Judah Maccabee (Judas Maccabeus) was one of the leaders of the Jewish guerilla freedom fighters who drove the Seleucid Greek occupiers out of Judea in 139 BCE.

Judah was the eldest son of Mattathias (the son of Jochanan), the High Priest, who instigated the revolt by killing the Greek official Nikanor after a pig was slaughtered in the Holy Temple.

Judah and his brothers were fierce fighters, described by the Greek General Bagris (Bacchides) as “stronger than lions, lighter than eagles, and faster than bears.”

According to the ancient scroll of Antiochus, the brothers were not just expert fighters; they took their strength from fasting and praying, beseeching G‑d to send them success.

Mattathias compared his sons to historic Jewish heroes. For Judah, he chose Judah the son of Jacob, who is associated with the mighty lion. Like a lion, Judah fought fearlessly for the freedom to serve G‑d and live in accordance with the Torah.

But, in the thick of a victorious battle, Judah was killed. The surviving brothers were disheartened, knowing that his strength had been equal to all four of theirs combined. Heartbroken himself, the elderly Mattathias encouraged his sons to continue fighting, even offering to go out to battle with them.

Through the bravery of the Maccabees—inspired by Judah—the Greeks were finally ousted from the land, and the Jews celebrated their victory with the holiday of Chanukah.