israel until they were not. the similarities in the story are frightening of how history repeats itself. how now the US is seperating itself from Israel in current political climates and how the US elite jews have a hand in current US policy and how although they believe in thier own jewish history seem to be against Israel taking a stand in the homeland. i'm in shock of the similarities and am sure that even those who filter these comments will somehow find this offensive to thier nature. i ALSO take it personally how the US is turning the back on Israel in recent times and how those in the current administration and state government are silent or are working WITH Rome (US) as stated in the story to protect the rights of Isreal. i am more the Masada type who does not believe in Rome (US) but also believe in life and will never surrender. im sure there are many like me. Reply

Yuni Phoenix, AZ November 28, 2010

The Feast of Dedication - The Festival of LIghts

Is this a season to rededicate our lives to the Holy One? Reply