Hanukah & Hasmoneans


This time of year, there’s a lot of snark about the Hanuka taking up an ideological cudgel against the fanatic Maccabees. Some of the discussion relies on the ambivalence tending towards hostility expressed in the Bavli towards this minor festival and against the Hasmoneans, who were the successors of the Maccabees. “In Praise of the Hasmoneans: Chanukah Beyond Rabbinic Literature” by Ophir Münz-Manor is a particularly excellent corrective. Münz-Manor tracks the place of Hanuka and the Hasomoneans in late antique and medieval piyyut and situates the form of piyyut in tension with the rabbinic class and its concerns. Maybe the Hasmoneans were not so bad after all.

This is the conclusion to his post, which you can read here at Gemara:

The overall picture that emerges reveals that the Hasmoneans were well represented and even celebrated by the payytanim, and presumably by the congregations in which the piyyutim were performed. This is significantly different from the way the Hasmoneans are represented in classical rabbinic literature. How might we account for this disparity?

It is possible that the figuration of the Hasmoneans in piyyut and their relative absence in rabbinic texts indeed reflects a different ideological stance, though this cannot be easily ascertained. Some scholars have recently argued that the payytanim belonged to or identified with priestly circles, and therefore promoted priestly themes in piyyut, including the importance of the Hasmoneans, who served as priests.

We must also remember that the payytanim were not merely singing rabbis. Although they shared many beliefs and practices with the rabbis, their social role, their artistic interests, and the synagogal context in which they functioned, were distinct from the rabbis and their study halls. Other para-rabbinic groups existed, such as the meturgamanim(translators) who offered expanded version of the Bible in Aramaic, as well as magicians and mystics, which scholars of late antique Jewry tend to overlook or downplay.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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