Judah the Maccabee never lit Chanukah candles. He never spun a dreidel. And he never ate sufganiyot or latkes.
He did, however, eat hearty Greek foods like roasted eggplants and barbecued young lamb and he quenched his thirst with wine made from grapes he trod upon to produce the blood-red liquid.
Additionally, he at first had no shame in exercising publicly completely nude. Later, he submitted to surgery to remove the signs of Jewish circumcision.
He spoke Greek and dressed in the manner of Greeks. In these ways he was very similar to thousands of Jewish males living under a Hellenistic way of life.
He prayed to the God of Israel and refused to pay honor or tribute to the stone idols of Greek gods. In normal terms, his life, like that of thousands of other Jews, was comfortable and pleasant.
Until…. Until Judea fell under the domain of Antiochus IV Epimanes whose royal name was mocked by the Jews who called him Antiochus Epiphanes, the latter Greek term meaning mad man.
In order to unify and solidify Greek life and culture since its victory over the Persians during the life of Alexander the Great, Antiochus IV established and enforced Greek laws which were contrary to Jewish faith.
He abolished the rites of infant male circumcision, of observing a seventh day of rest, of studying the holy Torah and of worship to One God in the holy Temple in Jerusalem. He scoffed at Jewish rituals and the practice of eating only kosher foods.
Hellenistic Jews were able to swallow hard and to follow Greek practices. Rabbinic (Pharisaic) Jews could not. They spoke openly of revolt and looked for strong leadership to combat the Greek authorities.
One man among several, the son of a Temple priest, offered himself as a leader of religiously observant Jews. His name was Judah ben Matityahu.
In our lifetime we have witnessed the dynamic growth of communications… cellphones, I-phones, radios and television, protest marches and assemblies, secret passwords and codes, Facebook and twitters.
Judah needed a special code, a special and easy to remember word or phrase by which those Jews in revolt could recognize one another.
He chose four simple letters from the Hebrew alphabet… mem (M) kaf (K) bet (B) Yud (Y), the latter letter referring to the never-spoken name of God.
Inscribed upon his banner the four Hebrew letters became the symbol of the revolutionaries.
“Mi Kamocha B’Elim YHWH” (the tetragrammaton Name of God)… Who. is like unto Thee among the powerful, O God.
And thus, MKBY (Maccabee) became the password of the leaders of the observant Jewish people.
Judah’s priestly father in the village of Mod’in gave additional meaning to the name when he issued his famous cry, “Whoever is for God, let him follow me”.
And for thousands of years Jews throughout the world have repeated that cry in a show of loyalty and obedience to the God of Israel and to His laws.
The Hebrew word Chanukah means dedication. The holy Temple in Jerusalem was cleansed from pagan idols and impurities, the temple candles were rekindled as were the lights in the oil lamps, and once again God’s shrine of worship was re-dedicated.
Chanukah is the festival of lights. We are commanded to serve God by lighting up the world to revere Him and His holy Name.
We remember the miracle of the oil by eating delicacies on this holiday which are cooked or baked or fried in oil.
Some prefer the potato pancakes (latkes) and some are partial to the millions of calories in jelly filled donuts.
But as for me, no sufganiyot if you please. I am a pizza eater.