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Jewish History

Post-Biblical History

Was the Chanuka War With the Greeks?

Question: Why do Rabbis always speak about a war between the Jews and the “Greeks”? The historical record shows amicable relations between Jews and Greeks, until the dissolution of that empire. Even assuming historical accuracy of Talmudic accounts we were at war with other Jews first, and last; and with Seleucid Syrians, after the end of Macedonian central control.

Answer: If by “dissolution of the Greek empire” you mean the division that occurred after the death of Alexander the Great, then I don’t see the problem. To my knowledge, the rabbis really only discuss post-division conflicts with the Ptolemaic and, later, Seleucid empires – and I wasn’t aware of any account of history that didn’t feature significant conflicts involving those centers which didn’t engulf the contemporary Jews of Israel.

The term “Yavan” used in some traditional sources is more than qualified by the equally common expression “Mityavnim”. It wasn’t ethnic Greeks, but (mostly) Jews who had adopted various Greek cultural values in their lifestyles to which these phrases refer. Much the same way we might now describe American culture as “Western (European)” or “Anglo Saxon” even though we all know that it’s more cultural than ethnic.

If you are actually referring to some specific source that I’m not thinking of, please let me know.

With regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

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